Tag Archives: CAO Derrick Thomson

Why won’t city council tell us why the sudden departure of the CAO?

By Gerry Barker

February 13, 1019

Opinion

Who agreed to “part ways” with Thomson out the door and no explanation for a quick exit?

Near the end of last week the announcement was made that Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson had “parted ways with the city.”

Who decided he had to leave so abruptly, Thomson or Council?

The public has the right to know why the Chief Administrative Officer of the city was summarily dropped.

Was it something he said? Did he pixxed-off certain members of council including the Mayor?

Was it so terrible that neither party wanted to reveal the details?

Or was it a personality conflict between certain members of council?

Did he misappropriate public funds?

Or was it because of health issues?

Or has he accepted another job, like he did in 2016?

So what does the Mayor do? He calls yet another closed-session meeting and, to illustrate why this council fails once again and bungles another serious senior staff development.

Witness the witless creation of a Troika assigning three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers to run the store for six months while the search seeking a new boss goes on.

Is this not a crisis where three senior staff is assigned to perform the duties of an absent CAO?

This is a dumb idea. Forcing a committee of three top managers to fill in for their former boss only exemplifies the lack of business management experience of most members of council.

There is no succession plan in place for senior management. To create this Troika is an example of the misfits of knowledge by city council.

Council, in secret session has created this awkward senior management structure by increasing their compensation for up to six months following the appointment of a new CFO of the city.

This commuter is not to disparage the ability of the three remaining DCAO’s who are capable and worthy candidates for the job.

I don’t envy the situation on which the council has put them.

In the middle of the 2019 Budget creation, why did this happen?

Some history

Since 2006, there has been four CAO’s heading the city staff: Larry Kotseff, Hans Loewig, Ann Pappert and Derrick Thomson. Of the four only one actually lived in Guelph. A year following Ms. Pappert’s appointment, council gave her $20,000 to move from Waterloo to Guelph.

Of course the city should conduct a search for a new CAO and select a candidate with an independent view and ready to clean house of the dominant partisan council.

We need a CAO who understands the role of staff is to serve the public interest and not to bury those rights behind closed doors.

The record shows that the city administration have wasted millions on building a new city hall; the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc financial loss of $63 million of shareholder value; the giveaway of Guelph Hydro; the bike lane network expansion; subsidizing Guelph Transit support of a variety of services to the University of Guelph, including low property taxes on the largest land owner in the city.

These are just a handful that has drained the Guelph Treasury for projects that often lacked a business plan. Most important has been the neglect of the city infrastructure, some of which is 200 years old.

Despite warnings from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and more recently from the city staff that has put a $450 million price tag on infrastructure renewal and replacement.

In its usual response, city staff recommended to council to place a special levy of 2 per cent for infrastructure work on property taxpayers.

Even that was bungled when council decided to split the levy with 1 per cent dedicated to “City Buildings.” Sponsored by Councillors Karl Wettstein and Mark MacKinnon, the money went to the proposed South End $63 million Recreation Centre.

It was learned that professional outside planners had spent some $3.5 million on preliminary site and design of the complex.

There has been no budget planning in the capital budget for this project. It is only one example of the voodoo financial management of council, most of whom don’t understand a balance sheet or a business plan or the correlation of each. But that’s what we have a staff for, right?

Mind you, I believe the city now has much stronger and experienced senior managers to maintain fiscal responsibity and management practices.

That’s why citizens should be concerned about Mr. Thomson’s sudden departure that has not been explained.

Once the money has been spent, we cannot get it back.

That’s why it will be most important to hire a CAO of experience, proven performance and that old standby, guts, to steer our city to create a balanced and affordable community for all citizens.

We wish council Godspeed in this search for a new CAO.

 

 

 

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Was this appointment part of the Hydro merger?

By Gerry Barker

January 7, 2019

Opinion

Well, that’s been a weird winter so far. One day the kids are sliding down the first fairway of the Guelph Country Club and a day later there is no snow.

Even stranger is the appointment of Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong as Guelph’s representative on the Board of Directors of Alectra Utilities.

If you missed the news Guelph Hydro is now dead and no longer our property. As of the beginning of the year, Alectra Utilities took over the city’s electricity distribution system.

So, who benefits from this disposal of a $228 million successful city-owned distribution system serving some 55,000 customers?

Well we now know of one person, Jane Armstrong, a 12-year Guelph Hydro Board member and more recently the chairperson. No doubt she is a seasoned, well-qualified individual to represent our interest of things, such as electricity and who is running the system?

Patience friends, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will this takeover of our power distribution system and delivers promised services in a day.

This appointment is shrouded in secrecy. Who made the appointment of Ms. Armstrong? Was it council in secret session? Was it the board of directors of Guelph Hydro? In the release of the news in Guelph Today, there was no mention of just how she got the job.

It’s a juicy assignment reported to have a base salary of $25,000 plus travel expenses and payment for attending the Alectra board meetings.

Oh yes, it includes a four-year engagement.

