Tag Archives: Guelph Hydro

Was city council duped giving away the $228 million Guelph Hydro to solve the GMHI losses?

By Gerry Barker

August 16, 2019

Opinion

Part Six of Seven

It began in the fall of 2016 when city council formed the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) to select the best way to dispose of Guelph Hydro and its substatial assets. That ibcludes a guaranteed customer base of some 55,000 who pay thrie account mpnthly.

This committee was asked to examine all options including merger with other utilities, sell Guelph Hydro or keep it as a profitable and effoicient city-owned corporation. Seems the latter choice is logical and straight forward.

The SOC was composed of the following: Co-chairs Derrick Thomson and jane Armstrong, Robert Bell, co-chair of GHESI and Mark Goldberg. It is assumed that at a closed-session of city cou ncil, June 9, 2017, that Ron Clark, solicitor of Aird and Berlis, was representing GMHI. In fact, he attended a number of those closed meerings according to city records. The one missing link is when Mr. Clark was appointed solicitor for GMHI.

When council approved the merger, Mr. Clark made a presentation that gave the impression that he was representing Alectra, or at the least supporting the SOC merger proposal.

So, why were the meetings of the SOC and liaison with cuty council conducted in closed-sessions?

Well, a lot did happen between the fall of 2016 and February 2017 whenthe SOC recommended to city council that the option of selling Guelph Hydro be withdrawn. In short, no longer considered. Council voted 7-5 to not sell Guelph Hydro.

We now know what happened. On December 13, 2017, council voted 10-3 to merge with Alectra Utilities. What motivated those ten elected councillors to agree to the merger? Further, Mr. Clark advised council that the agreement was not finalizeds and it would take a few months to complete.

Why did council rush to approve the agreement? Reading on that irgency will be revealed.

Let’s backtrack to why Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., for more than four years, under the leadership of Mayor Karen Farbridge, was also chair of GMHI? Her Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, was also Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

Under any corporate organization chart, having the two top executives controling in the same capacity, of both the City of Guelph Corporation and its corporate subsidiary, GMHI. Itwould not be tolerated. Here’s why, it’s a dangerous concentration of power in the organization..

It gave the two women carte blanche to do what ever they wanted to achieve goals without oversight or checks of balances. Thar’s not the way our municipal systems are supposed to work.

But make no mistake the Mayor was in complete control of both corporations. As it turned out it wasn’t the GMHI situation that defeated mayor Farbridge in 2014. It was the wrongful dismissal lawsuit by the general contractor of the new city hasll, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc.

That six year legal battle cost the city an additional $23 million to complete the project.

The mystery that prevails is what made the SOC recommendation to city council that the sale of Guelph Hydro be taken off the table as an option?

Was the SOC a masquerade or just following orders?

To this day there is no explanation or details of who or what influenced the SOC to recommendation removal of not selling Guelph Hydro.

It left only two alternatives, merge with another utility or continue to operate it. If that was the SOC choice it would eliminate the opportunity to help clean up the GMHI $66 million losses.

In my opinion, no bank was prepared to put up the $68.3 million considering the depth of the losses revealed in two staff reports in May and July 2016. Instead, the city loaned the money to GMHI not aware that there was no possibility of GMHI repaying the loan. This was confirmed in the GMHI consolidated audit perfotmed by the accouting firm KPMG. They described the loans as “Shareholder’s Liability.”

This placed the city administration in a bind. Because the province demands that all municipalities must ballance their books at year end, where was the city going to find $66 million before then end of 2016?

The city debt limit could not handle it. The risk managers at he banks would not touch impaired assets that was being written down. There were no GMHI profits available to service the growing debt some of which remains today and is growing.

Then, along came the strategy to sell Guelph Hydro and use thr proceeds to pay off the $66 million. In the fall, the wheels started turning when the SOC was selected to find a buyer or merge Guelph Hydro with another partner.

Merger negotiatins began in earnest in June 2017. In early October, Mayor Guthrie announce the city had signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Alectra.

So here’s the deal:

The city transfers title and assets of Guelph Hydro with a 2016 book value of $228 million to Alectra. In return, Alectra promises to establish a Green Technology centre in Guelph and the city would receive an annual dividend of 4.86 per cent of 60 per cent of Alectra utilities profits. City council appointed Jane Armstrong as Guelph’s representative on the Alectra Board of Directors.

The merger was approved by the Ontario Energy Board in 2018. The decision denied intervenor access ti the meeting despite a number of residents who requested a open meeting and the opportunity to speak.

None of us were granted that request. On January 1, 2019 the deal was completed.

There are more details of this deal that have not been revealed. Why did this merger solve the city’s GMHI problem? Did Alectra assume the $66 million losses that were financed internally by the city? Did the city recover the $2.6 million it admitted spending to sell the deal to the public?

