Tag Archives: Guelph Hydro

Does corruption exist in our municipal government?

By Gerry Barker

June 21, 2018

In a closed corporation, that masquerades as being open, transparent and accountable as the City of Guelph, is there the potential of corruption?

Municipal corruptions is usually the result of closed meetings, manipulation of the system for personal gain or just stealing public funds.

In the last 11 years the creep of covering up the public’s business through a system of closed-session meetings that are justified by certain bylaws of which 99 per cent of the citizens have no clue.

Well, why not?

It’s because the system allows bureaucratic jargon, simplistic explanations of complex problems, lying, lying by omission, holding closed-session meeting and manipulation of the message.

Successive Guelph’s governments have gradually choked off any sensitive or political public discussion by debating behind closed doors.

The professional staff is complicit in dumbing down the message.

Four senior staff members grabbed huge increases in 2015 with the approval of the mayor and city council. They approved this $98,202 bundle in closed session. And never told anyone.

The cover-up was blown when almost four months later the 2015 Provincial Sunshine List revealed the truth.

But you didn’t hear or read about it in the media.

Is it possible these increases passed without public knowledge should be investigate by police or a judicial inquiry?

Only guelphspeaks.ca took the trouble to compare the 2014 Sunshine figures with the 2015 report for these four senior staff recipients of public funds.

But it gets better.

Five months following the December 10 meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, gave her notice after some five years as Guelph’s CAO.

She stayed on the job until Derrick Thomson one of the four staff who received the secret increases, was repatriated following his earlier resignation and named CAO. Ms. Pappert left May 26, 2016

According to the 2016 Sunshine List, she received $263,000 for five months work. By comparison in 2014, she earned $219,000. These figures do not include taxable benefits

As editor and author of some of the blog posts critical of this cover-up I was sued by a DCAO. Expect more on this later.

Again, This information was only obtained from the 2016 Sunshine List. It has never been acknowledged by the city.

The Great Hydro giveaway

This is probably the greatest heist in the history of Guelph. Here’s where it we t wrong.

It was a dark and stormy night when the Strategies and Options committee appointed by council, in closed -session pulled the sale of Guelph Hydro off the table and commenced negotiations with Alectra Utilities to merge operations.

Early in October 2016, Mayor Guthrie announced an agreement in principle to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra. The Mayor said the merger would make Guelph more adaptable to the many technical changes in delivering power to the 55,000 Hydro customers served by Guelph Hydro.

Here we go again. 90 per cent of all negotiations leading up to the agreement were held in closed-sessions. In fact we civilians didn’t even know when the meetings were held or where.

When was the last time you received a financial statement from the city?

December 13 2016, the city council approved the merger by a 10 to 3 vote.

The classic railroad job

What did citizens get out of this deal? First, they are to receive $18.5 million composed of Guelph Hydro’s cash stash. It’s our own money. Second, the city will receive an unknown annual dividend of 4.36 per cent of only 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profits.

The brand Guelph Hydro will be gone once approved by the Ontario Energy Board and the title will be transferred to Alectra Utilities.

What’s the Guelph Hydro Corporate title worth in today’s market? First, there is $228 million in poles, wires, substations, equipment and Hydro headquarters. Throw in the goodwill, no debt, established profitability and the real value is estimated to be $300 million.

Our Mayor denies that this deal — if it can be described as that – is not a giveaway.

Is this another case of corruption when 10 councillors fail to understand their fiduciary responsibility and what they voted for?

The good news is that the OEB will probably not hear the merger details for between six and 12 months. My wife and I have been granted intervener status when the hearing will be held along other citizens.

Guess this means that the issue will be a topic of discussion during the upcoming civic election. Ya think!

Or the Ford government will throw out the Wynne plan to amalgamate the small to medium sized municipally owned electricity distribution systems.

Is there any doubt about who really could benefit from this merger?

 

 

 

 

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Guelph Hydro/Alectra Utilities’ merger is legalized theft by shutting down public participation

By Gerry Barker

April 23, 2018

Breaking News: I have just spoken with an official at the Ontario Energy Board acknowledging receipt of  our intervener letter. He explained that if the board decides not to hold an oral hearing, then only those citizens, who have written to intervene by the end of the month, would still be permitted to question a written application before the OEB. The board has announced that any hearing on this merger application may be held within 6 to 12 months. Please send your intervention letter today (either snail or email) to be part of our last opportunity to be participants in the process.

Breaking News: Congratulations to Ray Ferraro, acclaimed as candidate to represent Guelph for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in the June 7 provincial election.

Most of my viewers know by now why I am opposed to the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities.

I also believe that there was a well-planned assault on the citizens to dump our Hydro to pay off Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.’s (GMHI) millions of debt.

Think I’m kidding?

This deceptive legacy started in the fall of 2016 with the appointment of the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) by city council. It was a propitious time as the accounting firm KPMG had completed the audit of GMHI’s finances. The results were not revealed until early January last year.

And it wasn’t a pretty picture as some $60 million in shareholders GMHI equity was worthless. There were other liabilities that created a huge hole in the city’s books. Who were these shareholders? The city council represented the citizen’s of Guelph, owners of Guelph Hydro.

Starting to get the picture?

The SOC had five members none of who were elected to council. The committee performed its duties in closed-sessions with the odd neutral public report to council.

The SOC mandate was to explore and investigate two basic options: The sale of Guelph Hydro and/or merging with a larger power distribution organization.

Now this is important to remember. It is the policy of the Ontario Liberal Government to “recommend” the merger and amalgamation of small to medium sized Local Community Distribution systems to larger privately owned municipal distribution systems. The reason? It was to encourage “efficiencies.”

The reality is the larger power corporations had a field day gobbling up the small community power distributions system often ten cent on the dollar.

Who were these acquirers? This includes Hydro One the semi-privatized Ontario power distribution corporation with only 47 per cent still owned by Ontarians.

Also Alectra Inc. that now controls power distribution systems in Brampton, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Aurora, Markham, Hamilton, Barrie, St. Catharines, Collingwood, Simcoe county and Mississauga. Add TransCanada Pipelines to the list as the big boys take over the small and medium sized power distribution systems.

In each take over, the OEB had to approve the merger, sale or amalgamation. The deals were all over the map in terms of benefits to the little guys that varied with each proposal and the OEB approved most of the applications.

In fact, a whole new industry developed benefiting the printing industry, legal firms, financial advisors, engineering companies specializing in power generation and distribution, financial institutions, publishers and graphic designers.

The turning point

In February 2017 the SOC, in closed-session, removed the option of selling Guelph Hydro and not to be considered.

It was a sudden decision. Why would the SOC dump the sale option without explanation? In fact it was only revealed after a leak of the SOC decision made behind closed doors.

Ask yourself, why would an acclaimed community power distribution system, with an exemplary record of service, management and profitability fail to be worth at least the $228 million in book value of its assets? Such assets include wires, poles, substations, equipment, real estate, a fully equipped headquarters building plus some $22 million in cash reserves.

This decision followed a shake-up of the personnel of the SOC with Guelph Hydro CEO Pankaj Sardana being replaced by Hydro chair Jane Armstrong, as co-chair of the SOC with Guelph CAO Derrick Thomson.

What we don’t know is why the decision not to sell Guelph Hydro? That information is sealed in the closed session meeting that decided not to consider the sale of Guelph Hydro.

Alectra is no stranger acquiring municipal power systems and paying for ownership. Brampton Hydro One is an example. So, why not Guelph? You want it? Then paying for it seems logical.

The reason is simple. City council wanted the GMHI debt off its books. The only tangible asset of GMHI is Guelph Hydro.

Now you know the rest of the story

Here is a revealing fact as contained in a two-page spread in the Globe and Mail last Saturday. The lengthy investigative piece describes how the Wynne Liberals kept billions of borrowed money off its balance sheet. It is another example of the Liberal’s energy file being bungled in 2017 due to the Fair Hydro Plan to lower power rates.

You probably recall that the Liberals said they would lower Hydro rates by 25 per cent, and hold increases to the rate of inflation for four years. The Ontario Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, pointed out that the province had to borrow billions to pay for most of it.

Ms. Lysyk charged that the government used ‘bogus’ accounting to keep the debt off its books.

The similarities are startling comparing the Ontario Liberals juggling the numbers and the merger agreement between Guelph Hydro and Alectra giving Alectra control and title to Guelph Hydro for no cash consideration.

