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Why is the Staff promoting another failed Farbridge vision project?

By Gerry Barker

December 19, 2016

Help! Tonight council will debate a Staff proposal that literally demands the province to review its dispersal of the former Reformatory property. Staff recommends that council direct the Mayor to meet with Premier Kathleen Wynne and six of her cabinet ministers including President of the Treasury Board, Guelph MPP Liz Sandals.

It is now complicated with the resignation of the Minister of Community Safety and Corrections, David Orazietti, MPP for Sault Ste. Marrie.

This Staff recommendation is a power move that hit a brick wall at Queen’s Park. Minister Sandals was too busy to return phone calls. Her staff referred the matter to Infrastructure Ontario Communications Advisor Ian McConachie. He said that municipalities have the opportunity to purchase the property at market value.

In case you are wondering, the market value of raw land in the area is estimated to be $50,000 an acre multiplied by 549 acres is $27,950,000. That average land price is probably conservative given the soaring costs of land and housing.

To its credit, the staff report says: “However, the city cannot afford to buy this land.”

It goes on to say that the city should not respond to an expression of interest, the precursor of selling the land, if and when the province decides to sell the 549 acres.

The staff fears that if the property is sold to the highest bidder the purchaser won’t share the city’s vision of land use in which they call the Guelph Innovation District (GID) of 1,100 acres. The Reformatory lands represent half of that total.

This was a vision originally launched by the former Farbridge administration. The use of staff resources to work on laying out the plan for the lands, was one of the reasons there were serious staff delays in processing other subdivision and business development. Over eight years, it earned Guelph the dubious distinction of “being a difficult place in which to do business.”

The cost of all this planning and engineering conducted on property that the city did not own, is another concealment of wasted spending. But at what costs?

Well here are some current examples.

There is no funding available today to build either or both, the South-End Recreation Centre or the badly needed downtown main library. The current estimated capital required is $125 million. That’s today, it will be greater five years from now due to inflation and increased borrowing costs.

Or, how about the estimated $107 million, blown on the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), Envida Community Energy Corp. and Guelph Hydro. Citizens will probably never know how this failed Community Energy Initiative, personally headed by the former mayor, drove up their electricity bills. The increase was 45 per cent in four years. Also, former CAO Ann Pappert was named by Ms. Farbridge as CEO of GMHI for four years. Small world.

This brings up two failures of management to collect money due to the city.

The first is that several years ago, failure to collect $180,000 from certain residents in the Lowes Road and Dawn Avenue area who failed to pay between $7,000 and $10,000 in local improvement charges for converting wells and septic systems to the city system. The rub is that a number of people did pay.

The other example of mismanagement is the collection of fines levied in the provincial court that the city manages in the old city hall. More than $4.5 million is determined to be “uncollectable.” That’s just for 2015.

Then there is the Urbacon case in which our new city hall cost $23 million more than the original contract.

Moving on, the millions that were spent on the Dunlop Drive Waste Resource Innovation Centre that, according to an internal audit, cost taxpayers some $270,000 a year just to keep the doors open. And if you want to rid yourself in yard waste, it’ll cost you five bucks.

As one citizen complained at the weigh scale: “But I’m a citizen and my taxes paid for this place.” Security!

And let’s not forget the Detroit deal in which the Motor City shipped recyclable material for processing in Guelph. Instead of 100 per cent materials it turned out that only 60 per cent was used for recycling. There are reports the deal cost the city more than $3 million. Both the senior management officials allegedly responsible for cutting this deal are no longer with the city.

From out of the ashes

Now we learn that the Staff is attempting to resurrect the GID. On the one hand it recommends that council “direct” the mayor to hold talks with Premier Wynne and six of her cabinet colleagues to expedite gaining ownership and control to ensure the ‘vision” of the GID land-usage plan.

These conditions include a “carbon neutral development.” Create a mixed use community and a research and development cluster.

Today the Staff is urging the Province to accept its GID vision by setting up a collaborative arrangement that would result in achieving joint city/provincial growth, environmental and economic development goals.

My first question is: “What’s in this for the Province who owns the land?”