Is it not true that Alectra promised there would no charges to the city regarding rate increases for power? Alectra recently asked the Ontario Energt Generation Board for a 5 per cent rate increase.

The city did receive $18.5 million from Guelph Hydrp’s surplus. What happened to those funds that were the property of the citizens?

Council, despite the leaking of the SOC recommending dropping the sale of Guelph Hydro, did not explain the reasons or even a summary of the SOC decision. The SOC assumed it was covered in closed-sessions protected by the Council Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct prevents any councilor or member of the SOC to discuss or reveal the contents of any designated closed-session meeting in which they participated.

If there is an apparent breach of the rule, the offender may be subject to dicipline as determined by the Integrity Commissioner who may suspend the offender following an investigation and fine them.

Closed-sessions are the most abused procedural rules that prevents disclosure by council or any board or committee to not discuss the content of such closed-session.

In my opinion, this suppresses information of the public’s interest that should be revealed. There are certain legitimate reasons for a closed-session including contract negotiations, real estate transactions and certain staff issues.

The fact is that in the first two years of the Guthrie administration, there were 84 closed-sessions. There was supposed to be a summary of the meeting reported after but that did not occur.

It is, in my opinion, the essence of convenient cover-up that denies public participation, accountability, transparency and open government.

This is what happens when the real shareholders of Guelph Hydro are rarely informed of the methods, reasons or, dare I say it, what happened to due diligence?

 

 

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How Guelph Hydro was given away attempting to solve the GMHI debacle

By Gerry Barker

Augurs 8, 2019 – Updated 8/7/19

Opinion

Part Five of Seven Parts

Note to viewers: Part Six of this series is delayed pending some new information. Thanks for your support and interest. GB

Why did Guelph Hydro’s merging with Alectra Utilities Inc. with ignoring the questions raised by the public before council approved it December 13, 2017? Why did council approve spending $2.6 million to finance the campaign to merge with Alectra? Why didn’t the city inform the 55,000 power customers of the details of the merger with Alectra Utilities?

Just prior to council approving the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities, I was lying in bed November 2, 2017, contemplating my day and trying to absorb the Trump Twitter follies and its effect on Canada.

I received a call from a councillor and we talked about the proposed Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities Inc. I was advised to send my question to a website “energizingtomorrow.ca and the questions would be answered.” I discovered that the website rationed questions and the number of characters. In my opinion, this was suppression of public information.

On that basis, I went to work and prepared some 50 questions that I felt the Hydro customers and residents, of which I was one, needed to know about this proposal and its consequences.

Here’s a snapshot of a portion of the website that was recommended:

The committee’s (SOC) education and community engagement efforts will continue through all phases of the process.

If Council decides to pursue merger negotiations, the community will be invited to comment on any proposed merger before Council makes its final decision.

Learn more. Ask us anything.

energizingtomorrow.ca

Well, city council had already signed a memorandum of agreement with Alectra Utilities; the corporation was ready to merge Guelph Hydro. The merger would give away Guelph Hydro without any immediate compensation for the $228.4 million city investment. Hydro’s customer’s investment in poles, wires, substations, equipment, technical staff and Hydro headquarters would be sucked into the Alectra network.

Because the public was not told the details of the memorandum of agreement already signed, it is safe to say there was no consideration for the following: asset valuation, goodwill, operating surpluses, investments or the wonderful culture of the organization. It was one described by knowledgeable experts as well run and profitable. In fact, it is one of the top performing Local Community Distribution operations in the province.

The city puts a No Sale sign on Guelph Hydro

Let’s start from the beginning when the city council in the fall of 2017, formed the Strategic Options Committee (SOC) co-chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson and Hydro Chief Administrative Officer, Pankaj Sardana, There were four non-elected individuals named, two from Hydro and two ratepayers.

The SOC was charged with disposing of Guelph Hydro.

Why, one may ask? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

From the start all options were on the table although the SOC meetings were held in closed-sessions with only members of council being informed of discussions and developments.

In February, the SOC reinvented its purpose. First Panaj Sardana was removed as co-chair and replaced by Jane Armstrong, chair if Guelph Hydro. Two members of the committee were replaced including Richard Puccini.

Something else occurred that month and was only reported later, the option of selling Guelph Hydro was no longer considered by the SOC, despite interest from unnamed persons to make an offer.

The source of this development was one of the SOC members who were no longer on the committee.

In my opinion, this triggered speculation that the SOC had selected Alectra Utilities to merge with Guelph Hydro. But it became increasingly clear that disposing of Guelph Hydro was an antidote to clean up the Guelph Municipal holdings Inc’s losses of $66 million.

