Tag Archives: Cathy Downer

When the administration uses gullibility to thwart culpability

By Gerry Barker

January 9, 2017

I still wonder why and how those three senior managers got away with $98,202 in increases for 2015.

It was done in secret, that’s closed session, with council members attending December 10, 2015.

The three were then Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, Deputy Chief Administrative Officers (DCAO’s), Derrick Thomson and Mark Amorosi.

What followed was something out of a cheap pulp fiction novel.

Allow me to recap because the pieces are starting to fit together.

Prior to that Dec. 10 meeting, the Mayor had steadfastly supported Ms. Pappert. He sent out an email to an unknown number of citizens saying that I did not know what I was talking about and to ignore me. That was in January 2015.

In early spring 2015, the Mayor said that Ms. Pappert could not defend herself.

Then he threatened a citizen, Rena Akerman, with legal action because she emailed the record of Ms. Pappert’s performance as CAO over five years to “concerned citizens.” That legal threat disappeared quickly.

The Mayor continued supporting the CAO who, in five years, failed to balance the city books because she overspent her own budget. She authorized using money from reserve funds to ensure the City books were balanced when the Financial Information Report was filed with the province, as required by law.

She also served as Chief Executive Officer of the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc for four years.

In 2010, the City reported reserves of $77 million. In 2015 that total was just $10 million.

The attitude at the top of the staff was they could use the reserves for any purpose they chose. The greatest was the $5.7 million they took from three unrelated reserve funds to settle the Lawsuit won by Urbacon Buildings Group Inc in August 2014.

Because there have been no details of that Dec. 10 meeting revealed, City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien, says closed session meetings of council are “not part of the public record.”

But, don’t you believe that awarding such huge increases, of our money is part of the public record and the right of the people to know?

An educated guess is that Ms. Pappert was already on a job search and planned to leave the city. She resigned May 26, 2016. In September, she revealed she had been appointed an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Culture, Tourism and Sport Ministry.

But this is only the beginning of the “Goodbye Ann” caper

According to the official agenda of the October 13. 2015, a closed-session meeting reviewed the performance of the CAO. The process went like this: Each member of council rated the performance of the CAO. The outside consultant received the councillor’s ratings and prepared a consolidated report.

The consultant reported that the aggregate score did not qualify the CAO for an annual salary raise because it was less than required.

Apparently, there was additional discussion by councilors that ranged from the boring to the ridiculous. These included that the CAO should be treated to an increase “out of respect” and “fairness” and “perhaps we were too tough on her.”

Disregarding the consultant’s advice, the majority of council voted to give her the $37,591 increase making her the highest paid CAO in the group of similar sized Ontario cities.

It is troubling that the identity of those councillors voting for the CAO salary increase was never revealed because of the ridiculous closed-session rules.

The CAO was not present at the October 13 meeting. How about this for irony? On December 9, 2015, the meeting to determine the 2016 budget, during another closed-session before the regular meeting, the CAO was informed of her failing score but agreed to take the increase any way!

The truth about that $37,591 Pappert increase for 2015

Last August, Councillor Cathy Downer asked the Human Resources Department to break down the $37,591 received by Ms. Pappert for 2015 and approved in closed session by council Dec. 10.

Why would Ms. Downer bring this up months after Pappert left?

The reason was the amount of negative public reaction to Mr. Pappert’s generous increase when the Provincial Sunshine List revealed her total remuneration of $263,748 for 2015; four months after the increases were awarded in closed session Dec. 10.

Ms. Pappert resigned shortly following the release of her 2015 increase.

The HR staffer told Ms. Downer that Pappert only received a two percent base salary increase for 2015. But then went on to say she received a retroactive performance bonus going back to 2013 of some $18,000. Plus she received more than $18,000 of unused accumulated vacation pay.

A payout of unused vacation time was a clue the CAO was leaving

Now that vacation payout is the clue that council knew she was leaving Dec. 10. One little problem is the managerial agreement states that managers can only withdraw one week a year in unused vacation. Receiving three weeks in one year accommodated her.

This is exemplified by CAO Derrick Thomson’s new contract in which he is entitled to six weeks paid vacation plus another week in lieu of overtime. Overtime? Since when does the CAO of a $500 million corporation charge overtime? Particularly when the CAO is being paid $239,600 a year.

That wrinkle is the CAO’s workdays for the year total 260 days. Now deduct 49 days for paid vacation and another 12 days for statutory holidays and the extra days off when the city hall is closed, estimate 10 days (Christmas and New Years are recent examples). Accordingly, Mr. Thomson is on the job as CAO for 201 days a year being paid $1,192 per day. (239,600/201).

It’s difficult to blame Mr. Thomson because most members of council were complicit in the whole Pappert-leaving episode and also approving large amounts to the two remaining DCAO’s.

