Tag Archives: city of guelph

How the city administration is doing it their way with your money

By Gerry Barker

September 25, 2017

Let’s start today’s commentary by introducing the late Marshall McLuhan, the University of Toronto Philosophy Professor whose 1967 book: “The Medium is the Message,” predicted the Internet and its effect on sharing information globally.

“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with,” he said.

“By shaping how societies obtain information, the medium (television, telegrams, telephones, etc) shaped people as much, if not more, than the message did.”

This got me thinking about how, in 2017, the city administration uses the Internet to communicate to the citizens. Aside from the Internet, there are other methods of communicating including the old reliable telephone, landline or cell, sending a letter by snail mail or reading the city-paid City News advertising pages in the local weekly. Believe me, those last two methods are old school communications. They are one-way communications that in some cases require a response.

But if a citizen is computer savvy and can send a message to the administration, most times they get a response.

Here’s a recent example of what I am talking about.

Last Thursday I sent the following request to City Clerk. Stephen O’Brien.

Hello Stephen:

I would appreciate a list of all the closed-session meetings conducted by council since September 1, 2016.  It would be useful to also include the reason for the meeting and the authority per the Ontario Municipal Act.

I realize your staff is busy and I’m in no great rush. The closed-session meetings are now published so I may pick up the current meetings as they are announced.

I was talking with a former councillor and he said that when he was on council, whenever a closed-session was held, there was a statement following, outlining the decisions made during that meeting. Understandably, the discussions, details and identity of the speakers would not be included in the brief post-meeting synopsis.

In your opinion is that option still available to the public?

Thanks for your assistance,

Best, Gerry Barker

Here is Mr. O’Brien’s reply sent the following day. It has be slightly edited for space.

To: Cam.Guthrie, Derrick.Thomson, Trevor.Lee, me

Good afternoon Mr. Barker,

Thank you for your email.

Our meetings, associated agendas and minutes, are all posted on line. I’ve provided easy to access links to this information based on meeting type below in order to assist with your request/inquiry:

Council and Council Planning Meetings

Council and Council Planning Meetings (for year 2017)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/city-council/agendas-and-minutes/

Council and Council Planning Meetings (for years 2016 – 2017)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/city-council/agendas-and-minutes/council-meetings/

Committee of the Whole and past Standing Committees

Committee of the Whole (for year 2017 and 2016)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/committee-of-the-whole/

Former Standing Committees (pre Committee of the Whole)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/council-and-committees/committee-archive/standing-committees/

All of the information/data you require, including the open meeting exception cited, is included on meeting agendas. In fact, section 239 (4) of the Municipal Act requires that before holding a meeting or part of a meeting that is to be closed to the public, a municipality shall state by resolution the fact of the holding of the closed meeting and the general nature of the matter to be considered at the closed meeting.

As such, our agendas list the following as an example:

Authority to move into closed meeting

That the Council of the City of Guelph now hold a meeting that is closed to the public, pursuant to the Municipal Act, to consider:

C-CON-2017.9  Public Appointments to the Environmental Advisory Committee, Water Conservation and Efficiency Public Advisory Committee, and Wellbeing Grant Allocation Panel Section. 239 (2) (b) of the Municipal Act related to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees.

The vote and associated result of that vote with respect to this resolution to close a meeting to the public is contained within the meeting minutes as such:

Authority to Resolve into a Closed Meeting of Council

  1. Moved by Councillor Van Hellemond
  2. Seconded by Councillor Allt
  3. That the Council of the City of Guelph now hold a meeting that is closed to the public, pursuant to Section 239 (2) (b), (e) and (f) of the Municipal Act with respect to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees; litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals; and advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose. Carried

To answer your question about the process following a closed meeting, Council does offer a statement following the closed portion of the meeting. This statement is listed on our agendas as “Closed Meeting Summary” and generally occurs either before or after the initiation of the open meeting (i.e. before or after O Canada, the moment of silent reflection, etc.). These statements are also captured in our minutes, an example of which is as follows (my emphasis added):

Closed Meeting Summary

Mayor Guthrie spoke regarding the matters addressed in closed and identified the following:

C-CON-2017.9  Public Appointments to the Environmental Advisory Committee, Water Conservation and Efficiency Public Advisory Committee, and Wellbeing Grant Allocation Panel

Direction was given to staff and recommendations will be introduced later in the meeting when the public report is discussed.

Some additional general information that you may find helpful:

The City maintains a Closed Meeting Protocol to assist Council and staff with questions relating to closed meeting processes. This protocol is available here and is accessible from the City’s Accountability and Transparency page online.

  • The City’s Procedural By-law, which is also available online, codifies many of the above mentioned requirements and actions. The specific section(s) (see section 4.6) the by-law can be referenced here.

I trust this information answers your questions and assists you with your request.

Thank you and enjoy your weekend,

Stephen

Let the search begin

Now I must admit, Mr. O’Brien’s response was thorough but requires some time spent on searching the various components of the response to obtain the information requested. I’m still working on it.