While Mayor Cam Guthrie cheer-leaded the merger message, it turned out the city spent $2.6 million on a campaign to convince the public this was a good deal. It was an attempt to change the spots on a leopard.

Approved by council that few understood the deal

In my opinion, it was a fluffy campaign with little attendance at town hall meetings. The administration’s communications strategy using the energizetommorrow.ca website as its conduit for merger information. It included city staff time to turn out a thick report justifying the merger just a few days before the council made its decision. This report was only available online with a small number of hard copies available to key individuals.

It reminds me of the tactic: Paralysis by Analysis

It’s ironic that prior to this last minute presentation less that 12 days before this December 13 2017 council meeting to hear citizen delegates. They didn’t listen to the 22 delegates who have reasoned argument to delay approval and to review and allow more public information.

By a vote of 10 to 3, council approved the merger.

Isn’t it strange that this same council killed online voting in the 2018 civic election but used online not to reveal the details of the merger?

This was a planned expensive project that turned over our electric distribution system for 4.86 per cent of 60 percent of Alectra utilities profit. It remains an exercise in deliberately disguising or covering up the truth, and the people are the real victims.

In agreeing to this deal, the Guthrie administration was had by experts from team Alectra. Further, they indirectly denigrated Guelph Hydro as failing to respond to the rapidly changing power technology,

The accounting labyrinth created by this so-called Community Energy Innovation has done irreparable financial damage that has resulted in annual property tax increases of averaging more than 3 per cent.

Remember in the 2014 civic election campaign, mayoralty candidate Guthrie promised he would keep the property tax rate to that of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that was 1.11 per cent in 2014.

Then, last year our Mayor undermined the Progressive Conservation Guelph Riding Association in charge of selecting a candidate. Guthrie attempted to obtain an unopposed nomination to run for the PC’s. He was maintaining, at the time, that he would be running for Mayor. Good thing he had a card in his hand.

Of the 50 questions submitted to council, none answered except the Mayor, the last three remain a mystery.

“ Why is Guelph Hydro involved in Green Energy technology when a mismanaged sustainable energy project by GMHI has cost the citizens $66 million in loss of shareholder equity?

“Is Alectra agreeing to take the $93 million long-term debt of Guelph hydro?

“Who is representing the citizens’ interests negotiating the merger details?

Oh! There is one question I’d like the Mayor to answer: Who received the two TESLA home power storage systems that he said were installed in Guelph?

The citizens of Guelph were the big losers in this episode involving mismanagement of city business and resources.

And the winners are:

Mayor Guthrie re-elected in October 2018,

Former CAO Ann Pappert who walked away from her job May 16, 2016 receiving $263,000 for five months work,

Former CAO Derrick Thomson received a $57,000 performance bonus for his role in the Guelph Hydro/Alectra merger in 2018. He left the city in March 2019,

Former Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, was appointed by council to represent the city for five years on the Alectra Utilities Board of Directors. She is being paid $25,000 a year plus expenses.

Finally, Alectra Utilities who received a gift worth $228.4 million, the book value of Guelph Hydro.

Think about this. Even if Alectra pays a $1.500 annual dividend to the city it would take an estimated 153 years to even repay the $228.4 million 2016 book value of Guelph Hydro.

Was this a great deal or what?

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Here is the 13-year pathological destruction of democracy practised by two city administrations

By Gerry Barker

July 22, 2019P

Opinion based on facts

This Guelphspeaks seven-part series is copywrite 2019

The following is a seven-part series on how two city administrations have embarked on spending public money on projects that lost an estimated $320 million and have nothing to show for it.

Today, we begin with the outlines of the seven part series, plus the introduction that I call the pathology of 13 years of secrecy, mismanagement and cover-ups leading to a moral and financial disaster.

Alectra Utilities, the bidder on the merger with Guelph Hydro, targeted the gullible Guthrie administration with promises, public relations and guidance.

I know the price of public dissent and what lengths this council and the previous Farbridge administrations would do to prevent or muzzle any criticism or negative commentary.

The result has been dictatorial and managed usung a cloud of secrecy denying the public’s right to participate, adhere to accountability and transparency. You will read later of what and how they did it.

We all shared the responsibility of this 13-year journey, at the public expense, because we elected a council whose membership failed to understand complex issues and the relevant costs to the public.

Nothing has changed. The present council allowed projects to take place without proper planning or adopting ego-driven compulsion to be the greatest and most advanced city in the world. The concentration of political power included promises that were not fulfilled.

Council promised cheaper electric power, elimination of fossil fueled vehicles from city streets, forcing developers to stop building detached, single-family homes and meet net -zero carbon in new developments.

The series will track how public money and assets were spent or given away.

This series is about how the destruction of democracy, and its mandatory accountability, transparency and open government in our community. It was used to block our right of public participation in municipal governance.