I believe Mr. Thomson should be given a chance to sanitize the administration he inherited and return the city to affordable financial stability and accountability.

On November 9th, 2016, I requested City Clerk Stephen O’Brien to ask the Closed Session Investigator (CSI) to unseal the minutes of that Dec. 10th meeting, if they even exist seeing they are not part of the public record. As of today’s date, that request has not been fulfilled in two months. I have never heard from the city’s hired consultant, CSI, Amberlea Gravel of London, Ontario. Mr. O’Brien acknowledged forwarding the pertinent documents to the CSI.

This has mushroomed into a serious abuse of the public trust. We the public have the right to know what we are paying our staff. That’s why CAO Thomson said he would publish details of his contract, and he has.

It’s obvious there is sensitivity in the Guthrie administration about this blatant cover-up by his council and senior staff. This is why it’s important for citizens to know the details of that closed session meeting of council December 10, 2015.

The ludicrous claim that Ms. Pappert only received a two per cent base salary increase almost nine months after the Dec. 10th meeting, has only fuelled the public’s demand for an explanation, one to which they are entitled.

The announcement by CAO Thomson that he would reveal his contract details was another step to shut down the demand for the minutes of that Dec. 10 meeting. The public wanted details of the rationale for those increases and who voted to support it.

I believe Mayor Guthrie should order the details of the meeting be available to the public. This is a black eye on Guelph that needs clarity.

It also discourages trust in the administration and future development of the city.

The council majority preys on the gullibity of the people who pay the bills. It is driven by political practices that allowed the core of council to continue the social engineering policies of the previous administration and its multi-million dollar failures.

The overt denial to reveal the circumstances surrounding the $98,202 increases paid to the top three senior managers borders on corruption. It is a miscarriage of fiduciary responsibility each councillor has sworn to uphold.

Soon their culpability will be tested and their arrogance exposed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s not about tax and spend in Guelph; it’s now about spend and tax

By Gerry Barker

December 5, 2016

Editor’s note: I want to thank all those folks who have expressed support for me and www.guelphspeaks.ca.

Here we are nearing the end of the 2017 budget exercise to determine the taxes and fees the citizens will have to pay next year.

Wednesday, December 7, council will finalize the 2017 budget. It has been a carefully orchestrated process to meet a number of capital spending proposals and operating expenses that council is facing today and next year and the years following.

Along comes Ward 6 Councillor Mark MacKinnon stating he intends to introduce a motion to increase the special property tax levy from .5 per cent, as proposed by staff, to 1 per cent for 2017. Councillors Cathy Downer, June Hofland and James Gordon will join his motion but for different reasons as it turned out.

Let’s examine the motives and background of these four members of city council.

Mr. MacKinnon has implied that paying taxes is a privilege of citizenship and citizens owning property should mortgage their properties to pay their taxes. Further, he argues that with the increasing equity in private properties is reason to force people to pay for the wasteful spending of previous administrations. This outrageous theory is the hallmark of the previous administration. The property taxes and user fee increases in the past 10 years have soared in Guelph to a point where the city operating and capital spending costs are 50 per cent greater than either Kitchener and Cambridge.

The MacKinnon theory is that we all have to pay taxes and user fees whatever council demands. Question: Does that mean that when property values decline, that taxes are lowered?

First, during this entire 2017 budget process the fiscal elephant in the room has been the condition of the city’s infrastructure. There is ample reason for concern. Following a lead by Coun. James Gordon, council spent hours debating the state of the aquifer that supplies water to the city. His target was Nestle who draw on the same aquifer, one of the largest fresh water sites in the world. The fact that the Nestle bottling operations are not in Guelph, failed to deter Gordon and his fellow travelers from trying to plug the Nestle draws.

Which brings us back to the Guelph infrastructure problem. It is reported that the underground water pipes are leaking far more aquifer water that the draws by Nestle. You have to give Mr. Gordon credit. His water crusade caught the eye of the Wynne government and they are debating stopping Private Corporations from drawing water from Ontario sources

Question: Why is attacking a private company licensed to draw water more important to city council than working to fix our leaking infrastructure?

The city infrastructure now needs capital spending of more than $200 million according to an estimate of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

Ward 5 Coun. Cathy Downer, is a member of AMO and presumably she concurs with the estimated cost of restoring the city’s vital infrastructure. It has been starved of funding for nine years because money was being spent on major waste management and other environmental projects. Ms. Downer, although not on council from 2006 to 2014, was a close personal friend of the former Mayor, Karen Farbridge, and was her campaign manager for the 2010 civic election that the Mayor won.

