Tag Archives: Farbridge

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Posted October 6, 2012

Judging from recent revelations, Guelph is about to lose its renowned title “the Royal City”.

Instead, it will become known as Garbageville, that place where the unwanted waste of North America can find a home.

It’s strange how events can shape policy. For instance when Dean Wyman, General Manger of Solid Waste Resources, announced the city is negotiating to bring in “dry” waste or recyclable materials from New York and Michigan. The question is, why?

Here’s the back-story. Seems the Guelph dry-waste sorting facility is running short of material to recycle. The reason is Waste Management has built a large, automated sorting facility in Cambridge. This operation is sucking business away from Guelph where sorting is done manually by a platoon of workers.

This has resulted in Guelph waste management to seek a solution. The answer, the brain trust feels, lies in the United States.

Really? Did the Wasters (I can’t help myself!) consider the solution lay in closing down the Guelph facility and ship the recyclables to Waste Management where processing costs are almost half of the Guelph operation? No, because that is against the Farbridge administration’s determination to be the leader in waste management.

Does it make sense to import from the U.S. and process it at a loss just to maintain jobs? You be the judge.

That’s the Good part of this essay.

The Bad part is the huge cost to Guelph taxpayers of building a $34 million wet- waste composting plant that is six times greater than the city’s 10,000 tonne annual requirement. Then they enter a contract with Waterloo Region to ship its wet stuff, at a cost estimated to be half of the estimated real operating costs of the plant. But wait! Even that contract will only use 50 per cent of plant capacity.

Another problem is that after a year of breaking in the “Microbe Motel”, it has yet to process any wet waste from either Guelph or Waterloo. Reason is the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has not given the operation the green light. No authority, no operation.

It gets worse. Taxpayers have to pony-up another $15 million for a bin-based collection system. It was done despite MOE’s approval of using biodegradable plastic bags that would have continued the city plastic bag collection system without spending the $15 million.

And this was done without any city testing of the bins, using the automated trucks to see if it warranted spending the money.

The taxpayers, of course, had no say in this huge investment that has been built to serve other municipalities.

Starting to sense where this is going?

Now for the Ugly. Phase three in the administration’s waste management plan, and I use that term loosely, is planning construction of two stainless steel, glass lined silos at the waste water plant to store processed sewage sludge. The cost is estimated to be $20 million.

This plan is to store the stuff over the cold months and then it is taken by Lystek Corporation to be “re-watered” with raw human waste from septic tanks, aircraft toilets and porta-potties, then spread the liquid on agriculture lands.

The city entered into an agreement with Lystek five years ago to use the fully processed sewage sludge for its fertilizing programs of farmer’s fields, including pastures.

Get the picture? This allows some potentially deadly elements found in human waste to penetrate the food chain.

So far Lystek has only been able to use just 15 per cent per year of the Guelph sewage sludge. The company is only able distribute the stuff between April and November.

So Lystek has persuaded Guelph to store not only the city’s sewage sludge but also that of other municipalities.

This is the perfect trifecta of gambling with taxpayer’s money.

When did Mayor Farbridge announce that Guelph was going to finance and service waste disposal of other communities?  Why aren’t the taxpayers informed of the details of these major capital-spending plans?

I guess we missed the memo.

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Behind the bafflegab: This is a bad idea

Posted July 10, 2012

When the Mayor speaks, duck! Because it’s likely about spending your money before she gets it.

Case in point.  Members of the corporate administration, finance and enterprise committee, voted to approve a $3.1 million grant to the London, Ontario based -developer of an 18-storey condominium property at McDonnell and Woolwich Streets.

While the mayor acknowledged that her feedback indicated the natives believed this was a grant – read that—taxpayer incentive to private developers to build downtown.

The Mayor said that these “grants” were based on the anticipated increase in property assessment.  That means the city could be receiving more taxes over the years.

It works this way. The developer completes the project and after meeting the city criteria, receives his grant. The catch is if the assessment on the completed structure does not produce increased taxes, there is no recovery of the grant.

This is a house of cards if there ever was one. It’s based entirely on the property being assessed at higher levels over the years, resulting in increased property taxes.

But what happens if the economy in Ontario turns south and assessments decrease instead of increase? The city has no say in assessing properties. That is done by a provincial agency operating at arms length from the city.

Essentially, this handout is nothing but a further drain on city finances and will not be the responsibility of this council.  It’s an unnecessary financial hand-me-down to future councils.

Our city has no business providing incentive grants to private residential developers. This is a competitive field and does not need grants. Developers need timely, efficient and fair adjudication of projects. This has not been the case in Guelph during the Farbridge years.

