Tag Archives: Guelph city council

Our Green-Gripped council uses spigot management to administer our city

By Gerry Barker

May 6, 2019

Opinion

First, let’s do a fact-based quiz on what most people understand about our city administration, or they don’t know.

* How much has the administration spent on bike lanes since 2007?

* How much public money has been spent on relieving downtown parking including the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade next to city hall.

* Who really benefits from this Parkade?

* In the past 12 years, how much have your property taxes increased?

* Does your income cover the increasing costs that living in the city where taxes cosr more each year?

* Why is traffic congestion in the city a growing chronic problem?

* After 12 years, why does the downtown remain rife with drunks, druggies and dealers, panhandlers, the homeless on weekends after the sun goes down?

* Should the $350 million Baker Street re-development be a priority to proceed in 2024?

* Why did council approve the givea way of Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities?

* How much did the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc District Energy projects cost the city?

It’s because our Green-Gripped council controls the spigot of collecting and disposing of our money and we have no recourse. Only every four years can we express our support, or not, at the polls.

These are important issues that will not be reported in full by the remnants of the Guelph media including the weekly Mercury-Tribune and the online Guelph Today Internet news source. Most of the “news” is generated by the city communications staff plus the police department and faithfully reproduced by the city news sources.

Third class media coverage of a first class city

The Guelph media’s failure to get both sides of the story and interview people who do not agree with the issue is, in my opinion, feckless journalism. And I have seen enough of it in a lifetime of newspapering.

I was amused by an editorial, nay lecture, in the Tribune that pontificated to readers that understanding the difference between “news” and “opinion.” The first element of journalism is reporting the news. Often this takes time and effort to drill down to ensure their work is complete and accurate.

Unfortunately in Guelph, that basic requirement is ignored as the media lives off the handouts from the city labeled as news. Ah! But who makes the decision?

Instead, the Mercury-Tribune city coverage is bought and paid for by us, the citizens.

For the past 12 years, the city pays the Tribune to publish “City News” prepared by city staff. One can assume that this is bought journalism. What possible other reason is there?

The “City News” pages running in every edition are not identified as advertising. This is gross misrepresentation and it will never change until we elect councillors who recognize the collusion of interest covering the city.

The city administration owns the Tribune editorial department because it receives payment to publish city prepared ads and not identify the link.

Accountability and integrity have left the building

I am a reporter who tries to fill the gaps in the city’s sterilized reports after reading them. By questioning statements by officials based on years of experience, employing logic, having doubt, and unsupported data. As a citizen, concern about the sloppy, slanted reports that the media accepts as news is demeaning to the stakeholders.

Over the years, successive city administrations have practiced denying the public’s participation and interest. Today, there is little trust between those in charge of a $500 million corporation and the people who actually own it.

A few years ago, the city attempted to portray itself through a document called “Open Guelph.” It opens up with a discussion on Accountability and Transparency.

They even hired a manager to run the program.

One of the statements was “Closed meeting Protocol”

Here is what it says:

“The Closed Meeting Protocol was adopted by council to provide best practices for council and committees to follow when confidential information in a closed meeting. This protocol is in addition to the closed meeting provisions of the Municipal Act and outlined practices which go beyond the Act’s requirement to ensure that city business is conducted in the most open and transparent manner possible.”

So, who decides what information is confidential? The Mayor? City Solicitor? City Clerk? The CAO? Or any councillor sensing political fallout?

This protocol is been abused by successive administrations for many years.

Here are some Examples: Since 2015, the Guthrie administration conducted 84 closed meetings in his first two years in office. Mayor Guthrie stated that the content of closed meeting should be briefed following the meeting and available to the public. That never happened.

The cloak of confidentiality shrouded open discussion about the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc multi-millions waste of public funds. The Strategic Options Committee conducted closed meetings Isn’t “sudden”leading to the disposing of Guelph Hydro.

My personal favourite is the sudden departure in March of the city’s top public servant, Derrick Thomson. Described as a “parting of the ways,” it left the public wondering why and was there no successor arranged?

This indicates there were closed meetings prior to his departure, leaving everyone wondering who pulled the plug. It makes me wonder why Thomson was jettisoned from the staff when he was earning $335,000 a year plus an $11,000 taxable benefit, had a one year extension of his contract.

Well, that’s so much for Open Guelph and accountability.

The cost of replacing Mr. Thomson will easily exceed $100,000 when factoring in the headhunter’s fees, advertising and the additional funding approved to the three DCAO’s who are carrying out his responsibilities until July.

The spigot of power is in full operation.

 

 

 

 

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The growing fallout of Guelph’s 12-year War on Cars led by the Fossil Fools on council

By Gerry Barker

April 29, 2019

Opinion based on facts

When Karen Farbridge was elected Mayor in 2006, it began the transformation of Guelph into a “world class city” in terms of transportation, power self-sufficiency, waste management and clean air and water leading to her wellness commitment for all citizens.

Was it noble? Yes, but not affordable as it turned out.

It was the defining intention of the majority of her council to establish key targets to reduce the use of fossil-fueled vehicles in the city at the time with a population of 111,000 permanent residents.

Let’s drill down on how the Farbridge interests in control of council tackled change and imposed their collective agenda on the citizens.

It started with a tour of Sweden to investigate how that country dealt with its waste.   Sweden reduced about 90 per cent of all waste that is incinerated, driving turbine generators to deliver power back into the grid.

Waste disposal plans increase traffic congestion

The administration decided in 2007 that was not an option for Guelph because of the perceived dangerous emissions of such an operation. Instead, Guelph spent $34 million building an organic waste facility that has never made any money or permitted residents to obtain the compost produced by the plant.

One goofy prediction that was amusing but confusing

Part of the grand design to change Guelph was to get fossil-fueled vehicles off Guelph Streets. I recall former councillor Maggie Laidlaw, bragging that “in 20 years there won’t be any cars on Guelph Streets.” Ah, a temporary episode of green-based rapture.

Well that prediction was well off as there are more cars, trucks and buses clogging the streets twice a day due to deliberate lane reduction on major routes to accommodate bicycle lanes.

It is estimated that building the bicycle network has cost taxpayers some $8 million.

The policy continues to this day, as the widening of Speedvale Avenue to accommodate new bike lanes, estimated by staff, three years ago, as costing $14 million. At the time, staff did not recommend it.

This includes widening the bridge over the Speed River, removing the Hydro poles and installing underground power transmission corridors.

There are no bike lanes on Speedvale Avenue between Woolwich and Stevenson.

This brings up what the city has already done on many streets and roads. These would include Victoria Road, Speedvale, SilverCrek, Downey, Woodlawn, Stevenson and Norfolk. All these streets were changed by the Farbridge and Guthrie administrations.

This is embedded policy that when a major street is resurfaced, new lane reductions are painted restricting the use of vehicles ergo, growing traffic congestion.

In my opinion, this is a planned restriction vehicular movement and trade designed to meet the environmental movement’s agenda, controlling the city.

The reconstructed railway underpass that stopped the big rigs

Did I mention the Wyndham Street rail bridge? It was reconstructed by the city that does not allow large trucks to use it because it wedges the tops of some the high trailers against the top of the underpass. The underpass was improperly built.

The city engineer’s solution? Install warning signs to stop the big trucks from entering a bridge too low..

Again another restriction of needed supply trucks to service the shops and businesses downtown. Sure there are other routes to get to their destination, but the city did not care and the underpass was never repaired.

Who would like to live in that section of Speedvale?

Speedvale is a major cross-the-city route used every day and the line-ups vehicles at intersections such as Woolwich, exacerbates the congestion. The project will not be completed for nine months.

The fallout of squeezing heavy traffic lanes

Since 2007, the city has added bike lanes to several streets. Often, they start at one intersection and disappear at the next.

One example is on SilverCreek where the street was resourced from Speedvale to Paisley. Then the road painters moved in and reduced a four-lane major road to two, and installed bike lanes plus a left-hand turn lane continuous right down the middle.

So, I’m Joe Cyclist, heading north on SilverCreek to Woodlawn. Whoops! The bike lane is not there from Speedvale north. I am forced to share the road with 3,000- pound cars and trucks on the now narrowed road.

Does this make sense? There are similar examples of the disappearing bike lanes all over the city.

What is the logic of this? What does it accomplish in terms of cyclist safety on major streets where bike lanes just disappear?

More Car Wars links contributing to the clogging of our streets

There are two other factors of lack of leadership that uses its power to pursue its all things environmental-based agenda.

New housing intensification

One is the intensification of housing in the south and Eastern districts of the city. The council allowed these developments composed of strip housing and low-rise apartment buildings. It is based on the Provincial government’s “Ontario Places to Grow” policies that encouraged more housing on less land.