So while Ms. Downer supports doubling the levy for 2017 she wants to split the funding with half going to infrastructure and the other half going toward “city building projects.” She did not detail which city building projects she had in mind.

Ward 3 Coun. June Hofland, agrees with the Downer position in supporting the 1 per cent levy motion. She took it a tiny step further saying that “city building” included partial funding of the south end recreation centre.

To sort this out, this Wednesday night, council will vote on the motion to double the levy for one year. The staff proposed a .5 per cent levy on property taxes for ten years with a reopening of the levy on a regular basis. The staff did not propose doubling the levy in the first year.

Let’s review. Coun. MacKinnon believes that citizens must pay taxes and fees even if they have to increase the mortgage on their homes.

Coun. James Gordon takes the position that fighting a private corporation is more important than solving a serious infrastructure problem in the city he represents.

Coun. June Hofland, supports doubling the levy to 1 per cent but splits the funds to support a recreation centre in Ward 6. That derails the staff proposal to take a longer view to solve the neglected infrastructure problem. She was a member of council during the Farbridge administration and apparently, in her mind, infrastructure repairs and maintenance was not a priority for eight years.

Cathy Downer was not on the Farbridge council. Her proposal to split the property tax levy between operating budget and capital spending, defeats the urgent intent to clean up a neglected mess underneath our city.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the proposals made to council and staff by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, to reduce the operating overhead without affecting services. Staff and Council has largely ignored his recommendations freezing the 2016 budget, reducing staff and non-essential projects.

His analysis of audited city financial statements for four years plus the report of city hired consultants BMA of Hamilton, led to his detailed report that has been received by thousands of citizens.

If the elected officials that you supported don’t listen and react to proposals made by a highly qualified financial professional, what alternative do we have?

Your turn for action comes October 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Democracy has left the building

Posted July 11, 2012

When the underlying issues of a civilized society are endangered by a dictatorial and secretive administration, democracy, as we know it, vanishes.

It’s a natural instinct for those in power to withhold information that may reflect on their actions and management of the public assets.

Once in power the tendency is to surround yourself with friends and supporters who blindly follow.

One of the first tenants of political power is to control the message and give the appearance of serving the public stakeholders. Those controlling the agenda ignore disagreement and rejection of the controlling political organization’s policies.

This leads to anger and disillusionment on the part of the stakeholder, you and me.

So, thanks to a report by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star, here are three lessons to emphasize the theory of democracy discarded by those empowered.

Lesson One: Those with power – politicians, police and bureaucrats – don’t believe they should have to share that power. Basically, they dismiss the rights of citizens to share that power and don’t believe they have any role to play in their sphere of influence.

Lesson Two:  Governments frequently slap pejorative labels on those who oppose and complain. Such methods are to use surrogates to attack those objectors labelling them as ignorant, dangerous, violent and out of touch.

Lesson Three: Citizens have to use the tools they have to keep democracy alive. These include solidarity, willingness to stand up to authorities and to reach beyond their own ranks.

How does that menu rank with what has been going on in Guelph for the past six years?

First, we have been governed by a civic dictatorship composed of a majority of councillors who, 99 per cent of the time, votes their own agenda. The opposition – in the first four years consisted of just two councillors. Since 2010, the opposition has grown to five councillors who have voiced concerns about the operation of the city government but are defeated most times when votes are held.

There is growing evidence that Mayor Karen Farbridge, the architect of Guelph’s public policy, along with a close-knit group of unelected advisors, has created a growing unrest among voters.

Democracy is no longer operative in this council.

The administration works in two parts. The mayor to carry out her agenda, has handpicked the senior bureaucrats. Policy rests with the mayor and her advisors including former councillors Ken Hammill and Cathy Downer.

The Mayor is beholden and influenced by the Guelph Civic League although since the 10 Carden Street organization came into being that influence has diminished. Instead, 10 Carden Street is the stepchild of the Guelph Civic League. It received a $135,000 Trillium Foundation grant from the provincial government to provide “community services.”

This is a thinly disguised political action group dedicated to support the present Farbridge political organization.

The artful part is how the Farbridge crew has influenced and received support from a number of community and neighbourhood groups supplying public funding, support in planning and social issues.

The offshoot of all this is the vast silent majority of voters who are not united, knowledgeable nor organized to question or oppose policies advanced by the Farbridge political organization.

This has resulted in participatory democracy failing to acknowledge its majority rule.

For almost six years,the city has b ten ruled by a tight-knit group of individuals operating under the mantra of: “ it’s our way or the highway.”

Still not convinced?

The ambition of this group has cost taxpayers millions in personal pet projects, dumb planning, excessive legal expenses and fiscal mismanagement aided and abetted by unqualified or absent individuals. Those responsible for protecting the public interest

Madame Mayor, democracy has left your building.

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