That agreement is now before the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for approval.

Our last chance to express opposition to this estimated $300 million give away to Alectra, is to write a letter to intervene at an oral hearing of the application before the OEB, later this year.

After today, there are six working days remaining to have your say. The deadline for public participation notification must be postmarked no later than next Monday, April 30. If we don’t respond, the OEB states the hearing will proceed without public participation.

The opportunity to resist, for many legitimate reasons, will be gone without any recourse

There are a number of reasons why we must object to the written application by Guelph Hydro and Alectra.

Let there be no harm done

First, there is the OEB ‘s ruling that there must be “No Harm Done” in the application. Second the degree of secrecy that was used to shut down public participation by city council and the SOC. Third, the timing of the council meeting held December 13. Fourth, the written application to the OEB delivered two months later with no public announcement not made until the first week in April.

If we citizens can force an open hearing of the application, there will be legal support available to advise our opposition.

Finally, this is our last chance to stop the giveaway. For your convenience here is the OEB address and file number.

Ontario Energy Board

300 Yonge St.

27th floor
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON M4P 1E4

April 23, 2018

Re File: EB-2018 –0014

 

 

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Only 5 working days left to file your letter to the OEB to stop the merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra

By Gerry Barker

April 17, 2018

Last chance to have your say opposing the merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra. So that citizens understand the real issue here is our city council is giving away our Hydro distribution system for shares of Guelph Municipal Holdings. Those share are worthless because the money was spent by the previous administration on failed district energy systems, solar arrays on public buildings and an expensive geothermal underground water heating and cooling system that did not have a customer base to support its operations. I estimate that the GMHI share represented public funds wasted on these projects and the loss of $60 million according to the audit performed on GMHI by KPMG. That’s your money and mine. If we do not respond and request an oral hearing when the OEB schedules the event, we have no recourse. We will be bound by the OEB decision.

Other News: A tiny story in Tuesday’s Guelph Tribune reported the Guelph Hydro  merger with Alectra is before the OEB in written form. The OEB has invited public participation in deciding the fate of Guelph Hydro simply by inviting citizens to present their objections to the OEB by sending a letter to hold an oral hearing instead of the proposed written version. What’s at stake? Your interest in Guelph Hydro will be gone in about 12 months.After April 30, 2018 there is no recourse to influence the outcome.

By sending a letter of protest today, it’s an important step in letting the OEB know that this application, born and conceived in secrecy, is not in our best interests. There is tremendous Harm being done by this proposal. It’s time for us to stop it. Read details below on how to take action.  This is the ninth inning and there are two out. GB

The long journey to give away our $300 million Guelph Hydro

Since last November, guelphspeaks.ca has questioned the merger between Alectra Inc. and Guelph Hydro. The proposal by the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) was railroaded through council despite opposition from 22 delegates to council opposed to the proposal plus 76-email protests sent to the city clerk.

None of it mattered as council approved in principle the merger agreement by a 10 to 3 vote in the early hours of the morning. That was December 13, 2017.

I have been informed that Alectra and Guelph Hydro submitted a written agreement to the Ontario Energy Board, (OEB) for final approval. A statement followed this that the details would be produced in the local Tribune twice-weekly paper. This week there was no such statement. I don’t keep Trib papers beyond that point.

Also, the public paid “City News” carried in the Tribune had zero information, not even a news story.

Do you really believe the people have Your Say in this?

After all these months the truth is out. Before going into the details, it is important to remember, this merger that was concluded in many secret, closed-session meetings that ignored the real feelings of the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers.

Because they were never told the truth about how it would affect them.

The OEB has received a request from Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities to submit a written application to approve the merger.

So here’s the current situation. We have just 15 days remaining to intervene and request an oral hearing with the OEB in which citizens, registered as interveners, can state their views,

If we do not, the OEB will accept the written submission of Alectra and Guelph Hydro and make a decision between the next six and 12 months.

After April 30, if we do not intervene, as is our right, the merger will likely be approved by the OEB.

How the stench of corruption hangs heavy in the air

Let’s drill down to look at the seamy corruptive practices of the public’s business.

One of the factors was the Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne to consolidate the small and medium sized local community owned power distribution systems with larger distribution corporations.

This opened the floodgate for large power distribution corporations to fatten their portfolios at little capital cost or debt.

By June 7, that policy may be history with a change in government.

The rush here by Alectra-Guelph Hydro is to ensure its proposal is “grandfathered” regardless of the outcome of the election.

The OEB has invited interested parties to “Have Their Say” stating that is their right. The Board has stated that there are two types of applications:

A written application has already been submitted and an oral application in which members of the public can present their objections to the application by Alectra Utilities and Guelph Hydro.

But here’s the catch: “You can become an active participant (called an intervener). Apply by April, 30, 2018 or the submitted written hearing will go ahead.”

Editor’s Note: I have posted a sample letter to intervene on guelphspeaks. ca (located at end of post). Viewers are free to use the content of this information plus their own views, to reinforce their opinions. The details of contacting the OEB are printed below. When sending your intervening letter by snail or email be sure to use the file number EB-2018–0014.  

That seems clear enough but why did it take more than a month to reveal the written merger agreement that was received by the OEB on March 7, 2018?

Why did the City Solicitor, Christopher Cooper, side-step my request in early March for a status report on the final agreement? He seems to be a decent guy entrapped in a tangled web of power politics.

So the people directly affected by this merger agreement have just 15 days to apply for an intervener status at an OEB oral hearing.

Finally, here is the evidence that our Guelph Hydro System is being given away with no cash consideration in exchange for a tiny 4.63 per cent of only 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities’ profit. This corporation is a division of Alectra Inc.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that our citizen-owned power distribution system, serving 55,000 customers, worth an estimated $300 million, is being exchanged for a tiny slice of Alectra Utilities’ profits. Is this what the Wynne Liberals were counting on?

As an activist, taxpayer and communicator, I want open administration, accountability, and transparency in my city government. It was promised in 2014 but never delivered. We can charge city council for allowing this deal to reach this absolute level, the last line of defence.

Here is a capsule of the terms of the agreement as published by the OEB:

“Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. have asked the Ontario Energy Board to approve:

  • The purchase by Alectra Inc. of all the issued and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc., held by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.
  • Transfer of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s distribution system to Alectra Utilities Corporation • Transfer of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s generation licence and rate orders to Alectra Utilities Corporation
  • Amendments to Alectra Utilities Corporation’s electricity distribution licence to include Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.’s service area

The applicants say that the proposed amalgamation is expected to deliver savings to the customers of both utilities and that the rates of Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. will remain separate until 2029. The applicants also say that the costs of the proposed amalgamation will not be funded by ratepayers.”

Let’s dissect the terms as acknowledged by the OEB.

Whopper #1

Comment: First, it states this is a ‘purchase’ of all the issues and outstanding shares of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc., held by Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. (GMHI).

It does not reveal the truth of the value of GMHI including shares that blew through more than $60 million of shareholder funds (the people of Guelph) and its shares are essentially worthless.

So, what is Alectra paying for these worthless GMHI shares? More importantly, who winds up owning the title of the Guelph Hydro Corporation?

The $60 million shareholder equity loss is confirmed by the independent audit by KPMG in which the GMHI consolidated statement showed the shareholder equity was worthless. But GMHI did control the financially healthy Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc.

This take-over of Guelph Hydro made by the former GMHI board of directors chaired by the former mayor, posed a dilemma for the present mayor and council.

How to dance through the Last Tango of  merger mania

This is how the merger cover-up began. The deal was not about Guelph Hydro, it was about the city administration divesting itself of an asset to get that $60 million GMHI deficit off the city books.

That’s why in February 2017, the Strategies and Options Committee removed the option of selling Guelph Hydro. This opened the door for this terrible deal to give Guelph Hydro away for a pittance and in one stroke clean up the GMHI balance sheet for which the city was responsible.

The key word in this description of the take-over is Alectra assuming all the “issues” surrounding not only Guelph Hydro but also its “controller” GMHI.

Whopper #2

The submitted agreement states that Guelph Hydro’s distribution system is “transferred” to Alectra Utilities with no apparent serious cash consideration. Mayor Guthrie keeps saying that nothing is being given away. Well Cam, you’d better check the agreement you and Alectra have already submitted to the OEB for approval.