Did Marshall McLuhan ever believe in 1967 that the Internet would transform the distribution of knowledge and the way it was managed to support his philosophical theories?

There are 131,000 people living permanently in Guelph today. Add to that, the more than 20,000 students who attend the University of Guelph for approximately eight months of the year. That group is, for the most part, computer savvy and active on the Internet. That is not the case for many of the permanent residents. In that group, the availability, use and operation smarts using a computer, drops off dramatically. I know because I can’t keep up with tech changes and procedures.

This brings us to the City of Guelph’s website. It is extremely difficult to navigate even by highly qualified computer users. Using a computer requires a high level of proficiency, if for no other reason, to keep up with technological change.

Using a computer is not like riding a bicycle but more like training to be a concert pianist.

The city website is designed to serve the needs of the administration not the citizens. I’m not suggesting to dumb it down but make it open and easier to access. It should be built to serve the citizens not the other way around.

Today, the printed word reflects the diminishing interest in newspapers and magazines

This brings us to the printed word as seen by the younger demographic as being old school communications. The demise of the Mercury is an example of this.

The Guelph Tribune is the sole community print outlet in the city. It has the benefit of having the administration of being one of its largest customers. The city’s full-page ads running in every issue labelled “City News,” average 5 full pages per week. Assuming that pages are deeply discounted at $1,000 that comes to a tasty $260,000 a year account, paid by the citizens.

But that’s only the beginning. There is the city communications staff, Legal department, Finance and Clerk’s office all contributing to the content of those City News ads. The Tribune staff can put the material together but the source has to be generated by the city staff.

In my opinion, this is a waste of the public’s money. Why, you may ask? Because this give the administration complete control of the medium. The editorial content of the twice-weekly paper. is dominated by friendly reports as distributed by the city communications department. When was the last time you read a story in the Tribune that was critical and exposed operational mistakes and loss of public funds?

The owners of the paper will never bite the hand that feeds them. That’s why the paper is rarely critical of the administration. The medium is indeed the message and the city administration owns it.

It’s reflective of the cultural malaise of the administration. They can think of 50 ways to spend your money on their pet projects, but rarely take steps to save your money.

It will not change unless the people decide to change it and to elect knowledgeable, responsible candidates with the political will to change the pernicious culture that has existed for too long at City Hall.

You know we have a problem when the Mayor, apparently assisted by consultant, the Hildred Group, to prepare his explanation why closed-session meetings are important to the public’s business but then only sends the explanation to his council and four other people.

I guess Marshall McLuhan got it right? The medium is the message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shared Economy: Another incomprehensible project we are expected to accept

By Gerry Barker

August 17, 2017

This week the city sent a press release about “navigating the shared economy.”

It was long on jargon and these was a pathetic explanation by Mayor Cam Guthrie.

“I’m proud of the leading role Guelph has played in creating a tool that will help local councils and communities analyze the impact of various sharing economy services on their own residents and businesses so they can make decisions based on local needs.”

Some clarity please, Mr. Mayor. What kind of tool are you talking about? How will it help the cost of services to the citizens specifically, what are you talking about?

Perhaps Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson can explain it: “Sharing economy initiatives are being shaped by zoning codes, hotel and taxi licensing regulations, transit and all manner of distinctly local policy. The Shared Economy guide is designed to help municipalities understand this new economy, what it means on a local level and how to respond appropriately.”

Does this Shared Economy include include tighter financial control of operating overhead and capital budgets? Particularly, in view of the huge losses incurred by the city management such as the $163 million wasted on the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc? Part of that has been parked on the Guelph Hydro financial statement as a $94 million debt. The balance of the loss is the shareholder’s (all citizens) equity of some $67 million spent on a variety of projects, most of which were authorized and executed in closed-session meetings between 2011 and 2015.

Was this a shared economy issue?

This week the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) is meeting in Ottawa. The Guelph delegation composed of some councillors, led by Mayor Guthrie, has joined in support of a recommendation to the provincial government to raise the Ontario portion of the sales tax by one per cent taking the HST to 14 per cent.

The Ontario government rejected the proposal a few hours after the presentation. What were the municipal representatives thinking? Did they believe that the Wynne Liberals would approve increasing the HST before a provincial election June 7, 2018?

First, the provincial government funds the AMO. That gives it power to accept or reject proposals.

Second, excessive spending of the public’s money are the problems facing the 445 Ontario municipalities. Chiefly, in most cases it is repairing and replacing neglected infrastructure. A Guelph staff report pegs the cost of infrastructure in the city at more that $400 million.

In many cases it’s about cash management particularly, revenue from property taxes and user fees. In Guelph, there has been endemic abuse of boosting revenues from those sources to pay for misadventures in environmental projects with no return.

In most homes and businesses, revenues must balance spending. The use of credit to invest in necessary lifestyle issues such as emergencies, operating costs and capital projects, is practised in more than 90 per cent of property owners and businesses.

The corporation of the city of Guelph is no different. It is obligated by the province to supply a Financial Information Report (FIR) annually with no deficit.

