By Gerry Barker
Posted November 8, 2015
Here’s this week’s line-up:
* Trouble in staff land
* Herding cats to tax?
* Great quotes from chairman Sandals
* The rape of the reserves by the Farbridge administration
The chickens come home to roost, the crumbling Farbridge legacy
Looking back there were about 150 people who knew what the Farbridge administration was doing to our city. But a city staff sending out puff pieces on what a great job Madame Farbridge did drowned out our protests and her council inner circle sycophants helped her to do it.
A new independent review by a Hamilton consultant firm headed up by a former city manager of that city, has revealed the record of misspending, secret handling of the public’s money and disregard for responsibility.
These senior staffers cow-towed to their mayor’s determined effort to turn Guelph into some sort of socialist jewel among Canadian municipalities.
They treated your money like playing craps in a Las Vegas casino.
And along comes former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole who reveals how the city failed to abide by its own building bylaws.
On July 10, 2014, Poole sent an email to then Executive Director of planning, engineering and the environment, Janet Laird. He told the director there were 50 municipal projects with ongoing issues and construction was being carried out without the required building permits.
He told Laird several times that it’s easy to enforce the rules but however, “ how do we issue a charge against the city?”
One wonders if the Wyndham Street bridge bollix was one of those city projects in which the building bylaws were blithely ignored?
Laird hs gone to her new home in Whistler, B.C. Derek McCaughan, former Executive Director of Operations and Transit is also gone. Bruce Poole was fired last August after 30 years on the job, 20 years as the city’s Chief Building Inspector, .
That leaves Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, Deputy CAO Mark Amorosi whose responsibilities include all corporate matters, including the city finances. Newcomer Derrick Thomson is the remaining DCAO responsible for planning, engineering, operations, and waste management.
Ms. Pappert’s email response is guarded and denies any problem. Of course her own future as head of staff is at stake. The Poole allegations reveal the irresponsible and dark side of the way our city was being managed under the former mayor.
The CAO refuses to say why Poole was fired but it will come out as it usually does once the Freedom of Information application is filed. Kudos to the Mercury and reporter Joanne Shuttleworth for accessing this information and publishing it.
More to come.
* * * *
This won’t pass the Meow test
The geniuses at City Hall are flying this kite to tax not only cats, but also the number of pets you may own. Okay Waldo, that pet Leghorn may produce eggs but you are still going to pay. But does that include gold fish, pet turtles, hamsters, rabbits and canaries?
Seriously, would it not make more sense to tax and license cyclists who use city streets night and day? Perhaps the way to do this is to offer free flashing lights for bikes and instructions on safe operation. Encouraging those cyclists who travel at night on busy roads, particularly as this time of year, to wear light-coloured clothing with fluorescent stripes, will go a long way to bring safety for both motorists and cyclists.
It would be a lot more productive and easier than trying to tax cats and other pets..
* * * *
What we have here, is a comedian running our education system
When Education Minister Liz Sandals speaks, the press corps starts to giggle.
The lady is a latent comic with such lines as “this is nothing about anything.” At first, the people were perplexed, but as the word spread, Liz was exposed as not a comic straight person but a full-blown comedian.
And to her credit, she has managed to totally break up her entire Ministry and the Liberal government, leaving them laughing. Liz imposed a two-tiered negotiating system that has now taken more than a year to settle contracts with the teacher and support unions.
Union negotiator? Nope. Comedian? Yep.
It’s the Sandals’ legacy that she shares with her pal Premier Kathleen Wynne; you can buy some the teachers off with millions but not all of them, not at the time. Her routine is to keep throwing money at the problem expecting it to eventually go away. Isn’t that close to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? You remember: Keep making the same mistakes over and over again with the expectation everything will get better.
Sheez Liz, now you’ve got the auditor general investigating the millions you promised to the unions for negotiating. And Liz, you forgot to ask for receipts. It’s okay though, your boss before leaving for her $1.8 million trip to China ordered the unions to supply proof of their negotiation out-of-pocket spending with RECEIPTS!
Imagine! What a concept. Giving public money away without requiring proof of spending.
Now that’s hilarious.
* * * *
How the city reserve funds were used like an ATM machine
This week an independent report by BMA consultants raised concerns over the city’s drained reserve funds calling the situation “a cautionary red flag.”
The word “cautionary” may be a case of professional understatement.
The report says that only one reserve fund meets the city’s required financial standard. It’s the water/waste water reserve funded through user fees, not taxes. Over the past eight years those fees have risen by 70 per cent with a 4 per cent increase in 2015. Yet the consumption of water has declined, despite the increase in serviced homes and businesses.
The consultant used 2010 as the base for addressing the city’s reserves and it’s not a pretty picture. As in just five years, the city has failed to address “the ever-widening infrastructure gap.” Translation: The money was spent elsewhere.
This has been common practice employed by the previous administration as money was shuffled around using reserve funds unrelated to the purpose for which it was meant.
The most glaring example of this is the three reserve funds that were raided just weeks before the October 2014 civic election, to settle the wrongful dismissal suit, won by Urbacon Buildings Group Corp, totaling $8.9 million.
This was done because the city did not forecast or budget for a loss in its lawsuit that resulted from the fired Urbacon general contract of the new city hall in 2008.
Guelphspeaks recently wrote about how the city administration moved money around to meet unplanned and unbudgeted expenses. It says a lot about the financial mismanagement that existed under former Mayor Karen Farbridge.
The reserve fund to cover future employee benefit liabilities is supposed to be $30.3 million. Today that reserve stands at $11.4 million and has declined by 30 per cent since 2010. The liabilities will grow exponentially as staff numbers and salaries increase. More than 100 additional full-time equivalent employees have been hired in the past four years.
And it’s not because the city was’nt aware of the problem. Council and staff were advised years ago of the growing benefits liabilities of its employees.
The consultant recommends that the reserve funds should not be used for operating expenses but for “extraordinary events.” You can guess that’s what CAO Ann Pappert decided when she agreed to take the money from the three unrelated reserve funds to pay off Urbacon and said it would not affect property taxes.
Well Ann, here’s the skinny. In the 2015 budget property taxes went up by 3.96 per cent, the highest since 2010. That’s less than a year later after the settlement. Then your plan to spend $900,000 for five years to replenish the three reserves, fell off the table when Coun. Karl Wettstein moved to reduce it to $500,000 in the 2015 budget. The staff was instructed to find another way to repay what council owes.
There is only one way to right the Good Ship Guelph that is listing to the left. Contain costs immediately and hire an experienced Chief Financial Officer (CFO) with the power to clean up the mess left behind.
It’s confusing that the office of Chief Building Inspector is a provincially mandated position but why isn’t the position of CFO? Or is it?
The evidence of malfeasance, mismanagement and growing financial liabilities is gradually becoming known. The word is staff morale is low and productivity is affected.
High taxes, high electricity rates and high property prices are rapidly sending Guelph down a path of becoming the most expensive small city in the country in which to live.
It doesn’t have to be this way.