Nowhere in this agreement summary released by the OEB does it mention the $18.5 million special dividend that upon approval will be paid to the city. This dividend is already the property of the citizens of Guelph.

There is nothing more insulting than to be told the city is receiving the dividend that is nothing more than a subterfuge to disguise what is really happening. Our greatest asset, Guelph Hydro is being sacrificed to cover-up the mistakes of the previous administration and the current Guthrie administration

Now we know why this terrible deal, masquerading as something best for the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers was conducted behind-closed doors to suppress public participation. The use of phony surveys, misinformation and town halls attended only by a handful of supporters to bolster the case, was spending $2.36 million to sell the proposal to the public.

Oh, the agreement states that the ratepayers will not fund the costs of the proposed amalgamation.

Was the OEB board informed before publishing this agreement summary that the citizens of Guelph have already spent $2.36 million to fund this deal?

Here is more about the agreement now registered with the OEB.

“The applicants say that the proposed amalgamation is expected to deliver savings to the customers of both utilities and that the rates of Alectra Utilities Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. will remain separate until 2029. The applicants also say that the costs of the proposed amalgamation will not be funded by ratepayers.

That’s Whopper #3

So, here’s how to intervene before the April 30 deadline

  1. Our file number for this case is EB-2018-0014. To learn more about this hearing, find instructions on how to file letters or become an intervener, or to access any document related to this case. Please select the file number EB-2018-0014 from the list on the OEB website: oeb.ca/notice. You can also phone our Consumer Relations Centre at 1-877-632-2727 with any questions. If you are ready to send a snail mail request in your intervener application, here is the address:

Ontario Energy Board                                                                                                           300 Yonge St.  27th floor
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON M4P 1E4

Your application to intervener should include the following as it applies to your feelings about the merger agreement:

“In assessing the application, the OEB will apply what is called a “No Harm Test”. This means that the OEB will be considering whether customers would be harmed from the perspective of rates, reliability and quality of service in a merger. To pass the No Harm Test, evidence must be provided that rates and service levels would be equal to or better than what they would have been without a merger.”

Well, we now know that great harm has been done to the owners of the Guelph Hydro power distribution system such as losing ownership and control.

* The assets are being turned over to another operator with no encumbrances, who have made promises to provide equal or better rates and services, jobs and a green technology centre to be set up in the Guelph Hydro headquarters facility.

* We will lose 30 to 50 jobs if the agreement is approved and the green tech operation will have a staff of ten.

How can the OEB approve an agreement in which a financially sound and dividend paying corporation is being given away. It’s a win-win for Alectra Utilities because the former Guelph Hydro will still supply those dividends that Alectra will be required to pay GMHI. It’s just under another name.

In order to assist citizens wishing to intervene and hold an oral application here is a draft form to assist you to beat the April 30 deadline. Use any part of this post in your letter but your personal opinion is what really counts.

Together we can stop this and get a fair hearing.

If we don’t respond, we only have ourselves to blame. We turned over our trust to elect a council that has proven in the past three years, in the majority, to be dumb and dumber.

            Draft letter to the OEB to intervene in the merger of Guelph Hydro

Your name(s) and address

Ontario Energy Boar

300 Yonge St. 27th floor
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON M4P 1E4

Re File: EB -2018—0014

April   ? 2018

To who it may concern:

I (we) reside in Guelph and am customers of Guelph Hydro.

I(we) request being accepted as an intervener and the OEB order an oral application instead of the written one that has already been received.

I(we) understand that time is of the essence but have only just received the basic terms of the agreement.

I(we) believe there is great harm being done to the 55,000 customer of Guelph Hydro. The fact that the summary agreement as received by the OEB fails to guarantee any rate protection, or creates job losses of Guelph Hydro following approval of the merger.

We believe the process leading up to the city council, which represents us, voted 10 to 3 to accept the agreement in principle despite overwhelming objections from 22 citizen delegates and a petition of 76 residents protesting the proposal.

We respectfully urge the OEB to order an oral hearing to give the stakeholder’s an opportunity for the board members to understand how our excellent Guelph Hydro that has served us so well over the years is being given away.

Perhaps, the truth of how this merger agreement was created and executed can be questioned and is not in the best interests of the owners of the utility.

Sincerely,

Your name(s)

 

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The changing world of provincial politics in April, National Humour Month

By Gerry Barker

April 9, 2018

It has been brought to my attention that the month of April is National Humour month.

Well, the mockery meter level of puffed up politicians has been increasing with Donald Trump the leading source of disdain, ridicule and ignorance.

Here in Guelph, we have a Mayor who will go down in history as the man who gave Guelph Hydro away. Of course His Worship denies that Guelph Hydro is being given away. It’s also a subject he doesn’t want to talk about as he segues into the $100 million infrastructure deal between the city, federal government and the province.

He has every right to be proud of that proposal. But hold on: There is a provincial election June 7 in which Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have a 70/30 chance of being soundly defeated by the Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives.

That is if Mr. Ford controls his personal feelings, unbridled arrogance and delivers a believable policy statement and attracts some good candidates to the caucus, he will make Ontario great again.

I can’t believe I said that.

Mr. Guthrie, on the other hand, will run on his record. And it’s a beauty.

Property taxes under his watch have soared by an estimated 15 per cent compounded in four years. On his 2014 election campaign, he promised to hold property taxes to the Consumer price Index (CPI) level. That index has been hovering since the Mayor’s pledge by slightly less than two per cent.

That’s not a good record for a self-described numbers guy who was elected to head the City of Guelph Corporation.

In fairness, the Mayor ran into a couple of major roadblocks. Number one is the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. disastrous attempt to create power self-sufficiency in Guelph. With the former mayor in charge and the involvement of Guelph Hydro, almost five years when millions were spent and are not recoverable.

It occurred without public participation as GMHI meetings were conducted in closed-sessions. Today, we are still waiting for the truth.

The whole plan was ill conceived without the benefit of a practical business plan. While he essentially inherited the mess, he had to involve a certain select group of councillors to help get the city out of the GMHI problems. Unfortunately, the real truth of what happened and how much did it cost the city have been buried.

Like it or not, that issue alone is something he will have to defend on the campaign trail.

The second major consequence he will face is defending the agreement to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities.

While these issues are on the table it may be all moot if the P.C.’s win in June. The opposition parties, the Tories and the NDP, have opposed the Wynne government’s plan to collectivize the small and medium sized Local Community Distribution power systems by merging those operations into larger Utilities such as Alectra.

Here’s a back-story on how Alectra operates. Alectra bought Brampton’s LCD known as Hydro One for millions. So why does Guelph take the sell option off the table? The merger is a sham and our hydro distribution system will be lost forever including the brand name Guelph Hydro by the end of this year.

Here’s another Alectra back-story. In Collinwood, Alectra and the city shared ownership of the community power distribution system. Alectra purchased the 50 per cent share from the city for $3 million. Later Alectra informed the city it wanted to buy the city’s share for $8 million.

The city suddenly realized, in the first share purchase, the price was way below market value. In order to own the whole system, Alectra was low-balling its second offer in which the city share had appreciated significantly.

The result was there will a judicial review over these two transactions sometime next year.

Did the Mayor and council know about these Alectra deals in which real money was exchanged for control of established and mostly debt-free community property?

So keep in mind this is National Humour month, keep the tongue in the cheek and laugh out loud when the candidates take themselves too seriously.

 

 

 

 

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Part Two: How Mayor Guthrie’s Great Wall of secrecy is locking us out

By Gerry Barker

March 24, 2018

In the past three years of his mayoralty, Cam Guthrie has consistently demonstrated adherence to the councillor’s Code of Conduct. In fact, there have been more closed-session meetings of council and it’s appointed Strategies and Option Committee (SOC) when Noah organized the Ark.

“ Hold it God, I need a little more time here. Still can’t find a pair of baboons.”

This is an affront to every citizen of Guelph. It’s a manipulated system to dumb down the electorate and cover-up mistakes from public exposure. The reason? What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

There is no shortage of information underlying doubt about this Guelph Hydro/Alectra merger,

City council, again in closed-session, approved spending $2.36 million to sell this deal to its own citizens. How many bus shelters would that pay for?

The plan was to create the illusion that most people in the area were in favour of the merger, employing leading questions to force a phony outcome in which the process involved some sparsely attended town hall meetings. A telephone survey used a carefully worded script to create approval of the recipient.

