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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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The curious switcharoo by city council to prevent Internet voting in 2018

By Gerry Barker

April 6, 2017

In 2013, city council agreed to allow Internet voting for the 2014 civic election. Former Mayor Karen Farbridge extolled the virtues of electronic voting claiming it would allow more people to vote.

Well, as it turned out, more people did vote in one of the highest voter participation in recent years. City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, the city’s chief electoral officer, reported that 33 per cent of all ballots cast were completed electronically. He reported that 45 per cent of the total eligible electors cast their ballots.

So why are the six leftists, members of council, now voting against Internet voting? Only progressive Councillors Cathy Downer and left -leaning Mark MacKinnon voted for the voting system along with Mayor Guthrie, Councillors Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Andy Van Hellemond.

Coun. Bob Bell voted against allowing Internet voting and that provided the winning outcome for the progressive’s rejection of the system most voted for in 2013. Three of those councillors, James Gordon, Phil Allt and Mike Salisbury were not on the council that approved Internet voting in the 2014 election. But all three obviously benefited as they were elected.

A councillor replies

Citizen Rena Akerman asked Coun. Phil Allt why he voted against it.

His unctuous reply included reference to a U.S. anti-Internet website known as the Daily Dot. It is larded with anti-Internet blather that has absolutely no application to the 2014 civic election outcome that boosted public participation by more than 12,000 votes filed on the Internet and no evidence of voter fraud, hacking or misrepresentation.

The big question is why are the six progressive plus Bob Bell, voting to dump the system? Did Mr. Bell vote aginst Iternet voting in 2013?

I get sweaty palms when that doyen of the left, Susan Watson, addresses council. You remember her. She was the author of a vexious and frivolous accusation against a defeated candidate in Ward Six for accepting a donation of $400 from the civic action group, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). She was successful in causing an audit of the candidate’s election financial report.

The independent auditor, William Molson of Toronto, found that GRG was legally entitled to donate the money. The upshot was that the City Clerk said she did not have to pay for the two-month investigation in 2015: Taxpayers $11,500, Watson 0. To rub salt in the wound was the Candidate, Glen Tolhurst, had to pay his own legal expenses.

But the lady has been busy chairing the Guelph Chapter of Fair Tax Canada. It advocates voting reform to include proportional ballots in which each voter has to grade each candidate on a 1 to 10 basis. Just figuring out the winner is a daunting task as the preferences are added up. So if your name is Wettstein (for example) and you instruct your supporters to only vote for you, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s called “plumping” or vote concentration.

Say hello to a Pizza Parliament

It’s a system used in Israel where there are some 21 political parties vying for votes to be elected to the Knesset, The Israeli Parliament. The result? With no party able to attain a majority to form a government, the leader with most elelcted members is forced to make deals with other parties. In certain circles the system produces a “Pizza Parliament.”

The New Democrats have been pushing adoption of this system. They came close when The Liberals won the election with one of their promises being reforming Canada’s election system. Prime Minister Trudeau canned the promise recently and that must have caused Susan Watson apoplexy. Not surprisingly, the NDP has yet to elect a leader to replace Thomas Mulcair.

Even her friends on council voted to not adopt the system for 2018.

So why are the leftist councillors now opposing Internet voting after agreeing to adopt it in 2014?

Here are a couple of theories:

The first is having yet to figure out the defeat of their Leader and four councillors who either did not run or were defeated. The result was a slim win with Coun. June Hofland winning by just five votes. Since then the progressives, through their activist surrogate, 10 Carden Street, have planted operatives in every ward to assist community groups to deal with city hall. This is a smart political move that will pay dividends in the 2018 election.

As a safeguard, those among the lefty hierarchy have decided to oppose Internet voting because of what happened in 2014. They just don’t get it. They lost their leader and the others because of a $23 million excessive cost of the new city hall project.

Their quest may not be as easy as killing Internet voting. The financial hangover of Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. (GMHI) The Community Energy Initiatives and the proposed sale of Guelph Hydro, will not go away as soon as they would loke..

