Tag Archives: Guelph

It only took 13 years to change Guelph politically, culturally and economically

By Gerry Barker

August 22, 2019

Opinion

Part Seven of Seven

Experiencing the ebbing of summer as it morphs into fall, I reflect on the forces and political events that in the past 13 years have changed Guelph forever.

The city has changed as the demographics have changed. Many new people have moved to this city touched by gentle rivers, lush parks and being a preeminent home to the new Canada, one of diversity, tolerance and peace.

With that statement of idealism comes the downside of transferring a beautiful city to meet the challenges of a changing planet, separate of the demographic between the young and old and the handmaiden of authoritarian civic rule.

The outcome has been a mixed bag of modernization, coupled with a rigid cultural shift that transferred political power to an efficient majority of progressive believers in change at any cost.

It has been incredibly uncomfortable in this period of dominant control of our civic affairs, pegged to some 16 years of Liberal-dominated provincial governments. In fairness, some of the mistakes in wasted capital were made in Guelph by the administration of dream catchers.

If you have been following this series, you have read the details of the high cost of change driven by a council and senior staff to turn the city, they said many times over, into a world class municipality of unparalleled elimination of fossil-fueled vehicles, alternative transportation (bicycles), reduction of waste, developing self sufficiency in sourcing clean power.

At the time, these efforts were appealing to the council supporters, including the labour unions, employee associations, the University of Guelph and Conestoga Community College, plus the two Liberal governments at Queen’s Park.

The previous six parts of this blog have detailed, in my observation and opinion, a dismal record of misuse of power and personal ambition lust to alter a way of life.

New housing did not include detached homes

The type of housing in the city changed dramatically almost overnight. The virtual elimination of detached single- strip attached homes incorporated in low-rise condominium development. It was the urging of the Wynne Liberal provincial government to create the intensification developments to discourage detached single-family home sprawl.

Unfortunately, the costs of servicing these new developments soared as the city’s operational overhead costs increased with each new proposal.

City council adopted the intensification proposal mainly because it had a higher return of property tax than the detached home developments.

Many viewers reading the series of blog posts for whatever reasons, may sneer, some will dismiss me as an ”irritant,” I call others the Monday regulars, those who appreciate my reporting and analysis. Then there are the readers on Twitter and Facebook where the blog material is regularly posted.

In my opinion, Guelph is still a small town and managed accordingly. On the ground, we have the size of a city but are controlled by ward councillors who have been in charge for 13 years. I call it parish pomp politics run chiefly by a part-time council.

There remain important issues to be resolved. Some are the result of a transformation of society. Many are neglected and need action with the most important being the city’s aging infrastructure.

Past mistakes are hard to fix and expensive. If we have learned anything, we need much closer public participation, a new reduced full-time city council elected at large, and nine would be a good number.

Instead of the dated Community Energy Innovation plan, circa 2007, lets study the new jobs that the future will demand. The shift in information collection and delivery has seen the loss of print media including newspapers, snail mail, call centres, transportation, healthcare and delivery of cyber services.

Like it or not, the transformation of our society is bringing rapid changes. Manufacturing jobs are shrinking with the advancement of robot technology that is pervasively replacing workers. This issue will hit Guelph’s manufacturing companies who will have little choice but to lay off employees due to robots taking over.

You know, robots don’t pay taxes, do not participate in the community, don’t drive cars, don’t get emotional and have one line of repetitive thinking. This will seriously impact the future basis of determining business taxes in the city.

Guelph’s drug crisis that is deadly and growing

A comment from a reader described Guelph as the Meth (amphetamine) capital of Canada and the downtown area was awash with needles. Is that an exaggeration? Will legalized distribution of pot change this dangerous opiod growing epidemic? Don’t bet on it.

My experience living in Guelph, is I believe that use of illegal drugs in our city has been a long-term problem. It is one that can be controlled but will never disappear even with the advent of recreational pot.