My second question is, why the Staff is even considering this huge project when they know there is insufficient financial support to accomplish this?

My third question is, how much has already been spent in terms of staff costs and consultants to advance this project?

The working arrangement the city had with the Province over these lands expired in 2014.

So now the Staff, which should know better than any living being in the city, is attempted to perpetuate another failed vision project of the previous administration. Oh! Maybe it’s because most of the senior staff that were involved during the costly planning of the GID are still there.

The recent 2017 budget approval by council for the third time in a row, refuses to reduce operating costs, instead, continues to increase them with an unnecessary property tax levy and adding more staff.

Both staff and Council were presented with a comprehensive plan to reduce costs and avoid the property tax levy brought to their attention by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA. It was an eight-page, detailed review and proposal using data from four years of the city’s own Financial Information Report’s, filed with the Province annually. It was ignored by the administration.

Mayor Guthrie has been a vociferous supporter of the senior staff. First, it was his defence of former CAO Ann Pappert when he threatened a citizen with legal action because she outlined the former CAO’s record of mismanaging the city. Now the Mayor’s executive team that he describes as smoothly running the city, is the best he’s ever experienced.

Now more than ever it’s time to recruit an Auditor General to oversee the operation of our city. It’s necessary because too much power has been given to the staff without checks or balances. The CAO has absolute control over all the staff. The Mayor seems to lack control of events including annual budgets.

My main complaint is that His Worship never explained to the citizens why those three senior managers received increases totaling $98,202 for 2015.

****

Having said that, on a personal note to all, Barbara and I wish you and yours the best for the holidays and may the New Year bring health, happiness, peace and goodwill.

****

Correction: The figure pf $275,000,000 in paragraph four of the original posting was incorrect. The estimated total cost of the Reformatory acres is $27,500,000. Guelph speaks regrets this error that may have misled readers. GB

 

 

 

 

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Since 2008, here’s why two Guelph administrations held so many closed meetings

By Gerry Barker

October 31, 2016

This is no Halloween prank.

Last Friday I complained to the Ontario Ombudsman’s office about that December 10, 2015 closed-session city council meeting that awarded $98,209 to three top staff managers for 2015. This decision was never reported or acknowledged by council until the provincial Sunshine List was published in March 2016.

You know how most of us felt when we found out the amounts given to former CAO Ann Pappert and DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson. Mr. Thomson had resigned to take a job with the Town of Caledon, where he resides, when the Sunshine List was published in March. He was quickly persuaded to return as CAO of our city to replace Ms. Pappert who resigned in May.

The Ombudsman’s office called me within two hours to say that they had no jurisdiction to handle the closed session complaint. It was because we had a council- appointed Closed Session Investigator

It turns out that back in January 1, 2008, the McGuinty Liberals ordered municipalities to hire their own Closed-Session Investigator to adjudicate whether councils had the right to discuss public business behind closed doors or not. In 2007, the Farbridge council voted to hire an outfit called Amberlea-Gravel Inc to be the city’s closed-session investigator.

At the time, it was legal and above board, according to the Ombudsman’s representative.

And almost nine years later, that outfit is still with us.

Checking out their website, we discover that there is an umbrella group called Local Authority Service (LAS) that is a subsidiary of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). The membership is composed of elected officials from across the Province and is supported by the Ontario government.

Prior to implementation of LAS, municipalities were told they had to hire a “Closed Session Investigator” to investigate complaints about councils, committees and boards. Such a selection had to be completed by January 1, 2008.

That’s why the Farbridge administration hired Amberlea-Gravel to be its closed- session investigator. For nine years, they have been paid an annual retainer, plus an hourly rate for the investigator when a complaint is made and expenses.

Since 2008, I could find only one investigation made in January 2016 regarding the alleged walkout of four councillors during a closed-session meeting. The complaint was dismissed following the investigation.

The main reason is that the people did not know that the city had retained a Closed-Session Investigator to which they could complain about closed-sessions city operations. The proof of this is the number of investigations conducted by Amberlea-Gravel. So far in nine tears it’s one.

