Tag Archives: Guelph city council

Get ready for more shocks from the Provincial Sunshine List published later this month

By Gerry Barker

March 6, 2017

Having waged a campaign to get the city to reveal why those three top managers in 2015 received $98,202 increases, I have received the ultimate cover-up by a city-paid independent agent to say the council acted within the meaning of the Municipal Act.

I complained about this Dec 10, 2015 closed-session council meeting where that was conducted by the closed-session investigator, hired by the city, requesting opening the minutes and the vote of council that approved these increases.

That was more that four months ago.

This was an increase that concerned the non-union staff including CAO Ann Pappert, (37K) DCAO’s Mark Amorosi, (26K) and Derrick Thomson, (33K). Pappert and Amorosi are gone.

The city staff is 80 per cent unionized. That leaves 20 per cent of the remaining staff covered as “non-union staff.”

There is nothing in the Ontario Municipal Act that states that non-union staff compensation does not have to be made public. Ah! But it is, once a year when the Sunshine List is published in March.

You see, the city is required to report these salaries and taxable benefits to the Province to be published every March in the Sunshine List that includes the names, taxable benefits and job title of every publicly paid employee in Ontario.

So why does our council conceal these settlements, knowing full well they will be published every March?

Are they afraid to tell their constituents of the non-union staff increases for fear of political fall-out?

Do they honestly believe that the people will not notice?

They did not inform the public on the city website, nor through the local weekly newspaper that rarely attempts to question the city’s news releases or get two sides of the story.

Last March, I broke the story that revealed the $98,202 increases awarded to the then top managers of the city in the close-session city council. Dec. 10, 2015.

To this day, not one member of council has admitted or confirmed these increases.

On Marck 23, council will receive the report of Amberley Gravel, (A/G) the city-hired closed-session investigator, concerning my request.

This is when members of council should stand up and admit it was a mistake and state the A/G Report should by filed in the circular disposal where it belongs. Even braver councillors should move to fire this outfit that has been on retainer to the city for nine years.

In that time, it has adjudicated only five complaints, all of which supported the right of the city to conduct closed meetings.

In 2007 former Premier Dalton McGuinty mandated that every municipality must have a closed-session investigator on retainer by January 1, 2008. The Liberal government recommended the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, {AMO). This is an organization financed by the provincial government and over the years, several Guelph Councillors have been members.

But some 220 Ontario Municipalities have dumped the private closed-session investigators to have the independent Ontario Ombudsman’s office to assume the responsibilities.

Here is how Guelph citizens are in a bind when it comes to protesting closed sessions by city council who deny public participation.

Our closed-session investigator A/G is only interested in the interpretation of the Municipal Act. It does not investigate why the meeting was conducted or the impact on the public purse. It is nothing but a taxpayer-paid tool for the use of the administration at the expense of the public’s right to know.

Are we not entitled to be informed by our elected representatives of what our managerial class is earning on our behalf?

I am a taxpayer. I am sick and tired of the manipulated flow of information, to which we are entitled, coming from City Hall, or the lack of it.

Even when you question it, you get sued.

Sorry council, I’m not going away and will continue telling the truth about a city administrative staff that is now bereft of talent and is out of control.

Do the mayor and council really believe that those senior staffers who have benefited from the largess of city council and left city employment, really care whether you are re-elected in 2018?

If council’s performance continues the way it has, you can be sure the people will decide the outcome.

 

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A 19th century French philosopher exposes Guelph’s disasterous socialist experiment

By Gerry Barker

December 15, 2016

This week a commentary in the National Post addressed Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new “Patients First Act.” With an approval rating of less than 14 per cent, Ms. Wynne is desperate to resuscitate her failing tenure with another plan that will directly affect the traditional sanctity of doctor-patient confidentiality.

This Act will allow government agents to inspect the doctor’s business and an individual’s medical records without a warrant. They may copy records and doctor’s business details. They may question a patient on matters relevant to their investigation. This macabre Act Bill 41 is supposed to monitor local integrated health networks to ensure these organizations, controlled by central planning, are delivering efficient, compassionate service.