Guelph police have focused on the dealers of these drugs including the arrival of the powerful opiod fentynal

Several things need to happen: Enforcement of choking off the supply and distribution. That includes drug wholesalers, pharmacists, physicians and illegal drug dealers. This campaign will be costly and take time. It’s time city council stops denying and providing the resources to halt this scourge that is not unique to Guelph. Regardless the drug supply and culture in the city lays the groundwork for very serious consequences.

Dealers and users should be arrested and dealt sever penalties if found guilty. No more releases of accused druggies on their own recognecense, provide the resources for more law enforcement, the courts and the professional organizations whose members may be part of the distribution of illegal drugs.

This is the time to set aside the capital projects such as the proposed Baker Street $350 Million project, the Guelph Innovated District planned purchase, the South End Recreation Complex, all bike lane expansion and climate change and other environmental and Innovation projects.

The focus must turn on the transformation issues now affecting our immediate future. Council has a lot of work to do to meet the new direction of society including public health.

I am in the December of my years but my one regret is that I will not be around to witness and participate in the real changes that are at the doorstep of civilization.

Where do Guelph citizens figure in all this?

I am positive that if the administration is reduced and keeps the public informed regularly, allows online voting and attracts representatives with experience and qualifications, and pays them well as full-time councillors. I am confident if this occurs, Guelph will become more than just another pinpoint dot on the atlas of Canada.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

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?

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Executive spite boosted the new city hall project costs by $23 million

By Gerry Barker

August 1, 2019

Opinion

Part Three of Seven stories to fuel your min

It all seems like yesterday when there was a sea-change in the composition of Guelph Council, or so most citizens thought and I was one of them

The defeated councillors included Mayor Karen Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw; Mike Salisbury was elected in ward 4 replacing Mayor-elect Cam Guthrie. Retiring from council was Karl Wettstein in ward 6, Andy Van Hellemond in ward tw

Here is the result of the 2014 civic election: the majority of progressives totaled seven. These include James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Leane Piper, and Cathy Downer. The uncommitted are Rodrigo Goller and Dominique O’Rourke. The moderate councilorsr include Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Christine Billings and Mayor Cam Guthrie. Holding the swing vote in council is Mark MacKinnon, ward 6.

The story on election night was the defeat of Mayor Farbridge by rookie Councillor, Cam Guthrie.

The defeat of the mayor was the lawsuit brought by the general contractor of the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall into a provincial offenses court. In 2006, council approved the $42 million contract.

Karen Farbridge was elected mayor in 2006 and her council held a majority of 11 councillors out of 13.

Enough already!

But a funny thing happened before the contract was completed. September 18, 2008, the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., was kicked off the job that was 95 per cent completed. Guelph police were called to expedite the removal of all employees including the sub contractors.

The reason was, and no one was taking responsibility including the Mayor or council or senior management, admitted they were responsible.

Later, chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert said that her predecessor, CAO Hans Loewig, was responsible for the Urbacon firing. She said his authority was covered under the CAO bylaw.

Following the time of the firing of the general contractor, Mr. Loewig was awarded a three-year contract paying $190,000 annually for his work on the Urbacon file. Ann Pappert replaced him in 2011.

At best, Mr. Loewig was a part-time CAO being allowed 12-weeks, vacation spent at his Arizona home. Mr. Loewig was hired to replace the former CAO, Larry Kotseff, as acting CAO and on contract. That changed to permanent employment in 2008 followingnthe Urbacon firing.

Urbacon did not sit idly by and served the city with a wrongful dismissal suit for $19.2 million.

Meanwhile, the Farbridge administration was faced with hiring replacement contractors to complete the project Then the city counter-sued Urbacon for $5.3 million. Next was to deal with the completion bondholder, Aviva, and the architects charged with overseeing the construction. This was followed by lawsuits from the sub contractors who were not paid for their work before the firing of the general contractor.

Once work stopped it was more than a year before it was completed, using two other contractors to finish the job.

Whew! This was a disaster caused by the Farbridge administration despite the Mayor never owning up to it. My sources said she was enraged because Urbacon kept advancing the completion date.

There were reasons for this. First, during a subsequent five-week trial in 2013 in Brampton, the court heard there were more than 300 contract changes ordered by the city. Second, there was a sense of emergency over a number of city employees still working in nearby rented offices in which the leases had or were about to expire.