Guelph population grows bringing more vehicles

Between 2007 and 2016, Guelph’s population increased by 20,000 according to the StatsCan census of 2016. That does not include the growing number of University of Guelph undergraduate students.

This has a direct impact on volume of fossil-fueled vehicles, large and small, on our streets. Adding more people means more cars and trucks.

Electric vehicles are years away from becoming the majority using the roads in the city. But if the city continues to squeeze street driving lanes, using an electric car will not result in less congestion. However, the noise levels will be lower.

Somehow, this has not registered with the city administration.

The public driving electric cars using the city thoroughfares impacts traffic congestion as the internal combustion owners. In fact the goal of getting fossil-fueled vehicles off Guelph streets, has had the opposite intended effect.

City council, like the Ostrich, buries itself when it comes to fosil-fuels

So, why is the city building a $22 million parking garage next to city hall, blocks away from the Wyndham Street shopping district? Ms. Farbridge said she was going to turn downtown into a “vibrant centre for everyone to enjoy.”

Other matters of state distracted our former mayor

Here we are 12 years later, with a downtown that has closed businesses, no available parking during the day and used by a weekend collection of students, drug dealers, and outsiders looking for action. It is a combustible crucible. The beneficiaries are the operators of the 33 bars and watering holes downtown.

This is not something new but a municipal failure to make downtown safe and inviting every day. It’s been that way since the parking meters were removed 10 years ago in which the city lost more than $600,000 annually in meter revenue.

In the 2017 budget, there was a staff recommendation to replace the meter heads at a cost of $700,000. Instead, that funding was diverted by council to help pay for the proposed South End recreation centre. As an aside, council has already spent some $3.5 million preparing the site for a $63 million recreation centre.

Consider that in 12 years, the average property taxes have increased every year by 3 per cent. User and development fees have also increased substantially.

Power politics at work

One final thought. Ward one Coun. Dan Gibson, announced that land on Watson Road, owned by Loblaw’s, was being rezoned commercial to accommodate a major grocery store to serve the east end.

Sounds good. But here’s the skinny.

Council Mr. Gibson and Mr. Bell have been pushing to open an east end grocery store on the site since 2013.

Mr. Gibson was quoted as saying the council would “put Loblaw’s feet to the fire” to get them to build a store on the site. Loblaw’s, Canada’s largest grocery chain, has demurred because it owns a large Zehrs’s store on Eramosa. I presume it feels that building another on Watson could cannibalize the existing store. And they do not want a competitor using the land.

In negotiating to persuade Loblaw’s to build the Watson store, is it a good idea to say the city is going to “put their feet to the fire?” Stay tuned.

 

 

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Another hometown dopey declaration to solve the global climate change crisis

By Gerry Barker

March 25 2019

Opinion

I don’t know about you, well, some of you, but the majority group of councillors that has controlled the civic agenda for more than 12 years. It has becom tiresome and costly. They echoing the New Democratic party’s national policies dominating Guelph’s governance of its responsibilities.

There have been a number of attempts to make our city as a “World Class city” and damn the expense. That’s one aspect that is clear and historical or often hysterical.

Except that it’s our money they are playing with. I estimate that more than $150 million has been spent and wasted on projects that are beyond the support and power of our municipality.

How about this? In 13 budgets crafted and approved by the dominant left, there have been only two where the annual property tax rate has slightly been set under three per cent. When compounded exponentially, it’s more than 50 per cent. I won’t even go into the increases in user fees during those 13 years of budgets from 2007 to 2019.

When the new dominated council came into power in 2007, there were some 1,508 full-time (FTE’S) and part time employees. Today, with the approved addition of some 23 employees, the staff has grown to more than 2,350. It was reported that these additions would cost $9.2 million.

Now here is where it gets tricky, and in my opinion, deceptive

First, the police employee costs are filed separately to the province. From the city employee’s submission both payrolls are required under the Salary Disclosure Act. This Act requires every public servant in Ontario earning more than $100,000 must be included in the Sunshine List. The 2018 report is about to be published this month.

The city published a report wjich stated that 339 city employees were on the 2018 city list earning more than $100K

The question arises, were the police employees’ earning more than $100K included in the city list? Answer, no.

Second, why aren’t they? They are public employees whose remuneration is paid by the residents.

Third, we have the statement that the increase in property taxes for 2019 is 2.63 per cent. Apparently it is to be adjusted next month to reflect additional costs including property assessments and a catchall of undisclosed charges.

We interrupt this column to ask: Ever receive a city financial report?