Didn’t the Stalinist Communist central -planning -system failures lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union?

This law treats our right to privacy with casual disdain. Section 12.1 (6) says inspectors can’t look at your records without either (a) your consent, or “(b) in such circumstances as may be prescribed.” And keep your arm up, because in a blizzard of Wynne-Speak jargon, Bill 41 alters 19 different statutes. These days, that’s how government works.

Alexis Charles Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a 19th century French diplomat, political scientist, and historian.

He warned, writing in Democracy in America, that given half a chance the state “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform … The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Isn’t that a stunning portrait of the administration of the city of Guelph? Isn’tlike the crumbling of the Soviet Union, after ten years of authoritarian control of our city by a group of leftists, led for much of that time by former Mayor Karen Farbridge?

In Guelph, these central planning powers are rampant across the city’s administration. Look no further than the recent 2017 budget, approved by nine members of council with only three opposing, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Bob Bell. Coun. Phil Allt was unable to attend for medical reasons.

In the past two years, seven members of city council, supporters of the former mayor’s agenda, has dominated continuing central planning polices to turn our city into a socialist community that failed to evaporate with her defeat in 2014. Want to talk about the millions spent on waste management? Reducing vehicle lanes on major roads to accommodate bicycle lanes? Turning new developments into high-density housing with no open space and most with no garbage collection?

Comparing democracy with Socialism

Here is another apt quote of M. Tocqueville: “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: Equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

That’s how it works in Guelph and the Liberal government in the Province of Ontario that has endured 13 years in Office. Both governments are shameless and dedicated to a socialistic agenda under the guise of progressive action.

The finances of both governments are in a shambles. In Guelph, we are experiencing an administration that continues it’s spending on projects large and small but with little attention on the costs associated with running a $500 million corporation.

Here are some examples:

The 1,950 city staff, not counting the managerial staff or part-time workers, is bloated and badly needs a rationalization study, preferably performed by third party experts to, dare I say it, cut the fat?

Witness that a year ago when council was told that a total staff rationalization program would cost $550,000. Adding13 new staff for 2017 costing more than twice that seems incredibly stupid and careless of the people’s money. The majority control of the administration seems only capable of hitting the property tax ATM’s and wallets of the people with a state that “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform”: Alexis Tocqueville.

Here’s another example of your council playing with your money. The 2016 budget included $700,000 for new parking meter heads so the city could use the revenue to help pay for the proposed Wilson Street Parking garage next door to city hall. Sounds like a plan, right? Well the parking meter heads were pushed into the 2018 budget. Council voted to use some $650,000 of it to launch a final design of the proposed South End Recreation Centre. The end price tag of the design plan was an estimated $3.500,000. That’s just to design the actual complex, mind you..

They did this without any capital to build the estimated $65 million centre. Again, the $60 million downtown library was pushed into the unknown future. The authors of all this were the two Ward 6 councillors and the majority went along with it. It’s nothing but a political move to ensure that Mark MacKinnon and Karl Wettstein get re-elected. Residents in Ward 6 are being used by council to believe their Recreation Centre is on its way

A final thought on this boondoggle: The $3.5 million design plan has a lifespan of five years. Factoring in inflation and the continued make-believe financial theories by staff and council, there will be an estimated $70 million needed to spend on the South End Centre.

The approval of council to budget $5,000 for a concert by some well-known band in the future that the Mayor got all tizzy about probably because he may get invited to play the drums with a name band.

Cam, why not spend it on the geese that are fouling our parks so the folks attending don’t have to sidestep the droppings?

Only some outside expertise on how to live within our means and a lot of common sense will straitghen out the Guelph finances. It has taken 10 years to put the city in this hole; it will probably take another ten years to make our city affordable and livable again.

Aux Barricades, Mes Amis!

 

 

 

 

 

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How the Guelph administrative system works against the interests of the people

By Gerry Barker

November 4, 2016

In the past week, I have attempted to obtain a copy of the minutes of that closed-session meeting of council that approved those three elephant-sized increases to the three top senior employees.