The Strategic Options Committee, (SOC) appointed by council to seek bids for selling or merging Guelph Hydro has suffered two defections of members of the five-person committee. Gone is member Richard Puccini who has yet to be replaced. Guelph Hydro Board chairperson, Jane Armstrong, is replacing Hydro’s Chief Executive Officer Pankaj Sardana, co-chair of the SOC. Ms. Armstrong has had long-term service on the Guelph Hydro Board.

She has already stated that she will support the recommendations of the SOC. Robert Bell, a member of the Guelph Hydro Electric Services board. A former member of the GMHI board of directors, Mark Goldberg, remains on the SOC board.

Perhaps Mr. Goldberg will reveal why CMHI became a financial disaster losing some $26.6 million. The two council members of the GMHI board for four years have never admitted any responsibility. But then, they were paod to serve.

Why do I get the feeling that this SOC membership is stacked to dump Guelph Hydro?

And I hope that council will read the overwhelming citizen’s rejection of the Internet vote. It is to be ratified by council April 24.

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Another reason why our city administration is dysfunctional and won’t listen to the people

By Gerry Barker

February 9,3017

It was bound to happen sooner or later. This week, our intrepid Councillor James Gordon, representing Ward Two, has wandered off the page to promote another issue on non-civic importance.

You see James was elected to represent the people in his ward not ask council to approve issues over which he nor council have any jurisdiction or interest.

Last summer he protested about the amount of water Nestle was legally removing from the same huge underground aquifer that supplies the city of Guelph with its water.

Council spent time and political capital to ask the province to step in and stop a commercial company from, dare I say it, draining the aquifer. His crusade caught the eye of Premier Wynne who pledged a full scale investigation about private enterprise pumping water from underground supplies that municipalities depend on for public water.

Let’s talk about Guelph and its use of aquifer potable water in which Coun. Gordon has raised a red flag. His concerns are an exercise in pure politics that mesh with his views and concerns about climate change, the environment and now, about how we should treat refugees/

The actual figures of water use in a city of 121,000 are buried somewhere in the files if the water department and usage is seasonal. As estimated, lets try to calculate the amount of water taken every day for 24 hours that the Guelph wells are pumped to meet the demands of 55,000 households and businesses.

The variables are complicated. Much of the housing built in the past 30 years come with at least two toilets, four sinks, two bathtubs with showers, two outside water hose connections, ice making refrigerators, hot water tanks and laundry units to wash clothes. Commercial water demands vary depending on the size of the enterprise.

Have to go with averages here, as our experience does not fit the average.

Multiplying 55,000 times an average of 100 litres per household per day, not including seasonal or commercial use, that comes to 5,500,000 litres a day seven days a week, 365 days a year. And as the city expands, demand for more water increases.

Now, how much is Nestle drawing from the aquifer to fill its bottled water inventory?

Statistically, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to how much water Guelph is removing daily from the massive subterranean aquifer.

Moving on this week, Coun. Gordon asked council to name Guelph as a “Sanctuary city” for refugees to settle safely with local support. This description has come out of California where the state capital, Sacramento, has been identified as a Sanctuary city for mostly Mexican illegals by the Trump administration.

Gordon’s move attempts to capitalize on a U.S. political situation regarding immigration and a ban on Muslims arriving from seven identified countries.

Canada is already a proven sanctuary for more than 40,000, mostly Syrian refugees admitted in just over a year. The U.S. in the same period admitted less than 4,000.

What strange political bedfellows. President Donald Trump and Guelph Councillor James Gordon. Trump determined to stop immigration and Gordon trying to encourage it,

Heck, Canada is a country of Sanctuary for refugees. You don’t have to go too far back in our history when Canada accepted some 68,000 Vietnamese boat people escaping the communist takeover of their country. The same occurred with the arrival on shores of the Sri Lankan refugees who escaped the terroristic tactics of the Tamil Tigers.

Mr. Gordon should reflect on our history of Canada’s massive refugees, programs since 1945 when we welcomed thousands of European refugees called Displaced Persons (DP’s). But to our great benefit were the thousands of Italian immigrants who chose Canada as their new home.

Those newcomers’ skills, energy and work ethic are reflected as Canada’s charter membership in the G7 group of World Economic powers.