Let’s get started:

Starting Thursday July 25, Guephpspeaks will publish the first part of the series in seven posts that changed city administrations that, in part, wasted public funds and assets costing, at latest countn more than $145,000,000.

But it gets worse. The following is a collection of money spent that is separated into two parts: Confirmed Project’s costs, and a list of estimated cost, based on information that needs a professional audit to determine. It is noted that council approved spending more than $300,000 last year giving money away under the guise of a policy known as Wellness. City councils, over the years, have donated money to social and cultural causes but not on this magnitude.

The confirmed loss List

Urbacon city hall excess cost over contract – $23 million – Gone

City equity in Guelph Municipal Holding’s liabilities loss – $66 million – Gone

Guelph Hydro merger deal, book value in 2016 – $228 million – Gone

The estimated loses require an audit

Infrastructure biccyle routes and trails $7 million

Advertising and promotion spread over 13 years – $$10 million

Investment in Guelph Innovation Development project – estimated $4 million

The Organic Waste Processing Facility – $34 million

This brief list totals $372 million since 2007 or an average of $28,613,000 each year. It is only a partial list that does not include legal and consultant costs.

Oddly, when deducting the Guelph Hydro loss it comes to $145,000,000.

It only makes the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities the worse deal ever made by the city.

This list contains some items that are estimated, as the data is buried in multi-page Financial Information Reports (FIR) submitted by the city annually, as mandated by the province in the last 13 years. This multi-page document is not generally available to the public.

Another method used by the administration to deter details of financial information from the public. The FIR is the only financial record officially released by the city. Quarterly summary financial statements are not sent to citizens. Along with other information council deems should not be made public, include the closed-session meetings in which the minutes are never made public. In two years, 2015 and 2016, council held 84 closed-session meetings.

Missing this analysis is how the reserves were emasculated to balance the books due to overspending annual budgets. In 2009, city councillor, Leanne Piper, claimed the city had reserves of some $77 million.

In 2016, BMA Management Consultant warned the reserves were reduced to a point that warranted a “red flag” as a result of council’s decision, using reserve funds to shore up its financial picture. In 2014, three unrelated reserve funds were withdrawn to pay for the Urbacon lawsuit settlement.

Flash from the past

Here’s a Guelphspeaks post published July 2012. The observations are a harbinger of what was to come and how council conducted the public’s business in the previous five years. It points out the dangers of dictatorial power that had already occurred under the Farbridge council majority, a supporting cast of senior managers plus unelected advisors to the Mayor’s council, Ken Hamill, retired executive and former councillor, and Cathy Downer, a present member of city council.

                      How our city administration derails democracy

When the underlying issues of a civilized society are endangered by a dictatorial and secretive administration, democracy, as we know it, vanishes.

It’s a natural instinct for those in power to withhold information that may reflect on their actions and management of the public assets.

Once in power, the tendency is to surround your self with friends and supporters who blindly follow.

One of the first tenants of political power is to control the message and give the appearance of serving the public stakeholders. Those controlling the agenda ignore disagreement and rejection of the controlling political organization’s policies.

This leads to anger and disillusionment on the part of the stakeholder, you and me.

So, thanks to a report by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star, here are three lessons to emphasize the theory of democracy discarded by those empowered.

Lesson One: Those with power – politicians, police and bureaucrats – don’t believe they should have to share that power. Basically, they dismiss the rights of citizens to share that power and don’t believe they have any role to play in their sphere of influence.

Lesson Two: Governments frequently slap pejorative labels on those who oppose and complain. Such methods are to use surrogates to attack those objectors labeling them as ignorant, dangerous, violent and out of touch.

Lesson Three: Citizens have to use the tools they have to keep democracy alive. These include solidarity, willingness to stand up to authorities and to reach beyond their own ranks.

How does that menu rank with what has been going on in Guelph for the past six years?

First, we have been governed by a civic dictatorship composed of a majority of councillors who, 99 per cent of the time, votes their own agenda. The opposition – in the first four years consisted of just two councillors. Since 2010, the opposition has grown to five councillors who have voiced concerns about the operation of the city government but are defeated most times when votes are held.

There is growing evidence that Mayor Karen Farbridge, the architect of Guelph’s public policy, along with a close-knit group of unelected advisors, has created a growing unrest among voters.

Democracy is no longer operative in this council.

The administration works in two parts. The mayor to carry out her agenda has handpicked the senior bureaucrats. Policy rests with the mayor and her advisors including former councillors Ken Hamill and Cathy Downer.

The Mayor is beholden and influenced by the Guelph Civic League although since the 10 Carden Street organization came into being that influence has diminished. Instead, 10 Carden Street is the stepchild of the Guelph Civic League. It received a $135,000 Trillium Foundation grant from the provincial government to provide “community services.”