The Brampton trial was wrapped up in early 2013 and Superior Court Justice, Donald MacKenzie, delivered his judgment brief in March 2014 in favour of Urbacon. It was followed up with a devastating detailed judgment in June.

This document ordered that the costs of the case were to be completed in October, the month of the civic election.

Undaunted, the city lawyer took the case to another court requesting the costs of Justice Mackenzie’s judgment be postponed until after the October civicelection. That was denied by the presiding judge who said he would not change Justice Mackenzie’s’ judgment. In August, a settlement was reached costing the city$8 million payment to Urbacon.

This was the final event that led to the mayor’s defeat in October.

Shortly after, CAO Pappert announced that the city hall costs had increased by $23 million.

Urbacon, the six years of unnecessary expenses

In my opinion, as a taxpayer, this was a sloppy, self-centered series of events that spun out of control and should never have occurred.

When one thinks about it, that mismanagement, recognized as such at the ballot box, could have been used to build a new downtown library as was promised by two Farbridge administrations. Five years later, we are still eaiting.

In January last year, two city Councillors, June Hoflanf and Leanne Piper, supporters of Ms. Far bridge, during a workshop to assist women to become entrepreneurs, asked attendees to donate money to re-elect the former mayor.

Wisely, Ms. Farbridge chose not to be a candidate in last October’s civic election.

Next, Part Four of Seven:

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

The 2007 Community Energy Initiative steered Guelph down the financial rabbit hole

By Gerry Barker

July 29, 3019

Opinion

Part Two of Seven

This part of the series outlines the objectives of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) plan that was formed with excitement across a range of citizens when the non-elected consortium produced the future plans for the city. It was the beginning of the greening of Guelph.

The CEI was created by former mayor Karen Far bridge and supported by her majority on city council. As a result there were no checks or balances to question the decisions made by council for the following seven years.

The founding group was composed of members of the city administration, Union Gas, (now Enbridge), Guelph Hydro, representatives of business and Industry, University of Guelph, school boards and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

Without doubt it was a blue chip group from many interest groups in the city.

Here are the reported CEI goals:

* Use 50 per cent less energy per capita

* Produce 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions per capita

* Encourage and facilitate community-based renewable and alternative energy systems

There is no estimate of the costs of these goals or details of achieving them.

The CEI report, at the time, said that the goals would position Guelph among the top energy performers in the world.

How has that worked out for you?

Let’s start examining goal One to use 50 per cent less energy per citizen.

Setting goals is one thing but forcing people to change the way they live is another matter.

In 2007, the Farbridge administration initiated expansion of bicycle lane networks on major city streets to help reduce dependence on fossil fuel emission by motor vehicles.

Piggy-backed on this goal was increasing use of alternative transportation, (bicycles) and public transit.

The first major project was installing dedicated bike lanes on Stone Road in 2009 by taking advantage of the tri-government infrastructure program in which Guelph’s share was one third of the $66 million approved by all parties.

That project cost $2 million. Then council approved a ten-year bike lane development plan, spending $300,000 per year. But here’s what happened:

The city embarked on resurfacing portions of major streets all of which were to accommodate bike lanes. Part of the individual projects was to shrink the road to three lanes to two for traffic and a centre lane for left turns. The shrinking included painting in bike lanes on either side of their freshly resurfaced road.

But this accommodation for cyclists did not extend beyond the portion being resurfaced in most cases. These include Silver Creek, Woodlawn, Stevenson, Speedvale, Woolwich, Victoria, Gordon, Downey, and Clair Road to name a few.

This attempt to provide alternative transportation, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was thwarted by a growing population that was 119,000 in 2007 when the CEI was approved, to 131, 000 by the last national census in 2016.

Does more mean less?

Accordingly, more people mean more cars, trucks and transit vehicles. That adds up to increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The new housing enclaves of attached strip houses, low-rise condos and high-rise apartment buildings, has further exacerbated the building boom of new housing. Then add the undergraduate population of the University of Guelph that has expanded with 22,000 now attending.