The meeting was held last December 10. There was no public announcement of the outcome, the reason, or how council decided the increases were warranted. Council obviously approved the increases.

In March, the size of the increases was published in the Provincial Sunshine List naming all employees in the province earning more than $100,000 per year. The List named the employee, the before-tax salary plus taxable benefits and the individual’s job title.

The city clerk turned down my request stating that closed-session council meeting are not a matter of the public record.

Last Friday I asked the Ombudsman’s office to investigate this closed-door meeting. I was informed that the Ombudsman could not investigate because Guelph has it’s own Closed-Session Investigator. As it turns out, the same designated investigator has been on the job since January 1, 2008.

There is only one investigation listed on the Closed-Session Investigator website. That’s over ten years.

It took another email to the clerk to be told how and where on the city website I could file a closed-session complaint. You have to wonder why Mr. O’Brien did not inform me of this when I asked for the minutes.

This is another example of how the City of Guelph has rules and procedures that for the most part, are designed to protect the interests of council and staff as opposed to the interests and trust of the people who pay the bills.

After eight years of the virtual dictatorship of the former mayor who created this Byzantium labyrinth of self-serving controls, there seems to be little change, instead of serving the public openly and with accuracy.

Any time when I attempt to obtain information from the administration I think I’m living in the Guelph Gulag.

These Farbridge inspired rules of procedure and control are still in place today. In fact there is a 2016 procedural bylaw, signed by Mayor Guthrie that is an echo of the former version that dominated public affairs for eight years.

Earlier this year, he attacked a citizen’s criticism of Ms. Pappert and her record in office for five years. The trouble was the report signed by Rena Akerman, ignited his honour to threaten legal action. It never happened.

Oh, it is now easy to understand the Mayor’s loyalty to the senior management. He stuck with former CAO Ann Pappert at the expense of citizen’s having an uncomfortable feeling about his threat and their rights of freedom of speech.

So here we have a citizen relating facts about Ms. Pappert’s performance and being threatened by the Mayor, using the power of his office to unleash the city legal department.

Recently this apparent staff loyalty problem surfaced when the Mayor commented when Pat Fung dared to direct a question at DCAO Mark Amorosi presenting his report to council. The Mayor said: “I find it a bit disturbing that people would come in here and challenge our staff in this way.”

Gee! I didn’t know we elected a King instead of a Mayor

What does Mayor Guthrie mean when he adds, “in this way?” Are the people he represents not supposed to complain when accurate facts of financial mismanagement are exposed? Which “way” should the people react and respond?

Our Mayor seems to have drifted away from representing the people, who supported him, to go out of his way to protect the hired help. Does he seriously believe that there aren’t people in the city who clearly understand the gross mismanagement of the city that he promised to correct?

Well, we now know that Mayor Guthrie convened that closed-session meeting last December 10. It resulted in three top managers receiving excessive salary and pension benefits. And he and members of council never said a word. Not even after the provincial Sunshine List let the cat out of the bag four months later.

It shows that we have a council that doesn’t really care what the people say or think. These so-called town hall meetings that some councillors are conducting to get public opinions to the upcoming 2017 city budget, are an empty gesture to the myth of accountability in Guelph.

When it comes to two-way conversations with the administration, we don’t need more examples of suppression of information, stonewalling and lying by omission.

For example, why did Mayor Guthrie convene that Salary-Gate meeting when he had the power to say no?

Or, why did he complain that he didn’t like citizen activism questioning senior staff?

Why does he have temper tantrums with people who make statements he doesn’t like?

Why is he so beholden to senior staff? One that has been shattered under his watch with firings without cause, resignations, rescinded resignations, and a senior employee lawsuit demanding $1 million for wrongful dismissal?

Through it all, he remains impervious to any criticism from informed citizens such as Pat Fung, a Chartered Accountant and Certified Public Accountant, who is an expert about finances. There is not one city official that has his financial accreditation and experience. Not on council and not on staff.

Yet, council and the administration ignore Mr. Fung’s analysis of city finances and a plan to fix the growing financial status of the city.