What has occurred over the past ten years is that the budget forecasts have been exceeded because of overspending. It is an annual occurrence. The city does have a safety net called reserves. In 2009, Coun. Leanne Piper was quoted as stating that the city had $77 million in reserves. In 2014, an outside management consultant, BMA, said those city reserves had been depleted and used to balance the city books. Their report raised a “red flag” over the reserves’ depletion.

In 2012, a citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, presented a petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The documented petition, using the city’s financial statements, presented data that showed the discrepancies in the annual FIR’s. The petition requested an audit of the city’s finances. The Minister said the two parties should get together to resolve their differences. It never happened. The former CAO, Ann Pappert, claimed it was a waste of time.

This was a fight between two pit bulls in which there was no loser except the citizen’s of Guelph.

Guelph has become the poster city for failing to control spending on projects initiated by elected officials and staff of public servants with little public input.

For the past 10 city budgets, starting in 2007 until 2017, property taxes have increased annually by an average of 3.6 per cent. This has resulted in an exponential increase of some 45 per cent.. Now we are about to begin the 2018 budget negotiations spurred by staff recommendations.

Keep in mind this is an election-year budget so there will be debate about revenue and expenses. The council will end up approving budgets designed to please the electorate and lull us into believing all is well.

Instead, citizens are being fed another new management plan called the “Sharing Economy.”

Here is a capsule of the city press release’s explanation:

“The Guide provides a brief introduction to the sharing economy and then identifies the following six decisions to guide municipalities that are anticipating or reacting to a shared economy platform in their jurisdiction.

Ulp! Why is Guelph the instigator of this?

  • What type of approach is most appropriate?
  • Answer: Control spending and control of revenues is limited. That well has drained. Change the composition of city council. Reduce the number of councillors to nine from 13. Elect a single full-time councillor in each ward. Elect at large the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and an executive councillor with the key responsibility of overseeing city finances.
  • What are the primary public policy goals?
  • Answer: Fix the assets that are broken or are redundant. Stop buying the people with their own money such as the Well-Being handouts and miscellaneous city supported community projects.
  • What type(s) of sharing will be included?
  • Answer: Managing a city is not rocket science. We elect people presumed to be aware and competent and professional staff to manage the city.
  • What kinds of policy actions or tools are needed?
  • Answer: Control spending on consultants. Reduce staff and overhead costs. Work on developing growth in the manufacturing area to increase assessment and reduce the dependence on residential assessed properties. This will also provide jobs outside of the public sector.
  • Design considerations
  • Answer: The city council must enact considerations based on facts supplied by the professional staff. There must be a clear division between elected and professional officials to provide a system of checks and balances. In Guelph, there has been a serious lack of financial management and policies.
  • Implementation and evaluation
  • Answer: Most people in the city feel that there has been too much money spent on failed mismanaged projects. This is one program that should have full public input.

The Guide was commissioned by the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario, financially supported by the Province of Ontario and developed in collaboration with the Guelph Lab—a partnership between the City of Guelph and the University of Guelph.

A variety of other partners including the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and the municipalities of London and Mississauga contributed to the Guide.

We should be wary of this proposal, as we have just experienced a similar collaprative venture known as the Community Energy Initiative. It is important that we solve the immediate problems facing the city before launching into an academic exercise that may distract us from what’s needed today.

Too much money has already been wasted; it’s time to stop the bleeding.

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Liz Sandals and the Ontario Liberals ready for re-election?

By Gerry Barker

July 13, 2017

In politics and life, timing is everything and some prevarification goes a long way

The other day I received a large four-page brochure from our Liberal member of the Legislature, Liz Sandals, who represents Guelph. It was labeled “ Community Update- Spring 2017.” While this is July, I presume events were occurring so fast that the spring edition was merged into the summer version.

The only conclusion I could reach after browsing through the content was it reinforced Liz’s intention to run again in Guelph next June. Or, maybe even before if the Premier calls a snap election.

Problem is based on what? Premier Wynne’s personal poll numbers are below 20 per cent. That means more than 80 per cent of those polled would not support her, or the Liberals, in June 2018, the mandatory Election Day in Ontario.

But that’s a long way away. The Sandals brochure speaks of the Liberal promises and accomplishments while ignoring the sad record of the government.

Ms. Sandals ignores the loss of her job as Minister of Education over a revelation that she approved spending millions to some of the teacher’s unions just to attend the bargaining sessions in 2014/15. The most damaging event was Sandals’ argument that the payments were made due to extended bargaining time to cover union rep’s extra food and lodging costs in Toronto.

Then she admitted that the Liberals, while in office, had distributed millions over the years to the teacher unions as “bargaining bonuses” if that description fits.

At that point, Premier Wynne stepped in and said that the union members had to supply receipts to show the funds were spent covering the period of extended bargaining. The horse, unfortunately, was already out of the barn.

In a cabinet reshuffle, Ms. Sandals was removed as Minister of Education and assigned as president of the Provincial Treasury Board. It was a face saving move by her good friend Kathleen Wynne.