This is a thinly disguised political action group dedicated to support the present Farbridge political organization.

The artful part is how the Farbridge crew has influenced and received support from a number of community and neighbourhood groups supplying public funding, support in planning and social issues.

The offshoot of all this is the vast silent majority of voters who are not united, knowledgeable nor organized to question or oppose policies advanced by the Farbridge political organization.

This has resulted in participatory democracy failing to acknowledge its majority rule.

For almost six years, the rule is by a tight-knit group of individuals who operate under the mantra of: “ it’s our way or the highway.”

Today nothing has changed, as you will read in future series posts. Still not convinced?

The ambition of this group has cost taxpayers millions in personal pet projects, dumb planning, excessive legal expenses and fiscal mismanagement aided and abetted by unqualified or absent individuals. Those elected people responsible for protecting the public interest and having sworn to maintain fiduciary responsibility. That means providing the checks and balances during their term of office

*            *            *            *

Ego is not a new breakfast dishost of the severe loss of capital and assets was due to ego-driven projects, poor planning, incredibly sloppy maintenance of city owned property and assets. Accountability and transparency disappeared.

This became a recipe for financial disaster. The turmoil at the top of the professional staff contributed to the waste of public money. The firing of Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., general contractor of the new city hall, cost an additional $23 million over the original budget of $42 million. The case took six years to settle the lawsuits and disruption of operations.

This series will present the litany of losses and impact on the municipality over 13 years. There is evidence that rules were bent to accommodate projects in which the public could not participate. Frequently, the news media rarely questioned the motives of the administration when the public business was conducted in closed sessions.

It is the intention of Guelphspeaks to send copies of this series to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Attorney General and Ombudsman.

Here are the seven parts of the exclusive series only available on guelphspeaks.ca. As usual, your comments are welcome

Part One         Where well-meaning people of community stature got it all wrong

Part Two         How the 2007 Community Energy Initiative plan           steered Guelph  down the financial rabbit hole

Part Three      An irreparable spite increased the cost of the new city hall by  $23 million

Part Four –    Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. covers-up losses of $68.3 million

Part five         The city gave Guelph Hydro away ignoring questions    about the deal

Part Six         City councillors were targeted to give away the $228 million Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities

Part Seven      Why the downtown Library and South End Recreation Complex   are endangered projects

The series starts this Thursday July 25.

 

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Who profited and what happened to Guelph Hydro’s cash surplus of $18.5 million special dividend ?

By Gerry Barker

July 15, 2019

Opinion

It happened December 13, 2017, when ten members of city council voted to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities Inc. It was the greatest heist of public property in the history of our city.

There may be other corruptive details made in the almost 200 year history of the city but I’m betting there isn’t.

In all the years I have experienced growth in our cities and towns, corruption is the handmaiden to making money for persons of influence.

Was there evidence of corruption in the merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra?

Well here is a hint.

Did the co-chairs of the council-appointed Strategic Options Committee (SOC) charged with disposing of Guelph Hydro, profit from their influence and positions?

Former Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson and Guelph Hydro chair, Jane Armstrong, were unelected officers of the city and Guelph Hydro. They received regular salary and benefit payments to perform their respective responsibilities.

In my opinion, both these individuals, with the acquiescence of city council, crossed the line in terms of their job and fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of the City of Guelph.

Mr. Thomson, according to city financial information, was paid $335,000 in 2018. This information is sourced from the 2018 Sunshine List published in March 2019.

Mayor Cam Guthrie announced May 18, 2019, that Mr. Thomson was paid a $67,000 performance bonus more than his 2017 salary. The Mayor stated it was in recognition of his leadership regarding the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities.

In that same month, Mr. Thomson left the city with no explanation.

Former Guelph Hydro chair, Jane Armstrong, was appointed by council to the Board of Directors of Alectra Board Utilities to represent the city. Her appointment was for five years at a salary of $25,000 plus travel and board meeting expenses.

These two public executives were directly involved in all the negotiations with Electra Utilities. Those SOC meetings were conducted in closed-session, far from the public’s view or understanding.

The fact that the Ontario Energy Board approved the merger without allowing interveners to testify only solidified this deal, and was a deliberate policy to deny public participation.

Taking it a step further, both were appointed by city council. Today, one would wonder that the reasons for disposing of Guelph Hydro, one of the most successful and profitable municipally-owned electric power distribution systems in Ontario. The exercise was not only demanded good faith and in the public interest but also explain the details and council’s rationale of the merger.

It was, in my opinion, the embalming of accountability and transparency.

Instead, council believed the siren song of selling out to a large private corporation that spun theories of futuristic benefits to the community. My favourite iste green fable was installing solar panels on every roof and a power storage system to hold surplus generated power to feed back into the grid.