However, despite the Guelph Mercury Tribune blocking publication of the report, the details are out and more and more citizens are becoming aware. There is no doubt that this will be a major election issue in 2018.

Accordingly, Mr. Fung and I have appealed the Tribune’s refusal to carry the story and refused a full-page ad, to the National NewsMedia Council.  Here is part of that submission:

To the National NewsMedia Council

From Gerry Barker & Pat Fung CPA, CA

Subject: The following is a complaint regarding biased coverage of the Guelph Mercury Tribune newspaper, subsidiary of Metroland Publishing Corporation, owned by TorStar Corporation

August 18, 2016 – Pat Fung delivered a copy to all 13 members of city council and to the Mercury Tribune of his analysis of the City of Guelph’s finances all taken from public documents either from the City or Public Salary Disclosure. Attached is a copy of that letter.

After several emails back and forth and cutting down the August 18 letter to about 400 words as requested by the editor of the Mercury Tribune, attached is an August 25th email from the Trib. The following response was received on August 30th:

“In the form of a letter to the editor, the statements and questions posed here are framed as fact for political purposes. We simply can’t publish this as is.”

August 25, 2016 – Mr. Fung contacted Mr. Barker, the editor of the blog known as www.guelphspeaks.ca. Barker believed that Mr. Fung’s message was important for all citizens of Guelph to read. Barker split the analysis into two parts and published it on his blog. He said he would raise money to buy a full-page ad in the Tribune (controlled circulation of 45K on Thursdays) so citizens would read the analysis.

The blog’s viewer response set a three-day response record.

September 26, 2016, Barker delivered copy for a full-page ad to the Tribune advertising representative with a cheque for $2,083. Concerned Guelph residents raised the funds and the ad was to be published in its September 28th edition of the Tribune.

September 28, 2016 – Two days later, Barker received a call from the Tribune ad rep saying there were “red flags” raised about the ad copy. Following questioning by Barker, the ad copy was refused by the Tribune on the grounds it was not documented, lacked sources of the information and was “inflammatory.” When asked for specifics, Barker was told that they would verbalize their objections but would not put their objections in writing.

The result was a totally incomplete and unreasonable verbal explanation, the ad never ran and the cheque was returned. Mr. Fung and Mr. Barker are well aware that a publication has the right to turn down advertising if it chooses.

But in this case, the Tribune Editor made it clear the Fung analysis or any form of it was not going to run. When the Editor told Mr. Fung his work is too “political,” and the advertising department claims the ad copy was “inflammatory,” you can only conclude it wasn’t going to run in the Guelph Mercury Tribune.

Mr. Fung’s presentation to city council and the ad copy is attached.

In this case, it was clear this newspaper, publishing twice a week, was deliberately blocking a legitimate news story that affected the entire community. The attached copy of Mr. Fung’s original statement clearly states his sources to make the analysis, including examining years of city Financial Information Reports submitted annually to the Province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs. He also used information contained in the BMA management consultant’s report in 2014. This information compared basic costs of operations in Guelph with other similar sized cities in Ontario.

In our opinion, the newspaper, the only print newspaper publishing in the City of 121,000 residents, has made the analysis “political” because it has denied exposure of this important report that affects all citizens. The paper’s Editor made no attempt to assign a reporter to check the report or even interview the author.

The Editor’s demand that Mr. Fung reduce a 2,800-word document with supporting charts, to 400 words was nothing but a misguided excuse not to publish it at all.

One of the reasons management is refusing to publish the report, may be the paid advertising linage the paper receives from the City of Guelph titled “City News” that is funded by the taxpayers. The city refuses to reveal the cost of this advertising but the volume of full and partial full-page ads per week would indicate a cost estimated to be more than $450,000 a year. This is based on buying the equivalent of six full pages weekly each year. This advertising volume is estimated to make the City of Guelph one of the largest advertisers in the Tribune.

As a retired newspaper executive, Barker has experienced several cases of print media bias, particularly among the smaller community newspapers. He knows because he owned a community newspaper in a small town. He is a past president of the former Ontario Weekly Newspaper Association in Ontario.