Traffic congestion, intensification following new housing development and improving rail service to Toronto, These are factors in increasing energy use, not decreasing it when the CEI goals were approved.

The same events apply to the second goal of producing 60 per cent less of greenhouse gases per capita. The timing of this vision is not mentioned in these goals’ report. As it turned out, it was an open cheque book opportunity for city council to introduce personal ideas and projects to achieve these CEI goals.

WE now know that more people driving more fossil-fueled vehicles does not reduce the greenhouse gas emissions

Let’s follow the money

Who benefits from all this housing built in Guelph since 20017?

Well, the Chamber of Commerce should be happy with the growth of commercial business in the city. The building trades have prospered and last, but not least, the development industry and supporting cast of architects, town planners and lawyers who benefit from the housing and commercial growth since 2007

In Mayor Guthrie election financial report presented to the city, it revealed an interesting fact. The mayor collected some $86,000 for his campaign from people who did not live in Guelph. Most were developers and service corporations seeking access to the Guelph market. Of this group, out of the 100 individual and corporations who donated some 29 per cent were from the development industry. Most of the donations were $1,200, the maximum allowed by Elections Ontario.

Did all this development meet the 2007 CEI goals of reducing energy in the city by 50 per cent, or reducing 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions or facilitate and encourage community based renewable and alternative energy system?

WE now know how that last goal went. All it costs citizens more than $66 million with the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. district enery projects.

The irony is that despite the loss of millions of dollars by two administrations, is that the remnants of the Farbridge eight-year social engineering adventure is why does the CEI still exist? Its premise and goals are still influencing today’s council.

How did all this lower energy use reduce greenhouse gas?

This part will explain in 2009 how the wheels falling off when Guelph Hydro announced its subsidiary, Ecotricity Corporation, reported a loss of $3,945,000. The report stated that the loss was due to declining extraction of methane gas used to generate electricity at the Eastview landfill garbage site. This is contributed to an “impairment charge” of $2,984,000 of the corporation’s total loss in 2009.

An “impairment charge” is an accounting term based on the amount of an investment is less than the carrying charge, then the assets are deemed to be impaired. The amount of the investment must be eventually written down to the recoverable amount, if any exists.

In 2014, Councillor Cam Guthrie defeated Mayor Farbridge. There was hope that reform would occur and civic sanity would arrive.

In other words, it’s Act Two of the Farbridge CEI legacy and citizens are all empty-pocket endangered species.

There is only one way out and that is to elect a council of moderate, thinking, and responsible candidates to change the menu and reform the administration.

Stay tuned to more information that will be revealed in future parts of the Guelphspeaks seven-part series on the pathological odyssey of corruptive practices. There are other examples of losses and impairment charges that slammed city finances.

Miss the introduction and Part One? All published parts are located in the Guelphspeaks archives located on the website and are filed post publishing’s usual comments are welcome

Next, Part Three: is  to be published August 1, 2019.

How irritated spite increased the cost of the new city hall by $23 million

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

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

By Gerry Barker

July 25, 2019

Opinion

Part One of Seven

The beginning of the downhill drain of public money called the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) was unanimously approved by city council in 2007. The first year of the Farbridge administration’s dominant 2006 victory elected 11 councillors supporting the mayor.

The blueprint of change was discussed and approved by a select group of citizens ranging from business leaders, the University of Guelph, Chamber of Commerce, senior staff, Guelph Hydro, and key supporters of the Farbridge administration.

That election formed the genesis for committing public funds and the city on a number of projects to change the way we live. These include electric power, clean water, transportation, unorthodox waste management, home development, city operational management, industrial development, and restrictive procedural bylaws.

This unfettered control of the city administration, provided the ignoble ending of accountability, transparency and open government. The firing of two key city executives, Chief Financial Officer David Kennedy and Chief Administrative Officer Larry Kotseff led to the tightening control by Mayor Karen Farbridge to carry out the mandate surrounding the CEI and approved by leaders in the community.