Example: Do you believe the merger will bring more jobs to Guelph?

Again in a closed-session meeting of the SOC, the sale of Guelph Hydro was removed from its options, Taken off the table in early 2017. Why was this decision made without public input? Because they knew it would not be accepted. The questions remains, why?

And it all happened right under our noses.

They produced a phony 245-page “Final Agreement” document just 12 days before the meeting that was only available online. I charge that fewer than 250 hard copies were distributed to selected members of the public.

In the Public Relations business, this is known as salting the minds of participants to obtain a specific result.

It worked and the people are the losers.

Here are a couple of communities where there was merging and privatizing proposals of city-own Hydro distribution systems with larger corporations, (Alectra and Hydro One) were either halted or turned down by people power.

Here is a report by the citizens activist group “We Own It:”

“The famed Conservative politician Sir Adam Beck would be ecstatic: public power has won two significant victories in recent weeks.

In Collingwood, a judicial review has been ordered to look into the murky details behind a scheme to privatize the town’s hydro system. And in Peterborough, citizens rallied behind their city-owned hydro system, forcing Hydro One to abandon its attempt to buy it for less than it is worth.”

Here’s more from the ::We Own It” website and I thank Keith McEwen for forwarding this info:

“The judicial review in Collingwood was sparked by a growing number of questions about the sell-off of the town’s hydro system to a private company called PowerStream (a subsidiary of Alectra). The town got $8 million when it sold 50 per cent of its hydro distribution system in 2012. But then it got $13 million when it sold the remaining 50 per cent last year. According to Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson, that big price difference “makes you wonder.”

The review won’t likely take place until 2019, but Saunderson and his constituents hope the review will bring accountability and transparency to the controversial sell-off.

In Peterborough, meanwhile, fans of public services cheered when it was revealed that Hydro One abandoned its attempt to buy Peterborough Distribution Inc. (PDI) for cheap.

“Had the people of Peterborough not been so passionate in their resolve, I suspect the final offer would have been much lower and the conditions far more favourable for Hydro One,” said Save PDI volunteer and “We Own It” mobilizer Joel Usher in the Peterborough Examiner.”

When people speak up together, they can stop expensive and secretive privatizations! Invite your friends, family, and co-workers to join us!

Please Note: Guelphspeaks will be writing more about this so the people can stop this forced disposal of our Guelph Hydro for pennies on the dollar. Stay tuned.

We Own It!

In case you’ve been living in Bora Bora for the past year, council has approved giving away our Guelph Hydro with a value of $300 mllion. The price in exchange? It’s a tiny 4.36 per cent of Alectra Utilities’ profits but only 60 per cent of those unknown profits.

Is this not a great deal or what?

This contrived communications’ plan did not explain the deal through Guelph Hydro’s network of 55,000 customers except until the last days prior to the public council meeting. It was a tiny resume of the deal’s alleged advantages inserted in the Hydro/Water bills.

To top this cake with a cherry, the administration announced that it would receive a “special dividend” from Guelph Hydro of $18.5 million as part of the deal. That’s strange. In its 2016 financial statement, Guelph Hydro reported a cash surplus of $22 million. What happened to the rewmaining $3.5 million?

For the record, Guelph Hydro is wholly owned by the City of Guelph. That being the case, we are being paid a dividend with our own money.

Is this a great deal or what?

So as city Communications General Manager, Tara Sprigs, described the process of informing all those Hydro customers who were being convinced with nothing to lose in return for a boatload of empty promises.

I would like to think that at least four councillors who voted for the merger would recant their vote for the sake of integrity and fiduciary responsibility. They voted for a deal in which the terms were still being negotiated.

This week I requested a status report of the merger negotiations from City Solicitor Christopher Cooper. I am still waiting for an answer.

How council manipulates the Municipal Act closed-session guidelines

It’s simple really; they made up their own closed-session guidelines.

Now topping Guthrie’s Great Wall of secrecy are the Municipal Act policies regarding closed-session meetings of council. The following are the legal reasons under the Municipal Act to hold a closed-session council or local boards meetings:

Section 270 of the Municipal Act provides that municipalities must develop and maintain various policies regarding the accountability and transparency of municipal government and its operations.

The key words are Accountability and Transparency

The following has been adopted by Council and has allowed it to go into closed-session:

  • Sale and Disposition of Land
  •  Number 1: Only covers the sale and disposition of land not the acquisition of the provincially-owned reformatory lands owned by the provice and designated the Guelph Innovation lands.
  • Hiring of Employees
  • Number 2 – Yes, hiring employees should be confidential but does not include             approving salary increases to staff and then not revealing it to the public.
  • Procurement of Goods and Services
  • Number 3 – This covers a lot of areas and there is evidence it has been used to             blackball certain contractors from bidding on city jobs.
  • Public Notice
  • Number 4 – This is an oxymoron; hold a meeting in closed-session to discuss a public notice? It’s a convenient method of calling a closed-session meeting to discuss almost anything in private.
  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Number 5 – Again, why is it necessary to call a closed-session meeting to discuss accountability and transparency? The previous administration has already paid an estimated $500,000 to a Toronto consultant to come up with an A&T plan. The result was a 47-page document. There was little or any public participation in the process.
  • Delegation of Authority
  • Number 6 – This dovetails with the administrations’ allowance such as giving $98,202 raises to four senior managers in 2015?
  • Delegation of Authority Bylaw (Office Consolidation)
  • Number 7 – This allows council, in closed-session, to discuss just about                                     anything because the terms are so broad that anything could be discussed                                     behind closed doors.

Oh! What a collection of excuses to escape the surly bounds of responsibility.

The Council adopted this collection of reasons to legally hold a closed-session meeting.

Seems it’s self-serving giving council and the boards absolute power and control of the public’s business. It’s like turning off a tap, shutting off any information they choose for whatever reason. These reasons would include political liability and criticism, personal benefit, alleged criminal or corruptive activity, to protect adherence to a political philosophy.

Is this not the action of an authorative government? To do as you are told or face the consequences if you don’t?

Why would any responsible persons who wanted to make a contribution to his or her city, ever consider running for city council under this system of controlling the message and the method?

The two Councillors who served for four years on the GMHI board of directors, the operators of Guelph Hydro, were paid over and above their regular salaries. Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein still voted in favour of the merger. They not only benefited serving on the GMHI board but, in my opinion, were in a conflict of interest.

The Great Wall is intact and a barrier to the public interests

These “blocks” of the public’s business have been refined over the past 11 years to giving the administration unf=fettered control of the message. It denies the public’s access to its right to know and understand the corporation’s operations on their behalf.

In future posts, GS will provide specific reforms covering a widespread grouping of issues that the electorate should consider before entering the voting booth.

The most vital reform is to make the council and administration operate open and accountable.

This year, October 22 to be precise, citizens have the opportunity to return power to the people by electing councillors who understand their responsibility to the people who elected them. That means persuading civic-minded, experienced individuals possessing universal, mature backgrounds to turn this city into the jewel of Southern Ontario.

It means a sharp turn to the centre of the political spectrum, away from the left wing domination of our political management where there have been too many mistakes in judgment, losses of public money due to misguided projects that have set the city back in the past 11 years.

The time has come to elect councillors ready to reform and employ critical thinking managing the people’s business.

Coming up on Guelph Speaks

There are a number of issues that are to be digested and reported in the next few weeks..Here are some of them:

* The 2017 provincial Sunshine list of those City of Guelph employees earning more tha $100K per year.

*   A review of the number of employees and increases awarded.

* A review and comment of the capital budgets for the next eight years.

*   The waste management review and the contracts that were entered into to spend money that created substantial losses over the past 7 years.

* The gushy announcement by the Mayor of the city receiving $100 million for Transit.

*   The internal battle over reviving the city’s debacle managing recuclables.

*   The growing exhoritant cost of overhead required to fulfill the promises of the former administration.

*   A review of the Mayor’s performace once iminations are received in May.

Guelpspeaks.ca – the voice of the people for the people

 

 

 

 

 

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Guthrie’s running again when the ink isn’t dry on his beloved Guelph Hydro sell-out

By Gerry Barker

January 15, 2018

Three years ago my wife and I voted for Cam Guthrie. We were not alone as he trounced the mayor without breaking a sweat. He did it by promising property tax increases linked to the Consumer’s Price Index (CPI).