But Guelph is not a small town and the record of extreme editorial support for the city administration borders on a tainted editorial responsibility that belies fair journalistic standards.

In Barker’s experience as a professional newsman working for the largest newspaper in Canada and owning one of the smallest, he has never seen such blatant abuse of editorial responsibility refusing to present both sides of an important and thoroughly documented story.

It’s no wonder the media today is held in such disregard. Newspapers are not elected to office nor should they be lap dogs for special interests.

In this case, this newspaper and its controlling corporations put their special interest first before their readers. And we wonder why newspapers are disappearing. One of these included the Metroland daily, The Guelph Mercury, that was shut down last January. It was the paper of record for more than 100 years.

We, on behalf of fellow citizens of Guelph, respectfully request that the National NewsMedia Council sanction the actions of the Guelph Mercury Tribune, if for no other reason than to remind owners and citizens of responsibility to report important factual information to it readers.

 

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The looming crisis in funding city operations in 2017

By Gerry Barker

July 7, 2016

If you haven’t already, you should be receiving a revised assessment of the value of your home for property tax purposes. The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) that adjusts your assessment every four years establishes commercial and residential assessments.

This is the year of adjustment. The notices are determined as of January 1st, 2016, and reflect how much has changed since January 1, 2012. MPAC assesses 5 million residential and commercial properties in Ontario. To establish the current valuation in terms of assessment, MPAC assembles data on the properties using sales, building permits,, location, living area, age of the property and lot size.

If you are unhappy with the evaluation, you may request /reconsideration. Go to the MPAC website and register aboutmyproperty.ca.

In 2008, former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government imposed a moratorium of assessment increases for four years. This ended in 2011 and MPAC was instructed to limit increased assessments for four years 2012 to 2015 inclusive.

In case you haven’t noticed, your assessment has been increasing in the past four years. They were not big increases designed to play catch-up from the McGuinty assessment moratorium, invoked during the 2008 global financial crisis.

However, we are now in another four-year cycle of MPAC assessments that will first, impact the city’s 2017 operating budget. The 2016 assessment increase will provide additional funding in planning the budget next November.

But here is where things go off the financial rails.

Last December 9, council, in which there was no public participation, ratified the 2016 budget. A staff recommendation regarding a 10-year, two per cent special tax levy on all properties to pay for infrastructure-rebuilding was tabled in a closed-door session before the public meeting. At the outset of the public meeting, it was immediately moved by council finance chair, June Hofland to push the levy to the 2017 budget. Carried.

Now we have a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Derrick Thomson, who is responsible for approving all staff budget recommendations before sending it to council for approval. His former position as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) of Operations has been assumed by Coleen Clack who used to report to Mr. Thomson as manager of Culture and Tourism.

But the recent sudden death of Rodney Keller, General Manager of Operations, has placed Ms. Clack in an unexpected difficult assignment with the loss of two key top managers in Operations within a few weeks.

The search is on for a new Chief Financial officer (CFO) and the task of integrating the chosen candidate will add to the turmoil that lies ahead when the 2017 budget is being considered. The 2017 budget talks will begin right after Labour Day.

Adding to the task is how to restore reserve funds that have been used to balance five previous city budget variances and the Urbacon lawsuit settlement of $8.96 million.

The greatest task for the administration is cleaning up the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) that has cost, so far, an estimated $40 million. Under management of the city-owned corporation, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), the operation lost $9.4 million in 2015. There is absolutely no opportunity to continue this disastrous plan because of the future high demand for capital to make the system to even function.

GuelpSpeaks originally published the following April 8, 2015

When looking at other cities’ 2015 property tax increases compared to Guelph, we have the dubious distinction of having the highest rate in the 14-city sample. There are several reasons for this as Guelph council continues to ignore the growth of its staff, in numbers and pay and benefits. The future liabilities associated with these increases will affect future councils for years to come as pensions are indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

To meet these staff obligations will result in Guelph taxpayers facing increased property taxes paying the costs of employees, active and future obligations to those retired. Today, 85 percent of all property taxes received by the city are used to pay staff payroll costs.