The Farbridge administration has made doing business with the city a struggle for entrepreneurs.  Two independent consultants have reported that Guelph is not friendly toward business.

On the surface, the light bulb has apparently clicked on. So that steps are being taken to streamline and fast-track residential development applications. You have to wonder how this sits with the group of Guelph developers and builders who sued the city for $2 million because the impact fees on their projects were almost doubled by this council.

Before reading on, remember it’s a major element of the Mayor’s personal goal to revitalize downtown.

In the past six years, her determined drive has delivered a public transit terminal on the edge of downtown; a skating rink in front of city hall, complete with imported roadway bricks; demolition of three properties on Wyndham, Street costing $5 million; Spending $15.5 million on a new civic museum, resurrected from the derelict Loretto convent on land not owned by the city.

This stage of the Mayor’s dream has been supported by a majority of like-minded councillors.

Yet the ratio of 84 per cent residential assessment to 16 per cent commercial/ industrial has barely changed in six years. Meanwhile, the University has exploded with growth in the same period. Its meager provincially mandates payment in lieu of property taxes exacerbate the crushing financial load on residential taxpayers.

The Mayor and her cohorts have failed to manage the nightlife problems downtown. This has left the area blighted with human waste and bereft of little control. An attempt two years ago to install temporary pissoirs for men only turned into a disaster. All it proved was that night visitors downtown pee etcetera, in public.

To turn the area into her personal dream, she decided what was needed was more people downtown. So, in the past few months we have witnessed a new system of fast-tracking, higher density condominium projects.

This is yet another example of bureaucratic bafflegab.

The city has a number of tools to encourage development, giving grants to residential developers downtown isn’t one of them.

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Changing the deck chairs on the Titanic

Posted June 2, 2012

Note: This is a response to a comment from Geo and Craig on guelphspeaks.ca regarding the restructure proposal of city council in 2014.

The restructuring of council is to recognize that Guelph is no longer a small town. The governance structure of council allows the 12-elected ward councillors to run the show. That is what Mayor Farbridge and a collection of like-minded individuals accomplished in the 2006 election.

They formed an airtight majority that still exists today despite some losses in the 2010 election. The result is evident as millions has been spent to make the city into their image of environmental and heritage perfection.

The governance committee of council is headed by the mayor and has commanded the council agenda to reflect what she feels is best for Guelph. It has failed on many counts.

At the same time, the increase in city staff has resulted in the past five and a half years, of FOF’s (Friends of Farbridge) hired in many key positions. This increased hiring of city staff has resulted in blatant politicizing of the 1,200 plus city staff.

Mayor Karen Farbridge is totally in control.

The embryonic proposal will reduce ward representation to one councillor who would work full-time on behalf of the residents to bring better service and prevent absolute control by one person. Also this proposal includes two full-time councillors to be elected across the city. They would share power with all citizens and focus more on managing the city as a whole, instead of the ward collectivized domination that has created the current situation.

The last thing this city needs is another dictatorship like the one we are experiencing.  The heavy capital spending on waste management ($50 million; heritage ($16 million); city hall and surroundings ($11 million not including settlement of the city hall’s original contractor’s $19 million law suit and associated legal costs); and the ongoing effort to reshape downtown (uncounted millions).

Lost in capital planning is the proposed $63 million downtown Library; the $32 million South end Recreation facility; the east side commercial centre; all promises not kept by the Farbridge administration.

Topping it off there is no wiggle room to borrow money as the city debt exceeds its own limit by 25 per cent.

Council has few choices to bring its financial house in order.

Raise taxes and user fees, dramatically increase assessment or reduce overhead by cutting staff and unproductive services.

The majority of this council gives you an idea of its ability to do critical thinking. Coun. Leanne Piper has been quoted as saying that there is $84 million stashed in various reserve accounts.

So her idea of fiscal management is to spend the reserves to overcome the spending mistakes of the past two terms of the Farbridge leadership.

Yeah, let’s crack the piggy bank so we can buy more candy.

Citizens should be reminded that the city has had no senior financial official in place to control finances for almost a year.  The city has just hired a Director of Finance who does not have a formal degree in finance or accounting. Meanwhile the purge of managers continues.

Matters turned south when a Calgary public relations firm was hired to tell residents about traffic blockages; or engaging a lawyer as Integrity Commissioner at $235 a hour to investigate why a group of councillors were refused an air quality report by staff.

He interviewed the Mayor and Chief Administration Officer, Anne Pappert, but no one from the other side.

This is why a change is needed in the make-up of city council to never allow this to happen again.