Caveats, the homeowner must pay to install this system that is currently more than $15,000; and what happens if the sun doesn’t show up? What about the agreements with the Ontario Energy Generation Board that must be approved and signed?

In my opinion, it seems like a lot of work and money for citizens to obtain free or cheap electricity. Don’t we pay enough today in taxes and fees?

Wither $18.5 million od our money?

A final thought. As part of the merger deal, the city was to receive an $18.5 million special dividend from Guelph Hydro.

Dead silence. The unofficial information is that the city used the money to pay off the costs of the abortive District Energy nodes, installed in the Sleeman Centre and Hanlon Business Park and operated by the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI). Confirm or deny.

Also the dividends promised by Alectra will be deposited in a GMHI account. The question is, why?

Perhaps that accounting fitm KPMG’s consolidated audit of GMHI got it right when it posted a shareholder liability of $60 million. In this case the shareholder is the city council.

This may explain that the truth of the colossal financial failure of GMHI numbers may never be known or told to the citizens who paid for it.

 

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Critical words denied by those sworn to allow it, our civic democracy is in peril

By Gerry Barker

December 10, 2018

I am a wordsmith, a lover of language and expression. In some 12 years I have been covering the politics of a city that is drenched in diversion and opacity. I have searched for truth and transparency in reporting some 200 columns in the former Mercury daily newspaper and 997 posts in my blog, guelphspeaks.ca.

I am not always right. It isn’t easy as one pursues the truth from a closed operation known as the City of Guelph. The city administration for those 12 years has been dominated and controlled by a pernicious movement controlled by a coalition of the labour movement environmentalists, the Green Gang and by NDP loyalists.

It is a highly organized group determined to change the way we transport ourselves, collect and process our waste, annually increases charge us for our water, incoming outgoing and storm runoff that now represents 33 per cent of my residential Guelph Hydro electricity monthly bill.

Hey! I’m just a taxpayer

This council has given away, (my words and opinion) our Hydro distribution system to a large corporation that has no connection with the 55,000 customers who were quite happy with the former Guelph Hydro.

That single exercise masked the truth and was not transparent. To this day I would like to hear from any member of council how much the city received for our system. Yes, words do matter but only when they are used to reveal the truthful interests of the public.

The control of this group rests with words. They publish the words that they want you to read and believe. There is little or no media investigation of the major mismanagement of the people’s business since 2007.

Their words are designed to block public participation in the politics of the city.

And In October, that strategy worked because for a lack of transparency and accountability, two thirds of those citizens eligible to vote, some 57,000 of them failed to turn up and vote.

Regretfully it is by design. It’s called the lullaby system. Without a vibrant and responsible media to force open an accountable government to inform people. They are the large group of eligible citizens who are not informed and then assume their vote is not important or needed.

Mushroom manipulation of the public’s business

Here’s what you’ll rarely read or view in the Guelph focused media. Critical news of the administration, particularly when it comes to financial news and development decisions. The exception is the Ontario Municipal Act that oversees the governance of the 445 municipalities in Ontario. That Ministry also published the annual Sunshine List of every public employee in the province earning more that $100,000.

This is an invaluable resource to track down who and how much Guelph employees whomake the list earn each year.

Yes, words, facts and figures do matter. The province gets it, why doesn’t Guelph?

That was a major break-through in discovering how city council, in December 10, 2015, in closed-session, approved $98,202 in salary increases to four top staff managers. Not one of the so-called media covered this, even when the 2015 Sunshine list revealed their salaries in March 2016.

I was interested in the numbers and checked their salaries in 2014 and discovered the size of the increases and to whom they were awarded. The city to this day has never admitted those increases that they covered up for more than three months. Did they believe that none of us would notice or question it?

I attempted in January 2016 to obtain the minutes of the Dec. 10th closed-session. It turned out three levels of consultants denied my request after four months. More on this to come later. It is a form of voter suppression that has been perfected for the past 12 years.

I wrote several posts critical of the silence that enveloped any official explanation or an apology. In addition, my posts aggravated the senior staff and certain members of council.

Yep! Words do matter, along with actions that blind public participation even when such a monumental mistake occurs under the administration’s watch.

Why the city administration wants to control the news

This is an example that words are important and matter in our modern society. Unfortunately, the City of Guelph administration has chosen to shut down public participation because the words do not fit their agenda.

Finally, here’s my point. If city council abuses the right of citizens to know and understand the administration’s operations, there is no better example than the numbers of closed-session meetings of council plus that of some of its non-elected committees.

In two years, 2015 and 2016, council conducted 84 closed-session meetings not including those conducted by other committees appointed by council.

The question is: These suppressive tactics to deny the right of the public’s right to know, are allowed to continue, nothing will change and we can only change it by organizing, and preparing for the next civic election in 2022. Only with political action by the voters can end it and return real democracy to our city.