The word ‘deception’ comes to mind that the budget announcement has become a political action document to assuage any negative public reaction. It also explains the reason why we cannot pay our property taxes in four equal installments.

Budgeting begins with examining performance of the 2018 budget. Knowing that, the staff prepares recommendations to complete the 2019 budget. You will recall this year the staff recommended a 3.99 per cent increase in property taxes, by far the greatest source of operating income of the city.

Miraculously, city council approved an increase of 2.63 per cent. I’d like to congratulate council for holding the line. But they still approved funding the Well-being grant program to non-profit groups totaling more than $300,000. Two years ago, that budget item was some $150,000. Has this been turned into a political support program?

Fourth, the craziness continues.

So far, there are four long-term plans announced in the past two years:

Starting with the Downtown Library that has had the longed gestation period of any project in 20 years. Next comes the South End Recreation development in which the city has already invested more than $3 million with a predicted price tag of $63 million.

Now for the two biggies contracts that will not be completed in ten years:

First, the Guelph Innovation District lands (GID). The city has already invested untold funding by city staff who are busy planning a satellite city on 250 acres on land they don’t own. While the PC government has announced it will dispose of surplus properties, they will not be pushovers. Predictably it will cost millions to secure the property. Why is the administration even considering this? It’s nothing but speculation and land flipping to potential developers.

Second, the Baker Street Parking lot project.

This proposed development has been pegged costing more than $350 million with a private partner described as Windmill Properties located in Ottawa, and specialist in Public Private Participation projects experts or Three P’s.

Shovels will apparently not go into the ground until 2023. Can you hear the sound of the price estimates going up? You have to ask, is what is the cost to the city and terms of the contract, particularly the liability to citizens if it is not completed

Another blunders by council to resolve downtown parking

In the first 2015 Guthrie budget, council agreed to set aside $700,000 to restore updated parking meters on downtown streets. In the 2016 budget those funds were relocated to commence paying for preplanning of the South End Recreation Centre.

It appears, that politics entered the arena (bad pun), with a solution to help solve the downtown-parking problem. Next came awarding a $22 Million contract to build a five-storey Parkade next to city hall on Wilson Street.

Theses two decisions did nothing to alleviate downtown parking.

All this inaction has caused many businesses to close because customers cannot park. Check the empty stores. Perception is more dangerous politically than the threat of defeat to those making decisions.

It has been inferred that the growth in city staff is dominating the parking problems as most employees receive a benefit of free parking. Today try and find a place to park near city hall or the provincial court in old city hall.

During the workday you have to depend on good luck to find a parking space on the city hall area on Carden Street.

Aren’t Parking, potholes, infrastructure and taxes more important than dealing with Global Climate Change?

There are two councillors anxious to convince council to declare a Climate Change Emergency by the City of Guelph.

Coun. Leanne Piper, believes that controlling rising costs is by plucking the low hanging fruit for cost reductions. This means saving money by defunding budget items she believes could be chopped without political consequence.

Her co-sponsor of having city council declare a climate change emergency is Coun. James Gordon, a troubadour and former NDP candidate to the Ontario Legislature.

Now, we all know that the majority of councillors are part of the left side of the political sphere

There seems to be opposition of the proposal that fails to explain exactly what does a Climate Change Emergency do? How much is it going to cost citizens. Which projects get shelved to pay for whatever the emergency is and how can a city of 131,000 residents impact a global climate crisis?

Ms. Piper says that while the city has done much in installing environmental advances it is not enough without explaining any of the above and where the money is coming from.

James Gordon takes a slightly different tack, stating that money spent on projects to reduce the city’s climate footprint is an investment. James, first tell us about what a climate change emergency is and details of the costs.

Does it mean setting up a new bureaucracy to run the Climate Change emergency? Or does it mean banning fossil fueled vehicles, plastic straws, bottles and other plastic products?

For every action, there is a reaction. This is it.

**** a

Note, Guelph Speaks Editor, Gerry Barker: Today, March 25, was to be an important step to end the defamation lawsuit.

A Superior Court Judge, January 21, 2019, was to hear my motion to dismiss the claim, to be conducted March 25 and it has been deferred. The claim by a former employees’ laws auit claiming that I defamed him in 2016 is now in its third year.

However, justice moves in mysterious ways. My counsel was notified that our Superior Court Justice could not hear the motion March 25 due to a conflict of assignments.

Less than 24 hours later, my counsel was notified that a new date has been set, U.S. July 4, Independence Day. Is this an omen?

 

 

 

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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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