So, let’s look at Treasury President Sandals latest missile to the Guelph voters.

On page one, the lead story focuses on the 2017 provincial budget with a screaming headline that the budget is balanced!

The first one that caught my eye was the claim that Guelph had the second lowest unemployment rate in Ontario.

Ms. Sandals must know that the city she represents has one of the highest concentrations of employees paid with public money. More important, consider since Ms. Sandals’ tenure as Guelph MPP, the ratio of 84 per cent residential assessment and 16 per cent commercial/industrial assessment has been unchanged for ten years.

While it could be argued that the situation is a municipal responsibility, there have been provincial resources available to increase commercial and industrial assessment to lift the burden of taxation from homeowners.

We are still waiting.

The recent 10-year history of the city shows that property taxes and user fees have increased by more than 3.5 per cent compounded annually. It has resulted in one of the highest municipal tax rates in the province.

But there is one aggravating caveat. The University of Guelph only pays $75 per student in lieu of property taxes. In 1987, the rate was created by the Peterson Liberal government and has never changed. Today, the U of G property tax bill is some $1.7 million.

No change in the rate but increased due to the growing number of students attending the university since 1987. Translation: There has been no provision to increase the rate in the past three decades, even to match the rate of inflation.

While Guelph’s property taxes and user fees have more than tripled in the last 30 years, the university property taxes are locked in at 1987 levels. In real income, the student rate is worth about $10 today.

The university has an unusual advantage over other post-secondary institutions in the province. As a former agricultural college, it owned hundreds of acres used for crop testing and training. That was 50 years ago. Today much of those lands are leased back by the university to a variety of commercial and residential enterprises. This provides a steady cash flow unmatched by any educational institution in Ontario.

The growth of the city has encompassed much of those lands. I have never seen a financial statement of the university that is a public supported organization. The income from land rental should be revealed. For no other reason than to see if U of G property taxes reflect this additional income.

Where was the Guelph MPP to tackle this perverted 30-year property tax freeze that thrust paying part of the U of G overhead costs upon taxpayers? While most citizens are proud of their university, the cost of supporting it through growing emergency services, road and infrastructure costs, public transit, and recreational facilities are borne by the citizens. This amounts to an increase in the city overhead that has grown disproportionally with the growth of population.

Bottom line: Do the citizens of Guelph gain any benefit from this arrangement?

How the Sandal Liberals blocked a citizen’s petition to audit city finances

When citizens complained in September 2012, through a documented petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, she dismissed the claims. She added that the petition issues made by GrassRoots Guekph and the City of Guelph, had to jointly resolve the issue. Liz Sandals was given a copy of the petition in advance of presentation to Minister Linda Jeffery on the condition it be embargoed until the official release. The reason was to give the MPP a heads up of the content of the petition.

Somehow the embargoed petition was delivered to then Mayor Karen Farbridge.

When an elected official keeps their word that’s class. In this case, Liz Sandals had only one of three copies of the final version of the petition. I had one and a colleague had the other. But it goes further, when our organization known as GrassRoots Guelph arranged a press conference in Queen’s Park, we received no assistance from the Sandals office. Actually our group of seven was escorted from the building by three security guards. We were told we could hold our press conference on the front lawn of the Legislature. Back in Guelph, an hour later, the Farbridge team reported the incident.

In my opinion, Ms. Sandals’has complicity in this but she will never admit it. That day, she failed not only her supporters but also the entire population of the city. She was complicit in not informing the people, her constituents, who had the right to know and to petition under a provision of the Ontario Municipal Act.

More on the truth according to Ms. Sandals

Another interesting feature of her brochure was a table that preposterously claimed that Ontario’s economic growth outpaced all G7 group of countries. This is like comparing elephantine economic powers to a beetle crawling up a stalk of corn with the intent of munching on a cob or two. Talk about gilding the lily.

Gazing on the Wynne Liberal management record over the past three years, here are some of the lowlights and potential highlights:

* Stop selling part of Hydro One to private enterprise while claiming to retain control.

* Urging municipalities owning hydro distribution systems to either merge or be sold.

* Claiming to cut Ontario’s bloated high cost electricity system rates by 25 per cent for the next four years then increasing rates to pay for it.

* Failing to reform the Police Act, the Ontario Municipal Act particularly pertaining to closed-door sessions, Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan, Correctional services, hydro power generation and transmission and costs.

*Failing to stem the exponential growth of salary and benefits paid to Police and Fire employees.

* Replace the arbitration system of resolving Police and Fire union contracts.

* Why does Guelph have the hughest number of deputy fire chiefs in thr Province?

* Getting out of the booze business lowering the cost of alcoholic beverages and allowing wider and competitive sales by private enterprise.

* Failing to end the Beer Store’s foreign ownership monopoly.

* Stop creating the highest cost electricity system in the country.

* Failing to resolve the infrastructure problems facing municipalities in Ontario.

* Increasing costs of public servants with generous benefits that exceed those of private enterprises.

* Refusing to support that transportation needs of the larger cities.