It also began the 13-year increases in property taxes, averaging more than three per cent each year. The elimination of veteran senior managers removed the key checks and balances needed to control finances, to meeting provincial requirements. It’s required to balance the budget at the end of the calendar year and avoid a deficit.

This left the city administration with three choices: Raise revenues (property taxes and user fees) or increase the debt, or raid accumulated reserve funds to balance the city books. It is reported in the annual Financial Information Report (FIR) submitted to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The contents of this voluminous report are not made public until the middle of the following year and generally not read by the citizens. So much for open government.

There is one exception to the content of the FIR. It contained the salaries of all public employees earning more than $100,000 plus taxable benefits. It is called the Sunshine List and is published every March.

This eventually became the Achilles heel of the city financial reporting. In December 2015, a closed session of council, in closed-session, approved a $98,202 increase to three senior staff CAO Ann Pappert, Deputy Chief Administrative Officers (DCAO) Derrick Thomson and Mark Amorosi.

In March, the Sunshine List revealed the trio’s 2015 salary and taxable benefit increases.

I am acutely aware of this issue as DCAO Mark Amorosi subsequently sued me for defamation after comparing the difference between the 2014 Sunshine List and 2015.

This matter after almost three years is now in the hands of Superior Court Justice Cynthia Peterson who has heard the submission of both counsels in which my lawyer is seeking a dismissal of the charges.

For the Farbridge administration it was only the beginning of raising revenue. User fees were increased as the city morphed into a growing municipality. The focus was on reducing fossil-fueled vehicles that were denigrated by a string of environmentalists whose representatives formed a majority of city council. All in the name of reducing greenhouse gases affecting climate change.

The bicycle lanes frequently started and stopped during expansion on the major routes shrinking vehicle lanes. Today, the result is congestion, worse that it was in 2007 because the population increased, the major streets hogtied the space for vehicles that were established years ago. What did the planners think was going to happen?

In the eight years of Mayor Karen Farbridge’s administration, few people cared about the ongoing development of increasing traffic In the city.

But here was a new major city redevelopment brewing that would lose more public money than any project known in the history of Guelph.

In 2012, wedged in all this was a citizen’s petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to audit the finances of the city. Ordinary and concerned citizens generated it. The likelihood today is not many people read it. If they did they probably would not remember it after seven years. The petition was carefully researched and vetted for accuracy. But was shot down by the Minister.

The citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, prepared the petition, it was signed by 160 ratepayers. It was documented using official city figures as submitted in the annuals FIR mandated by the province. The petition detailed the discrepancies in the FIR over three years. Here is a draft copy of the petition. Today it only adds to the lack of financial management that has plagued this city since 2007.

As it was denied the Minister, Linda Jefry, she resigned from the government shortly after to run for Mayor of Brampton in 2014. In 2018, former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader, Patrick Brown defeated Jeffry.

                  Application to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs

         Requesting an audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations

         As per the Municipal Affairs Act R.S.O. 1990, Chapter M.46 Part II

September 12, 2013

Please note that this petition does not include the Urbacon city hall lawsuit settlement and associated costs was brfore the courts at thos time.

Under part II section 9 (1) we, the 162 undersigned taxpayers, request a Provincial Municipal Audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations. Our concerns are the management of the city that has resulted in exponentially increasing liability to the taxpayers now and in the future.

In our collective opinion we citizens agree with the following:

Finances

  1. In the past four years, when figures were available, the City of Guelph expenditures exceeded budgets by a total of $24,771,000. The amounts were: 2012; $10,750,000; 2011; $5,783,000; 2010; $2,581,000; 2009; $5,657,000. In our opinion if the trend continues, these figures will exacerbate future liability to the taxpayers and the corporation.
  2. Further, the audited financial statements for the City of Guelph in the comparison year did not compare to the figures of the previous year. For example, the 2011 statement showed 2010 expenditures of $309,198,000 while the previous audited statement showed a figure of $305,482,000. This is a difference of $3,716,000. Similarly, 2009 shows a difference of $3,668,000. In our opinion, expenditures exceeding budgets year after year produced by the required annual audit, does not imply confidence in the accounting numbers.
  3. The above data points out some of the imprudent financial decisions and management by the City of Guelph.
  4. The current administration created a municipal holding company of which the chief revenue component is Guelph Hydro. In the current year, the holding company, controlled by the Mayor and her cohorts on council, plus two independent directors, approved a $2,995,000 dividend that was 96.7 per cent higher than previous years. Despite an income decline of 44.1 per cent to $1,057,000. The result was a 179 per cent payout ratio as dividends exceeded earnings. In our opinion, this withdrawal does not meet corporate standards of risk/reward and is a misuse of public funds.
  5. A non-budgeted and undocumented item that appeared in the 2011 and 2012 City of Guelph annual reports was used to boost revenues. In 2012, a $20,744,000 entry labeled “contributed subdivision assets” was stated while a similar item in 2011 totaled $9,901,000. Neither was in the budget. In our opinion these non-cash entries only serves to embellish revenues.
  6. A report dated April 10, 2012, from the finance department labeled “Unaudited Operating Variance Report” stated that the total enterprise budget had a favourable variance of $4,304,000. Please note that this occurred three months past year-end. Yet in the Guelph audited Annual Report dated June 27, 2012, the expenditure variance was a negative $5,783,000. On the revenue side, the variance was $39,495,000. Neither figure was remotely similar to that presented to Council. In our opinion this does not instill public confidence in the City of Guelph accounting methods.
  7. The reporting of financial data to taxpayers lacks clarity and accessibility. In our opinion, posting a 300-plus page 2013 budget document on the city’s website is not sufficient or accessible to most taxpayers.

Legal matters facing the city

  1. As of March 11, 2013, there are 16 court matters reported in the Litigation Status Report. In addition, there are 16 outstanding Ontario Municipal Board hearings. There are 23 insured matters to be resolved. In our opinion this represents a potential unfunded liability to taxpayers. (Current Litigation Report in attached as appendix A)
  2. An example was the city’s attempt to leave the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit. The resulting court case was lost but the legal costs incurred were never revealed. In our opinion this was a politically motivated attempt to opt out of a Provincially mandated Health Unit and failed to publicly disclose the cost to the taxpayers. Until the court case was settled, Guelph council’s representatives refused to attend WDG Health Unit meetings for many months.

Capital spending

  1. In our opinion, in 2011, the city breached its 55 per cent of current budget capital spending limit. Under the self-imposed limit, the 2011 debt ceiling was $94 million. Instead the debt rose to $121 million.
  2. In our opinion, taxpayers are concerned about city announcements of proposed capital spending projects including: A $73 million downtown library to be operational in 2017; a $37 million south-end recreation centre and then propose to spend $16 million to expropriate an existing commercial centre and convert it to a new riverside park.
  3. In our opinion, the capital and operational spending in Guelph’s downtown has created a vacuum preventing needed spending on projects in other parts of the city. For example, the proposed south-end recreation centre, to be built in an area where there has been substantial residential development in the past ten years, is proposed in the long-term capital plan

4. Employee Costs

  1. Figures released by the city audit in 2012 showed that civic employees
  2. Total compensation costs were 88 per cent of the city’s property tax levy.
  3. From 2008 to 2012. Guelph civic employees’ received total compensation increases of 31 per cent. In 2008, the city spent $124.8 million on compensation. In 2012, it spent $163.6 million. In our opinion this was triple the annual inflation rate during the same period.
  4. Between 2006 and 2012, during the period controlled by the present administration, City of Guelph employees’ costs increased by 68.1 per cent. Or 10.9 per cent per year. During the same period, the comparable employee cost increase of its peer group included: The City of Kitchener, (35.3 per cent), The Region of Waterloo, (42.8 per cent), the City of Cambridge, (29.6 per cent). It represents a 41 per cent increase in employment costs over the peer group.
  5. In our opinion the Guelph employee costs are excessive, in view that the population of the city grew by 5.8 per cent in the same period.
  6. Reference: Presentation to Guelph council by taxpayer Milton Burns November 29, 2012 based in city administration reports and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs FIR report, schedule 42 (Copy attached).
  7. Between 2006 and 2011, the city has had four individuals performing as chief financial officers. One of these was a deputy treasurer in the financial department who was responsible for managing the city finances for more than a year, following the dismissal of the previous CFO. Another candidate lasted one week on the job. The current CFO was hired in July 2012. In our opinion, this has resulted in a lack of taxpayer confidence in the management of the city’s finances.