He was engaging and rarely spoke of his predecessor’s record and the Urbacon debacle. His handler’s presented him as a man with a mission to reform the city by creating a “Better Guelph”, what ever that meant.

So, here we are three years later and the promises made by our Mayor were rarely kept. As a matter of fact, the opposite occurred. He ran the table handling the senior staff power grabs and failures. Of the four top managers who received those huge salary increases in December 2015, only one remains. Those increases were concocted in a closed-session meeting convened by our Mayor.

There was no indication, by the administration, of what happened that December night. Four months later, it was exposed when the provincial Sunshine List published the details of the increases.

Here’s the back-story

The first senior staffer to leave, even before the December 10 secret meeting, was former CFO Al Horsman who left in August to take a new job in Sault Ste. Marie. His final pay for seven months work was an estimated $183,000, adjusted of course, for the new level of senior management increase awarded four months later.

The second manager to defect was Derrick Thomson, Deputy Chief Administrative officer, (DCAO) of Operations for some two months. He resigned shortly after receiving a 19 per cent salary increase to take a job in the Town of Caledon, where he lives.

The third departing senior staffer was the Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) Ann Pappert, who resigned just after the Sunshine List was published March 31, 2016. She left May 26 and received her salary of $263,000 for the full year, despite only working for five months.

The fourth beneficiary of that Dec. 10 closed-session council meeting, was DCAO Mark Amorosi who left the city February 10, 2017.

Little of this information was released by the Guthrie administration. The stonewalling has reached epic proportions as the administration, to this day, has never publicly acknowledged the meeting ever happened.

It begs the question, why did these three senior staffers resign? In the case of two of them, Pappert and Thomson, who quit after receiving huge increases commencing in 2015?

In Mr. Horsman’s case, it is safe to assume he saw the writing on the wall dealing with the new city council and chose to leave, even, perhaps, not knowing about the senior staff increases that were being planned.

The shifting sands of power

Ms. Pappert’s departure left a huge gap at the top of the staff where the CAO was in charge of more than 2.100 employees.

In June 2016, the city announced that Derrick Thomson was re-hired as CAO. Talk about the Phoenix rising from the ashes! Mr. Thomson promised to reveal his salary and eventually we were informed it was $230,000 a year for three years. It turned out that he was also paid a $9,000 taxable benefit as a personal car allowance.

Mr. Thomson has overseen two city budgets, 2017 and 2018. The property taxes in those two budgets, including the special infrastructure levy, exceeds 6 per cent.

The council appointed Mr. Thomson as co-chair of the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC), charged with disposing Guelph Hydro. No elected councillor was appointed to this committee in the 18 months of its operations..

The effect of this is that the merger proposed by the SOC between Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities was not only conducted solely in closed-session, but the people’s representatives, city councillors, were not participants.

As a result, the ultimate checks and balances of decisions made by an outside committee were not involved during the 18-month negotiation period by the SOC.

Horse pucky is more effective than the facts

Instead, councillors were fed a line of unadulterated horse pucky from its own staff that led to a 10-3 council approval of the proposal. In my opinion, Council abandoned its responsibilities believing their own senior city  and Hydro staff and the mayor who led the cheerleading of the proposal starting October 5.

The public promised a dose of more good-paying jobs, a green power technology centre in the Guelph Hydro Headquarters. Guelph would become the hub for Alectra’s expansion plans for Southwestern Ontario expansion, and the Guelph Hydro staff would be retained with reductions coming from attrition and relocation.

This is what Mayor Guthrie was selling along with CAO Thomson and Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong.

To add insult to injury, the public was informed that council spent $2.36 million of public money on the SOC plan to dump Guelph Hydro. Then came the announcement that Guelph Hydro, following closure of the deal would send a “special dividend” of $18.5 million to the city.

Didn’t we just lose $63 million for the Green Powered GMHI experiment?

Gee! That friends, is $20.86 million of our money spent to give away our hydro distribution system worth $300 million.

Why is it so difficult to understand? Ten councillors including the mayor voted for the unfinished merger negotiations, but voted for it anyway. Why?

To this day, I challenge any member of council to explain the final two agreements, terms and conditions of the merger. Because the night they approved it, the negotiations had not been completed. Did they not know that? Or, maybe they did.

Would someone explain to me how a council can approve a merger of a $300 million publicly-owned utility serving 55,000 customers, without knowing or understanding the final terms and conditions of this proposal?

There are words that describe what has happened. I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Our only hope is that we are told, in plain language, the details of this merger when negotiations are completed and council holds another vote to approve or walk away.

If they don’t follow this necessary step then two things will happen.

Those councillors who still support the merger will have to answer for their decision next October’s civic election. That is, those who choose re-election.

The second issue is that the Ontario Energy Board must approve the merger based on the details and evidence provided, so that the majority of Guelph citizens are either in favour, or not.

It’s an old axiom, for every action there is a reaction.

It’s our property, let’s protect it

 

 

 

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How Guthrie’s Great Wall prevents the public from knowing the people’s business

By Gerry Barker

January 8, 2018

Note – The following is the opinion of the author based on known facts and history of the administrative management of the City of Guelph.

Donald Trump is still trying to get his $18 billion wall proposed to be built between Mexico and the U.S. but Cam Guthrie has succeeded in erecting a wall to protect his council and city staff from public participation in city business.

Just ask the 22 delegates who opposed at to the open council meeting to approve the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities last December 10. Each delegate outlined why this was not in the best interests of the community and many requested a deferment until all the facts were known, including the final documents pertaining to the agreement.

Council, by a 10-3 majority ignored those citizen delegates. Instead they agreed with the points raised by seven Alectra delegates who offered reasons to merge.

The structure of Guthrie’s Wall of denial

We looked up how the wall was erected initially by the former administration, starting in 2008 when council appointed Amberlea Gravel, located in London, to investigate citizen’s complaints about closed-session meetings of council. The appointment was made when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government ordered all municipalities to appoint a closed-session investigator.

Since 2008, Amberlea Gravel, our Local Authority Services (LAS), has processed just three complaints, while being paid a retainer for nine years. The city has not revealed the cost of the retainer. Regardless, it has to be the best deal Amberlea Gravel made to bolster the privacy of council doing the public business.

A few years ago, the Ontario Ombudsman was given authority to act for municipalities. Today more than half have switched to the Ombudsman’s office for investigating closed-session council and local board meetings.

But not Guelph.

I was one of only three complainants requesting a closed-session investigation in early January 2016. I had plenty of reasons for obtaining the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed council meeting that awarded $98,202 salary increases to the four senior managers of the city.

By now most people in the city know the decision was not revealed until publication of the 2015 Sunshine list which publoshed the salaries and taxable benefits of every city employee earning $100,000 or more.

Guelph Speaks published several posts that decried this blackout decision by city council. For my trouble, I was at first threatened by one of the recipients of our largess and subsequently sued for defamation. That case is before the courts and I cannot comment further.

Four months following my request for the December 10, 2015 minutes, the special closed-session investigator ruled in favour of the city to deny the minutes of that meeting. That’s just one brick in the Guthrie Great Wall of denial to control the public’s business and rightful interest to suit the staff and council. It’s known as shaping the message to satisfy the administration’s interests.

The council code of conduct is the second barrier to open government

Here is an excerpt published on the city website under the title: “Council Code of Conduct/Integrity Commissioner:

The Code of Conduct was adopted by Council to:

  • establish a common basis for the ethical behaviour of Members of Council and Local Boards, and
  • increase public confidence by making a commitment to operate with integrity, justice and courtesy.

I’m sorry; but I can’t make this stuff up.

In 2011, Council appointed an Integrity Commissioner to address the application of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local Boards. The Integrity Commissioner has the power to deal with requests to investigate suspected contraventions of the Code of Conduct. The record shows that all requests referred to the Integrity Commissioner originated with members of council. Council recommend the following penalties:

  • A reprimand; or
  • Suspension of the remuneration of the Council or Local Board member for a period of up to 90 days.
  • In addition to conducting formal Code of Conduct investigations, the Integrity Commissioner also serves as an advisor on appropriate conduct to individual Members of Council or Council as a whole.

The ultimate muzzle on the very people we trust to serve the public’s interests

So, now in his sixth year as Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swazey of Caledon, is judge, jury and prosecutor in cases involving elected officials who may be accused of breaking the code of conduct.

It is an implied threat to any councillor who reveals the contents of a closed-session meeting. It threatens their reputation for protecting the public interests.

In just a few words, this policy was approved by council in, we believe, another closed session. The commissioner, during since 2011 has investigated three cases. His annual retainer is $5,000 and he is paid an hourly fee conduction his investigation and preparing his report.

The one case involved then Coun. Cam Guthrie, who received none of the punishment listed above. It cost the citizens $10,000. The irony of this event is suffocating in tracking the performance of the Mayor and his council.

That was then and this is now

In the past three years of his mayoralty, Cam Guthrie has consistently demonstrated adherence to the Code of Conduct set up by the previous administration. In fact, there has been more closed-session meetings of council and it’s appointed Strategies and Option Committee (SOC) than Noah organizing the Ark.

This is an affront to every citizen of Guelph. It’s a manipulated system to dumb down the electorate and coverup mistakes from public exposure. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

There is no shortage of information underlying doubt about this Hydro/Alectra merger,

The present council, again in closed-session, approved spending $2.36 million to sell this deal to its own citizens.

The plan was to produce the illusion that most people were in favour of the merge employing leading questions to agree with a phony outcome; sparsely attended town hall meetings and producing a phony 245-page “final agreement” document just 12 days before the meeting. And it was only available online. I charge that fewer than 250 hard copies were distributed to the public.

The communications plan did not put its case forward through Guelph Hydro’s network of 55,000 customers except at the last days prior to the meeting when a tiny resume of the deal’s advantages was inserted in the Hydro/Water bills.

So as city Communications General Manager, Tara Sprigs, described the process of informing all those Hydro customers who were being threatened with everything to lose in return for a boatload of promises.

I would like to think that at least four councillors, those with knowledge and intelligence, would change their vote under the circumstances.

Not one of them is the Mayor.

How council manipulates the Municipal Act closed-session guidelines

It’s simple really; they made up their own closed-session guidelines.

Now topping Guthrie’s Great Wall of denial are the Municipal Act policies. The following are the legal reasons under the Municipal Act to hold a closed-session council or local boards meetings:

Section 270 of the Municipal Act provides that municipalities must develop and maintain various policies regarding the accountability and transparency of municipal government and its operations.

The key words are Accountability and Transparency

The following have been adopted by Council and are regularly reviewed to ensure compliance:

  • Sale and Disposition of Land
  • Number 1: Only covers the sale and disposition of land not the acquisition of the provincially owned Jail lands
  • Hiring of Employees
  • Number 2 – Yes, hiring employees should be confidential but does not include approving salary increases to staff and then not revealong it to the public.
  • Procurement of Goods and Services
  • Number 3 – This covers a lot of areas and there is evidence it has been used to          blackball certain contractors from bidding on city jobs.
  • Public Notice
  • Number 4 – This is an oxymoron; hold a meeting in closed-session to discuss a public notice? It’s a convenient method of calling a closed-session meeting to discuss almost anything in private.
  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Number 5 – Again, why is it necessary to call a closed -ession meeting to discuss accountability and transparency? The previous administration has already paid more than $500,000 to a Toronto consultant to come up with an A&T plan.
  • Delegation of Authority
  • Number 6 – This dovetails with the administrations’ allowance such as giving $98,303 raises to four senior managers in 2015?

The key story here is that council adopted this collection of reasons to legally hold a closed-session meeting. Seems it’s self-serving giving council and the boards absolute power and control of the public’s business. It’s like turning off a tap, shutting off any information they choose for whatever reason. These reasons would include political liability and criticism, personal benefit, adherence to a political philosophy,

The two Councillors who served for four years of the GMHI board of directors, the operator of Guelph Hydro, were paid over and above their regular salaries. Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein still voted in favour of the merger. They not only benefited serving on the GMHI board but in my opinion, were in a conflict of interest.

The Great Wall is intact and a barrier to the public interests

These “blocks” of the public’s business have been refined over the past 11 years to giving the administration-unfettered control of the message. It denies the public’s access to its right to know and understand the corporation’s operations on their behalf.

In future posts, GS will provide specific reforms covering a widespread grouping of issues that the electorate should consider before entering the voting booth.

The most vital reform is to make the council and administration operate openly and accountable.

This year, October 22 to be precise, we the citizens have the opportunity to return power to the people by electing councillors who understand their responsibility to the people who elected them. That means persuading civic-minded, experienced individuals possessing a universal mature backgrounds to turn this city into the jewel of Southern Ontario.

It means a sharp turn to the centre of the political spectrum, away from the left wing domination of our political management where there have been too many mistakes in judgment, losses of public money due to misguided projects that have set the city back in the past 11 years.

The time has come to elect councillors ready to reform and employ critical thinking managing the people’s business.

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Why did Council approve Guelph Hydro merging with Alectra Utilities not knowing the final terms and conditions of the deal?

By Gerry Barker

January 2, 2018

Following a marathon meeting December 10, council approved by a 10 to 3 majority, to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities.

It was the culmination of a $2.36 million city-financed campaign that was conducted chiefly in closed-sessions by the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) and city council. Our council approved formation of the SOC 14 months ago. It did so without the active participation of any elected members of council.

Council’s decision remains the greatest con job of a proposal in the history of Guelph. The details to this day are secret and kept far from the eyes of the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers and owners of the utility.

How did this happen?

The night of approving the merger, there were 22 delegates appearing before council. By a three to one majority, they opposed the merger or at least request deferring the decision to allow more time for the citizens to absorb the details. Also, there was a petition containing 76 names that flatly opposed the merger.

The majority of council robotically ignored these citizens.

Seven delegates representing Alectra’s interests sang the praises of a Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra. Only one of the seven, Mark Goldberg, a member of the SOC actually lives in Guelph. The seven came from Toronto, Mississauga Brampton and Barrie to praise Alectra and reassure council that this was a good marriage.

Or is it?

From at least two sources, why didn’t council not have the final agreement details, and not declare that important information before approving the merger after midnight Dec. 10?

We attended that meeting and the lawyer representing Aird and Berlis, the Toronto-based legal firm, carefully outlined the status of the negotiations between the city and Alectra, stating they were yet to be finalized.

Add the voice of Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro, who admitted just a few days before the meeting that negotiations were not completed and would not be shared. That is, until Guelph Hydro, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and Alectra approves the merger and documents are released to the media and the 55,000 Guelph Hydro owners, the customers.

Here’s why not to hold your breath on that happening

The question is: Why did council pass a motion to approve the merger when the final legal documents had not been negotiated, signed and sealed?

Did those ten councillors understand the final merger details when they voted to approve it? But then, why would they, negotiations were still being conducted in closed- sessions between the parties.

Why is that a surprise?

This administration conducts too much of the public’s interest behind closed doors. Since Cam Guthrie was elected mayor, there has been little attempt to open council’s business. Indeed, there has been little attempt to fix the secret workings of the public business, a hangover of the previous administration.

Once those doors are closed, the public is shut out of the proceedings. To protect itself from public disclosure, council has a hired closed session investigator at their beck and call to diffuse any right of the public to know and understand what’s going on behind those closed doors.

We know from personal experience how the closed-session investigator from London known as Amberlea Gravel functions.

I requested the minutes of the Dec. 10, 2015 closed-session council meeting, in which three months later we discovered $98,292 in base salary increases were awarded to the top four senior managers. I received my answer four months later when my request was denied.

Not allowing need-to-know our business is an inconvenience

This is nothing but a repeat of the policies of the Guthrie administration. It’s just too inconvenient to let the public know how and why council conducts our business.

In itself, it is an affront and disregard of our Canadian Democratic rights to participate in public civic affairs without the threat of retaliation.

Personally, I have experienced how our council condones retaliation against a writer, a resident and critic who legally participates and comments on public affairs for the past ten years.

Back to the business at hand, betrayal of the public trust

It really didn’t matter because councillors were well aware of the secret meetings. Council confirmed it by appointing an outside lawyer who said the merger terms and condition were still to be negotiated. Mr. Sardana knew the deal was not finalized and that’s why he said the negotiation information would not be shared.

We were informed that Aird Berlis had acted for Alectra previously in an unrelated matter.

Did council base its decision on the 245-page of manufactured dreck purported to be the final details of the agreement? This document was released to the public but was only available online December 1. Just 12 days before the Dec. 10 meeting.

This was a carefully orchestrated operation to deny the public its rights to access the details that council passed with only three members opposed, James Gordon, Bob Bell and Phil Allt. I do not often share the views of Mr. Gordon or Mr. Allt but in this case, they had the guts to do the right thing and opposed the deal.

On November 24, GS sent each councillor 46 questions regarding the merger. We only received one reply from the Mayor five days before the Dec. 10 meeting. To his credit, the Mayor gave me a previous heads-up that he needed more time to consult and research his answers.

But five days before D-Day?

The questionnaire was in response to the “energizingtomorrow.ca” website that stated, “Ask Us Anything.”

All the GS questions were based on the merger and the details as far as we were aware. As Mayor, Mr. Guthrie I would assume was speaking for all members of his council. Three of them did not vote for the merger

The most interesting answer to one of the questions asked wawhy council was giving away Guelph Hydro. He replied: “We are not giving away anything.”

Our differences lie in one simple fact: If Guelph Hydro is valued at $300 million how does that justify a $1.5 million “dividend” from Alectra a year? Further the city share is based on only receiving 60 per cent of Alectra Inc. profits. So to get control of Guelph Hydro, Alectra threw in some sweeteners.

You are the judge, how sweet are they?

They promised to establish a Green Power Technology Centre in the Guelph Hydro headquarters building that will employee ten people. Alectra also promised to make Guelph the “Hub” of its expansion into South Western Ontario. And don’t forget the $18.5 million special dividend from Guelph Hydro to the city. That’s persuading council using our money.

The downside is that an estimated 60 Guelph Hydro employees are to lose their jobs through termination, relocating or retiring. It didn’t seem to matter to the ten councillors who approved the merger.

Adding up the Guelph Hydro’s annual estimated profit after expenses, in 2016, the surplus was $7, million: in 2017 it is estimated the surplus will be $7 million; in 2018, prior to closing there will be additional net earnings of Guelph Hydro. That will possibly total $21 million over the three years.

On closing of the merger, that notorious $18.5 million special gift from Hydro to the city kicks in leaving a balance of $2.5 million remaining in the kitty.

Hold the phone! Guelph Hydro already had a cash reserve of $22 million on its 2016 books. It’s all so deliciously transparent. First, the $2.36 million the city has spent on driving this crazy deal to fruition is neatly covered by the annual $3 million dividend Guelph Hydro delivers to the city three-year surplus of $21 million.

So it would appear that city council is not going to receive a $3 million divudend when it mergers with Alectra but just $1.5 million.

Is this a great deal or what?

Still with me?

Lying in the entrails of the great give away by city council is the $22 million stash of cash Hydro had before any these merger talks ever began.

What happens to that money if this deal ever closes?

Another unanswered question. Is it remotely possible that not only Alectra will wind up with the city’s only viable, profitable subsidiary worth an estimated $300 million but a bonus of $22 million in cash? As 131,000 citizens are kept outside the decision process, the council approves the deal. We are left without clothes shivering in the dark.

Bad metaphor? Unfortunately true

In view of the facts, how can Coun. Mike Salisbury who moved the approval motion, and seconded by Coun. June Hofland, have access to the final terms and conditions that were yet to be completed? That goes for the other eight councillors who voted to approve something that they had little knowledge of, the final merger deal and documents.

And why were Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein even involved in this decision? They were on the failed GMHI board of directors for four years, drawing a fee for serving and never revealing what was happening as the operation lost $63 million in shareholder value.

That was our divestment that was swallowed up by incompetence.

When does council deliver the details of this merger?

Accordingly, as one of the 55,000 Hydro owners, as a shareholder, I would be interested in knowing the final details of the merger agreements version if and when completed.

In my opinion, the council motion Dec 10 was illegal because the final details of the terms and conditions of the merger were not known at the time. Therefore, council cannot give away our $300 million Guelph Hydro without fully disclosing the final details to the public. For a change, hold an open debate on the merits and benefits as agreed to by both parties.

The Ontario Energy Board must still approve the merger. It is incumbent on the two parties that proof of public acceptance of the merge must accompany the application. This is not expected before the fall of 2018.

Will that be ham and cheese or smoked meat on rye?

There was little council enthusiasm listening to the delegates opposing the motion. This turkey was already baked in the oven. The only reason to hold a one-hour closed- session meeting before the public meeting was to eat supper and decide who would move the motion and who would support it or not.

Wilson Street Parking garage financing

Oh! In case you are wondering what the city will do with $18.5 million “special dividend,” here is the latest info: The Wilson Street $20 million five-storey parking garage across the street from city hall. Guess who benefits from that?

If that’s the case, the $18.5 million is our money only held by Guelph Hydro. So at least it may be used to create a badly needed downtown parking garage. The only problem is those having monthly parking passes will occupy the majority of available spaces.

And there are so many capital projects begging for funding.

Yep! It makes sense to give away Guelph Hydro to solve that problem.

Some Short takes

Notice the Mayor was a part owner of the Guelph Royals baseball team to save it from folding. He had to vacate his position due to a conflict of interest. Guess he got a look at the books. What? Council has a baseball team?

The changes are a’comin

There will be a number of changes coming in this year’s civic election. The provincial government has passed rules governing corporate and union donations. There remains a proposal to have a new nomination period of three months starting in May. The 445 civic councils in Ontario have Until March 31 to pass new bylaws to change the nomination dates. The last thing Premier Wynne needs is to rile up the municipalities. It’s the best we can hope for.

Mayor announces he is running in 2018

Stating: “I really enjoy being Mayor and I love being Mayor.” He then produced a list of accomplishments that were not specific including the financial details.

We do not agree with the mayor that 2018 will be the “silly season.” There will be many surprises and issues demanding the truth.

Accordingly, watch for a special “Truth Squad” report posting by GS based on the Mayor’s list of accomplishments … One Pinocchio, Two Pinocchio, Three Pinocchio!

Guelph Speaks wishes all a Happy New Year, one that is prosperous, healthy and fulfilling.

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Guelph Speaks takes some time off during the holidays

By Gerry Barker

December 22, 2017

In the waning days of 2017 we are all busy preparing and sharing the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season.

Guelph Speaks (GS) is no different and will take time for needed computer maintenance and reflective down time.

It has been quite a year being capped December 10 with the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities. We still maintain that is the greatest giveaway of our most valued public and profitable asset ever experienced in the long 200-year history of our city.

As far as GS is concerned, the New Year will bring some interesting insights and news about the council approved deal that could change this path of consolidated absurdity.

This will be our last post until Tuesday, January 2 when we prepare posts commenting on events during the final year of the council’s mandate. The GS archives contain 922 posts that are available at guelphspeaks.ca since 2011 for information, a history of municipal affairs and perhaps some entertainment.

That totals 1,475, 200 words. It is the equivalent of 20 75,000-word novels.

I am thinking of using the posts to write a book about the management of Guelph including the people responsible from 2006 to present day. The time to organize the material is daunting but not impossible. I intend to turn over my archives to the Guelph public library’s reference department as a source of a very exciting time in our city’s history.

It is a running account of lies, secrecy, cover-ups, accomplishment and the personalities involved.

The New Year will bring a change in our city council. With the merger possibly closing next fall, the impact on the citizens, we predict, will galvanize the voters to express their objection of council’s past actions.

My wife, Barbara and I wish everyone a happy holiday and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

A special thanks to all those GS viewers who follow the blog, the only one in Guelph that challenges the administration and digs under the veneer of city-managed information to reveal the truth and the facts.

As usual, the blog remains open for comment regardless of the content taking a small vacation.

We’re back on the job Tuesday, January 2, 2018.

Best to all,

Gerry and Barbara Barker

 

 

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Grand Theft Hydro: How ten councillors gave away your $300 million Guelph Hydro

By Gerry Barker

December 18, 2917

Here is the anatomy of a $300 million Guelph Hydro giveaway when a lobotomy was needed.

Make no mistake, from the day the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) was formed by council in 2016, the plan was to merge Guelph Hydro not sell it. When I asked the Mayor why there were no elected councillors on the committee. He replied: “Using a skills-based team is the most appropriate way to conduct this type of asset review.” Appropriate for whom?

Wednesday night was crucial for council to approve the merger. The majority voted to approve the merger knowing there was no looking back, no second chance to reconsider. Guelph now faces losing control, sold out its Hydro employees, all for receiving 4.63 per cent of 60 per cent of Alectra’s profits.