* Failing to increase disability payments while raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

*  Merge the two public education systems to create efficiencies of operation and lower costs. Allow the secular schools to conduct their curriculum.

* Restore the provincial bank system to allow clients to deal electronically to conduct their businesses and invest in infrastructure.

* Allow the Provincial Bank to support small businesses and non-profit organizations.

* Reconsider plans to convert fossil-fueled vehicles to electric with regard to the economic outcomes of switching too fast.

 

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How the city plans to sell Guelph Hydro, something that Farbridge failed to do

By Gerry Barker

June 8, 2017

Today it’s Part One. Monday Part Two will be published

Nine years ago, former mayor Karen Farbridge attempted to convince city council and citizens to merge Guelph Hydro with systems in Hamilton and St. Catharines. The mayor had a comfortable majority of followers on council, so what could go wrong?

Well, it did as council turned it down. It was the only time I can recall that the mayor lost a major battle. Looking back, it occurred only because the people almost unanimously rejected the proposal and the councillors heard them. It was a rare occasion where the people had the final say.

The mayor needed the money that a sale of Guelph Hydro would provide. The first priority was to pay the $22 million toward the federal and provincial government’s special infrastructure plan. Under the plan, Guelph would pay one third, as would each of the senior governments. Some $66 million was approved and spent on a variety of shovel-ready projects in the city.

But the mayor’s plan almost failed because of the citizen’s revolt against selling Guelph Hydro. Instead, the mayor, who sat on the Hydro board of directors, notified the board that council was calling a $30 million note that Hydro owed the city. That solved the city’s share of the infrastructure plan and there was a little left over that was spent on a time clock in the Sleeman Centre and $2 million building bicycle lanes on Stone Road between Edinborough and Gordon Streets.

This all happened in the first three years of the Farbridge administration.

Shortly following her re-election in November 2010, the mayor set up Guelph Municipal Holdings, Inc. (GMHI), a corporation wholly owned by the city. The mayor was chair of the company and controlled the board of directors by naming four councillors, Lise Burcher, Todd Dennis, Karl Wettstein and June Hofland. Two independent directors were appointed.

The company had assets including Guelph Hydro and the Guelph Junction Railroad. GMHI sent a dividend of $1.5 million to the city each year. The last known total was $9 million before the roof fell in with the revelation in May 2016 that GMHI had lost $26.6 million and had never made a profit.

With a startup in late 2011, in five years, little was known about its operations as the meetings were held in closed session.

In addition to the losses, there was a large loan taken out of Guelph Hydro for $65 million that was described by former GMHI Chief Executive Officer, Pankaj Sardana as impaired. In the 2015 city financial statement the loan was listed as $69 million as there had been no repayment by GMHI. That loan is now on the city books listed as an asset. This will eventually have to be written off.

GMHI spent money on solar panels on some public buildings, two gas-fired District Energy pumps, costing $11 million to supply hot and cold water to a handful of downtown and Hanlon Business Park buildings. It was an abortive co-generation scheme to use the pumps to pump the water in underground pipes to the buildings and generate electricity.

For four years, GMHI worked in the dark led by the former mayor and former Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert.

The campaign to sell the city’s most valuable and profitable asset

Next Tuesday, June 13 starting at 6:30 p.m. city council, as GMHI shareholders, representing the citizens of Guelph and will hear a review of the project to sell Guelph Hydro by mid-2018, before the city election in October. Prior to the meeting, council will meet in closed session to discuss the all-important details of the project, far from the madding crowd.

Last October, council approved commencing an investigation by the Strategic Options Committee (SOC) composed at the time of Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson as chair, CEO of Guelph Hydro, Pankaj Sardana as co-chair, and Robert Bell, Hydro board member,.Two citizen members, Mark Goldberg and Ron Puccini were also named.

According to the Energizing Tomorrow website, only Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Puccini live in Guelph.

There are no elected representatives on this committee. There are two individuals, Mr. Sardana and Mr. Bell who are closely associated with Guelph Hydro.

So, we can conclude that this operation not only includes the SOC but also Guelph Hydro Electric Systems. The Board of Directors of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems included: Ms. Jane Armstrong. Ms. Judy Fountain, Robert Bell, Bruce Cowan, Ted Sehl, Rick Thompson and Ms. Jasmine Urisk.

Under no circumstances am I suggesting that these folks were complicit in the GMHI financial disaster.

There does not appear to be checks or balances or direct oversight of this potential disposal of the most valuable asset of the city’s assets. Also, the public has had little to say since formation of the SOC. Granted, council must have the final say but its members are not directly involved in this exercise being handled by the SOC and its advisors, a consultant and a Toronto law firm.

It also comes as a surprise that there are certain members of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems who had exposure to GMHI financial disaster that cost the city $26.6 million. These include Jasmine Urisk, Ted Gehl, Jane Armstrong, Judy Fountain and Robert Bell.

Mr. Goldberg of the SOC served on the GMHI board of directors. Mr. Sardana, co-chair of the SOC, was formerly CEO and CFO of GMHI.

