Tag Archives: GrassRoots Guelph

The night democracy died in Guelph

Posted May 7, 2015

The election compliance committee of council appointees heard evidence Wednesday night, May 6, surrounding a complaint by resident Susan Watson. She, her Toronto lawyer, and two supporting spokespersons complained about defeated ward six candidate, Glen Tolhurst’s financial report. She contended that the $400 donated by citizen’s organization, GrassRoots Guelph was illegal.

The three-person committee was reduced to two when the chairperson did not show up. The committee, after hearing the statements, said it could not consider interpreting the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. This Act does not preclude third party involvement in municipal elections.

However, this two-person quasi-legal committee threw Roberts Rules of running meetings out the door. The two had one moving the motion to order an audit and the other seconding the motion. They then called a vote on the motion and both raised their hands.

In some circles, this could described as a kangaroo court when everything is decided in advance regardless of the testimony. It was revealed there was a meeting April 23 to explain the procedures of the compliance committee. Neither Mr. Tolhurst nor his lawyer, David Starr, was invited. This goose was cooked well in advance.

Following a ten-minute deliberation, the committee agreed to hire an outside auditor within three weeks to audit the Tolhurst election financial report. It was revealed the committee chairperson, who was not in attendance, had told her colleagues before the meeting to vote for an audit.

This is where things go from bad to worse. Recapping: Two appointees of the compliance committee decide to order an audit, the cost of which is estimated between $25,000 and $30,000.

Seems like the committee is willing to swat a mosquio with a sledgehammer. This is about auditing a defeated candidate’s election spending of under $4,000.

Then there is the possibility that in the event the auditor does not find Mr. Tohurst broke the rules, the complainant, besides paying for the audit, could also face damages levied by council.

Watson admitted after the meeting that there was no finding of wrongdoing by Mr. Tolhurst but her objective was “to pursue the matter to provide clarity around third party spending.”

So taxpayers are faced with an embarrassing situation where an individual, a personal friend and supporter of Karen Farbridge, seems to think that the rules of third party involvement in municipal elections are not clear.

Really! She chose to use public funds of the City of Guelph to make a point that needed to be resolved at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. That being the case, why did she use the mechanism established by the city to “clarify” the issue of third party participation in Guelph’s election?

This is nothing but abuse of the Guelph system of electing representatives.

What will future citizens who are interested in contributing to their community, think when they are faced with this kind of silly, expensive obstruction of the public’s right to participate in municipal elections?

It should be noted that this so-called election compliance committee was formed in 2007 by the Farbridge administration.

It was like a dagger to the heart of our democratic right to serve our community without fear of retribution after the fact.

Expecting a professional auditor to determine if this Watson complaint has any validity is like smoking the wrong stuff.

It’s a shameful, futile exercise that should be stopped by council.

If for no other reason than to agree that a committee of two, moving and seconding a motion and voting unanimously to hire a $25,000 auditor, defies any democratic principle.

Shame on them.

 

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The assault on citizen’s rights and common sense by the friends of Farbridge

Posted May 4, 2015

On Wednesday night at 5 p.m., in the city council chambers, the compliance committee of council will hear reasons why GrassRoots Guelph did not have the authority, or is it audacity, to support candidates on the October 2014 civic election.

The complaint made by Susan Watson, Farbridge friend, and, along with her partner, Dr. Ian Digby, donated more than $4,000 to a number of candidates from the ranks of various unions in and out of Guelph. The complaint is based on the right of a non-profit, non-partisan, incorporated organization to support candidates of choice and assist them financially if necessary.

The irony of this search and destroy effort is that the political organizations that supported the Farbridge campaign boasted of running pro-union candidates in every ward and financially supporting them.

David Galon, another Farbridge supporter, contends that it is all right for unions to be actively involved in municipal elections but not a legal citizen’s activist group, dedicated to informing the public of the dismal record of the Farbridge years.

And, how dismal was it?

Her legacy of mismanagement, misrepresentation and having her surrogates spin the truth in a manner that is almost laughable.

It all came to head in March 2014 when a judge found the city illegally terminated the general contractor of the new city hall, Urbacon, September 2008. The blame for this was placed on former CAO Hans Loewig, not the mayor, not council.

Do you believe that this was the action of a power-tripping CAO, fed up with all the missed completion deadlines, and on his own, threw Urbacon off the job? Well, as it turned out, the vast majority of voters didn’t believe it and the mayor lost her re-election bid.

That March 2014 judgment was when the people decided they had enough of Karen Farbridge and some of her councillors who either quit or were defeated.

The real cost of that monumental error in judgment is still not known. An educated guess it is north of $18 million when the city’s legal fees, settelements of other associated lawsuits and payments to third parties such as the subcontractors are made public.

So, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, a Farbridge hands-on choice for the job, said the Urbacon settlement will not affect property taxes. She further said the $8.89 million settlement with Urbacon will be paid with your savings from three reserve funds and the funds would be replenished over the next five years.

On April 25, 2015, council approved the highest property tax increase in five years of 3.96 per cent.

Enter stage left, the oracle of ward six, Karl Wettstein. He moved that instead of the $900,000 that was to start the replenishment of the vacated reserve funds, that council approve only $500,000. His motion included shifting the responsibility of finding a new plan to re-fill the $8.93 million taken from the reserves to the city staff.