But here is what bothers me. Ms. Armstrong was the co-chair of the Strategic Options Committee, (SOC) appointed by council, to investigate the sale. Merger or partnership of Guelph Hydro with another municipally-owned power distribution system.

In February 2017, Ms. Armstrong replaced Hydro CEO Panaj Sardana as co-chair of SOC along with Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson.

A closed-session of SOC detailing with SOC’s board personnel changes, also decided to take the option of selling Guelph Hydro off the table. This set the stage for a merger.

This information made public by Richard Puccini who was a member of the SOC board until replaced.

The rest of the story is that Alectra Utilities, in partnership with the Guthrie administration, convinced10 members of council to support the Alectra merger December 13, 2017. Three councillors voted against the merger, Phil Allt, James Gordon and Bob Bell.

Getting back to the Armstrong appointment. As the co-chair of the SOC that recommended the merger with Alectra Utilities, the perception exists that she was in a conflict of interest.

It should be noted that no elected official or city staff were eligible to take the job under the terms of the merger agreement.

Was there any attempt to advertise the position? Were other persons interviewed for the position?

Although public money is not involved in this appointment, she is representing the interests of the citizens.

Now about that $18.5 million “special dividend” the city will receive, it’s a sick joke. It is a return of cash from Guelph Hydro that is the property of the citizens.

There is nothing like closing a deal by paying us with our own money.

Here’s another observation. The low turnout last October in the civic election may be traced back to not only indifference but also failures of people to understand the Merger deal.

I believe that was by design by the Guthrie administration that was determined to merge Guelph Hydro. The only issue left out was what did the city receive for eclipsing Guelph Hydro?

Only in Guelph, you say?

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts on the gradual death of print journalism in Guelph

By Gerry Barker

December 26, 2018

The Mercury Tribune has dropped its Tuesday edition. The paper is promising every Thursday “readers will find analysis, investigative stories, commentary and a variety of content written by our award-winning journalist.”

Also a;pended are about three pounds of advertising inserts, the bread and butter of the enterprise.

In just two years, Metroland Publishing, a division of the TorStar, proprietors of the Toronto Star, has shut down the daily Guelph Mercury and now the Tuesday edition of the Mercury Tribune.

Ah! But stay tuned. The company says it is providing online coverage 24/7 of the news and commentary. Readers must register in order to access the website. The paper is not demanding your first born but just the usual name, address, telephone number and email to access it.

Welcome to the cyber Age of Aquarius, the new electronic access to the news.

The following are important stories about Guelph that are rarely covered in depth by the eviscerated print media. Instead, when questioned, the newspaper says it doesn’t have the space or resources to dig into the stories that affect every citizen in Guelph.

Here’s a recent sample of lack of coverage:

* Explain the “Open Guelph,” a statement of about open government in relation to city council accountability and transparency. Why are they still conducting the public’s business by closed-sessions?

* Explain why Guelph property tax rates and user fees increase every year by far greater than the equivalent of the Consumer Price Index.

* Failure of the Economic Development staff to expand the industrial and commercial assessment to reduce costs to property owners and businesses.

* Guelph Hydro merger that will see the end of the city-owned electricity distribution system that closes at the end of January.

* How much is the city spending advertising in the Mercury Tribune?

* Explain why it has taken five years to renovate the downtown Police HQ that is not expected to be complete until December 2019?.

* Where does council spends the $10 million in gas tax rebates it receives from the Federal and Provincial government?

* How much, if any, do those rebates go toward creating more bike lanes and trails?

* How much of the gas tax rebates are used to expand downtown parking?

* What are the operating and capital costs of the Guelph Civic Museum since it opened?

* How does that figure square with the cost of subsidizing the downtown library?

* What is the status and costs of replacing the Niska bridge?

* Explain the source and details of the financial statements in “Financial Snapshot” section published in the city’s website called: “2017 Report to the Community?”

* What is the ratio of residents using bicycles on Guelph streets and roads compared to those using vehicles?

* Are cyclists subject to the regulations of the Highway Traffic Act? If so, why are they not licensed and carry insurance?

* What are the stats of bicycle and vehicle collisions in 2017 and 2018? What are the injuries to cyclists and drivers? What are the charges brought by Police Services Board and the rationale?

* How much money has been given away or loaned by the city? Aso, explain whar taxparer’s finds are being used to support the Kazoo Festival?

* How much is it costing the city staff services to support the University of Guelph and Conestoga College?

* * * *

Every example listed here costs those citizens who own or rent property and pay user fees.

It’s your money and you have the right to know how it is being spent.

Happy New Year! May good health and prosperity come to you and yours in 2019.

Gerry and Barbara

 

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Reasons to exercise your privileges of freedom by voting Monday October 22

By Gerry Barker

October 20, 2018

Let’s say you are not planning to vote on Monday.

The reasons vary such as, I’m too busy to bother; my vote won’t make any difference; my daughter has the measles; I don’t like any of the candidates; I rarely vote at all so, why now? Finally, my boss won’t give me time off work to vote.

Well, here’s why.

For the past 12 years the progressive left, first under former mayor, Karen Far bridge, and then under Mayor Cam Guthrie has dominated the city administration. In his case he was a closet conservative who went along with the progressive majority on council, to get along.

The last of our years

Perhaps we should work backwards examining the city operations under Mr. Guthrie.

In 2015, it started with the Guthrie election promise of keeping the property tax at the same level as the Consumer Price Index that was 1.99 per cent. Council approved the 2015 budget in March that year and the property tax increase was 3.96 per cent, that had to be adjusted to reflect the increase in assessment of all properties in the city.

That election campaign promise has evaporated in the mayor’s first term. In fact, the estimated four years of property taxes cumulative effect is 18 per cent. This includes the two-year property tax of two per cent levy was imposed two years ago.

Then, in December 2015, a closed session of council awarded $98,202 salary increases between four senior managers: CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Al Horsman, Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson. Only Mr. Thomson remains as CAO.

Fast-forward and the Guthrie council conducted 82 closed session meetings in the first two years in office. This did not include the closed meeting of the Strategic Options Committee that led to the take-over of Guelph Hydro by Alectra Utilities. The Ontario Energy Board approved this multi-million dollar deal October 18, 2018, just five days before the civic election.

Sure you still won’t bother voting Monday?

Here are more reasons to take the time to vote.

Mayor Guthrie stated in a pre-election announcement that a new Public Private Proposal (3P) to spend an estimated $350 million in today’s dollars, on redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot. The private partner is Windmill Developments based in Ottawa. The Mayor said there would be a new downtown library included in the plan.

Sounds exciting, right?

The project will not start construction until 2024. It is estimated it will take another four years at least to get the new library open and running. That’s more than ten years from now. The public’s share of this project has yet to be determined. As an aside, the city claims it has already invested $29 million of Baker Street renovation.

Note that part of that investment includes the $22 million five storey Parkade being built next to city hall with no connection to the Baker Street proposal.

This Hocus Pocus financing is a bargaining chip negotiating with the private Baker Street partner.

In the six years waiting for construction to start, inflation will add another 12 per cent to the current estimated cost. That’s more than $42 million. Mr. Guthrie won’t be mayor plus council will have a number of new members.

If you believe this data, don’t bother to vote because you can’t change it. Wrong!

Your vote is vital as     s the city administration must change.

You see, the progressives don’t want you to vote. The Bloc of Seven majority on council forced a vote denying the use of Online voting in 2018. Their reasons were smothered in a wave of academic opinion claiming that E-voting created “massive security holes” thereby was dangerous.

This is an example of power over reality. In 2014, some 12,767 citizens voted Online without a single glitch or complaint. The progressive saw their leader defeated and four councillors either were defeated or did not run.

How do you change it?

Make sure to vote Monday. You have your voting card and all you need is a driver’s licence, or utility bill, or property tax statement. Your health card must have your address, some of them don’t.

Guelphspeaks.ca believes there are a number of excellent candidates ready to serve their city. This election will be different and hopefully bring change accompanied by accountability, transparency and open government.

Once elected, the candidate not only serves his or her ward but they become the stewards of the city representing all the people.

Finally, thousands of Canadians in the past 100 years gave their lives to preserve our way of life. That includes freedom of speech, public participation in government.

A personal remembrance is that of my father, his two brothers and his sister who served in France in the First World War. John Sydney Barker and Thomas Mitchell Barker were both killed in action. My parents honoured their memory by naming me after them.

It brings sadness and privilege to remember that more than 100,000 Canadians gave their lives in two world wars. They have paid a terrible price to secure our freedom.

Let’s remember them by voting this Monday.

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How living in Guelph has become a stagnant pool of political mediocrity

By Gerry Barker

July 3, 2018

There was a report published recently that the mayor was not receiving a raise next year. In fact, his take-home pay, thanks to a change in the Federal income tax regulations starting in 2019, that denied the one-third tax-free portion of his gross civic salary of $122,724.

The irony is that the 12 members of council will receive $40,000 next year, an increase of $4,497. Councillors were paid $35,503 these past four years.

Now the initial report in the local bi-weekly was based on the recommendation of the Remuneration Advisory Committee. Names of those on the committee were not revealed.

By an 8-5 vote last Monday, council bumped the mayor’s pay from $122,724 to $152,oo, a 23.4 per cent increase. This decision was based on maintaining his current salary, about to be fully taxed take home pay. The same went for the 12 councillors who will receive $40,000 to maintain their take home pay.

Voting for the motion were Councillors Billings, Gibson, Downer, Hofland, MacKinnon, Piper and Mayor Guthrie. Voting against the motion were Councillors Allt, Bell, Gordon, Salisbury, Wettstein. Coun. Van Hellemond was absent.

It only took four days from the published report for council to perform an Olympic style back flip to ignore the Remuneration Advisory Board’s recommendation to stay any increase for he mayor’s pay for 2019.

This reversal by council is not only stunning in sheer alacrity to perform but presents an interesting split of the councillors rarely seen. Further, why is the mayor voting on an increase that involves histhe next mayor’s salary in 2019?