The research on this report employed a common benchmark of dollars per $100,000 of assessment. This allowed equalized comparisons with two-tier municipalities such as Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, part of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

The report was researched from official public sources.

Here is the list in descending order:

City                                    2015 tax increase              Ranking             Difference

Guelph Budget                             3.55%                                    39

Guelph revised                             3.96%                                    44

Hamilton                                       2.70%                                    35                      Minus 1.26 %

London                                          2.50%                                    30                      Minus 1.46 %

Brampton                                      2.54%                                   24                       Minus 1.42 %

Brantford                                      1.88%                                    22                      Minus 2.08 %

Port Colborne                              1.10%                                    18                       Minus 2.86 %

Burlington                                    2.06%                                   18                       Minus 1.90 %

Oakville                                        1.70%                                    15                        Minus 2.26 %

Mississauga                                 2.20%                                   12                        Minus 1.76 %

Cambridge                                   2.72%                                   10                        Minus 1.25 %

Toronto                                        3.20%                                  10                         Minus .76 %

Waterloo                                      1.53%                                     7                         Minus 2.43 %

Kitchener                                      1.9%                                     7                          Minus 2.06 %

Windsor                                        0%                                        0                         Minus 3.96 %

Consumer Price Index 2014   2.1%

Comparing the Guelph revised rate of 3.96 per cent to the next highest on the list, Hamilton, at 2.70 per cent, the difference is an astounding 31.8 per cent!

Back to today

This is why more research has revealed that Kitchener’s and Cambridge’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent lower than the City of Guelph.

This reflects the undue influence of a rump majority of council who slavishly follow the policies of the previous administration led by former mayor Karen Farbridge.

These policies and special self-serving rules of governance, have led to unacceptable high property taxes and user fees, special deals with developers granting tax relief and delayed payment of development fees.

The bleeding of the public purse will continue until there is real reform of spending.

It’s reflected in one factor: In five years, the administration has failed to meet the budget creating multi-million dollar negative variances.

Think about that. Can you run your life and personal finances by failing to meet your budgets? The difference is the city administration dips into its reserves to balance its books annually as required by provincial law,

Now the reserves have been steadily drained with little replenishment.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t vote for this.

 

 

 

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 20, 2015

This week:

                    City Council’s Dear Santa letters

                     Conrad Black, Vladimir Putin and The Donald

                     Barbara Barker’s Scottish shortbread

 

City Council’s letters to Santa

Leanne Piper – Dear Santa, please put financial administration for dummies under my Christmas tree. If you can’t manage that I’ll settle for an abacus. Don’t eat too many cookies as you go around the world. Leanne

June Hofland – Dear Santa, my smart phone isn’t smart at all. Please give me a landline for Christmas. Wait a minute, I think I have one of those at home. June

Cathy Downer – Dear Santa, please give me a chair so I can sit higher in the council horseshow, er horseshoe, horse feathers, heck, you know what I mean. Cathy

Christine Billings – Dear Santa, ditto for the better council chamber chair. You’re not going to get me on the horse thing. I’d also like a vacation in St. Lucia if it can be arranged. Christine

Karl Wettstein – Dear Santa, I’d like a leather-bound copy of Bartlett’s Quotations so I can add some zingers to my presentations during committee and council meetings, Karl

James Gordon – Dear Santa, please set up a concert in Carnegie Hall so I can present my folk music repertoire to a new audience. Santa, I have some great new material to introduce. James

Andy Van Hellemond – Dear Santa, please leave the morning line on a horse named Doubling Down at Santa Anita. Hey, that’s a double Santa, Santa! Help me out here. Andy

Mark McKinnon – Dear Santa, I could really use a new snow blower. The prices on snow removal equipment are really low right now. Make sure it’s assembled in my garage, thanks muchly. Mark

Phil Allt – Dear Santa, Do you think you could move June over to the other side of the council table, to be next to Leanne? While you’re at it, I’d like a Darth Vader outfit to wear at the next union meeting. Phil

Dan Gibson – Dear Santa, I’d like to have a full-service grocery store in the east end. If that’s not possible how about building a public washroom downtown? Say hello to Rudolf or is it Randolph? Dan