I will do everything I can as long as I am able to help make this happen. More on this later.

Meanwhile, let’s get started. Let me know, if you are ready to join the coalition to change the way to stop our city being controlled by a group of self-serving people. Drop me a line at gerrybarker76@gmail.com. We can start by forming a steering group to set up an organization that will represent all parts of the city.

 

 

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Will the new council come clean about the GMHI $66 million asset sitting on the 2017 city financial statement?

By Gerry Barker

November 12, 2018

Opinion

In a little more than two weeks, the newly elected city council will take command.

The October civic election sent 11 incumbent members back to council plus two newcomers. Rodrigo Goller and Dominique O’Rourke.

So, nothing has changed when change remains more needed now than in the previous four years.

The seven progressive members of council still hold the majority and will for the next four years. While the Mayor worked to establish a slate to create a personal majority to offset the power of the Leftists, it failed. What occurred was Ms. O’Rourke replaced Mr. Wettstein and Mr. Goller replaced Mr. Van Hellemond.

The voter turnout was one of the lowest in many years with some 57,054 out of 90,786 eligible voters who did not bother.

The only explanation is that those voting absentees must be satisfied the city was in good hands. Or, many were not informed of the issues, present company excepted. Between the communications staff at City Hall and various online bloggers, the organic action of city council was rarely, if ever, reported.

So let’s review: Unfortunately, right now there is faint hope that the new city council will address the mistakes of the past and reform needed governance and financial issues. There is no evidence that those elected incumbents will stop clinging to their failed concepts that have already wasted millions.

For starters, and this is information that you will not find anywhere in the softball media serving Guelph, is the financial asset listed in the official City of Guelph audited Consolidated Position as of December 31, 2017. The listing was the asset of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) of $66,341,000.

Did you ever read or hear about that?

So the next question is: What happened to that $66,341,000 in 2018? Guess we’ll have to wait for the 2018 official financial statement that will be published sometime next year.

But here is what I believe occurred.

In February 2017, the little known Strategies and Options Committee, (SOC) was appointed by city council to study the disposal of Guelph Hydro that operated under the GMHI board of directors. Initially, the SOC was composed of joint chairmen Chief Administrative Officer (CA) Derrick Thomson and CEO Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro. There were three other non-elected public members.

Their mandate was to sell Guelph Hydro, or amalgamate with another municipally owned electric power distribution system or merge with a large power distribution corporation.

That February meeting of SOC removed the sale of Guelph Hydro as a consideration. What followed was a purge in which Mr. Sardana was removed and replaced by Ms. Jane Armstrong, chair of Guelph Hydro. One of three committee members resigned later stating he was opposed to taking the sale of Guelph Hydro off the table.

The GMHI Board of Directors consisted of Mayor Karen Farbridge as Chair, Councillors Lise Burcher, June Hofland, Karl Wettstein and Todd Dennis plus two non-elected civilian members. The CEO was CAO Ann Pappert. Ms.Papert left her job as CAO May 26, 2016.

Keep in mind that the SOC meetings were held in closed-sessions. GMHI did not produce regular summary of operations, financial statements, objectives or recommendations to council.

Not until October 2017, when Mayor Guthrie announced an agreement in principal to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Inc., a large power distribution corporation for several Greater Toronto Municipalities.

All it took was $2.36 million of your money to convince council

Yes, that was what the city spent promoting the deal with town halls, telephone surveys and an online document, the size of the Toronto telephone book, with little substance or financial details. Hard copies of the multi-page book was only available to a few key people. Certainly few of the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers read the this online-based document, presented just 12 days before the council meeting that approved the deal.

More of your tax dollars at work

Slam Dunk! No details except a glowing endorsement from the Mayor about what a great deal the city had made. In December, city council approved the deal, still under negotiation, by a 10 to 3 margin and the rest is history.

The only evidence that exists today, following the Ontario Energy Board’s (OEB) approval, four days before the civic election, is the statement by the OEB that Alectra Utilies was purchasing all the outstanding, shares and issues of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc, aka Guelph Hydro.

Key word here is “purchasing.” Could it be that the price happened to be $66 million of GMHI as shown on the city’s 2017 financial statement?

Is this what council traded to get out from under the GMHI financial disaster?

All along Mayor Guthrie has stipulated that Guelph Hydro is not being given away.

So why did he not tell the truth and refuse to reveal the financial details?

We may never know except that the $66 million asset of GMHI had better be part of the city’s assets in the 2018 financial statements. I’m betting it may still be there because the merger with Alectra closes January 31 2019. It will take another 18 months before the money disappears from the city books.

By then Guelph Hydro will no longer exist.