Here’s the conundrum. The closed-session investigation company is hired by the council, how is it possible to remain impartial? There is a requirement for trust and integrity by both parties in the resolution of the complaint.

This is a successful attempt to shut down citizen’s complaints. Not informing the public of the existence if this city closed session investigator, demonstrates another method to not expose details of the two administration’s agenda. It is one that has wasted millions in the past nine years. Both administrations were determined to maintain the now familiar pattern of secrecy and non-exposure of the city corporation’s business and operations.

Now we know why city Clerk Stephen O’Brien tells us the minutes of that Dec. 10 closed session of council are not available because, “they are not part of the public record.”

Well, I am requesting a complaint form from the Clerk regarding that December 10 closed-session meeting that gave those large salary increases to three managers. This is the complaint procedure outlined by Amberlea-Gravel.

It is now apparent that very few citizens, except in the administration, knew the closed-session investigator services existed.

Does this closed-session investigation firm only act when council or the City Clerk requests it? And why would council allow its closed-session meetings to be investigated by its own appointed investigator?

I am asking Amberlea-Gravel to confirm the number of closed-session investigations it has conducted in the past nine years for the City of Guelph and complainants.

I am also asking for the fees they are being paid to perform this function.

I found only one investigation by Amberlea-Gravel reported on its Website. There may be more. It does appear odd, that the Farbridge administration conducted an untold number of closed-session meetings during its eight years in office, and yet there is no evidence of investigation of those meetings?

It took a judge to expose the wrongful dismissal of Urbacon, the general contractor of the new city hall. The judgment was open and available to all citizens. It led to the defeat of Mayor Farbridge because it was made public and not locked up behind closed doors.

It should be noted that there is always a closed-session meeting held, starting two hours before every open council meeting. But it’s the other meetings in which decisions were made, in camera, that affect the citizens and the public treasure.

The case for the LAS investigations being independent is suspect in view of the AMO connection including in its membership members of Guelph city council. This organization is a creature of the province whereas the Ontario Ombudsman is totally independent.

Now here is delicious irony. In 2013, the Farbridge administration hired a Toronto consultant to develop an Open and Transparent Government Plan. The cost later revealed was $500,000 and a lengthy report was developed to direct the city toward setting up an open and transparent government that promised accountability to the stakeholders, that’s us.

Well, an election happened in the fall of 2014 and Mayor Karen Farbridge was defeated plus four member of her council, two of who did not run and two who were defeated.

Then in July 2015, Andy Best, a Farbridge supporter, was hired as a contractor earning $92,000 a year to manage the Farbridge Open Government Initiative. Results to open up council business to the public have been, year to date, a futile exercise.

According to the Ombudsman’s office, that Amberlea- Gravel Closed-Session Investigation firm is still with us. The Ombudsman cannot help expose this closed meeting.

So, how does the Guthrie administration reconcile the city paying a half million dollars to open up our city government? How many citizen complaints have been made to the Clerk’s office since 2008? Is Mayor Guthrie even aware that this outfit is still employed by the city? Is he aware that the Ombudsman’s office cannot investigate a closed-session complaint by a citizen because the city has its own investigator?

Kind of reminds us of the Maytag repairman who never had anything to do because the machines were so well built.

Is this a case of the 12–member city communication staff incapable of informing citizens of their right to complain about closed-session meetings?

Do we need more evidence that this is a giant threat to our rights of free speech and freedoms as citizens? Unless of course, there are complaints lodged by citizens through the Clerk’s office demanding explanation.

There is only one solution. Dismiss Amberlea-Gravel and engage the Ombudsman’s office to represent the city as its closed-session investigator. Some 210 Ontario Municipalities have already done this. At least if a citizen asks for an investigation of a closed-session of council, there will be an independent investigation by the Ombudsman’s office and the decision will be made public.

As a public service, here is the list of exception subjects that the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001, permits to hold a legal closed-session meeting of council or any subsidiary board or committee.

Preamble: A meeting or part of a meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered is:

*   (a) The security of the property of the municipality or local board;

* (b) Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees;

*   (c) A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board;

*   (d) Labour relations or employer negotiations;

*   (e) Litigation or potential litigation, including matter before administrative tribunals affecting the municipality or local board;

*   (f) Advise that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;

*   (g) A matter in respect in which a council, board, committee or other body may hold a closed meeting under another Act. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (2).

