Tag Archives: city council

Oh! What a tangled web they weave

By Gerry Barker

Posted March 18, 2016

Among progressives, James Gordon is their Pope and Cardinal Richelieu rolled into one.His soft-spoken piety devoted to the NDP and progressive policies, has worked over the years to maintain control of the city.But when accused of a possible conflict of interest as a member of city council, he trots out Susan Watson to lecture the guelphspeaks. ca editor to fact check his assertions.

You all remember Susan Watson. A close friend and financial supporter of former mayor Karen Farbridge, she launched a complaint to have an audit of former candidate Glen Tolhurst’s election financial report.

To bolster her claim before the Compliance Audit Committee, all members appointed by the Farbridge administration, she hired a Toronto lawyer to present her case.

The audit committee agreed with the premise that Mr. Tolhurst took an illegal contribution from the citizen’s activist group GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). The city clerk, Stephen O’Brien, a Farbridge hire just before the 2014 election, assigned Toronto-based auditor, William Molson, to conduct the audit.

His conclusion was that GRG had the right to donate the money and that Mr. Tolhurst was guilty of a minor oversight, he forgot to list the purchase of a $6 city map in his official financial return.

In the end, council took no action and the taxpayers were stuck with an $11,400 bill, the cost of this frivolous charge.

So who should pay that bill, Sue?

In 2014, Watson and her husband donated thousands not only to the Farbridge campaign but also to other progressive candidates. This included a donation to June Hofland who received $500 from Watson and her husband and won by just five votes. James Gordon was also a recipient of the Watson et al generosity.

The city clerk refused to allow examination of the ballots on the required recount but just ran them through the vote counting machine. That’s not a recount, that’s an exercise. Also two weeks before Mr. Molson’s report, Clerk O’Brien said that Watson would not have to pay the costs of the audit.

Council, including James Gordon, never discussed the matter in open council. Are you beginning to see the thread connecting the key people in this scenario?

Another city deal that went south

Moving on, when the former Civic Museum on Dublin Street was put up for sale by the city, there were two bids. One of them was from a husband and wife partnership that proposed converting the building into a set of offices and studios for budding artists and computer developers.

During the public meeting to hear the application, up pops citizen James Gordon who whole-heartedly supported the bid. There was no mention of the second bid, who made it and for how much?

So, this entrepreneurial couple bought the former museum for an estimated $550,000. Then a couple of things happened. The city’s manager of real estate who handled the deal resigned amid rumours that the undisclosed bid was considerably higher. One estimate of the market value was $900,000.

And the end of this story is that there are no budding artists or computer developers in the building. Instead, it is occupied by an up-scale art  gallery, a situation far from the original promised use of the building.

The Akers project, a win-win for James Gordon, a loss for taxpayers

Again, now a city councillor, James Gordon is hot to trot on supporting another progressive scheme to convert the former Akers Furniture store on Carden Street, into a cultural downtown hub for organizations, most of whom are part of the progressive’s network.

Requesting support from the city for this project is 10 Carden Street Space Inc. It is the stepchild of the Guelph Civic League that was founded by James Gordon. This is the same James Gordon whose friend, Susan Watson, claiming he had no connection with the Guelph Civic League or the Hillside Festival for the past 20 years. It is now evident that Coun. Gordon is an influential contributor to the Karen Farbridge cause to change our city regardless of how much it costs.

For the record, after getting elected to council, Mr. Gordon supported two property tax increases last year totaling 6.96 per cent. He also supported increases in the water bills and the transfer a portion of 2016 operating costs to debt.

He voted to spend $14 million to widen Speedvale Avenue to accommodate bicycle lanes, despite widespread protest against the plan by residents in the ward he represents. His support failed because the staff did not recommend it.

He participated in the January 25 walkout, by five members of the Bloc of Seven councillors.

The point is that Gordon doesn’t care about you or me. He is a doctrinaire member of the NDP whose mantra is to force their policies, particularly in municipalities, to gain control of the administration. In Guelph, the progressives have held power for nine years. This group is directly responsible for depleting the reserves, jacking up taxes and user fees to pay the bills, increased the debt and subsidize Guelph Transit by some $15 million a year.