Here’s what one commentator posted on the Guelph Today website:

Gruntfutak – 18 hours ago – if you owned a business would you increase salaries for every increase in taxes? I doubt it. The Mayor and Councillors have had many years of reduced taxes (33% tax free salary). Let them join the rest of us. This is a tax and will be paid by all income brackets – some of the new minimum wage now goes to the city Mayor and Councillors.

Gruntfutak – 2 days later – If the federal government changes tax rules for the majority of workers those workers have to suffer the reduced income. Just because councilors and mayors have had their tax-free amount changed city tax payers have to pay the increase!!! City taxation has been increased with little or no discussion with the voters.

Without knowing who sits on the advisory committee, common sense was never a virtue of this council.

You have to wonder how city council can act so quickly to over-rule its own advisory committee regarding the salary for 2019 of the office of mayor.

A study in dealing with city hall.

The width of driveways in the east end of the city is being challenged by a bylaw that has ignited the anger of most residents. The fine for an infraction of widening your driveway is up to $600.

Coun. Dam Gibson has been meeting constituents and has filed a notice of motion to review the driveway bylaw. Council will discuss it July 23. If council agrees to debate that motion, it will occur sometime in September.

Council can move like lightning to secure its salaries but a pressing problem by citizens is swallowed by arcane procedure controls.

This is one of the reasons that the structure of council must clearly reflect the interests of all the people.

Here’s why ‘structure’ is not just a nine-letter word

People elect the mayor across the city. Each councillor represents a small minority of citizens in each ward. A mayoralty campaign can cost more than $80,000. Two councillors are elected in each of the six wards and the average election cost for each candidate is usually under $4,000. All cost estimates are based on the 2014 financial statements filed by each candidate.

Now here’s how that works. The progressives run and help finance more than 12 candidates. Dredging from memory, in 2014, the progressives (under Mayor Farbridge) ran some 20 loyal supporters in the wards. Costing that at an average of $3,000 per candidate the progressive regime spent an estimated $60,000 to elect seven progressive loyalists. That equals $8,571, the cost to the progressive organization for each successful candidate and control of council for four years.

And that friends, is the main reason for our city becoming one of the highest taxed municipalities out of the 445 in Ontario. Think about controlling everything before council. All it cost was $15,000 per year.

That’s a cheap way to gain and own power on Guelph city council.

So the power on council lies in the hands of 12 councillors elected in the wards. The current council has seven members in control. The mayor only has one vote and must rely on support of at least six members. The present Mayor can only count on four centrist councillors. One councillor is a ‘floater’ who frequently supports the majority bloc of seven.

Until this system changes the city is being used as a piggy bank to fund a number of failed experiments, indulging the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

Too harsh?

Lets cite a few examples. Start with waste management that has cost Guelph millions. The citizens paid the $34 million cost of the compost plant. The benefit is almost zero as truckloads of other municipalities’ wet garbage are delivered regularly. And it does not yet make a profit nor can the citizens obtain any of the finished compost.

Simply, the facility’s capacity was too great to handle just Guelph’s wet compostable material. It was a pet project of the former mayor who envirmental ambition exceeded the pocket books of citizen who financed it.

Then we go to the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., a flawed operation and still costing millions. The shareholder’s equity in this failed corporation is $60 million. Yet the former mayor was chair of GMHI and at least four of her councillors sat on the board. But the citizens were never told about the operations, the contribution of Guelph Hydro and the bills still to be paid for the Direct Energy operations.

And the biggie that has occurred under Mayor Guthrie’s watch is the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities. Council voted to give Guelph Hydro away for a pack of promises and a tiny 4.36 per cent share of just 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profit. If the Ontario Energy Board approves this merger 55,000 Guelph Hydro ratepayers will have been ripped off by some $300 million.

Here comes the punch line

The year 2016 was the nadir of council’s responsibility.

There were four top executives that, in a secret closed-session meeting of council December 10, 2015, were awarded $98,202 in salary increases. They ranged from 14 per cent to 19 per cent. The citizens discovered none of this until March 31, 2016 when the numbers were published in the provincial Sunshine list.

Of the four, only Derrick Thomson remains as Chief Administrative Officer of Guelph. He was rehired after resigning in January, and returned in June 2016.

He declared that he would reveal his salary and the term of his employment that turned out to be three years. Mr. Thomson said he agreed to a salary of $230,000 in each of the three-year term.

Well the 2017 Sunshine list showed that Mr. Thomson was paid $267,378.That’s a 15.25 per cent increase. In addition he has a taxable benefit of $11,236, the highest in the entire city staff.

What’s wrong with this picture? The Mayor, elected by the people, will receive a $30,000 increase next year to maintain his current take home pay.

Mr. Thomson has an ironclad contract. Mr. Guthrie, if elected, has a riskier position having to run to obtain approval of the electorate.

Okay, here’s another example of the dogs running the pound. In 2014, Mr. Thomson was making $177,000. That represents a 48.5 per cent salary boost from October 2014 to December 2017.

Here’s another one.