Yet, here is our councillor using political opportunity to create a problem that is being conducted professionally by the Federal Government. Isn’t he mimicking the Trump administration tactic of creating a problem usimg an Executive Order to create a solution?

All I ask Mr. Gordon to do is start working as a councillor and not to obtain the NDP nomination for the upcoming Provincial election next June.

Your performance as a councillor is highlighted by voting for a widening of Speed vale Avenue from Woolwich to Manhattan Circle. You voted to spend $14 million to move the power lines, widen the street to allow bicycle lanes and reduce the vehicular lanes from four to two with a centre left-hand lane.

The staff did not recommend this. Mr. Gordon received more than 150 e-mails protesting the proposal, yet he voted for it.

The day he has the city pick up our sorted garbage, that the city refuses to do, then we will reassess his responsibility to the residents he represents.

His lack of concern about his electors should send a strong message that he should not run in 2018 because his idealism is getting in the way of reality.

After all, shooting the breeze regularly in a downtown restaurant does not equivocate your responsibility to all Guelph citizens.

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Expose! A trilogy of events by a city administration out of control

By Gerry Barker

February 6, 2017

Note from the Editor: This column is in two parts that covers and comments on recent events that reveal the toxic culture existing in our city administration. What you will learn in Part One, titled Triology, is how three events learned last week, have exposed the underlying weakneses of a management that is out of control.

In Part Two, titled Expose, are the details of some 53,000 emails sent chiefly by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, revealing the secretive and personal misuse of the city servers by senior staff.

We encourage everyone to pass this column along to let as many people as possible learn the truth about secrecy, closed meetings and communications on the Internet city staff and council. And it has been going on for years behind the public’s back and is our right to know.

There were three events this past week that revealed how our city is being mismanaged by not only senior staff but by an element of city council.

Part One – Trilogy

BREAKING NEWS

CAO Derrick Thomson said Friday, February 3, that the 53,000 emails obtained by Bruce Poole’s counsel were sent in error. Apparently an external drive containing the emails was handed over to Poole’s counsel. When the story broke about the contents Friday morning, the city administration went into panic drill and requested the drive be returned. So far that has not happened. The CAO said if it is not returned the city will ask for a judge’s order to return it.

Sorry sir, that fox is out of the hen house.

The larger question is who handed the drive containing the 53,000 emails over to the Poole Counsel knowing what was in it? More on this in Part Two – Expose.

Here is the list of the three devastating revelations of how our city is being so poorly representative of the people’s rights, interests and concerns.

* We start with the announcement that city Solicitor, Donna Jaques, was leaving this week. She had been with the city since 2011 in charge of all legal matters including contracts, bylaws and litigation.

This development was followed after with 53,000 emails produced mostly by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman. Former Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole’s lawyer obtained the emails as part of his examination for discovery. You will recall Mr. Poole, a 30-year veteran in the building department, was fired in mid-2015 and sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. That lawsuit has still to be tried or settled in court.

As a public service, here is the list of witnesses if this case goes to trial: Former CAO Ann Pappert; former City Solicitor, Donna Jaques; former General Manager of Finances and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; former CFO Al Horsman; current CAO Derrick Thomson; former Executive Director, Derek McCaughan; City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien; and General Manager of Human Resources, David Godwaldt.

Perhaps this is a good time to tell you about a city Bylaw known as the Indemnification Bylaw. This protects any staffer or elected official from being sued by any citizen. If they are, the staff’s legal costs will be paid by the taxpayers. It was signed by former CAO Ann Pappert and Mayor Cam Guthrie in 2015 following the Susan Watson case against Glen Tolhurst regarding receiving a $400 donation from GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). Both Mr. Tolhurst and GRG were cleared of any wrong doing by an independent auditor.

* Then came the report of a committee charged with examining the future of Guelph Hydro. Their findings were essentially flawed and biased. They commenced deliberations last fall and despite overwhelming public comments to not sell or merge the utility, they are seeking permission to sell or merge with another municipally owned Local Distribution Company (LDC).

The report states: “At this stage in the process, a large segment of those who commented want to maintain local control and public ownership, and there is low-level support for a sale, especially with a privately-owned utility.”