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How council gives citizens the mushroom treatment

Posted May 10, 2012

It all started in July 2006 when the Kate Quarrie administration approved a $42 million contract subsequently won by Urbacon as general contractor. The contract called for a new city hall to be built at a cost of $32,498,000 and to convert the old city hall into a provincial courthouse costing $9,502,000.

In the fall of 2006, the Quarrie council was swept out of office and replaced by former Mayor Karen Farbridge and 10 supporters.  Her majority was omnipotent with a huge majority of councillors dedicated to changing the city into their own image.

The contract for the two buildings was to be “substantially completed” by February 28, 2008. Subsequent negotiations extended the completion date to September 8, 2008, due in part to more than 350 change orders apparently demanded by the city staff.

The city fired Urbacon on that date because it claimed the contract had not been substantially completed. Chief executioner was Chief Administration Officer, Hans Loewig ,who is no longer working for the city.

It was revealed that members of council had no oversight of this major project. Change decisions were made by the city staff.

On October 9, 2008, Urbacon sued the city for breach of contract claiming  $20 million in damages. The city counter-sued Urbacon for $5 million.

Urbacon claimed the city delayed completion of the project because of hundreds of change orders.

For its part, the city was concerned about expiring leases in buildings, housing public workers, that made the move-in date uncertain. It was revealed that council had ”lost faith in Urbacon’s ability to deliver.”

Here’s where it get sticky.

When all this was going on, the public was left in the dark. All it knew was the builder had been fired by Loewig with little or no explanation.

In the past three and a half years, many subcontractors were not paid by Urbacon resulting in 19 liens against our brand new city hall.

Under the Construction Loan Act, the city withheld $3.2 million and was ordered to pay it to the court. The city and Urbacon agreed to pay $2,370,963 to those subcontractors who filed liens against the city hall project.

In addition, the city also paid another $3,385,205 directly to some subcontractors to complete their work and finish the building.

The city has stated that it is suing the consultant hired to manage the project and the insurer providing the performance bond. That suit is on hold until the city’s trial with Urbacon is settled.

In the fall there will be a non-binding mediation between the city and Urbacon in an attempt to settle their differences. If this fails, a trial is set for January 21, 2013.

Added to this complex array of misadventures was the city hiring Collaborative Structures of Cambridge to convert the old city hall into a provincial courthouse. Details of that contract have never been revealed including the cost.

The fumbling of creating a new city hall and provincial court has created a stunning series of administration errors and with little culpability directed at the decision makers. It will probably take a forensic audit to determine the end cost of the new city hall.

The cost to the city of hiring lawyers still working their way through this swamp of litigation has yet to be revealed.

Instead the public, those paying the bills, is given the mushroom treatment to function in the dark without knowing how their city is being managed, or mismanaged as seems to be the unfolding case

This mess is classic Farbridge.  The citizens are left in the dark because too much of the public’s business is conducted behind closed doors or off-site.

It is noted that even mushrooms eventually see the light of day.

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When help is needed, call in Terry Bradshaw

The decision to pay $25,000 for a five-minute infomercial about Guelph was a perpetuation of the view held by Mayor Karen Farbridge that she is doing a great job running the city.

The weird part was selecting former Pittsburg Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw as the spokesmen in the five-minute video.

Terry who?

The native of Louisiana has transformed himself from football star to TV sports broadcasting. He is an entertaining and opinionated football analyst but what in hell is he doing touting Guelph?

I’ll bet that Bradshaw was never in the city to proclaim its wonders. His part was done in a studio somewhere in another country.

There was one little slip in the presentation in which Bradshaw refers to the Guelph edition of the video as being part of this “nation of ours. “ He wasn’t referring to Canada, folks.

No wonder the Mayor is so proud of the video. She was the supporting star and without a smidge of deprecation, did her patented number that Guelph is one of the top ten cities in the Country.

Her mistake was giving the impression that this was an initiative of the city’s development department. In fact it was an American production company that put it together. The pregnant question remains: How many city staffers contributed to the shooting of the video and at what cost?

The production is classic Farbridge. A person of power, she has come to believe that she is omnipotent as our Mayor. She actually believes this promotion is real journalism.  It points to her weakness in believing her own propaganda created at the public expense about what a great job she is doing.

Isn’t ego a wonderful attribute? If only the Mayor would see herself as others see her.

One does not have to look much farther back than last fall when a senior manager resigned and blew the whistle on how Guelph was unfriendly to business both existing and prospective. It caused a stir in the staff ranks as shortly after, his boss Chief Planner James Riddell, resigned to take a position in St. Catharines.

This and other resignations and the dismissal last year of Chief Financial Officer Margaret Neubaur have created a malaise within the staff causing uncertainty and a lack of leadership. Six senior staff positions remain unfilled.