Then came an announcement. Mr. Sardana was replaced as co-chair of SOC by Hydro Board chair Jane Armstrong and Mr. Puccini resigned to be replaced by Douglas Auld.

On Monday, June 12, look for Part Two that details the strategy to complete the sale of Guelph Hydro by mid 2018

In the meantime, here is an unedited portion of the 48 pages publish on the city website, of the proposal to be approved June 13 by council acting as shareholders of GMHI.

As determined in Phase 1, Ontario’s energy landscape is changing, and mid-sized utilities like Guelph Hydro are looking for better ways to:

  • Meet customer expectations;
  • Take advantage of modern technologies;
  • Cover costs of delivering safe, reliable electricity service;
  • Fund local infrastructure maintenance and upgrades; and
  • Prepare and respond to more frequent and severe storms.

I draw your attention to item four – Fund local infrastructure, maintenance and upgrades.

So do we sell a profit-making asset to fund years of neglect of city infrastructure?

I don’t believe this for one minute. As I will explain in the next part of this two-part series, the proceeds resulting from the sale of Guelph Hydro will be primarily used to pay down the accumulated debt of GMHO and the $69 million note owed to Guelph Hydro.

We have never been informed if GMHI spent that loan money and on what?

There are so many questions needing answers.

Part Two will analyse and comment on the nuts and bolts process of moving ahead with this sale of Guelph Hydro.

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When it comes to managing city finances we are sheep without a shepherd

By Gerry Barker

May 15, 2017

Having lived in Guelph for 14 years, I cannot understand how a city of 131,000 people has not had an independent Chief Financial Officer for 30 months. Here’s the scorecard since the able David Kennedy was dismissed in 2007: There have been seven individuals acting as CFO in the past ten years.

The seventh is Tara Baker, a senior analyst in the Finance Department who is coming off maternity leave to take the reins over from James Krauter, the current acting General Manager of Finance.

In that 30-month period, the city lost key senior management personnel. That’s about how long it took the secret Manhattan project to detonate the world’s first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in 1945.

Here is a partial list of the departed:

Operations Chief Derek McCaughan;

Chief of environmental services and engineering, Janet Laird;

Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman;

Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert;

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi;

City Solicitor, Donna Jaques;

General Manager of Solid Waste, Dean Wyman;

General Manager and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy;

General Manager and Treasurer, Katrina Power;

Deputy City Engineer, Don Kudo;

Fire Chief, Shawn Armstrong.

Operating the city efficiently and responsibly, these 11 senior employees represented various city departments. Nevertheless, it remains an abdication by the council failing to maintain a senior management staff.

So, what happened? What were the reasons for some to leave that were earning top rated salaries, some exceeding $200,000 per year? Who would walk away from a job like that with security, great benefits and working conditions?

It is easy to assume that the majority of elected members of the administration, commonly known as the Bloc of Seven, were responsible for the dissatisfied defections.

Or, was it influenced by the defeat of former Mayor Karen Farbridge in October 2014?

When it comes to finger pointing, the underlying reason is too much city business is conducted behind closed doors.

The discovery of what’s going wrong lies with a few reporters and bloggers who try to pry back the lid of cover-ups, to report what is going on in the management of our city. I can assure you, it is not easy and I have the experience to know the high cost of defending details of secret meetings and information that I discovered.

Wanted: A new shepherd to run our finances

That’s because the elected majority of council believe we are sheep to be sheared every year to pay for the past mismanagement of our business and its cost to citizens. There are many citizens who try to stand up to the administration. At this time, there is no underlying civic activist umbrella organization to support and work to change the policies of a cadre of city managers and councillors. The politicization of some senior staff is perpetuating policies of a former administration that was responsible for wasting millions.

That’s why we need an independent, experienced Chief Financial Officer to put on the brakes of spending and reform financial management.

Sometimes GS is criticized for being negative and beating the same drum repeatedly.

But I’m a taxpayer and have to right to comment and criticize. The law in Ontario is very clear that authorities cannot suppress public participation in public business by taking legal action against any citizen to stop their right to speak up.

Guelph City Council took another step in late 2015 to suppress resident’s critical commentary and objections to political action by passing the Indemnification Bylaw 19995. It guarantees reimbursement of any legal costs as a result of a citizen taking legal action against any member of the administration including elected officials.

Summarizing this action: If you initiate legal action against anyone in the administration, that individual has his/her legal expenses paid by … you, the complainant! Last February, CAO Derrick Thomson stated that this bylaw covers all former employees who are involved in a legal procedure with a citizen or corporation.

The only case I can recall was Bruce Poole’s million-dollar suit against the city for wrongful dismissal. It was settled quickly following the accidental release of 53,000 emails by the city to Poole’s lawyer that had little to do with the lawsuit.

Is the city paying Mr. Poole’s legal expenses? After all, he was a former employee and presumably entitled.

