By Gerry Barker
March 12, 2017
It’s time to review 2016 when we look back and pick those events and people who won some and lost some. It was not a great year for our city as political reform is still a bridge too far. No matter what good things happen and there are a number, they are offset by the frequent absence of transparency, accountability and common sense governance at City Hall. Feel free to add or pooh-pooh the picks.
Coming up is the 2016 Sunshine list in a couple of weeks that will reveal all the names of public employees earning more than $100,000 a year. In June the 2016 audited Financial Information Report should be made available to the public on the city website.
First, Here are the losers:
- Mayor Cam Guthrie abandoned his promises to reduce property taxes to the equivalent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In three budgets over which he has presided, the property taxes approved by council were increased by 10.08 per cent. He, along with eight councillors, voted to approve the 2017 budget.
- Waste management and the struggle to unwind costly business practices and losses by the former management of waste control, collection and environmental services. The leadership is gone but citizens remain stuck with the financial fallout. The former internal auditor said the waste management operation was losing $270,000 a year. That flies in the prediction that controlling waste and diverting it from the landfill would be self-liquidating. Help is on the way, (see number 5 in winners).
- The hundreds of Canada geese who make their year-round home in Guelph paddling in the rivers and munching on parkland grass. Well, you know the rest of the story when they leave their calling cards. What ever happened to that $50,000 approved by council a couple of years ago to study the goose problem?
- Those two councillors, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein, who were members of the GMHI Board of Directors for four years and paid for their service, never said a word about the collapse of GMHI. During a GMHI discussion by council, Wettstein recused himself because he had a “pecuniary interest.” That’s not all he had.
- The privately owned Guelph Storm Junior Hockey club successfully extracted $5 million over ten years in a new rental agreement with the city. It effectively ties up the Sleeman Centre for 12 months each year. Under the old agreement, taxpayers were subsidizing the arena by $249,000 a year. Release the details of that contract including revenues, expenses, cost sharing and insurance. Go figure!
- To the eight councillors who usually vote as a bloc. They believe in the agenda of the former mayor and perpetuate her theories of a new Guelph. A city with a vibrant downtown, self-liquidating waste management, reduction of carbon emissions and approving high-density development but few single-family homes. Is this what you voted for?
- To Coun. Mark MacKinnon goes the annual Chutzpah Award for his assertion that paying taxes is not only an obligation but also a privilege. His rationale was because house prices have increased then people should be prepared to meet their ever-increasing tax bill. Even if it means taking out a second mortgage to pay their taxes. This sounds a little self-serving, isn’t Mark in the mortgage business?
Tah Dah! The Winners:
- Those three city councillors, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Bob Bell, who had the courage and understood their responsibility to protect the public trust in city government. When the mayor called the vote to approve the 2017 budget, these three Councillors voted no. They deserve your support no matter where you live in the city.
- While GS is not a big fan of Coun. Phil Allt, he performed a courageous act donating a kidney to his brother.
- The approval of a rationalization of the waste management and environmental services is the right step cleaning up a system that is out of control. Citizens spent $33 million building a compost plant but we cannot even buy the finished composted mulch. It’s sold privately.
- The resignation of Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert who left May 26 only after she had secured a job as an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Culture Tourism and Sports Ministry. Goodbye, hold the luck.
- The unfolding details of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. story of mismanagement, deception and a loss of $26.6 million. There are still many questions about this abortive project that conducted its business in closed sessions led by the former mayor. This is what happens when you operate in an opaque vacuum shutting out public participation.
- To former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired without cause and sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. The case broke wide open when, in the process of examination for discovery, Mr. Poole’s lawyer received an external drive from the city Information Technology department that contained 53,000 files, most confidential and unrelated to the case. The city demanded a return of the drive after the story broke in Guelph Today. The result was a rapid mediation of the Poole case that produced a settlement. The outcome remains confidential. Well, I guess this is another case where the city loses another lawsuit. City Solicitor, Donna Jaques, has left for greener pastures joining the exodus of more than 14 senior and upper management employees who have left the city administration in the past 17 months..