The only possible category that council last December10 could have used as a reason to hold a closed meeting is the category, “Labour relations and employee negotiations.”

Exception (d) is a razor thin reason to close the meeting to award those excessive increases to three senior managers. It was confirmation of a decision already baked in the decision.

It was not a negotiation, it was a naked grab of power exercised in secret without any public knowledge or input. It allowed CAO Ann Pappert to retire in late May 2016 having earned some $52,798: ($3,132 per month increase X 16 months plus 26 days $2.677 = $52,798). This was in addition to her 2014 base salary of $219,500 but not her contractual severance allowances or taxable benefits.

Now we know why this was done behind closed doors. To this day not one member of council has admitted voting for that increase. It’s obvious the majority attending the meeting did vote to award the increases.

So, why haven’t elected councillors spoken up? It’s because of a threat of breaking the Code of Conduct that prevents members of council to reveal anything said in closed session. This could lead to an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner and possible sanction of the offending member.

Isn’t this a great way to run the public’s business? You elect a councillor with the belief he or she will represent your interests only to discover they don’t. It is the essence of the Big Brother syndrome, the control of the many by the chosen few concentrated in power.

Here’s how that works: What they don’t know, won’t hurt them.

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That media corporate giant sucking sound has changed Guelph forever

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 2, 2016

When the Guelph Mercury closed its doors forever last week, as a result of a TorStar corporate decision by subsidiary MetroLand Publishing, the impact has changed the sources of news of a city of more than 122,000, to rely on a remaining handful of professional journalists.

With a single twice a week newspaper remaining with a full-time editorial staff of three, it takes no imagination to discover the huge vacuum of real news that has been created.

On the periphery of news coverage, there is the Rogers Community TV whose chief source of “news” is televising the Guelph council meetings. For those of us in the city that do not subscribe to Rogers services, that’s about as useful as a news source as horns on an ant.

Then we have the Kitchener CTV TV station. Its news coverage consists of 60-second video spots, using an on-camera reporter who does a toss-back to the anchor. This is real news? This outfit is now bereft because one of it’s chief sources was the Guelph Mercury that employed a staff of 10 editors and reporters who spent those long hours digesting and reporting civic affairs, community events, crime and interesting profiles of people.

That essential material coverage is now gone.

I must confess that I will truly miss the Mercury. I am, generally speaking, a one-man band. I do not have the personnel, time or energy to replace the Mercury and its former team of editors and reporters.

What I am most concerned about is that this news vacuum will further give the city administration, unfettered control of the corporation news, and the slant that it has been practising since 2007.

But what I do possess, for the past nine years, is a huge library of material that is mostly critical of the city’s administration.

Since the Mercury’s closing, the number of daily visitors to my blog, guelphspeaks.ca, has tripled. The reason was that I recognized the actions of the five members of council who literally defected from their responsibilities, Monday, January 25, when they walked out.

Then, when challenged to explain their action, I’d call it a strike, because they refused to answer. Instead, Coun. Phil Allt, one of the strikers, said it was “to defend the integrity of the corporation and staff.”

This all occurred during the week of the Mercury’s death throes.

Well, what’s new about this development?

There is a plethora of rumours and calls for the five councillors to resign.

This is a serious problem with the Ontario Municipal Act. The only way a councillor can be dismissed is for overt criminal activity, stealing public money and misrepresenting their credentials.

Even if there were charges relating to any of these fault lines, the councillor charged would still be in office by the next election, because of the time the courts could allocate court time to adjudicate the case. Usually it’s two years.

The provincial government must review and change these ironbound securities that municipal elected representatives are protected. What is needed is a mechanism to recall elected officials for malfeasance, failure to meet their fiduciary responsibilities and not turning up for official public meetings.

This outrageous political coitis interruptous must be met with public reaction and action. The greatest weapon the electors have is installing fear into their elected representatives. They do it by sending messages in many forms to the offending councillors, expressing their rejection of the way the defecting councillor has misbehaved in the people’s interest.