Mike Salisbury – Dear Santa, My Harley needs a new tranny and I need a pair of Foster Grants for the open road. A Swiss Chalet gift card would go well over the Holidays. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, send some roses to Marie at Tim’s. Mike

Bob Bell – Dear Santa, if you ever need a stand-in double I’m your man. I could use a couple of elves to work in my shop to help us keep up with the demand for my bike accessories. Bob

Mayor Cam Guthrie – Dear Santa, I could use some vacation with my family. I really need a new set of drums to play with the band. Most of all, I want to wish the citizens of Guelph happy holidays and a prosperous New Year. Think you can handle that, Big Guy? Cam

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A troika for all seasons: The Donald, Conrad and Vladimir Putin

Conrad Black, that non-Canadian allowed to live here, expressed his support for U.S. Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Black still carries and undying hatred for U.S. justice system that locked him up for six years. He was charged for attempting to cover up evidence in his trial of stealing money from his American Publishing enterprise.

Black was never convicted of stealing from his own company. His partner, David Radler, was convicted and brokered a deal to spend his time in a Canadian jail in return for testifying against his old partner and former friend, Conrad Black.

When Black was finally released, the Harper government allowed him and his wife to return to Canada and their Bridle Path mansion in Toronto. Trouble is that Black renounced his Canadian citizenship when the British government made him Lord Black of Cross Harbour and a member of the House of Lords.

Jean Chretien, who was Prime Minister at the time, refused Black’s attempt to keep both Canadian citizenship and his House of Lords gig. The PM said no and Black opted out.

Now he is supporting Donald Trump the realty TV star and billionaire builder who is trampling and insulting almost every faction of U.S. and foreign citizens. He has single-handily destroyed the Republican Party with his racist and personal attacks on individuals, organizations, allies of America and the National Rifle Association.

Now isn’t that the odd couple?

But wait there’s more. Enter the President of Russia who endorses Trump for the presidency.

Bumper sticker of the day “Trump-Putin in 2016.”

Kinda restores your faith in the political process, no matter where it happens. Also, it’s time for Conrad to leave Canada, the country he has renounced, for Britain where he belongs.

Question: Is Black receiving the Canada Pension and other benefits unique to Canada?

*            *            *            *

A Christmas ritual at our house, baking shortbread

About two weeks before Christmas, Barbara gets out the biggest mixing bowl in her collection and prepares to make shortbread. The recipe is basic but the system of making melt-in-your mouth shortbread is a real test of endurance and stamina.

What is shortbread? It’s a delicious treat that we believe originated in Scotland many, many years ago.

This year it was no different except that both of us struggled to mix the butter, sugar and flour, there’s a lot of that, by hand using a wooden spatula, (it’s a Scottish thing). As you gradually add flour the batter get harder to blend. It calls for determination and muscle to create the final product.

Once the ingredients are thoroughly blended, it’s time to fold into a shallow glass-baking pan measuring 9 inches by 13 inches. Final step is to score the batter into squares. Some folks like to bake their batter in those non-stick cupped pans.

Barbara prefers flat shortbread like her mother used to make. The final step is to use the spatula to flatten the air out of the batter and make it as even as possible across the breadth of the pan.

The ingredients: Butter – one pound; Icing Sugar – one cup; Flour – four cups; sprinkle salt very lightly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until the edges turn brown. Allow to cool then cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Taste and have a have a Merry Christmas sharing shortbread with your family and friends.

Enjoy! Barbara and Gerry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 city budget countdown resembles a demolition derby

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 27, 2015

Guelph city administration is running the city like it’s Black Friday – taking advantage of citizen’s lack of understanding of the “Let’s Build a Budget” routine that staggers any reasonable sense of what in heck are they doing?

Let’s start from the beginning of the budget process that began when the administration hired the BMA municipal consultants to conduct a review of city operations.

The BMA report detailed some serious shortcomings in terms of financial management and action taken previously.