Killing online voting for the wrong reasons

But it gets better. Recently city council voted against allowing online voting in the 2018 election. Only six members voted to allow online voting, Mayor Cam Guthrie, Councillors Christine Billings, Cathy Downer, Dan Gibson, Andy Van Hellemond and Mark MacKinnon. The motion was defeated despite the pleas by citizens to allow it so that the elderly, informed and disabled citizens could vote.

This is another suppression of the rights for all citizens to participate and vote in civic elections. The City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien, informed council that online voting was used in the 2014 civic election advance poll. More than 12 600 votes were cast and no reports of voter fraud or problems. There are some 90 Ontario municipalities using online voting.

Now do you see us as sheep being herded around without recourse or little ability to express ourselves?

I for one refuse to believe I am a sheep to be shorn by hypocrisy, lies and ineptitude. I have paid a price for my opinions and reporting of facts. Remember, we sheep changed the city administration big time in the 2014 civic election. The regressives were shocked and, in my opinion, are seeking revenge.

It’s time to put the flock back together again and defeat the Bloc of Seven regressive councillors in their own bailiwick, and take back our city.

Baaaa, Baaaa, Baaaa

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What happened to those dedicated reserve funds totaling $77,782,000 in 2011?

By Gerry Barker

May 11, 2017

It’s the stuff that happened six years ago that we soon forget. What stuff? Let’s start with the annual 2011 financial sitrep (situation report).

A check of the GS archives produced a column reporting the December 31 city financial data. It included a status of the city’s reserve, all 97 dedicated cash resources that totaled $77,782,000. Stating in the now defunct Mercury, Coun. Leanne Piper chided those naysayers who opposed the budget. She went on to say, nothing to worry about here because the city had $83 million in reserves. Yep! Nothing to worry about here.

This cavalier attitude was reported in the Mercury by former city hall beat reporter Scott Tracey. He said there was nothing new about using reserve funds to reduce the impact of property taxes on the budget. Okay, which of the 97 reserve funds was to be tapped to reduce property taxes?

Well, it turned out the tax stabilization reserve fund only had $1,383,000 in December 2011. That is a drop in the bucket to stabilize a budget in which the city had a major $2,571,000 negative budget variance in 2011. Five budgets later, in 2015, the negative budget shortfall was $1,143,123. In that five year period there was only 2014, election year, where the city declared a surplus of $1,O85,153. You will recall that year was the first in which the property tax rate was, for the first time, below 3 per cent.

Regardless, that was the years Mayor Karen Farbridge was defeated by Coun. Cam Guthrie.

In 2011, the accounting firm, auditing the city’s finances, stated that it was “a poor way to run the corporation.” It went on to say that using dedicated reserve funds to balance a budget is like borrowing an your credit card at 22 per cent. The effect is the same.

Sadly, nothing has changed except that there are only 26 reserve funds today with an estimated value of $11,000,000. In just a little over six years, the destruction and mismanagement of the city’s finances has cost millions of the public money. Those who are accountable are gone and there is no recourse available to the public.

As Chief Financial Officer, Derrick Thomson, put it, any attempt to commence a legal action against city employees or elected officials, akkdefendants’ legal expenses will be paid by the city. This indemnification bylaw also extends to former employees or elected officials.

This bylaw is nothing short of suppression of the rights of the public to take appropriate legal action against some 2,100 city officials from top to bottom.

The 2018 campaign has already started

Turning to an important aspect of how the Bloc of Seven is working hard to ensure their re-election next year.

The local weekly covered a meeting of the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition (GNSC). The Guelph Civic League (GCL) organization founded 10 Carden Street, a community activist group. GCL supported former Mayor Karen Farbridge and a number of like-minded councillors in 2006. One of GCL founders is Coun. James Gordon.

GNSC is based in offices at 10 Carden Street across from city hall. Meanwhile, 10 Carden Street applied for a Trillium Foundation grant to operate a civic support group to promote greater participation in public affairs and elections. A few years ago the group received a $135,000 grant to promote greater public participation.

That was then. A couple of weeks ago, the majority of council voted not to allow online voting in the 2018 civic election. It does seem strange and awkward for the GNSC, a second cousin to 10 Carden Street, to be linked to the online voting ban. It further exposes the real purposes of 10 Carden Street and the GNSC. It is cloaked in the murky business of political action.

One would agree that the newspaper article pointed out some details of the work the Coalition does, providing food to children and the less fortunate. It appears it has grown sufficiently to build an activist organization consisting of 13 neighbourhood membership groups available to participate in the 2018 election.

There is little we know of the officers of GNS. What is its status as an organization, budget, staff, finances or mission statement. Besides the city and United Way are funding GNSC Carden along with unnamed grants. That does not exempt it from its links to the left’s political action group, the Guelph Civic League, which seems to resurrect itself prior to every election since 2006.

Bottom Line? There is no way this city can survive another four years maintaining the policies of the previous administrations. They willfully spent millions on self- serving, narrow gauged projects that often failed.

The time has come to stop the hardcore, ideological activists who have controlled our city for too long. This election has already started.

There will be more on this later.