Oh, there is leadership but it has become focused in the office of Mayor. Guelph has been molded and fashioned in Mayor Farbridge’s version of what she envisions as a great community.

Our city was great and has tremendous potential to become a city of all the people and not just the playpen of a minority of politically left activists.

In her blog the mayor quotes a saying from India: “That leaders need to be like elephants. The dogs can bark all they want, they need to keep moving.”

I would hope that the Mayor was not singling me out because my name is Barker.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “Some elephant. So many dogs.”

By Gerry Barker

Editor of guelphspeaks.ca

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Wagging the dog in Guelph

A spiteful refusal by a city staff member denied a councilor’s request for a report on air quality at the $33 million compost plant.

Chief Administration Officer, (CAO), Ann Pappert, wrote in an email that the request was denied because “it would cause the relocation of staff resources away from existing priorities.

Huh?

So if I got this straight, staff work trumps that of members of council who were elected as stewards of the people’s trust.

Pappert went on to sat that “individual members of council do not have the authority to direct staff work.”

Again, Huh?

Now that tail is really wagging the dog.

Using the city’s governance manual dealing with “new projects and initiatives” the CAO harrumphed that the report request should be brought up in an open and transparent forum such as a standing committee or a council meeting. Is it merely coincidence that Mayor Farbridge chairs the governance committee?

Veteran Coun. Gloria Kovach said she had “never experienced anything like this.” She went on to say “this information should be easy to get.”

If one looks back for the past five and one half years of the Farbridge administration, it is easy to understand that information is often impossible to get. If staff stonewalls a member of council what chance do the citizens have?

Far too much city business is conducted behind closed doors or off site.

Perhaps because Coun. Cam Guthrie has announced he is running for Mayor, the staff saw an opportunity to embarrass him.

It is apparent that certain members of the staff have been politicized by the Farbridge administration to the point where it is a civic embarrassment. Along the line, some staff members forgot they are civil servants.

It’s no wonder that the city has six senior managerial positions open and no takers.

Change at 1 Carden Street cannot come soon enough.

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City staff absenteeism cost some $4,499,820 in 2011

News reports about spending $150,000 on reporting software will not cure the increasing rate of sick leave by city staffers.

Yet that’s the solution presented to the Corporate Administration, Finance and Enterprise committee by Executive Director of Corporate and Human Resources, Mark Amorosi. The purchase is to reduce the increasing rate of sick leave absenteeism.

The city acknowledges that staffers were absent from work on average 10.2 days in 2011. Doing the math, that totals 13,015 lost days last year. That’s up from an average of 9.7 days per employee in 2008.

The city staff consists of 1,276 full time employees. That does not include, the Police with 195 uniformed personnel and 80 fulltime civilian staff plus “some” part-time employees. Add in three senior staffers, the Chief, Deputy Chief and Director of Corporate Services. Then there is the senior officers association composed of inspectors and 11 civilian senior managers.

Sick leave statistics for the Police Services and Fire Department were not revealed.

Estimating the average pay of Guelph civic workers at $45,000 per year divided by paid 270 workdays a year, equals an average daily rate of $166.66.

Now multiply that by 13,015 missed days and the estimated cost to taxpayers is $4,499,820. That’s paying for work that was never done.

Amorosi estimated that the software, when applied could save the city $300,000 and an additional $200,000 for reduced overtime to fill in for absent workers.

Coun. Gloria Kovach questioned where the $150,000 was coming from seeing it was not in the 2012 budget.

Amorosi, admitting that the city’s reserve accounts were too low,  said funding would come from the “salary gapping reserve”  that he said was very well funded for a city the size of Guelph.

How many businesses could afford to lose 10 days a year from employees who booked off sick?

The first question to ask is why are there such generous sick leave benefits in staff contracts? Are these benefits to be applied whenever at the employee’s discretion?

Somehow, the idea that the public pot is bottomless ignores the financial limits of the taxpayers.

There has been considerable discussion across the country on the runaway salaries and benefits paid to public employees. It ranges from municipalities to Provincial and Federal Governments.

The real question is, are staff benefits too generous and not controlled to the benefit of the taxpayers?

Municipalities have few sources of revenue and must balance their annual budgets. The chief source in Ontario comes from the taxpayers. It is collected by the municipalities and is shared with the Boards of Education.

For Amorosi to suggest that $150,000 should be spent on software to solve a problem for which management is responsible is wasteful and lacks discipline.

As usual, Mayor Farbridge supported the move.

It’s now up to Council to approve this proposal.

Will the Farbridge gang of eight support the committee’s recommendation? Or will the majority of council come to their senses and sandbag this attempt to let management off the hook?

Oh well, it’s only your $4,499, 820.

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