Make no mistake, a steady response complaining to these offending councillors who have stopped the city’s business, will have a telling effect in 2018, if they decide to run again.

If you need any evidence of this kind of political action, look no further than to see what happened in 2014 to council incumbents Karen Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw, Ian Findlay, Todd Dennis, and Lise Burcher.

They were defeated or quit because of public pressure. It had little to do with the Guelph Mercury or Guelph Tribune; it was a quiet revolution by the people who protested the action of the previous administration.

It is time now to act against this group who have accomplished the continuation of the Farbridge administration that has seen large tax and user fee increases in just one year in office.

It’s now up to we the people to act.

Reminder: The Letter Box is now open for letters to the editor. Send you letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com for publication.

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 22, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* The city of Guelph according to Chairman Piper

*   Some Adult truths to tickle your fancy

* The city reserve funds are on life support

* Life aboard Liz Sandals’ submarine

 

Leanne Piper bares herself as a Farbridge loyalist

Coun. Leanne Piper has a bagful of opinions and has become the defacto leader of the elected Farbridge Gang 0f Seven (FGOS) who currently dominate city council. It is a group dedicated to carry on the Farbridge agenda that more than 48 per cent of electors rejected last October.

Here we are a year later, and the bloc voting of FGOS is paralyzing the people’s business. They include: Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Phil Allt and James Gordon, the godfather of the Farbridge agenda.

The remaining councillors include Mayor Cam Guthrie, Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Andy Van Hellemond, Christine Billings and Mark MacKinnon.

Leanne Piper posted a message June 3, 2014 with the heading, “Mayor Karen Farbridge Recognized for Leadership.”

Piper went on to say that “we don’t recognize how well regarded our city and our Mayor are until we leave the city limits. The Canadian Urban Institute knows that great cities are no accident. Leadership at all levels – politicians, staff and community – work together to develop and achieve great things. Congratulations, Karen!”

Now it’s appropriate for a councillor to support the mayor. But the date of this pronouncement from Chairman Piper suggests adoration and responsibility do not mix. Especially when the city has been found guilty of wrongful dismissal of Urbacon Buildings Group Corp., the general contractor of the new City Hall. The cost of this decision made in September 2008 is currently $23 million. That’s above the original project cost of $44 million totaling $67 million plus HST.

The city set aside no funds in the event it lost the lawsuit initiated by Urbacon. There was no admission of responsibility by neither Mayor Farbridge nor any of her majority of supporters including Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland, and Mike Salisbury. These councillors are part of the FGOS dominating city council today.

The Farbridge legacy is a hangover of mismanagement of personal environmental projects, ego, and lack of financial control of public funds. It has left the city with a multi-million dollar shortfall in reserve funds, critical condition of our aging infrastructure and a dysfunctional staff.

Yes Leanne, you are to be congratulated for being a key player in creating the irresponsible actions of a Farbridge-led council gone wild.

It will take years to return Guelph into a fiscal condition to repair the handiwork of your leader.

Time for a rethink, Leanne.

*             *             *            *

Some adult truths to tickle your fancy

            * Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

* Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

* There is great need for a sarcasm font.

* Was learning cursive really necessary?

* Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

* Bad decisions make good stories.

* I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when    they call.

* I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more     kisses begin with Molson Export than Kay.

* I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

* How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?

* I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front.

* The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in hockey in 1874 and the first helmet in hockey was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

By Anonymous

*            *            *            *

Whatever happened to all those reserve funds?

The city hired a consultant group from Hamilton to conduct an operations review. BMA reported that the city’s reserve funds, except the water reserve, were in a “red flag cautionary” mode.

What does this mean to the average citizen? Not much really except that it will drive taxes and fees up to replenish the under-funded reserves.

There are three reserves that were raided by the former administration to pay the $8.96 million settlement costs to Urbacon Buildings Group Corp as a result of losing a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

There was a recent report that the reserves’ shortfall was due in part because of the Urbacon settlement. However in the past eight years of the Far bridge administration, the reserves were often used to provide internal capital to cover mistakes, cost overruns, pet projects, and a number of other issues.