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) must approve the final agreement. Closing the merger is expected to follow the OEB approval and the brand, Guelph Hydro, will disappear before the end of 2018.

The citizens have the right to object to the merger before the OEB.

The approved draft agreement, supported by ten councillors out of 13, allowed the city, through its defunct Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. (GMHI), one member on the 14-member Alectra Board of Directors, but not the Mayor or acouncillor.

Not only were there no elected officials on the SOC, but also council agreed to merge with Alectra without knowing the details of the final agreement, according to the Toronto-based Aird and Berlis lawyer, representing the City of Guelph. The lawyer warned council that if they approved the merger there was no reversing the approval.

The majority of council ignored his caution.

Names of the ten councillors who voted to give Guelph Hydro away

June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Christine Billings, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Leanne Piper, Dan Gibson, Andy Van Hellemond, Mark MacKinnon and Mayor Guthrie.

They ignored the clear evidence that this merger was being rushed. They ignored that there was no rational benefit to the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers. They ignored the methodology of secretly conducting the investigation over almost a year, beyond any real public participation.

Those ten councillors also ignored several appeals by concerned citizens to defer the decision until the final version of the agreement was revealed and debated. They denied the demand for a referendum to be held as part of the civic election in October next year.

Just for those reasons alone, they will be remembered as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight when logic escaped their judgment.

Here are the three councillors who voted against the merger: James Gordon, Phil Allt and Bob Bell. Apparently, these three representatives of the people had the courage to see through this hazy proposal that was nothing but a sales pitch to get control of Guelph Hydro without paying for it.

That is the essence of this merger that was planned and executed only in the interests of Alectra.

Council was used and subsequently believed that the future of Guelph Hydro was more important than the reality that the utility was a jewel that had great value to make a fair agreement on its terms, not that of Alectra.

The beginning of the march toward Guelph Hydro’s Waterloo

The SOC was formed by city council October 24, 2016 composed of Derrick Thomson, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the City of Guelph, Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro, who both acted as co-chairs of the committee. Also Robert Bell, Mark Goldberg and Richard Puccini were appointed to the SOC.

According to the news release, the SOC was charged to investigate and recommend opportunities related to maintaining the status quo as a standalone municipally-owned electricity distribution system (acronym LDC), or making a change, which could include buying, selling or merging.

The SOC provided council with a timetable of four phases of their preliminary investigations that would be completed in “early 2017.”

As it turned out, February 2017 was pivotal when the SOC mandate of selling Guelph Hydro, was removed as an option.

The plot thickens

Here is a coincidental series of events that occurred. Alectra Inc. was incorporated January 31, 2017.

The SOC committee personnel changed with Mr. Puccini stepping down. Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong replaced Co-Chair Pankaj Sardana and a Mr. Ault replaced Mr. Puccini.

A council meeting was held February 15, 2017 in which a motion was passed to drop the sale of Guelph Hydro as an option to consider. The vote was 7 to 5. This cleared the deck to only consider a merger with another utility.

On what advice or basis did council at this point make the decision?

Did the SOC recommend to city council to drop this option? Someone did, and the timing, two weeks after the Alectra incorporation opened the door for Alectra to craft a merger proposal that was not made public until October 18, 2017.

That was eight months after the decision not to sell Guelph Hydro.

Here is part of a report published October 25, 2016 in the Guelph Mercury that outlined the SOC’s committed task:

  • Consulting with stakeholders;
  • Investigating transaction options and approach; and
  • Reporting to Council on recommended options and seeking Council’s direction on next steps.

Let’s talk about the claim of “consulting with the stakeholders.” The SOC, to the best of my memory, held all it’s meetings in closed-session including those with city council. With Mr. Thomson as Co-Chair of the SOC and the CAO, it’s difficult to know what information he passed to his staff and council.

After the Alectra merger announcement by the Mayor October 18, the city staff recommended approving the merger. Why would they do anything different? Their boss was the SOC Co-Chair and CAO of the city?

In that position, Mr. Thomson was effectively in control of the process along with his new Co-Chair, Jane Armstrong. Did either of them convince council to remove the Hydro sale option from consideration? As CAO, Mr. Thomson, wearing two hats, was positioned to be a major influence in recommending the dropping of the sale option.

The mystery exists. Who motivated council to eliminate the sale option February 15, 2017?

Given council’s majority of ten approving the merger, it is apparent many were out of the loop in understanding the effect of that decision although five councillors voted against removing the sale option last February.

We later learned that Mr. Puccini was not happy about the move and indicated that he was in favour of a sale of Guelph Hydro. His address to council the night of the approval meeting to decide the future of Guelph Hydro, was that he offered details of the benefits of selling the utility based on empirical evidenced of similar transactions in the LDC field.

Timing the rollout to curtail opposition

In my opinion, this was a carefully planned decision to merge with Alectra and targeted only at the 13 elected members of council. They had control and any opposition was blunted by deliberate release of some of the proposed merger agreement details just 12 days before the crucial council meeting last Wednesday.

Let’s talk about the possible incentives offered to certain members of council and possibly the SOC.

Why did this campaign to influence 13 members of council to approve an agreement that contained no substance, no tangible benefits to the Guelph Hydro customers and, most of all, the exercise was mostly conducted in secret. The council held a one hour closed-session right before the public meeting. Why was that necessary?

Some 29 delegates spoke at that meeting with 22 opposed and seven recommending the merger.

Of the seven, two were Alectra senior executives; a Brampton Alectra employee extolling how fair Alectra was to its employees; a VP representing Pearson International Airport saying how well Alectra performed its maintenance of the 40 megawatts facility; a steward of the Power Worker’s of Ontario that is attempting to take over as bargaining union of Guelph Hydro, and two representatives from Barrie, the mayor and a councillor saying how well the take over by Alectra has worked well with that city.

Their job was to reinforce the message to take over Guelph Hydro and, unfortunately it worked.

Councillors were briefed November 30, the day before the public release of the 245-page agreement report. The next day it was released and was only available Online.

It was a part of a strategy to deny the 55,000 customers of Guelph Hydro their right to see the completed signed document before the December 13 approval meeting. Councillors were also briefed the two days before D-Day in closed-sessions with Hydro CEO Pankaj Sardana.

It is mindful of a George Orwell novel in which the people were tightly controlled by the authoritarian authority and only received information that favoured the controlling class.

In my opinion, this turkey was hatched long before the Hydro customers had any say.

That friends, is dictatorship not a democracy. And there is no comfort to be gained when we are told that Guelph citizens paid $2.36 million to sell this deal with the bulk of it going the lawyer and accounting firms. Those public funds financed the Alectra deal.

So why? Why would ten members of council vote for this merger that has not only cost us $2.36 million but agreeing to give a $300 million asset in return for 4.63 per cent of only 60 per cent of Alectra’s profits with no firm numbers attached?

Why not top it off with a gift of $18.5 million from Guelph Hydro?

The final insult to the citizens who own Guelph Hydro was the $18.5 million “special dividend” that Guelph Hydro will pay the city when the deal closes in a year. That’s our money taken from a $22 million surplus of Guelph Hydro.

The council members who voted to give Guelph Hydro away, Mayor Guthrie denies it, saying: “We are not giving anything away.” Perhaps the Mayor did not understand the drastic step of giving away its publicly owned utility to a private corporation for a tiny interest in that corporation in the name of progress.

We should be interested learning about the two Tesla electricity storage sytems installed in Guelph as the Mauor has stated. Who owns these two sytems and where are they located?

Even though they cannot change their decision, next October those ten councillors will be asked to explain their decision during the civic election campaign.

That is if they choose re-election.

They are the gatekeepers of the city business, providing the checks and balances to maintain the trust that the citizens have placed in them. Instead they fell for a sales pitch to dump our treasured asset for a bunch of promises that have yet to be proven.

The damage is done now.

They don’t realize that from now on, the citizens will never trust them. They were professionally sucker-punched by experts and failed in their job to protect the stakeholder’s interests.

Were they naive?

Did powerful interests seduce them into believing the proposal was the best solution for the future of Guelph Hydro?

Or are they just bad listeners?

It doesn’t matter now; they fixed it so there’s no looking back.

Our only hope is to mobilize and make a case to lobby the OEB to reject this merger.

In my opinion, those ten councillors will eventually have to apologize for the their actions.

History can be so unforgiving.

 

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