Waste management

  1. Failure by the city administration to provide taxpayers the opportunity to comment on operational decisions, involving major capital spending of waste management projects.
  2. In our opinion, the building of a $33 million organic waste processing facility (OWPF) without revealing details of the construction, operational costs and contractual obligations, represents a breach of fiduciary responsibility of the city council.
  3. The question arises as why the processing capacity of the facility, as approved by the Ministry of the Environment, is six times the wet waste needs of the City of Guelph.
  4. In our opinion, selling the right to 20,000 tonnes of the facility’s capacity to the Region of Waterloo, without revealing the operating costs, has not served the taxpayer’s interests.
  5. In our opinion, City Council, without informing taxpayers or consideration of the accessibility to collect waste from all residences, awarded contracts totaling $15 million to install an automated bin-based waste collection system.
  6. This system is not available to 6,400 condominium residents due to the city refusing to pick-up waste in these developments. This represents 13.6 percent of the 47,000 Guelph households being forced to not only pay taxes for waste collection, but also pay private contractors to remove garbage. In our opinion, this is not fair to those homeowners affected.
  7. Terms of a contract with the Lystek Company of Cambridge that processes human waste to store and dispose of city treated solid sewage sludge have not been revealed. In our opinion, this fails to detail safe disposal.

Conclusion

  1. In our opinion, the present financial and operational situation in the City of Guelph will provoke future tax liabilities that cannot be corrected in a short time frame. Among these, is the growth of staff, defined pensions and sick leave liabilities under OMERS and employee associations, of which the majority of civic employees are members? This will adversely affect the municipality’s budgets for years to come.
  2. Considering that in 2011, 52.2 per cent of city revenue was derived from property taxes, plus another 20.9 per cent in user fees, we request an independent audit of the city’s finances and operations to examine taxpayer exposure to current and future liabilities.

Respectfully submitted by the attached list of those supporting this petition.

The Minister said that the two parties, the city administration and GrassRoots Guelph should settle the matter. That did not happen because GRG demanded that the meeting be held in public and in the River Run Theatre. It never happened and CAO Ann Pappert called the petition a waste of time, but whose?

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

Is Guelph now the graveyard of public accountability and transparency?

By Gerry Barker

July 8, 2019

Opinion based on facts

Last Thursday, the final stage of the lawsuit brought by Mark Amorosi claiming I had defamed him was heard in the Wellington County Courthouse presided over by Superior Court Justice, Cynthia Peterson.

This was a hearing in which the court heard submissions from the two lawyers representing Barker and Amorosi. There was no testimony by the principals.

First up was Ian MacKinnon, lawyer for Amorosi. Over a three-hour submission, MacKinnon submitted evidence that Barker had defamed his client. He based his submission on sworn statements including a five-hour cross-examination recording consisting of more than 674 questions, of Barker.

During this submission, there were sworn statements attributed to Amorrosi, who was not present, that formed the basis of the lawsuit.

Amorosi, who launched his lawsuit November 16, 2016, attended the proceedings. He has claimed $400,000 in damages and $100,000 in exculpatory damages. He was reported in the Mercury Tribune that the city was paying his legal expenses.

It was stated by Mr. MacKinnon that Mr. Amorosi left the city two months following the lawsuit filing. In fact, CAO Derrick Thomson fired his friend Amorosi for cause February 9, 2017.

The termination was due to the leaking of some 50,000 private staff emails sent to the lawyer representing Building Inspector Bruce Poole. Mr. Poole was previously fired by the former CAO, Ann Pappert, and was suing the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. As this was part of Amorosi’s management portfolio, he was dismissed.

The subsequent settlement between the city and Mr. Poole was sealed and never revealed.