In short, the administration used the reserves as an ATM to conduct the city business; spending money outside the budget.

They did it because staff had the backing of the leadership, both elected and senior staff. In eight years, the city staff has been stocked with Friends of Farbridge (FOFS) and senior staff. Many of these employees do not live in Guelph. Yet they are making decisions that affect not only the tax and user fees rates but have done it with immunity.

One of the problems that got us into this mess was the lack of a Chief Financial Officer who could provide the necessary checks and balances required in a $500 million corporation.

The Farbridge Gang of Seven is still blocking necessary reforms to restore fiscal responsibility to the city.

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Liz Sandals is in her submarine as the system crumbles

It’s hard to imagine why Liz Sandals is still Minister of Education. While the Ontario education system is in tatters, Liz submerges beneath the ocean of discontent.

Her public comments reveal a Minister without common sense, respect for the students, the parents and the taxpayers.

Some classics:

When questioned by reporters following the Globe and Mail revealing the secret $2.5 million pay off to three teacher unions to cover extra negotiating costs, she said it was “nothing about anything.”

When asked if the unions supplied receipts to back up the payments, Sandals replied that it wasn’t necessary because she was familiar with the added costs. She said, “ you don’t have to see every bill when you’re doing an estimate of costs.”

Premier Wynne later jumped in and said the unions had to supply receipts for fear that the Sandals statement would cause a wave of expense account manipulations when receipts were not required.

The Minister refused to say how much the government spent on its own negotiating costs.

Under her leadership, Sandals has caused major disruption in the everyday operations of Ontario’s Schools. It has been going on for 18 months and still going on as unions remain engaged in work to rule, obstructing the normal operations of thousands of Ontario Schools.

Even the principals of those schools are powerless to properly operate the institutions that are responsible for educating future generations. Union-ordered cancelled field trips, report cards, extracurricular activities and only allow parent consultations if they feel like it.

The teacher unions have to step back and let the process continue as it should without the cheesy, obstructionism that is out of control. It’s that way because the Wynne government allowed it to happen. The convoluted “new” two-tiered system of negotiating with the union and the school boards has been an unmitigated disaster.

And next year, the negotiating process starts all over again.

This isn’t about politics, it’s about responsibility to keep labour peace and supply our children with a quality and productive education.

Time to say goodbye Liz. With you in charge nothing will change.

 

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sandals admits the Liberals have been bribing teacher unions since 2003

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 23, 2015

The second day of the teacher union payoffs has escalated to $2.5 million paid to three teacher unions to settle contracts. Wednesday this week, a 42-page secret document detailing the payout to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), was obtained by the Globe and Mail.

The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, MPP Guelph, admitted during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday that this year, three teacher unions were paid bonuses, bribes or adjustment because the period of negotiations was lengthy and costly to the unions.

The Minister admitted yesterday that the unions did not submit any receipts or records of the money they spent in the lengthy negotiation time to justify the $1 million payouts to cover their costs.

It brings back memories of the Calgary consultants hired to the E-Health project who charged $25 for afternoon tea while in Toronto plus frequent first class flights between Calgary and Toronto.

The Minister said the union payments were made because the government changed the bargaining system and the process of adapting to the new system was costly to the unions.

Now it appears the taxpayers are paying the money thanks to the decision by the Minister of Education who had to sign off the payments.

But one teacher’s union, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), is still trying to settle a new contract after more than a year of negotiating and have not been offered any payment for extended negotiation costs.

Furthermore, they will refuse any offer to reimburse the union for “negotiation costs,” according to ETFO president Sam Hammond.

This leaves the spectre of the entire unionized public sector workers possibly expecting the same million dollar cheque book treatment in the future when they negotiate new contracts.

Ms. Sandals, while admitting the practice of bogus payments for signing has been going since the Liberals took power in 2003, refused to say how much public money has been spent to settle contract negotiations.

The Minister denied that the payments were a bribe to settle the teacher negotiations. Often perception of a situation is more truthful than the line the Ontario Liberals are spinning, Once again they attempt to extricate themselves from acute embarrassment.