When Mr. Thomson was named CAO he immediately appointed Colleen Clack as head of the newly named Public Services. She was earning $142,000 in 2014 as head of Tourism and Culture.

Her salary in 2017 as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer was $208,109. That was an increase of $66,109 or 96.5 per cent from 2014 to December 2017.

In both these cases there was an increase in job responsibility. Nevertheless, they are only two examples of non-disclosure of staff salaries except for the Sunshine list. It all happens because council approves it in closed sessions.

This has to change and is deeply embedded in the administration’s operational and political culture of the city.

Only the voters can change it next October by electing candidates who are political centrists and not obligated to any political party and understand their fiduciary responsibility to the people who elected them.

The final award

It’s doubly ironic that when it comes to granting increases to councillors and the Mayor, an outside “Remuneration Advisory Board” performs it.

There is no measurement of performance, no revelation of expenses, payments by outside boards and no financial data provided to the public.

Now take the senior managers’ method of selecting salary increases.

They prepare a recommendation that is presented to council in closed-session. There is no evidence of who voted for the increases, no explanation substantiating the increases, no breakdown of travel and other expenses or changes in the contracts including details of severance settlements.

In my opinion, in Guelph there are two major pillars that control the flow of public information:

* Successive councils have ruthlessly abused the publics’ Right to Know;

* Those same councils have colluded with staff, secretly suppressing important details of the public’s business. Thereby having the exclusive franchise to choose the Need to Know option to suit their agenda.

“What we don’t tell them, they won’t know or care.”

 

 

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Here’s proof that Guelph’s costs compared to Ontario’s averages and the City of Barrie are shockingly too high

By Gerry Barker

November 23, 2017

Last night, Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, was a delegate presenting commentary on the 2018 city-operating budget. He was one of 21 delegates registered to address council.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

The day before the meeting, Tara Baker, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer, told the local weekly about a change in the staff budget request resulting in an additional $890,000 that createda lower costing of the staff’s original budget recommendations.

You will recall the first property tax increase presented by staff was 4.84 per cent for 2018. The tax-based changes provided by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) will reduce that to 4.4 per cent. It seems odd that the MPAC revision was revealed last night just prior to the public budget meeting. .

Instead, Mr. Fung was given five minutes to present a detailed analysis comparing the high per capita costs of Guelph’s operational overhead to the provincial averages. His figures were extracted from the city’s management consultant’s (BMA) 2016 report. The per capita compares the cost of services per person. The results are as follows based on a population of 130,000:

Service                    Guelph         Ontario    difference      Percent     Dollar cost

Fire                                 $195          $164              $31               19%        $4,030,000

Waste Collection          $51             $13                $38              292%       $4.940.000

Waste disposal              $37            $11                 $26              236%      $3,380,000

Waste diversion            $70            $24                $46               192%      $5,980,000

Library                            $65           $49                $16                33%        $2,080,000

Parks                               $64           $44               $20                45%         $2,600,000

General Government   $144         $14              $30                26%          $3,900,000

Transit                            $130         $99                 $31                31%       $4,030,000

POA                                 $22          $11                  $11                100%    $1,430.000

Total                               $778         $529              $249               47%      $32,370,000

This is another example of Pat Fung’s expert analysis of the facts. Two years ago he presented a detailed cost analysis using figures from the 214 BMA consultants’ report and the city’s published financial data. The conclusions then were similar comparing the overhead costs of Kitchener and Cambridge to those of Guelph. Then Guelph’s aggregate overhead costs two years ago were slightly more than 52 per cent greater than the two neighbouring cities.

The 2016 total cost of these services is more than $32,370,000 for the 130,000 residents of Guelph. That’s $249 for 130,000 Guelph residents more that the Ontario average.

What’s wrong with this picture?

It appears that his findings were ignored, so last night he presented two comparison charts. The one above compares operating costs to the Ontario average. The second chart compares the overhead costs of the City of Guelph with the City of Barrie.

The troubling aspect of the city budget process emphasizes growth regardless of the impact on every citizen and especially the taxpayers. They have faced property tax increases exceeding 3 per cent for the past 10 years, except in“2014 when the increase was 2.60 per cent.

Let’s look at the straight up comparison between Guelph and Barrie.

Object                                            Barrie              Guelph         Difference    % Increase

Total Expenses 2016             $365,939,939     $396,478,178     $30,538,231    8%

Population (2016)                        141,434            131,794                  (9,640)

Year the city was founded            1833                1827

Area square kilometers               99.04                 82.20                  (11.84)

Cost per citizen                            $2,587              $3,008                 $421             16%

Cost per square kilometre   $3,694,870        $4,456,768          $851,898         23%

Taxes revenue                       $207,649,647     $217,753,530      $10,112,883    5%

Salaries & Benefits              $154,346,450     $199.963,070    $45,616,620      30%

Labour costs of revenue            79.33 %            89.18 %                                    9.89%

Salaries, benefits per citizen   $1,091                $1,517                     $426         39%

Taxes per citizen                        $1,468                $1,652                    $184         13%

Some observations:

Guelph has a lower population and area than Barrie yet in every category, Guelph’s costs are considerably higher. The area of Salaries and Benefits reflects the view of many citizens and analysts that either the city staff is overpaid or underutilized.

Just the additional $45,616,620 that Guelph pays its staff compared to Barrie reveals total mismanagement of Human Resources, Finance and senior staff. Council was either too careless about the data surrounding this huge discrepancy or they lacked the skills needed for critical analysis of operating the city. Council cannot ignore that citizens each paid $426 in 2016 or 39 per cent more than citizens of Barrie.

Instead, on the previous three budgets, staff has recommended staff additions of 42 individuals. For 2018, staff is recommending 16 additional employees some of who will start at more than $100,000, plus benefits.

How does this square with the $396,478,178 that council approved in the 2016 budget compared to the City of Barrie’s expense budget of $365, 939,947? Guelph spent $30,538,231 more than Barrie that has a larger population and service area. Guelph also received $10,112,883 more in tax revenues than Barrie.

But the real budget crusher is the $45,616,620, that Guelph paid its employees more than Barrie.

Where financial management went off the track

During her 2006 election campaign, Ms. Farbridge’s slogan was: “We’re going to put Guelph back on track.” It soon became a joke as the claim foundered on a series of management blunders started in early 2007. The top senior managers were dismissed including Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Larry Kotseff and CFO Douglas Kennedy. In 2009, Hans Loewig earned some $201,000 and was the only senior manager earning more than $200,000. In 2016, CAO Ann Pappert was paid $263,000 for five months work, resigning May 26, 2016.

Guelph has been overly generous with staff, particularly on the high end of management. Is it any wonder that our salaries and benefits are more than $45 million higher than that of Barrie?

A Farbridge legacy was to keep staff costs under the hood. Most negotiations were mostly conducted in closed-sessions without any report to the public its outcomes. Without public accountability, there is no check of costs or rationale for increases.

Today we are paying the price.

The most glaring example of overpaying staff is with the Fire Department. Guelph is paying its firemen 19 per cent more than the Ontario average. The facts are that the occurrences when the fire Department attends a fire are diminishing while salaries increase.

In my opinion, the evidence is there that this constant demand for staff increases and unknown project spending has exponentially boosted costs compared to other Ontario municipalities. Hopefully the financial management will lead the way in expediting changes and reduce costs.

The finance department faces a five-year lack of accurate forecasting and fiscal discipline. The city needs to demand council to engage an independent staff rationalization examination organization to reorganizes the operational systems to use fewer resources to increase efficiency. Council turned the proposal down last year when the city budgets were being prepared.

The argument was that the cost of such a project, an estimated $500,000, was too high. Yet in 2013, council approved spending some $600,000 to establish a transparency and open government plan. In 2015, a manager of the program was hired on a contract basis to execute the plan. His salary was $93,000 and he is still employed by the city. He is believed to be on sick leave but his employment status is unknown.

The only way this unbridled spending can be changed next year is to elect a majority of council who will reform the way the city is being run and who brings experience, common sense and determination to undo the damage done to the city in the previous ten years. Only a strong council, who doesn’t bring partisan baggage to the table can create the changes people who (voted in 2014) expected but their hopes did not materialize.

The lousy deal will give Guelph Hydro away for a small piece of a corporate pie

The current council consideration to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities of Mississauga is an example of secret and sloppy work on the part of the Strategic Options Committee, formed by council. Its mandate was to investigate and negotiate either a sale of Guelph Hydro or a merger with a larger electric distribution network. The “sale” option was removed from the mandate last February with the committee concentrating on a merger.

Simply, it’s a bad deal with the owners of Guelph Hydro left in the dark. What we do know is that we turn over Guelph Hydro with installed wires, poles substations and headquarters, building for an unknown share of Alectra, either the utilities portion or the incorporated body.

Then we are informed that council has already signed an agreement to merge and will vote December 13 to allegedly finalize it. There is a petition circulating that is opposed to the merger. It’s an opportunity to coerce members of council to say no until there is further research and effort to examine all the options.

If interested in signing the petition email your intent to gerrybarker76@gmasil.com to be added to the growing list. Thank you for participating.

People matter.

 

 

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How the administration’s Cone of Silence closes the door on public participation

By Gerry Barker

September 18, 2017

Today there is good news and bad news

First, it’s my birthday, please no applause.

Second, is yet another confirmation that we the people of this fair city don’t count when it comes to the operations of the administration headed by Mayor Cam Guthrie. The Mayor sent out an explanation of how he “polices and oversees” closed-session meetings of council. He claims it ensures the discussion stays within that which the Municipal Act (OMA) allows. He added that he takes this responsibility seriously.

Or, is he suggesting that the closed-session subject strays into other discussions not realted to the OMA authority?

So what does this mean to us? Well, after three years in office, little has changed when it comes to properly informing the public of city business. The system works like this and was used extensively by the previous administration:

Whenever there is a contentious issue, let’s use the $2.5 million loss by the city-operated recycling plant for starters, the council dives into closed-session. It uses a section of the OMA that defines the criteria for holding such a meeting.

Can the Ontario Ombudsman open the closed-session meetings?

Every one of the 445 municipalities in Ontario is bound by the terms of the OMA. The section allowing closed-session meetings of council is very broad. So broad in fact, that the Ontario Ombudsman, the independent overseer of all Municipal and School Board meetings, handles an estimated 35 per cent of its docket investigating closed-session meeting complaints at many levels

Now here’s a wrinkle. Last December, I requested the minutes of a closed-session council meeting held December 10, 2015. I requested that the Ombudsman investigate this and was told that Guelph had its own “closed-session investigator” known as Amberlea Gravel based in London. After requesting an answer after waiting more than four months, I was told that my request was denied.

Now Amberlee Gravel has been on retainer to the city since 2008. Since then it has investigated three closed-session complaints or requests for information. None were approved. The organization was hired by the Farbridge administration. The amount of its retainer paid annually over nine years is not available.

This was a deliberate move that effectively put the lid on the public being informed of the contents of any closed-session. It remains an integral part of the Cone of Silence that shuts down public participation in city operations.

Introducing the Integrity Commissioner, the second leg of the Cone of Silence

Five years ago, the Farbridge administration hired a Caledon lawyer to act as its Integrity Commissioner with an annual retainer of $5,000 plus time spent investigating breaches of the code of conduct by councillors and staff. The reason was her concern, along with her Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, of alleged leaks of information that was supposed to be private not for public access.

The irony of this was a demand for the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the action of then Coun. Cam Guthrie. His alleged offence, joining with other opposition councillors at the time, was to request a Freedom of Information release of a public document. The department involved refused to allow Mr. Guthrie to see the document that the province had already released to the public.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner decided there was no reason to pursue the matter and sent a bill for $10,000.

What this accomplished was warning any councillor or staff member that they would be disciplined if it were proved they revealed discussions and decisions made following a closed-session meeting of council. It also had blanket coverage of disciplining any councillor who broke the code of conduct. That’s what occurred in the Guthrie case.

Both those weapons are still in place today. That’s the Cone of Silence that surrounds the administration and prevents public participation in the affairs of its city.

Shutting down public participation using leg three of the Cone of Silence

We now know that Ms. Farbridge as chair of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) held closed-session meetings during the four years that created one of the greatest losses in the history of the city. The Chief Executive Officer of GMHI was Guelph CAO, Ann Pappert.

During the four years, GMHI paid an annual “dividend” of $1.5 million to the city despite a money losing operation. In fact, GMHI never made a profit and by 2015 was worthless because it owed more money than it could pay its creditors. That essentially wiped out the $65 million shareholders’ equity in GMHI. In this case, the shareholders are the citizens of Guelph whose interests were represented by the city council.

That’s so much for the lack of public participation, accountability and transparency. The citizens are the victims in this betrayal of the public trust for the past 10 years.

Mr. Mayor, let’s drift back to early 2015, your first year in office. A citizen launched a legal complaint against another resident claiming he received an illegal donation of $400 from a citizen’s activist group, Grassroots Guelph.

Susan Watson, a friend and supporter of the former mayor who was defeated in October 2014, asked the Compliance Audit Committee to audit the election financial report filed by Mr. Glen Tolhurst.

An auditor specializing in candidates’ financial reports was hired by the city to investigate. William Molson interviewed the parties involved including my wife and me. It did not take him long to figure out that Mr. Tolhurst was not the target of Ms. Watson’s claim but was GrassRoots Guelph of which I was one of the founders.

Bottom line: Mr. Molson found no evidence that Mr. Tolhurst or GrassRoots Guelph violated the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. Here comes the kicker. The bill for all this was more than $11,000 and council, headed by Mayor Guthrie, ruled that Ms. Watson was not responsible for the costs. The taxpayers had to pick up that bill.

For example, there are five members on this council who benefited from Ms. Watson and her husbands’ donations to their 2014 election campaign. Now you know how it works: It’s whom you know not what you know, that counts.

So where was our Mayor when he claims that he takes closed-session matters seriously? This was a decision made in closed-session and announced by the City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien.

The Mayor speaks to a selected few not the citizens

Mayor Guthrie’s three-page explanation of the necessity of holding closec-session meetings, was sent to 16 individuals including 12 members of council. It was the result of a letter sent to the Mayor by Guelph resident by Pat Fung, CA, CPA asking for an explanation why council conducts much of its business in closed-session. He specifically addressed the $2.5 million loss concerning the city’s recycling centre.

In his September 8th email, the Mayor detailed why closed-session meetings are needed and the criteria for calling one, more or less.

In his email reply to Mr. Fung’s question, the Mayor claims that a program of service reviews was started by his administration. He says that the reviews are an excellent way to show taxpayers that “we take department reviews seriously.” Well, we certainly hope so.

Further, he says the reviews “look to identify opportunities … to confirm that our services are effective and efficient.” But isn’t that what management should be doing on an ongoing basis?