“The public engagement done so far also shows “no support for Guelph Hydro to buy other utilities,” the report says. And “if a merger is considered, participants prefer other utilities in the region and those who are ‘like-minded’ with Guelph Hydro.”

This is Important: So why is the committee, after five months of deliberations, recommending that the city dispose of Guelph Hydro? Their recommendation will be voted on at the February15 council meeting. If you want to address council on this matter, your have until February 10 to register, four days from now.

Let’s stop and think about these three developments and how they are linked and not necessarily in favour of the citizens. In my opinion, these developments are part of a conspiracy to misdirect, suppress, and deny the public their right to access this information.

* Ms. Jaques’s departure was not sudden despite appearances. It would take at least three to four months to search and get another job. But she had to know of the existence of those 53,000 emails and most likely was directly involved in the turnover during the examination for discovery in the Poole lawsuit case. She had to know how damaging those emails are when the reputation of her colleague’s ethics and credibility are at stake.

The remaining question is how many thousands of emails were exchanged between senior staff and still out there? Discovering the emails sent by the former CAO, Ann Pappert, would be useful to investigators by an independent audit of city operations

Chalk it up to the way the staff runs the city. They used what they believed were private confidential emails to chatter, gossip and express opinions about fellow staffers. Heck, even look for a job, with our employer in the dark. Manage your personal finances and discuss marital and health matters with other staffers. The sheer volume of those emails, averaging 125 emails sent every day Mr. Horsman was on the job. (He wrote 53,000 emails over a two-year period divided by 422 actual working days over two years).

I don’t know about you, but that’s a ton of emails, most of which concerned the fundamental operation of the city. This info was coming from the CFO, the person who handled the money.

As an aside, Mr. Horsman was the last CFO employed by the city in the past two years and two months. He lost his position in November 2014 and left the city in August 2015 to take over as CAO of Sault Ste Marie.

The evidence now persists that nothing has changed. The city administration operates chiefly in secret. They do it to prevent exposure of self-serving issues reaching the public domain. The proliferation of emails is an indicator of the manipulative strategies employed by both senior management and members of council.

It may explain why so many senior managers have left the city since the October 2014 civic election. Most of those leaving have left a legacy of mismanagement and problems caused by the policies adopted by three administrations. The situation was aided and abetted by inaccurate forecasting of budgets, lawsuits, and off the books major funding of the failed Community Energy Initiative that was controlled by the former mayor.

Here’re some of the former senior managers who have left the city since November 2014: Executive Director Janet Laird; Executive Director, Derek McCaughan; CFO Al Horsman; GM of solid waste management, Dean Wyman; Lawyer Scott Worsfold; GM of Finance and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; CAO Ann Pappert; City Solicitor Donna Jaques; Acting GM of Finance, Susan Arum; Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole.

The tab, so far, is estimated to be more than $96 million misspent by the former Mayor’s Community Energy Initiatives.

This bring us to the proposed recommendation by a five member committee chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson, to dispose of the jewel of the city of Guelph, our hydro electric distribution system.

It is a desperate move to conduct an asset fire sale to cover up the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. losses of $96 million and counting.

The book value of Guelph Hydro is estimated to be $150 million. Its value is increasing because there is a great demand to get control of these LDC’s. Hydro One gobbled up more than 89 between 1996 and 2001. You will recall that Hydro One is being gradually sold off to private enterprise. Today there are only 70 remaining LDC’s in the province. You can appreciate the primal urge by the administration to liquidate this asset because they need the money.

I urge everyone to make their feelings heard with their councillors by telephone, emails, snail mail or personal contact to stop this recommendation February 15. Just showing up will help prevent this ill-advised effort to sell off Guelph Hydro.

Personally, I believe the motion, if made, to dispose of the utility should be amended to table the recommendation to allow more measured public input, not just seven business days.

In 2008, former mayor Farbridge attempted to convince council to sell Guelph Hydro because the city did not have sufficient capital to pay its $23 million share of the Federal-Provincial infrastructure grant plan. She was soundly rebuffed by an 8-5 vote. Then she called a $30 million note that Guelph Hydro owed the city to pay the infrastructure bill that grew to $27 million, due to add-ons including bike lanes and a time clock in the Sleeman Centre.

It now appears nothing has changed.

On or before February 15, please exercise your right to object and inform civic leaders of your opinion. We only get one chance to stop this and now is that time.

So, if council does approve selling or merging of Guelph Hydro, what are the alternatives?

Assuming the city receives an estimated $150 million for Guelph Hydro, citizens lose control of the operation, including what they pay for service as set by the new owners.

The proceeds will pay for the GMHI losses. The new owner could claim the $65 million stranded Guelph Hydro loan to GMHI. It currently is on the city books as an impaired asset, is due and payable. That could reduce the net proceeds. Do not be surprised if that loan is not on Guelph Hydro’s books.

The proceeds, I predict, will disappear before the civic election rolls around next year. Suddenly there are funds to build the South End recreation centre, the Wilson Street parking garage and perhaps the Downtown Library.

This will be a bonanza of political good will that could guarantee the re-election of the same council majority we have now.

It’s our choice and it happens next week.

Next: The Bruce Poole story and how it will change Guelph forever.

The day the administration was exposed as running a ship of fools

By Gerry Barker

February 6, 2017

Part Two – Expose

Let’s start by praising Bruce Poole for having the guts to go after the city he served so well and loved for 30 years. They did him dirt by firing him for challenging the administration for failing to follow its own bylaws regarding obtaining building permits for ALL such projects in the city.

The revelation that there were 50 such projects, all conducted by the city administration in which no building permits were requested for approval. It became the genesis of the former Chief Building Inspector’s $1 million lawsuit for wrongful dismissal.

Then, last Friday a report in Guelph Today, written by Tony Saxon, detailed how that, during the examination for discovery, some 53,000 confidential emails, authored by former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, were turned over to Mr. Poole’s lawyer.

A cursory examination of the email-gate reveals a fascinating collection of critical personal opinions, paranoia. petulance and what senior staff thought about their colleagues.

These include performance reviews of city employees; details of legal matters discussed in camera; criticism of city staff members; details of acute city operations; and even discussions about personal marital and health issues.

It’s a sorry cultural soup reflecting how messed up and irresponsible the members of the senior staff and others, including certain members of council.

The bottom line is, these emails, many marked confidential, were sent through City of Guelph servers. This makes those 53,000 documents that the users believed would never be made public, now part of the public record.

Kudo’s go to Bruce Poole’s legal counsel for obtaining these emails from the city ensuring the public’s right to know.

Across Ontario can you hear the shredders humming and emails being deleted?

(Suggest it would be better to use an expert for that process).

The source of these emails came from the former Chief Financial Officer of Guelph, Al Horsman. He left the city in August 2015 to become Chief Administrative Officer of Sault Ste Marie.

Email-Gate shows he used the city’s Internet servers to apply for another job. It even included preparing a power point presentation to the Sault’s selection committee. Using Guelph’s resources, Horsman landed his new job.

It makes one wonder how senior employees across the province are properly vetted when seeking new jobs. Is the process flawed? Are questions not asked? Why is the person leaving? Are references requested?

This applies to our former Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert who left the city to be appointed an Assistant Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Sport for the province.

Let’s review her leaving May 26, 2016. She was awarded an increase of $37,501 in a closed meeting December 10, 2015. So the question is, why did she leave a $257,501 job for one that probably pays much less?

She should be Bruce Poole’s most important witness as his case proceeds. The evidence is pointing to her as the fox among the chickens. In case you are wondering who are the chickens? They are us! These bureaucrats have suborned their responsibilities to the people by communicating by emails and conducting the public business in closed sessions.

I am astonished about the volume of Al Horseman’s emails for the two years he was a senior member of the administration totaled 53,000. The man is on the job 211 days a year reduced by weekends, vacation, statutory holidays and city shutdown periods

Just doing the math, Mr. Horsman wrote 125 emails a day. Further, that’s an average of 15.6 every hour for his eight-hour workday.

But it should come as no surprise because this is the way our city managers have operated, far from the public view or access for the past ten years.

Here are some examples of the email content delivered to Mr. Poole and his lawyer:

  • 30 individual staff performance reviews
  • Who were these employees and who conducted the reviews?
  • A calendar entry titled “Linamar – foregoing and/or deferring property taxes or development charges on future Linamar properties.

            It would appear that Linamar is getting a tax break on its property taxes. What are the details?

  • Confidential and private information in regard to the Urbacon action and settlement details” “Confidential and private information in regard to the Dolime legal action and settlement details.
  • What did Mr. Horsman know about the Urbacon situation and what was his role in the settlement?
  • Confidential emails between Horsman and his bank regarding personal investments.
  • Not a good idea to use your business computer for such private information or to seek another job.
  •  
  • Confidential email exchange between Horsman and CAO Anne Pappert regarding concerns about the performance of a senior city manager still with the city.

Well now, we are getting to the meat of the email exchange. Who is this senior manager and his/her job responsibilities? Did that person receive an increase in remuneration in 2015?

  • Confidential email exchange between senior management staff members in regard to “Terraview complaint re: Development charges @ 72 York Road.

Isn’t this public information? Where are the details? We have 13 employees in the  city engaged in communications. Why weren’t the details reported?

  • Several “corporate communications watch list” reports, including one item listed as “investigation of bacteria incident at City Well (Membro) – information protected under client-solicitor privilege.
  • And the people were never told?”

Nothing today in a public corporation is confidential. The exceptions are in the provisions as outlined in the Ontario Municipal Act to conduct closed sessions. With this revelation, it is apparent that cyber communication between senior staff often bypasses the OMA closed session regulations.

  • “Numerous occurrences where Al Horsman was using the City of Guelph’s computer system to seek and respond to several new and alternative job opportunities.”

Earning $182,000 a year does not include using your city computer to get another  job.

  • Negative comments (via email) about Mayor Cam Guthrie from a current member of council that was shared with others

No! Say it isn’t true. The Mayor thought all you senior staffers and council were  his friends.

  • Several emails detailing confidential terms of settlements in several legal matters.

This is not good but as CFO he was within his right. Legal cases are touchy and  the former mayor became known for her litigious bent. Now the city solicitor has left for greener opportunities in North Bay. Her leaving coincides with the  revelation of the 53,000 emails.

  • Confidential email exchanges between senior staff members in regard to concerns about a senior city manager who is still with the city.

            Yikes, if the senior staff had reservations, why is this person still with the city?

  • Private and personal emails between Horsman and other executive staff members in regard to personal matters such as marriage and health. 

Was this on city time?

  • Copies of confidential information shared by Horsman with former city staff.

This smacks of the existence of an elitis city staff club. Why would Horsman seek  conversation with former staffers?

  • “Confidential email exchange between Corporate Finance staff and senior management staff in regard to DGBA (financial concerns with the Downtown Guelph Board Association).”

It must be noted again that emails on the city servers are not confidential, as many have been titled. They are in the public domain.

There is indication that people are enquiring about obtaining the details of all those emails through the Freedom of Information Act (FIA).

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A tale of two cities: Why Guelph’s policies will never overcome its $250 million infrastructure deficit

By Gerry Barker

January 27, 2017

Thanks to an observant reader, I have received an expert analysis from a U.S-based organization called Strong Towns (http://www.strongtowns.org).

The comparison of Lafayette, LA, population 125,000 and the City of Guelph, population 121,000 are strikingly similar revealing the real reason both cities have no money.

Both cities have the problem of repairing and replacing aged infrastructures costing billions. Guelph has one advantage over Lafayette in that the median home price is $300,000 that is double that of Lafayette. Similarly, the median household income for the city is $41,000. The median property taxes there are $1,500.

The Lafayette report states that there is barely enough revenue to spend on infrastructure needs, thereby the city is barely treading water on the issue.

But let’s start with how Lafayette showed the real problem. The report authors with the assistance of the city staff determined that within ten years it would cost $32 billion to replace the city infrastructure. Then by adding up the entire tax base for that period, it revealed that only $16 billion would be received.

The report states: “It’s obvious to me why this is fatal, but for those of you for whom it is less clear, let me elaborate.

“The median house in Lafayette costs roughly $150,000. A family living in this house would currently pay about $1,500 per year in taxes to the local government of which 10%, approximately $150, goes to maintenance of infrastructure (more is paid to the schools and regional government). A fraction of that $150 – it varies by year – is spent on actual pavement.