The operating and capital costs numbers don’t lie but the James Gordon Bloc of Seven refuses to accept them or the obvious conclusion. The numbers are taken from the official Financial Information Reports submitted by all municipalities in the province annually.

The core numbers are the comparison of operating and capital costs for 2014 between Guelph and Kitchener and Cambridge. The number for the latter two, show their figures are 50 per cent less that Guelph’s. The figures for 2015 are about to be released. And, that’s a straight-up, apples to apples comparison.

Coun. James Gordon and his six fellow travelers are consumed by a socialist manifesto that most people in the city rejected in 2014. His resourcefulness in getting elected speaks to his determination to continue the Farbridge agenda no matter what the silent majority thinks or feels.

For years he has operated outside the public view working to maintain the progressive’s grip on Guelph.

He is never going to change his outlook or political views. He is an altruistic financial amateur when it comes to managing corporate finances and sticks to his simplistic approach that the taxpayers will provide.

 

 

 

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Twelve reasons why Guelph council should reject the staff proposed 2016 budget

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 8, 2015

Tomorrow night, city council will debate the 2016 budget, its second budget this year. Already it appears that another plus 3 per cent property tax increase is inevitable. Based on the evidence produced so far, there appears to be a divide between what the staff is recommending and what citizens can afford.

After eight years of voodoo economics by the previous council, it’s not difficult to understand what’s happening again. We’ve seen this movie before.

Instead, council should reconsider the proposed staff generated budget and put off approving it until the facts about the city finances and the ability of citizens to pay, are reviewed and discussed with input from citizens.

Here are the 12 reasons for re-examining the proposed 2016 budget.

 * The City of Guelph’s operational costs and capital spending are 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener.

* The city appointed BMA Management Consultants, have warned that the reserve funds are severely underfunded describing the situation as a “cautionary red flag.”

* The same BMA report also said that infrastructure spending by the city has drastically fallen in the past eight years leading to the need of greater budget allocation to maintain the various public systems.

* The huge miscalculation by the city staff in proposing cuts to Guelph Transit service and a whopping 33 per cent increase in fares … but not to University students.

* The staff failed to propose a plan for replenishing the three unrelated reserve funds that were raided to pay the Urbacon $8.96 million lawsuit settlement.

* Failing to address the high cost of Guelph’s waste management system that is greater than both peer cities. Kitchener sends its green box wet waste to Guelph for processing at a rate lower than cost.

* Staff is proposing adding more fulltime equivalent employees and various projects under the title “expansion,” when operational costs are proven to be 50 per cent higher that Cambridge and Kitchener.

* There was no staff proposal to privatize some city services such as waste collection and sorting, snowplowing, property inspection and enforcement, human resources, and Guelph Transit.

* How can we trust an administration that approves the 2015 budget in March and has an operationg deficit of more than a million dollars by June 30?

* The whole system of budgeting has been played by the staff to make it appear that staff is only proposing a 1.58 per cent tax increase by cutting Guelph Transit’s weekend service and raising fares. If council rejects that proposal, it will add another .72 per cent to the property tax increase for 2016. This will bring the staff proposal to 2.3 per cent plus 1.25 percent for “expansion” of staff and services. That totals 3.55 per cent for 2016.

* Now the city staff is proposing using debt to lower the property tax rate that Janice Sheehy, city treasurer and general manager of finance, describes as an unusual use of debt. It is to allow a reduction in the overall property tax increase that, she says, would have shot up to 6.20 per cent without this latest financial juggling.

* Underlying all this is to protect and continue the policies of the former administration. It is perpetuated by a majority group of councillors, most of who received election financial support from the Guelph and District Labour council and teacher unions. Some 80 per cent of the city staff is unionized and even management belongs to an association to protect its interests.

Some thoughts

There is only one way to stop this bogus budgeting system that is proposing more spending than this city can afford. When does the senior city staff come to grip with the high costs of living in Guelph and that spending must be reduced?

Starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday night, is the time for the citizens to demonstrate their desire to lower Guelph’s operating costs. There is nothing that most politician hate more than facing a crowd of demonstrators seeking answers.