Last year, it was suggested that an independent audit firm should conduct a staff -rationalization review. That was shot down by the progressive majority on council because of a potential threat to their labour supporters. They claimed it would cost too much. As compared to the loss of $2.5 million in recycling operations, which is only one part in the Environmental Services department, how does that argument stand up today?

Question: Why did the Mayor select a tiny sample of the electorate to convey his explanation of the necessity of holding closed-session meetings of council?

The Mayor agrees with Pat Fung that council has a “may or may not” alternative to hold a closed-session. He then goes on to say that council must vote to discuss items allowed under the Act as exemptions that would be of a “closed” nature. So, by that definition, why is losing $2.5 million operating the recycling plant an exemption?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations and potential labour or union impacts.”

What is so private about not revealing reasons for the loss of $2.5 million by city employees? Whose reputation is being protected here?

The provincial Sunshine List lets the cat out of the bag

Flashback: December 10, 2015, council in closed-session, voted to increase the salaries of the four top city managers by $98,202 for 2015. The only problem was, the citizens were never informed. Not until Guelph Speaks posted the details when the provincial Sunshine List was published more than three months later, March 31, 2016. Those increases ranged from 14 to 19 percent.

Chairing that meeting was Mayor Guthrie. Is this what he means when he says he takes the policing and overseeing of closed meetings seriously? The Mayor had to know the details would be eventually published.

What citizens have to question is why was it deliberately covered up and when, there was not one iota of reasons why these four were entitled to have their increases concealed from the public.

In my opinion, it was an abuse of the public trust by its elected officials. So, we will never know which councillors voted for the increase and which did not. They were all bound by the closed session omerta, fear of reprisal for leaking the information. That’s a primary example of how the Cone of Silence protects every one in the administration but not the taxpayers.

The public had the right to know what their senior managers were being paid and they were all identifiable. Instead, council concealed the decision avoiding transparency, accountability and potential negative public reaction.

It gets better, in August 2016, Coun. Cathy Downer asked the Human Resources department for a breakdown of the retired Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert’s final salary package. It included unused vacation and sick leave benefits and a $28,000 retroactive performance payment. She left the city May 26, 2016 and received $263,000 in 2016 for five months work.

It was complicated when Ms. Pappert announced in March 2016 about the same time that the news of her 17 per cent increase was revealed in the Sunshine List, that she would be leaving but would stay on to assist her successor. That turned out to be Derrick Thomson who had resigned to take a job with the Town of Caledon. He took over in June as CAO and announced in the fall of 2016, that he would make his salary and taxable benefits public. The 2016 Sunshine list showed he earned $245,000 plus a taxable benefit of more than $9,000.

Of the four senior managers who received that large salary increase Dec. 10, 2015, only one still works for the city, CAO Thomson.

Question: Will the service review of the recycling plant explain how it lost $2.5 million?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations. … and potential labour or union impacts.”

Who would know better to keep those details secret than our council? There’s that Cone of Silence descending again.

The case of the missing 53,000 emails

This brings up the case of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired by the former CAO, Ann Pappert. Mr. Poole, a 30-year veteran in the building department, and chief for 20 years, sued the city for wrongful dismissal claiming $1 million.

The alleged reason for his dismissal was because he complained that some 50 building projects being conducted by the city did not take out building permits. He said he would have to take the information to the province for failure of the city to follow the rules. For carrying out his responsibilities, he was fired.

Well a funny thing happened. Mr. Poole’s lawyer, as part of examination for discovery, requested from the city all electronic files pertaining to his client. Instead, he was sent 53,000 emails from the city’s Information Technology department in an external drive that contained personal information about city employees including performance reviews.

To make a long story short, the case was quickly settled in Mr. Poole’s favour and the errant files returned.

Details of the settlement were sealed at the request of city. The city solicitor resigned to take another position. It is yet another example of using the Cone of Silence to paper over incompetence.

Truth or consequences

About a week following the December 10 closed session meeting, council again in closed-session, approved a protective barrier, Bylaw 19995. It is designed to provide legal assistance to any staffer or elected official facing a procedure brought by a citizen or corporation. It was yet another leg of the controlling Cone of Silence.

Question: Has the Corporation of City of Guelph or any employee or elected official ever been sued for defamation, slander, or libel? This is the Mayor’s explanation of the consequences if the corporation failed to not conduct its business in closed-session.

This effectively makes it almost impossible to sue city hall, its hired staff and elected officials. Again, the door is slammed shut and public participation is denied and ignored.

Question: Does the city not have liability insurance to protect employees from civil suits? If so, why is it necessary to have such an offensive bylaw to protect the members of the city administration? It is also interesting to know if the city employees or elected officials have ever been sued.

This mélange of administration stiff arms to protect their own interests and not those of the people who pay their salaries, benefits and guarantees their pensions, has reached epidemic levels.

The shadow of deceit and obfuscation hangs over 1 Carden Street like a darkening cloud of public distrust of its managing institutions that hides behind appropriated OMA terms and conditions.

October 2018 cannot come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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