“To maintain just the roads and drainage systems that have already been built, the family in that median house would need to have their taxes increase by $3,300 per year. That assumes no new roads are built and existing roadways are not widened or substantively improved. That is $3,300 in additional local taxes just to tread water.

“Using ratios we’ve experienced from other communities, it is likely that the total infrastructure revenue gap for that median home is closer to $8,000 per year.”

That does not include underground utilities – sewer and water – or major facilities such as treatment plants, water towers and public buildings. Using ratios we’ve experienced from other communities, it is likely that the total infrastructure revenue gap for that median home is closer to $8,000 per year.

Make the situation worse, jack up taxes

After ten years of neglect of needed infrastructure repair and replacement, Guelph’s current city administration recently recommended a special, five-year tax levy of 1 per cent added to property taxes.

Unfortunately, city council decided otherwise and doubled the levy with half going toward “City Buildings.” It was never explained how that money would be used.

All they accomplished was to build another slush fund for use in the 2018 election year. That’s an estimated revenue stream of $5,600,000 over the two budget years, by the October 2018 civic election.

It’s still light years away from addressing the problem that has resulted in neglect of the most important element that makes the city work.

Instead, the previous administration wasted more than $50 millions on mismanagement, (Urbacon $23 million, GMHI $26 million and counting), it is a personal agenda of extreme social engineering that has left a legacy that will take years to over come.

But the council‘s decision to continue spending reminds us of ”One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest.” We are the nest and getting the bird. The administration cannot continue to ask citizens, owners, renters, businesses, and the poor, seniors on fixed incomes, to support an agenda that has problems in which there are solutions. What is required is recognition of the situation and the political will to ameliorate the problems.

Predicaments have solvable outcomes; make no mistake that or the past ten years we have been faced with dire outcomes.

It has to start somewhere and most people have lost confidence in this council and administration.

The long road back to rebuilding a city in an organized fashion that serves all the people and not just the minority who presently control the agenda. It requires a new council that is prepared to repair the multi-million losses of taxpayer money sensibly with a strong rebuke of the policies that are still financially choking our city.

How do you wipe out misguided spending of more than $1 million? Oh! The majority of council will deny this as if it has never happened. For the past ten years the millions in city reserves have been used to cover-up operating and capital spending. The city’s own audited statement as expressed by Coun. Leanne Piper six years ago, stated there was $77 million in reserves. Today, that figure has dropped to around $11 million.

Guelph’s problems of financing the growing infrastructure deficit are not unique across our continent.

Guelph, however has built itself into a huge financial dilemma.

It is one that will not go away and only increases in both costs and a dwindling ability to serve the citizens.

The empirical financial management of the past ten years only pursues an agenda that was bungled. Those millions of misspent funds will never return.

Our city administration, council and senior staff has just laid a financial responsibility on future generations.

The sad part is not even they are capable or courageous enough to take the necessary steps to solve this growing problem

When you have a growing deficit in the 200-year old infrastructure and use a tax levy as a band-aid, you know we have a serious problem.

But council went ahead and hired 13 new employees and tucked in $5,000 in the budget to promote a visiting band.

These are just some of the real reasons why our city has no money to build a Wilson Street Parking garage, a new downtown Library or a South End recreation Centre.

The tale of two cities in different countries that share the same problems points to similarities and the lack of political will. Now, there will be criticism of the comparison. Our infrastructure does not compared to Lafayette. We are in a four seasons climate area while Louisiana in the sub tropics. It makes no difference because the infrastructure needs in the South are more vulnerable to climate stresses such as tornados, hurricanes, flooding and excessive rainfall.

So let’s not use that comparison. They still have to fix the roads, storm water drainage, potable water supply and wastewater treatment, waste, including recycling and solid water processing, first responder financing, schools, and security.

Scale has little to do with it. Our problem is our costs, for ten years, are way too high compared to similar sized communities in our jurisdictional area.

Nothing will change as long as we have a majority bloc on council who fails to understand the real problems and persist in defending the mistakes of the past.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves.

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