At this rate, the Urbacon costs will be around for your grandchildren to pay. That is if they can afford to live in Guelph.

But hey! That same night council approved spending $600,000 on multi-use paths on busy Woodlawn Avenue.

If this wasn’t a spit-in-your-eye to the citizens of Guelph, we don’t know what is.

But this soap opera is not over yet. Susan Watson, along with her lawyer from Toronto, is determined to destroy the fundamental right of citizens under the Charter of Rights – freedom of association – to gather and oppose political thought and action without frivolous attempts to destroy that right.

Take some time to attend the Wednesday night meeting and show support for Glen Tolhurst, a decent man who offered his experience and knowledge to the voters of ward six. He lost and the reason for this Watson-inspired charade is, what?

Even more interesting is who is paying for this exercise?

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Guelph needs a city Auditor General to end the Farbridge multi-million dollar mistakes

Posted June 29, 2014

Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin, recently addressed a gathering of municipal finance officials in London, Ontario.

He pointed out that 92 per cent of the 444 Ontario municipalities have no oversight of their finances and operations. In fact, only Ottawa, Toronto, Oshawa and Sudbury have Auditor Generals (A/G) overseeing their operations. Sudbury and Oshawa are on the verge of dumping their A/G’s because they delivered negative reports to the councils.

Yep, if you don’t like the message, just shoot the messenger.

The city will reply that Deloitte and Touche, a major independent audit and accounting firm, review city finances annually. Note the word “review”. Deloitte does not do an in-depth audit but employs parameters set by contract with the city.

An Auditor General, they’re not.

In Guelph, the council hired an internal auditor to dig into operations and she came up with a doozie reporting in 2013 city staff overtime costs were $5,067,000. It was twice that in 2012. Her investigations are only the tip of the iceberg that can sink the good ship SS Guelph.

Fortunately for citizens she’s still around. But her job is limited and controlled by senior staff. What is really needed is an Auditor General who has authority to oversee all city finances and operations without political interference.

The Auditor Generals, in the aforementioned cities, are appointed for five years. In the case of Sudbury the A/G appears to be surviving day-to-day. Oshawa renewed its A/G for only two years. This is against the provincial legislation that set up the municipal A/G system, requiring a five-year term of office.

Now along comes the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.  That organization, composed of elected officials from Ontario’s municipalities, is dead against the addition of Auditor Generals poking into their municipal operations.

Why is that? Both the federal government and most provinces have Auditor Generals overseeing their operations and finances. You don’t have to go very far to discover the need of such an independent officer in the City of Guelph.

In fact, last October, the citizen activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, delivered a four-page petition to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that detailed several instances of questionable financial mismanagement and operations.

The petition was signed by 162 taxpayers when the Revised Statutes of Ontario Act only required 50 signatures. Ministry officials later confirmed that the petition figures were accurate. Yet the Minister at the time, Linda Jeffery, rejected an audit of the city’s finances and operations with no explanation.

Shortly after, she left office to run for mayor of Brampton.

The Chief Administrative Officer of Guelph’s public servants called the citizen’s petition “a waste of time.” Minister Jeffery’s letter contained no such reference. So no matter what we complain about in Guelph, the majority of elected officials doesn’t care what citizens think or know about their governance of our city. On top of that, the senior executive directors of the Guelph staff share the same views as their political masters. It is apparaent that much of the staff has been politicized through threat of job loss and other intimidation.

What’s that old expression: “Go along to get along?”

It appears the deck is stacked against the citizens living in Ontario’s municipalities. This AMO entitlement attitude is endemic of the disdain for those who once elected them.

So far in this nomination period every member of council who supported Mayor Farbridge, has declared their candidacy, plus two former Farbridge councillors. As a public service, here are their names: Karen Farbridge; W2 – Ian Findlay; W3 – Maggie Laidlaw and June Hoffland; W4 – Mike Salisbury; W5 – Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher, Cathy Downer; W6 – Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein.

There is only one-way citizens can protect themselves against these uncaring and arrogant politicians and that’s to defeat them October 27.

GRG is dedicated to informing voters of how their city and treasure have been abused by these councillors. Also, to encourage candidates for council who are motivated to return our city to fiscal responsibility, common sense and restoration of the public trust.

The 2014 election will either result in more of the same from the Farbridge administration or an election of a majority of council who will bring fresh ideas, energy and business to the city. Mostly, they will restore the public trust that has been sneered at by those in the administration. Overseers who feel they are entitled to treat the citizens as pawns in their grandiose schemes to change our city.

Step one is to hire an Auditor General for Guelph to level the playing field.

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We don’t always agree but this time the Mercury got it right

Posted February 27, 2014

The Guelph Mercury has been the paper of record in our community for many years. I have had complaints and differences of opinion with the editors.

This week, the paper’s editorial of the city’s response to the Ministerial letter declining to proceed with an audit, drew unusual over-the-top comments from the Chief Administration Officer and the Mayor.

But the Mercury editorial took a balanced response and quoted parts of Minister’s  letter, also received by GrassRoots Guelph members.

Thanks to the Mercury editors who kept their heads. They produced a commentary that was fair and accurately reflected the intent of Minister Linda Jeffery in her letter to all parties.

She never said nor inferred that the GRG petition was a “waste of time.”

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