Liz Sandals is way out of her depth as Minister of Education. Since her appointment in 2013 by her pal Kathleen Wynne, there has been ongoing turmoil among members of the various teacher and allied unions. Strikes, semi-strikes, working to rule have been the rule.

Ms. Sandals would have us believe that everything is under control except it was the government that radically changed the Teacher and School Board bargaining system that caused the marathon negotiating periods.

Why did they subsidize the unions using public money? The unions all have thousands of members who pay dues for the very purpose of negotiating new contracts.

This secret, barefaced bribe was leaked obviously by someone inside the Ministry who was as disgusted by the payouts as the general public, once the details were discovered.

Don’t expect Sandals to be replaced as Minister because Premier Kathleen Wynne lacks a conscience and besides, she needs Sandals to take the hits over the bumbling education system that is in constant disarray.

And the premior should know more about this than she is letting on.

She was Minister of Education before Liz Sandals took the job.

 

 

 

 

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Last August the Wynne Liberals bribed the High School teachers with $1 million to settle a contract

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 21, 2015

The Globe and Mail published details of a 42 page secret document that outlined how after a year of negotiating, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) received this unprecedented payout.

The document revealed the $1 million bribe was given to compensate the union for the costs of negotiating. It stated that a new provincial bargaining system caused the yearlong negotiations to drag on.

I’m not making this up.

This payment, which can only be described as bribe to settle a contract, is unprecedented and morally wrong. It was a desperation move by the provincial negotiators to avoid a continuation of the OSSTF strike actions last spring in Durham, Sudbury and Peel regions.

You will recall this summer the Premier stated there was no money for the teachers who were all without contracts. They included the OSSTF, the Elementary Teachers federation of Ontario, the Catholic High School and Elementary Teachers and the French teachers unions. Collectively, the province was facing a province-wide work stoppage by the teacher’s unions before schools re-opened after Labour Day.

The government’s excuse for the bribe lay in a new system of bargaining that, the report suggests, befuddled and prolonged negotiations with the various unions.

The fact is that the Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, reached a settlement and was party to a deal that involved five various teacher’s unions. They received a 2.5 per cent pay increases plus other benefit improvements including a change in withdrawing banked sick leave funds.

She did this despite her leader saying there was no money to pay increases to the teachers.

Instead, Minister Sandals, in announcing the pay increases, used the term “net zero” meaning that the impact of the pay and benefit increases will be recovered from other programs. So far, so good.

But the secret document revealed the “net zero” money would come from a secondary program enhancement fund. It is assumed that this allocated $20 million fund seized from the program is to help students experiencing difficulty in high school and assist them to graduate.

It is also safe to assume that both the government negotiators and the OSSTF bargaining team agreed that it was okay to take the money from a student program in order to pay the teachers’ new contract increases.

This is a classic example of moral turpitude and excessive misappropriation of public funds by the Ontario government.

The cozy relationship between the 60,000 OSSTF members, and the Ontario Liberal party is dependent on the union members carrying out the Liberals political agenda, is appalling.

To add outrage to this powder keg of resentment are the other unions that also settled along the same terms as the OSSTF, except they didn’t receive the $1 million bribe. Except one, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, who almost two months into the school year, have no settlement in sight.

Maybe The Minister should offer them $1 million to offset those pesky negotiating costs like the bribe money the OSSTF received.

The problem now for the government is how do you explain this $1 million OSSTF bribe to the other unions that did settle without receiving that juicy bonus?

It would seem that the government, in this case the Minister of Education, has been painted into a corner. For Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Liz Sandals, paying off the teachers to achieve settlement is nothing new. In 2013, they restored the Dalton McGuinty teacher union contract rollbacks at a cost of $460 million.

Is there no shame in this?

They have destroyed any trust or goodwill of the other teacher unions with this asinine bribe that has oozed out of the secret vaults of the Ontario government.

Between Liz Sandals and Kathleen Wynne, they have now set the course for long-term distrust and disruption of the vital roles that our teachers play in the growth and vitalization of our Province and our children.

Do the right thing, both of you, resign.

 

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