I still maintain that Alectra got the bargain of the century. Guelph city council looked like hicks at the circus approving this flawed merger concocted by highly skilled lawyers with little oversight of our representatives..

Of course, the new council should tell us what really happened to that $66 million asset on the city nooks in terms that citizens understand.

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Swimming upstream against a tsunami of incompetence

By Gerry Barker

August 23, 2018

More than two years ago, I asked the Ontario Ombudsman office to assist me in obtaining the minutes of a city council closed-session meeting conducted December 10,2015. That meeting approved salary and bonus increases to the four senior staff managers that totaled $98,202.

At the time of the request, only council and some staffers knew what those increases were and why was there no explanation?

The Ombudsman representative told me that that office could not assist because “Guelph had its own special investigator of closed session meetings” … Amberlea Gravel located in London. This organization was hired by the city in 2008 and had been on retainer for the past ten years.

I filed a request for the minutes through the city clerk’s office. It took more than four months to be told that my request was denied. By that time, the increases had been revealed when the 2015 Sunshine list was published in March 2016.

To this day, the city administration has never explained why it withheld that information for almost four months and has yet to acknowledge it.

The cover-up was controlled behind closed doors.

It got me thinking this year about the methods used by the current Guthrie administration to suppress public participation in the business of the city.

So I checked with the city clerk and requested how many closed-session meetings were held since January 2015 to a couple of months ago.

I was informed that in 2015 and 2016 there were 41 such meetings held in each year. That’s 82 over 24 months. That number dropped in 2017 when the council voted to conduct its business acting as the ‘committee of the whole.’ Last year there were 12 closed-session meetings with a similar number this year to date.

Why does this matter?

It is a slippery slope that allows city council and senior staff to virtually, make decisions in secret, without public input or knowledge. It results in pre-digesting the contentious items of business without telling anyone.

That’s how the Farbridge administration wasted millions on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) by imposing silence for four years using closed-session meetings.

To prevent leaks of the details of those closed-sessions, the hammer over the councillors was the threat of the Integrity Commissioner investigating the alleged misconduct and potential penalties.

The scope of this GMHI ‘green’ adventure was to create power self-suffiency and potential heating and cooling of downtown building and the Hanlon Business Park.

It was finally exposed following the defeat of the former mayor in 2014. It took until May 2016 before the awful truth was revealed. Ironically, the report was presented by GMHI CFO Pankaj Sardana and signed by Chief Administrative Officer (at the time) Ann Pappert. Ms. Pappert was appointed Chief Executive Officer of GMHI in 2011. So, she was wearing two executive hats and had to have intimate knowledge of the city and GMHI operations for four years.

But it gets better, or worse as the case may be. The former mayor was chairperson of the GMHI Board of Directors. Because of her position as mayor and head of GMHI that included Guelph Hydro, she named four members of council to the GMHI Board.

These included Councillors June Hofland who was also head of the council finance committee, Karl Wettstein, Lise Burcher and Todd Dennis. This gave Ms.Farbridge complete control of both the city and GMHI.

The disturbing situation some four years later, is that the financial mess is still to be cleaned up as contracts and operation of the District Energy pumps are still operating to supply hot and cold water to five buildings downtown, including the Sleeman Centre and River-Run theatre across the street.

Best estimate of the cost of wrap-up will require $17 million and counting. The bottom line is there remains insufficient revenue to continue operating GMHI but the problem has yet to be resolved. The purchase of GMHI shares by Alectra may solve the situation. According to the merger agreement, the proposed Alectra Inc. dividend will be paid to GMHI, not the city.

The Guthrie administration has promoted the sale of GMHI shares, which are worthless, to Alectra Inc as part of a merger agreement. The data shows that the owner of Guelph Hydro ‘s tangible assets including poles, wires, substations, and equipment is the subsidiary corporation Guelph Hydro Electric Services Inc.

And who owns GHESI? Why it’s GMHI. That’s why Alectra is ‘purchasing the shares of GMHI.

How did we get into this pickle?

Because as citizens we were denied important information and details including a supportive business plan that made sense, not chaos.

It was a carefully orchestrated scheme that was under the control of a city council, of which most members were bereft of skills, financial acumen and conscience.

So what does the Guthrie council do? They approve entering an agreement with a private corporation to redevelop the Baker Street parking lot into a spiffy downtown showcase of mixed use including a new library, businesses, shops and residences.

The estimated cost of this grand design is unknown. One estimate said between $314 and $350 million. This proposal won’t start until 2024. Citizens have no information about the city’s share of the development. And it won’t be ready for occupancy until at least 2028.

When is this stream of building abortive monuments going to stop? There is plenty of blame to go around. But until we elect responsible and experienced councillors we will continue swimming in a sea of uncontrollable, ego-driven waste of resources.

 

 

 

 

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