One of the key findings of the BMA report was the caution issued about the depleted city reserve funds, estimated to be some $23 million short of established city guidelines. A large piece of that shortfall was the $8.96 million taken from three unrelated reserve funds to pay the Urbacon lawsuit settlement. Now that was an unbudgeted expense.

When Justice Donald MacKenzie asked the city solicitor why it took the step of firing the general contractor of the new city hall, the answer was reported; “Because we believed we would win.” (Urbacon Buildings Group brought the lawsuit).

Well, they didn’t and we the people lost $23 million over the original budget of $44 million as a result of that decision. Total cost of the new city hall and courthouse, is $67 million.

It happened last year in the middle of the election campaign.

But new information has arisen that proves that Guelph, compared with Cambridge and Kitchener, has the highest per capita costs of the three municipalities. Here are some examples:

The Guelph 2015 budget shows that the city per capita cost for capital spending and operations was $3,859. That’s compared to Cambridge, $2,525 and Kitchener, $2,528. That includes the two city’s regional tax contribution.

Living in Guelph costs $1,300 more per person than Cambridge and Kitchener

The difference between Guelph and the other two cities is $1,300 per capita times 120,000 population equals $156 million!

Is the description “staggering” an exaggeration?

But it doesn’t stop the architects of the Build a Budget for 2016.

Disregarding the warning signals from the BMA report, the administration is presenting a budget that ignores the data supplied by its own consultant and annual Financial Information Report  mandated by the province.

Instead it’s business as usual as the city staff senior management recommends a budget that would increase property taxes by 1.58 per cent. Then along comes stage two of the staff recommendations, described as “expansions” adding more staff and programs that boosts the new rate to 2.83 per cent.

What’s the point of striking a lowball staff budget increase then recommending approval of expansions of staff and programs? Is this the result of the new open and transparent government action plan, or just manipulation?

Monday night, the public get’s its chance to present requests for funding, complain about the budget and demand answers to the high costs of living in Guelph. It’s interesting that a citizen must register by today to speak. The following are the instructions from the clerk’s office on your presentation.

Knuckling under the Clerk’s demands

“We will list you as a delegation for the November 30th meeting.  Please advise what subject area of the budget you wish to address as we are trying to group speakers with similar concerns together to help streamline the flow of the meeting.  Each delegation is allotted five minutes to address Council and we ask that delegates do not repeat what others have stated.  If you have an electronic presentation or written material you wish distributed to Council, we must receive them in the clerk’s office no later than 9:00 a.m. on Friday, November 27th.”

This direction is offensive and controlling. It’s a public meeting and it’s not up to the clerk’s office to direct what may be said and be ordered not to repeat another delegate’s opinion to “ streamline the flow of the meeting.” Having witnessed past budget meetings where the public may submit opinions, ideas and protest the system, it is, to be charitable, a charade as council and staff sit and stare for the most part.

Most councillors would be happier Monday night at home watching Dancing with the Stars than sit and listen to their constituents. There is little interplay between delegates and council.

Coun. Karl Wettstein, predictably, will demand that if a delegate asks for reductions in spending, will say it would require a reduction in services. His most recent pronouncement was about the effect of increased assessments on property does not automatically increase taxes.

Let’s listen in: “One small clarification – It sounds like David (David Starr commenting on the effect of rising assessments in the city) is assuming market value increases automatically increase taxes.

As you know this is not accurate,” Karl

The civic world according to Karl

Well Karl, please explain in language we all understand, when last March you voted to increase property taxes by 3.55 per cent. Then about a week later it was revised upward to 3.96 per cent when the increases in city assessment were added into the costs to property owners.

Yes Karl, it’s about the bottom line, not what you neglect to include in your claim that increased assessments do not automatically increase taxes.

Hey! Are you playing with the reserves again Karl? For eight years you were part of the administration that used the tax stabilization reserve fund to put an artificial lid on the tax increases. Now there is little money left to continue the game, Shame!

As long as there is no control by the administration to reduce costs, the gap will widen between what it costs to live in Guelph compared to Cambridge and Kitchener.

We have an administration that refuses to recognize the depth of the problem thereby does nothing but increase spending.

We only have ourselves to blame. We elected them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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