The best we can wish for is council to postpone the 2016 budget decision until it can review all the facts and listen to their constituents.

The city staff leadership has had its say, now it’s time for the citizens to question the staff proposals. The recent public budget meeting had 42 delegations, most of who were supporting Guelph Transit. Only two delegates questioned the financial logic behind the staff proposals. They were representing the silent majority that voted Karen Farbridge out of office last year.

Pat Fung, CA, CPA and Glen Tolhurst, MBA, with years of professional experience, presented the facts generated from the city’s own consultants and the Financial Information Reports (FIR). Those FIR reports are filed annually by each of the 444 municipalities in Ontario, as mandated by the Provincial Government. They provide all the reasons for the City of Guelph to reduce its costs.

Otherwise, it will be business as usual, with the potential of another “Urbacon” looming. The $34 million renovation of the Police Headquarters building, approved in August 2014 by the previous council, is delayed and the construction contract has yet to be awarded..

Ask yourself, more than a year later: Is this another example of mismanagement in which the renovation of a public building will not be completed until 2018 and costing much more than originally authorized?

It’s just another reason to attend this crucial budget meeting tomorrow night at City Hall to get an upclose and informed view of how your city is being managed.

It’s time for the gravy train to end and common sense to be adopted.

 

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Mayor Farbridge and the city waterworks

Recently, there was a rare occurrence during a meeting of city council.

The Farbridge administration has enjoyed a majority of councillors supporting the agenda of the mayor and, senior civil servants.

This meeting was attended by a group of condominium owners asking for compensation because their owner’s association water bill had jumped from an average of $1,600 per billing period to $25,000 from April 21 to May 17.

The manager of the city water works said the meter tested accurately and offered no explanation as to why the condo water bill zoomed to such proportions. To use that much water, it was estimated every tap and toilet in the condominium would have to run constantly for six months. 

It was acknowledged that there was no similar surge at the wastewater facility.

So, where did the water go?

Now this gets interesting. Coun. Bob Bell made a motion to compensate the condo association. By the way, the association paid the $25,000 bill by levying a special assessment on every owner.

The Farbridge gang of eight would normally defeat this motion swiftly.  But this was not a normal situation. Coun. Gloria Kovach was not present for the vote leaving six councillors supporting Coun. Bell’s motion and six councillors voted against.

The six against were all members of the Farbridge gang of eight. But there was a defection. Coun. Maggie Laidlaw, normally a member of the council majority, supported the condo owner’s plea for compensation.

Because of the tie, the mayor cast the seventh vote against supporting the Bob Bell motion.

She opted to throw the question back to the waterworks department staff. That was the same bunch that was either unwilling or unable to solve what was a serious usage and billing problem.

Any dolt with half a brain could understand that something was terribly wrong.

Then another property owner surfaced saying he was hit with a $6,000 water bill in his duplex rented out to four students. He has not paid the bill saying his normal monthly usage is 40 cubic meters or $140.

Last August, residents of an 85-unit townhouse complex on Scottsdale Drive, received a water bill for $24,000 when a typical two-month billing would be $8,000.

Residents are paying it off in installments ending in May.

Do you think those folks are going to vote for Mayor Farbridge and her gang?

The Mayor’s deciding vote was a defining moment in her stewardship as head of civic government.

She may sit in her office and wonder why the taxpayers are resentful and have lost respect for her management. The steady erosion of confidence in the Mayor and her cohorts on council is growing in all areas of the city.

And respect and confidence are earned and hard to replace when lost.

There was a swift and simple solution to the excessive water-billing problem.

All council had to do was instruct the water department to suspend excessive water bills. Then reinstall meters at the sites where excessive water use had been reported. Monitor usage over a two-month period to ensure accuracy. Next, review and report to council the billing processes for water use and wastewater disposal.

 Instead, the Mayor said that the staff was working on a compensation program that was larded with foggy language such as “considering, recommendation and proposed.”

 As the elderly lady said in the Wendy’s commercial: “Where’s the Beef?”

 Has the Mayor allowed unlimited power to go to her head? Has she become so immune to serious needs of her constituents?

 The Mayor should remember to dance with the people who brought her to the party.

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