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Blast from the past: Chaos on Carden Street, a case study

By Gerry Barker

April 6, 2014

Editor’s note: In the past two weeks, I have been involved in a special project that is consuming a lot of my time. Nevertheless, I will be monitoring the Guelph political scene and developments. I will report in a timely manner events that affect us all, my best, GB

This column appeared in April 2014 just after Justice Donald MacKenzie announced the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., the General Contractor of the new city hall. It marked the beginning of the end of the Farbridge administration as the city paid an extra $23 million over the original cost of $42 milliom. It’s an echo from the pas not to be forgotten too soon.

 

The big event

Last week, a judge found the city of Guelph guilty of wrongful dismissal of the primary contractor who was hired to build the new city hall as well as the Provincial Offences Court renovation of the old city hall. In a civil lawsuit, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., sued for $19.2 million. A city countersuit of $5 million joined the fray, a $3 million suit involving the architects and the bond company’s non-performance bond.

In this mixture of lawsuits, claims and counter claims and a failed mediation session, Mr. Justice Donald MacKenzie has yet to state his final judgment and has encouraged the two main parties to meet and negotiate the costs.

The key element here is the judge came down on the side of Urbacon. What will eventually follow are the actual judgment and the allocation of costs. Resolution of this important aspect may end up in a second trial next October if the parties cannot agree.

A management in crisis

In the fall of 2006, Guelph voters elected former Mayor Karen Farbridge and ten councillors who were her followers.

This began an odyssey of hirings and firings as the new administration quickly shaped management into its ideological mold. The action included a mixture of policies that emphasized the environment, heritage, labour compensation, and anti-development issues.

Within months, the Chief Administration Officer (CAO), Larry Kotseff, and Chief Financial Officer (CFO), David Kennedy, were dismissed without cause. Two years later, the cost of these dismissals were more than $500,000.

Since that decision, the city has had two CAO’s and four CFO’s. This brings into question, who was deciding to dismiss long-term city managerial employees if the people charged with evaluating staff performance were let go or resigned?

The purge of staff has been a hallmark of the Farbridge administration. The fallout is staff uncertainty, fear of losing one’s job, primary and secondary mismanagement, clumsy internal organization, nepotism, loss of productivity, absenteeism, favouritism, all multiplying and leading to overall staff dysfunction.

Murphy’s rule, times two

Looking back, the Farbridge administration has had a dodgy history managing conflict. Case in point was the legal costs incurred trying to get out of a provincially mandated Public Health partnership between the City and County’s Dufferin and Wellington. The legal costs of an outside lawyer assigned to make the city’s failed case, has never been revealed. Further, the city had to cough up $10 million as its share of the new Public Health Centre on Stone Road.

In fact, the cost of consultants and lawyers has mostly been a state secret in the past eight years. As one observer noted: “This mayor has been one of the most litiganist in living memory.”

Then we connect with the Guelph Police Services request to spend $34 million on a new police headquarters. The Mayor has been a paid member of the Police Services Board since her election in 2006. Is it unfair to think that she failed to tell the board that the city couldn’t afford that expense? Instead, she informs council that the GPSB can appeal to the province to force the city to pay. Where was the Mayor’s renowned steely resolve when that topic was raised? She was missing in action (MIA).

Secrecy of operational costs continues to confound citizens. The costs of operating the multi-million dollar Waste Resource Innovation Centre (WRIC) the fancy name for the city dump remain a state secret.

Even being truthful about the annual real property tax increases escapes the administration’s responsibility to the taxpayers. Despite public protest about the annual increases exceeding the Consumer Price Index, in 2014, the property tax increase will be 4.36 per cent. When council struck the rate of 2.36 per cent last December, they conveniently left out the increase in assessment. That also boosted the cost to property owners.

The first casualty in war is the truth

Often, the details and costs of operations are conveniently left out. The task of informing the public falls on the shoulders of the 13-person city communications department. Why does Guelph need 13 staffers to communicate with the citizens when compared to General Motors, one of the largest corporations in America, which only employs 35 to do the job? Is it economy of scale?

And boy! Right now those GM communicators are earning their money.

It is an example of our administration trying to control the message. There has been little opposition in the past eight years as the two newspapers and the community television channel have frequently expressed confidence in the Farbridge administration’ handling of city business. News, good or bad, should tell both sides of the story.

But this isn’t about the news media, it’s about a sick and irresponsible administration that has spent money on their aspirations, ambition and minority beliefs at the expense of the citizens.

What it all boils down to is a lack of competence that ricochets through all levels of our municipal government.

Restoring confidence in our city governance and instilling the principles of competence will be a daunting task for the next council.

What’s needed in our city is a large dose of sunshine to open the closed closets of civic power.

Reminder: Tickets for the GrassRoots Guelph Blast Off breakfast are going fast. This kick-off event is on April 16, 2014 starting at 8 a.m. at the Guelph Country Club located on Woodlawn Avenue East. Guest speaker is Candice Malcoln, Ontario Executive Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Call Rena Akerman at 519 837 4010 for tickets. Cost is $18 advance sale or $25 at the door. Price includes breakfast buffet.

P.S. It was sold out.

 

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