By Gerry Barker
April 1, 2019
This is the day of pranks, tomfoolery and the joke’s on us.
For once in his life, your faithful correspondent is speechless, witnessing the destruction of the city staff superstructure.
Thinking of the old Yogi Berra line: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” It appears this is not Derrick Thomson’s only departure described as a “parting of the ways” just before the provincial Sunshine List is published. It pops up near the end of March each year.
That List is really the only creditable source of all those Ontario public servants earning more than $100,000 a year plus taxable benefits. Dare I say it, but the former Mike Harris government created the List?
In December 2015, there was a closed-door meeting of council allegedly to discuss some substantial salary and benefit increases for the top three senior city staff managers. Not in dispute when council acted, the increases totaled $98,202.
There was no information published until the 2015 Sunshine List reported three months later.
How do we know the scope of those retroactive payments to the senior managers?? Guelphspeaks.ca compared what the three managers were paid in 2014 and 2015. That’s how the increases were discovered.
Turmoil at the top
In January 2016, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson, was the first to resign following the December 2015 meeting that allegedly approved the increases. He was gone two months before the 2015 Sunshine List was published.
Mr. Thomson accepted a position with the Town of Caledon where he lived. He left a job that was paying $207,000 (all figures rounded) plus $10,000 in taxable benefits.
In April 2016, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert announced her resignation but agreed to stay on to assist the new CAO. She left the city May 26, 2016. Her share of the $98,202 was $37,000 taking her 2015 salary to $257,000 plus $6,000 in taxable benefits.
In June 2016, Mr. Thomson was hired to replace Ms. Pappert. He announced that he would reveal details of his contract. In the fall he said he signed a three-year contract with a salary of $230,000 plus an increase of more than an $11,000 taxable benefit.
When the 2017 Sunshine List was published his salary had risen to $245,000.
Then, the city announced in early March 2019, prior to the 2018 Sunshine List publication, that by mutual agreement, CAO Derrick Thomson and the city were “parting ways.”
There was no further explanation other than he left immediately prior to the 2018 Sunshine List hit the Internet.
Déjà vu, again?
There will be no tag days for Mr. Thomson as his 2018 salary was $335,081 plus the $11,000 taxable bonus.
That is more money than the Premier of Ontario is paid.
It indicates that Mr. Thomson received more than a $90,000 increase between 2017 and 2018. The questions remain why was he suddenly gone on a cool Friday afternoon? The absence of explanation is part of the administration’s tight control of public information. You know: “What they don’t know, won’t hurt them.”
These are matters of the public interest yet there is no information surrounding these developments and why the turmoil exists in the senior echelon of the city government.
Almost forgot. Ms. Pappert worked five months in 2016 but was paid $263,0000, according to the 2016 Sunshine List.
The only way the pubic can receive this information is through the provincial Sunshine List. Without it, none of us have a clue and that’s the way the Guthrie administration wants it. The fact that council convened 84 closed-session meetings in 2015 and 2016 is evidence of denying the public access to information.
The rising trajectory shutting down public participation
For the past 39 months, annual property taxes increases in Guelph exceeded that of Brampton, Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Toronto, Windsor and many more. Why? Why are other comparable cities able to manage their finances without hitting the property taxpayers’ ATM every year? Guelph’s tax rate is consistently more than 3 per cent.
For example, this year Brampton’s property tax rate is 1.1 per cent. With all the turmoil that city management has been through, it’s an astonishing achievement.
This year brought a welcome break when the city announced a property tax rate of 2.63 per cent less than the annual 3 per cent for only the second time since 2007. There are adjustments coming that will likely increase that tax rate.
In my opinion, there are two crucial aspects of this failure to govern responsibly:
The left majority of city council has politicized the staff. We blew the opportunity last October by not turning out to vote or participate. Municipal voting only occurs every four-years and we’re stuck with an administration that is frequently incompetent, secretive, authoritarian and irresponsible.
Don’t get me wrong. There are talented and dedicated employees on staff. Unfortunately, in Guelph, the leadership is the weak link.
The other vital action that needs to engage is public participation. This means attending council meetings and presenting contrarian points of view. Further, protest decisions that are not in the public interest. Sad to say, some councillors cherishs ambition and not pragmatism.
The woods are filled with competent and talented individuals experienced in public service. They aren’t hard to find. It’s too easy to blame the staff but after witnessing the merger of Guelph Hydro, council failed to look after its own destroying one of the best group of staffers in the province.
If we don’t react to stupidity and careless statements that city council has already demonstrated, we can only blame ourselves.
The real power governing the city lies with the people.
Let’s restore it.