The facts of the handling of this case bungled by the Information Technology Department of which Amorosi was in charge, was another humiliating mismanagement by the administration, specifically Mr. Amorosi.

If not council, who signed off on those salary increases?

Moving on, Mr. MacKinnon told the court that Amorosi, in his sworn affidavit supporting his claim, that council did not approve staff salaries. All increases were in the annual budget.

The question is, if council did not approve that $98,202 salary increases given to CAO Pappert, Deputy Chief Administration Officers (DCAO) Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson, then who did?

If what Amorosi is stating in a sworn document, why was the closed-session of council ever needed?

During Barker’s lengthy cross-examination by Mr. Mackinnon in Mississauga last February, he was asked if he was aware that council did not approve staff. Barker replied that, it was the fiduciary responsibility of council to review and approve salary increases.

Mr. MacKinnon said that provincial authority stated that senior members of the public staff did not have to reveal salary data, including performance reviews.

He added that under the municipal CAO bylaw, only the Chief Administration Officer reviews and approves staff remuneration, including the senior staff.

That appears to be an attempt to curry favour with members of council who in the background are supporting payment of Amorosi’s legal expenses and supporting his lawsuit against Barker. To defend himself, Barker must pay his legal expenses from his personal resources.

It’s now ironic that former CAO Derrick Thomson abruptly left the city for unknown reasons. The 2018 Sunshine List showed Thomson’s salary was $335,000. That was an increase over his 2017 salary of $67,000. On March 18, 2019, Mayor Cam Guthrie announced the Thomson increase was in recognition of his role in the merger between Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities.

Historical evidence shows that former CAO Ms. Pappert was paid $153,412 for seven months when she was no longer employed. That tops Derrick Thomson’s $67,000 bonus paid for work done in 2017 and announced in March 2019.

Attempting to Destroy Barker’s credibility

Throughout his three-hour submission, Mr. MacKinnon accused Barker of making no attempt to request information from Amorosi who was in charge of city finances. He said Barker’s columns’ contents were false and deliberately written to discredit his client. He accused Barker of malice based on a series of posts that revealed details of the senior manager’s salary increases over 12 months.

These posts in 2016 said the increases were covered up for almost four months when the 2015 salaries were published at the end of March 2016.

What Mr. MacKinnon did not explain during the four moths of non-exposure of the increases, two of the three senior managers receiving the 2015 increases, Pappert and Thomson, had resigned.

It begs the question, why during the first six months of 2016 was Amorosi not selected to be CAO, even on an interim basis?

The fourth member of the senior management, Albert Horsman left the city in August 2015. Did he know that the senior managers were going to receive large increases for 2015? Allegedly, they were approved December 10, 2015 in closed-session conducted by city council.

In January 2016, Barker attempted to obtain the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed-session council meeting. Four months later he was notified that his request was denied with no explanation.

More unanswered questions: When did CAO Ann Pappert decide to resign? In August 2016 the city HR manager told Coun. Cathy Downer that part of Ms. Pappert’s 2015 package included a $27,000 performance bonus plus another $10,000 in unused vacation and sick leave benefits, and sundry expenses.

Was this not an employee preparing to leave? She resigned two weeks after the 2015 Sunshine List was published and left May 26, 2016.

Witnessing Mr. MacKinnon’s performance, with statements that were hurtful, personal and a distortion of Barker’s motives, plus his methods of collecting facts, undermined Mr. MacKinnon’s arguments.

During Barker’s cross-examination, he was asked to reveal his contacts. Barker refused.

The defence of free speech

Barker’s counsel, Jordan Goldblatt, spoke chiefly about the laws governing free speech. He quoted case histories concerning other Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP). He outlined the rights of a citizen to criticize municipal administrations. Justice Peterson interacted with Barker’s counsel submission.

The case histories and the application of the Ontario legislation governing the rights of public participation focused on Guelph resident Barker’s right to comment. The two underlying burden of proof elements of the SLAPP legislation are what tangible damage was done to the plaintiff and was the subject matter in the public interest?

A decision on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit by Justice Peterson is not expected until September.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines