Tag Archives: Mayor Cam Guthrie

How the administration’s Cone of Silence closes the door on public participation

By Gerry Barker

September 18, 2017

Today there is good news and bad news

First, it’s my birthday, please no applause.

Second, is yet another confirmation that we the people of this fair city don’t count when it comes to the operations of the administration headed by Mayor Cam Guthrie. The Mayor sent out an explanation of how he “polices and oversees” closed-session meetings of council. He claims it ensures the discussion stays within that which the Municipal Act (OMA) allows. He added that he takes this responsibility seriously.

Or, is he suggesting that the closed-session subject strays into other discussions not realted to the OMA authority?

So what does this mean to us? Well, after three years in office, little has changed when it comes to properly informing the public of city business. The system works like this and was used extensively by the previous administration:

Whenever there is a contentious issue, let’s use the $2.5 million loss by the city-operated recycling plant for starters, the council dives into closed-session. It uses a section of the OMA that defines the criteria for holding such a meeting.

Can the Ontario Ombudsman open the closed-session meetings?

Every one of the 445 municipalities in Ontario is bound by the terms of the OMA. The section allowing closed-session meetings of council is very broad. So broad in fact, that the Ontario Ombudsman, the independent overseer of all Municipal and School Board meetings, handles an estimated 35 per cent of its docket investigating closed-session meeting complaints at many levels

Now here’s a wrinkle. Last December, I requested the minutes of a closed-session council meeting held December 10, 2015. I requested that the Ombudsman investigate this and was told that Guelph had its own “closed-session investigator” known as Amberlea Gravel based in London. After requesting an answer after waiting more than four months, I was told that my request was denied.

Now Amberlee Gravel has been on retainer to the city since 2008. Since then it has investigated three closed-session complaints or requests for information. None were approved. The organization was hired by the Farbridge administration. The amount of its retainer paid annually over nine years is not available.

This was a deliberate move that effectively put the lid on the public being informed of the contents of any closed-session. It remains an integral part of the Cone of Silence that shuts down public participation in city operations.

Introducing the Integrity Commissioner, the second leg of the Cone of Silence

Five years ago, the Farbridge administration hired a Caledon lawyer to act as its Integrity Commissioner with an annual retainer of $5,000 plus time spent investigating breaches of the code of conduct by councillors and staff. The reason was her concern, along with her Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, of alleged leaks of information that was supposed to be private not for public access.

The irony of this was a demand for the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the action of then Coun. Cam Guthrie. His alleged offence, joining with other opposition councillors at the time, was to request a Freedom of Information release of a public document. The department involved refused to allow Mr. Guthrie to see the document that the province had already released to the public.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner decided there was no reason to pursue the matter and sent a bill for $10,000.

What this accomplished was warning any councillor or staff member that they would be disciplined if it were proved they revealed discussions and decisions made following a closed-session meeting of council. It also had blanket coverage of disciplining any councillor who broke the code of conduct. That’s what occurred in the Guthrie case.

Both those weapons are still in place today. That’s the Cone of Silence that surrounds the administration and prevents public participation in the affairs of its city.

Shutting down public participation using leg three of the Cone of Silence

We now know that Ms. Farbridge as chair of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) held closed-session meetings during the four years that created one of the greatest losses in the history of the city. The Chief Executive Officer of GMHI was Guelph CAO, Ann Pappert.

During the four years, GMHI paid an annual “dividend” of $1.5 million to the city despite a money losing operation. In fact, GMHI never made a profit and by 2015 was worthless because it owed more money than it could pay its creditors. That essentially wiped out the $65 million shareholders’ equity in GMHI. In this case, the shareholders are the citizens of Guelph whose interests were represented by the city council.

That’s so much for the lack of public participation, accountability and transparency. The citizens are the victims in this betrayal of the public trust for the past 10 years.

Mr. Mayor, let’s drift back to early 2015, your first year in office. A citizen launched a legal complaint against another resident claiming he received an illegal donation of $400 from a citizen’s activist group, Grassroots Guelph.

Susan Watson, a friend and supporter of the former mayor who was defeated in October 2014, asked the Compliance Audit Committee to audit the election financial report filed by Mr. Glen Tolhurst.

An auditor specializing in candidates’ financial reports was hired by the city to investigate. William Molson interviewed the parties involved including my wife and me. It did not take him long to figure out that Mr. Tolhurst was not the target of Ms. Watson’s claim but was GrassRoots Guelph of which I was one of the founders.

Bottom line: Mr. Molson found no evidence that Mr. Tolhurst or GrassRoots Guelph violated the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. Here comes the kicker. The bill for all this was more than $11,000 and council, headed by Mayor Guthrie, ruled that Ms. Watson was not responsible for the costs. The taxpayers had to pick up that bill.

For example, there are five members on this council who benefited from Ms. Watson and her husbands’ donations to their 2014 election campaign. Now you know how it works: It’s whom you know not what you know, that counts.

So where was our Mayor when he claims that he takes closed-session matters seriously? This was a decision made in closed-session and announced by the City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien.

The Mayor speaks to a selected few not the citizens

Mayor Guthrie’s three-page explanation of the necessity of holding closec-session meetings, was sent to 16 individuals including 12 members of council. It was the result of a letter sent to the Mayor by Guelph resident by Pat Fung, CA, CPA asking for an explanation why council conducts much of its business in closed-session. He specifically addressed the $2.5 million loss concerning the city’s recycling centre.

In his September 8th email, the Mayor detailed why closed-session meetings are needed and the criteria for calling one, more or less.

In his email reply to Mr. Fung’s question, the Mayor claims that a program of service reviews was started by his administration. He says that the reviews are an excellent way to show taxpayers that “we take department reviews seriously.” Well, we certainly hope so.

Further, he says the reviews “look to identify opportunities … to confirm that our services are effective and efficient.” But isn’t that what management should be doing on an ongoing basis?

Last year, it was suggested that an independent audit firm should conduct a staff -rationalization review. That was shot down by the progressive majority on council because of a potential threat to their labour supporters. They claimed it would cost too much. As compared to the loss of $2.5 million in recycling operations, which is only one part in the Environmental Services department, how does that argument stand up today?

Question: Why did the Mayor select a tiny sample of the electorate to convey his explanation of the necessity of holding closed-session meetings of council?

The Mayor agrees with Pat Fung that council has a “may or may not” alternative to hold a closed-session. He then goes on to say that council must vote to discuss items allowed under the Act as exemptions that would be of a “closed” nature. So, by that definition, why is losing $2.5 million operating the recycling plant an exemption?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations and potential labour or union impacts.”

What is so private about not revealing reasons for the loss of $2.5 million by city employees? Whose reputation is being protected here?

The provincial Sunshine List lets the cat out of the bag

Flashback: December 10, 2015, council in closed-session, voted to increase the salaries of the four top city managers by $98,202 for 2015. The only problem was, the citizens were never informed. Not until Guelph Speaks posted the details when the provincial Sunshine List was published more than three months later, March 31, 2016. Those increases ranged from 14 to 19 percent.

Chairing that meeting was Mayor Guthrie. Is this what he means when he says he takes the policing and overseeing of closed meetings seriously? The Mayor had to know the details would be eventually published.

What citizens have to question is why was it deliberately covered up and when, there was not one iota of reasons why these four were entitled to have their increases concealed from the public.

In my opinion, it was an abuse of the public trust by its elected officials. So, we will never know which councillors voted for the increase and which did not. They were all bound by the closed session omerta, fear of reprisal for leaking the information. That’s a primary example of how the Cone of Silence protects every one in the administration but not the taxpayers.

The public had the right to know what their senior managers were being paid and they were all identifiable. Instead, council concealed the decision avoiding transparency, accountability and potential negative public reaction.

It gets better, in August 2016, Coun. Cathy Downer asked the Human Resources department for a breakdown of the retired Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert’s final salary package. It included unused vacation and sick leave benefits and a $28,000 retroactive performance payment. She left the city May 26, 2016 and received $263,000 in 2016 for five months work.

It was complicated when Ms. Pappert announced in March 2016 about the same time that the news of her 17 per cent increase was revealed in the Sunshine List, that she would be leaving but would stay on to assist her successor. That turned out to be Derrick Thomson who had resigned to take a job with the Town of Caledon. He took over in June as CAO and announced in the fall of 2016, that he would make his salary and taxable benefits public. The 2016 Sunshine list showed he earned $245,000 plus a taxable benefit of more than $9,000.

Of the four senior managers who received that large salary increase Dec. 10, 2015, only one still works for the city, CAO Thomson.

Question: Will the service review of the recycling plant explain how it lost $2.5 million?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations. … and potential labour or union impacts.”

Who would know better to keep those details secret than our council? There’s that Cone of Silence descending again.

The case of the missing 53,000 emails

This brings up the case of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired by the former CAO, Ann Pappert. Mr. Poole, a 30-year veteran in the building department, and chief for 20 years, sued the city for wrongful dismissal claiming $1 million.

The alleged reason for his dismissal was because he complained that some 50 building projects being conducted by the city did not take out building permits. He said he would have to take the information to the province for failure of the city to follow the rules. For carrying out his responsibilities, he was fired.

Well a funny thing happened. Mr. Poole’s lawyer, as part of examination for discovery, requested from the city all electronic files pertaining to his client. Instead, he was sent 53,000 emails from the city’s Information Technology department in an external drive that contained personal information about city employees including performance reviews.

To make a long story short, the case was quickly settled in Mr. Poole’s favour and the errant files returned.

Details of the settlement were sealed at the request of city. The city solicitor resigned to take another position. It is yet another example of using the Cone of Silence to paper over incompetence.

Truth or consequences

About a week following the December 10 closed session meeting, council again in closed-session, approved a protective barrier, Bylaw 19995. It is designed to provide legal assistance to any staffer or elected official facing a procedure brought by a citizen or corporation. It was yet another leg of the controlling Cone of Silence.

Question: Has the Corporation of City of Guelph or any employee or elected official ever been sued for defamation, slander, or libel? This is the Mayor’s explanation of the consequences if the corporation failed to not conduct its business in closed-session.

This effectively makes it almost impossible to sue city hall, its hired staff and elected officials. Again, the door is slammed shut and public participation is denied and ignored.

Question: Does the city not have liability insurance to protect employees from civil suits? If so, why is it necessary to have such an offensive bylaw to protect the members of the city administration? It is also interesting to know if the city employees or elected officials have ever been sued.

This mélange of administration stiff arms to protect their own interests and not those of the people who pay their salaries, benefits and guarantees their pensions, has reached epidemic levels.

The shadow of deceit and obfuscation hangs over 1 Carden Street like a darkening cloud of public distrust of its managing institutions that hides behind appropriated OMA terms and conditions.

October 2018 cannot come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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When Gerry met Sally and other taxing issues

By Gerry Barker

September 11, 2017

Heard from a number of people this week questioning administration decisions that end up costing citizens. Here are three examples.

The pitch to spend $90,000 for security guards at City Hall

The first example is a report that the city wants to hire five security officers plus a vehicle to protect the city staff from the taxpayers who are entitled to voice their complaints at the welcome desk in the foyer of our city hall.

The lead in the local weekly was that the Mayor overheard an individual being rude with the staff at the customer service desk. Turns out, according to the city supplied statistics, that in 2016, there were 448 security calls for staff assistance at city hall and 216 police responses. The occurrences are increasing this year.

The staff is recommending hiring two security guards as well as purchasing a vehicle for their use at an estimated cost of $90,000. The matter was deferred until the 2018 budget negotiations commence later this year.

In the grand scheme of things it could be argued that $90K is no big deal when the whole city operating budget will be more than $350 million. But it is a big deal.

As a public service here are some considerations.

* Under what authority can these proposed security guards act? Will they be armed? Why is a vehicle required if they are stationed at City Hall? What kind of training and background will be required?

The role of the police is quite clear. They are required to protect public property. But it seems that the degree of service staff discomfort in certain situations determines who should respond for assistance.

It is tricky and happens often, totaling 664 calls in 2016 for a quick decision by service staff as to whom to call for assistance. I am curious over those numbers compared to other peer cities and how they handle encounters with the public staff.

The report in the weekly said issues include: “Disturbances, drug related calls, intoxication, trespassing, theft, vandalism, assault against staff and the public.”

It would appear all those occurrences called for police response except “disturbances”. Aren’t all those examples disturbances?

Here are a couple of immediate solutions:

One, select two volunteers from the current staff, train them with no reduction in their previous salary, skip the vehicle and have them in uniform during the hours the city hall is open to the public. No increase in costs because we are already paying them.

Along comes Sally

The other solution is to have a trained Doberman named Sally behind the counter in full view and tied to a quick release button. Sally would become the guardian of the service desk at City Hall but not to be petted. There is a technicality, who walks the dog and who is the handler? Sally could do double duty chasing the geese from the parks when not guarding city hall.

The other benefit is Sally could have pups and begin a Doberman dynasty being guardians of the public places. And the overhead of training and controlling Sally would be dog chow compared to the $90,000 recommended by the staff.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. But this is a management problem that involves personnel training, discipline and police support. The Mayor is right when he says City Hall should be safe and open to the public. He may also investigate why there appears to be an increasing number of incidents at the service desk. Perhaps it may be the increasing dissatisfaction with the city operations?

*            *            *            *

After six years, why is Guelph’s recycling operation losing $2.5 million a year?

A report by Tony Saxon in the online report Guelph Today, says that the blue box system of collecting recyclable materials is costing $2.5 million annually less than the $4.9 million that the facility recovers after sorting.

Here are a couple of problems. One is the revelation that Environmental Services is accepting containers of recyclable material from Simcoe County. The other is another area of the deal struck with the Region of Waterloo to process 20,000 tonnes of wet waste to be processed in the $34 million organic waste compost facility. That target has yet to be reached but volumes of wet waste from Waterloo are increasing.

While the two are not related they are part of the six departments of the city’s waste management organization. What connects them is decisions by the previous administration turning Guelph into a waste dump for other municipalities. Why do citizens have to finance overbuilt facilities costing an estimated $55 million in capital funding to service other municipalities?

Neither of these facilities has met its operating costs since inception. In the case of the organic composting plant, it is not operated by city personnel but by a subsidiary of Maple Reinders, the builder of the facility. It’s ironic that Guelph citizens who financed the facility cannot even obtain any compost provided by the plant. It’s sold elsewhere.

Did waste management not learn anything about accepting recyclables from Detroit that cost some $1.5 million when the alleged contract was shut down? Solid Waste General Manager, Dean Wyman, told council that an extra shift was needed to process the Detroit material but the city would make $370,000 per year. The fallout of this and other mismanagement issues included the retirement of former Executive Director Janet Laird of Environmental Services, and GM Wyman who resigned to take a job in Edmonton.

The historical reasons for this waste management failure to deliver results costing millions of dollars rests with the former Farbridge administration. Public funds invested in a variety of projects and schemes were designed to slow delivery of garbage to the land fill site.

That target alone has failed, as there is still a high percentage of waste still going to the landfill since 2011, when the organic processing facility became operational.

This was all the doing of the council of the period headed by former Mayor Karen Farbridge. She was aided by a cadre of supporters who believed that the money they were spending was making their city a world-class leader in waste management.

The decision to import other municipalities’ garbage to Guelph was an example of the terrible business plans associated with these waste management projects. Already there are rumblings of outsourcing the operations to private enterprise. The unions that could be affected are readying their opposition.

Here is a one example of how outsourcing will pay off and save up to $4.9 million per year. Cut a deal with Waste Management to process Guelph’s recyclables in their upscale automated plant. Depending on the terms of the Simcoe County contract, wrap it up. Shut down the Guelph recycling facility.

All that is required is political will. It’s something to think about when the 2018 budget is being crafted for next year’s civic election.

The people are the key to making change. They did it in 2014 when Cam Guthrie defeated the former Mayor by more than 5,000 votes. It can happen again.

*            *            *            *

Guelph Transit route changes map is like interpreting a Salvador Dali painting

The city news section of the local weekly printed a full-page diagram of the new route changes of Guelph Transit. I do not use Guelph Transit but if I did, I would need an interpreter trying to follow that ad illustration.

Someone commented that the new routes are designed to serve the 20,000 incoming University students. There is no doubt they are imporant customers as they must pay $75 per semester for a bus pass. The average course includes two semesters per school year that amounts to $3 million in revenue every seven months.

The next questioin is what is the total budget of Guelph Transit? The last time I checked about four years ago, the city was subsidizing the system by $12 million. That being true, it would appear that the citizens are paying a huge price every year to supply public transportation. It is a system used by less than ten per cent of the permanent population.

Guelph needs a system of public transit, if for no other reason than to cope with the growing mobile population and changing demographics. But it went off the rails in the previous administration. As long as I can remember in ten yeas of commenting, there has been a transit strike by the union representing the workers. Also there was the matter in 2013 when an audit by the internal auditor of the system’s overtime charges revealed a cost of $1 million for a staff of about 350. That year it averaged $2,857 for each employee.

More worrying is the number of Guelph Transit general managers who have been employed and released. So what’s wrong? The first thing is to bring clarity and transparency to the table. This could result in everyone on staff being accountable.

It is unreasonable for a system this size with our city geography to be profitable. If, as former councillor Maggie Laidlaw once predicted, there would be no cars on Guelph streets within 20 years – I believe we have ten years to go to fulfill her prediction. Maggie was an ardent cyclist, rain or shine and believed that fossil-fueled vehicles had to go.

Well, the opposite has occurred and there are more cars and trucks on our streets than ever before. And the traffic congestion has been exacerbated by the previous administration’s policies to reduce vehicle traffic lanes on major routes to accommodate wider bicycle lanes that frequently start somewhere and end nowhere.

This social experiment has cost millions at the expense of ignoring badly needed infrastructure repair and replacement. The city staff recently stated the cost to carry out necessary infrastructure needs was more than $400 million.

There are a number of bus pull-offs that could allow buses to pull off the main road to load and unload patrons. These pull off inserts would halt the stopping of all vehicles when a bus must stay on the road to allow passengers to load or unload. Costly? Yes, but a necessary accommodation for traffic to move without delays.

We need the system but not at this price. It is difficult to understand why buses are running routes mostly empty daily, particularly in the summer months. In my opinion, indicates that Guelph Transit needs to do a serious rethink of its task based on total city usage by residents and the students.

 

 

 

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Why the 2018 budget is so important for Guelph’s future

By Gerry Barker

August 28, 2017

Let’s start by saying there are many smart people who run our city.

The problem is that the political ruling class – the council gang of seven progressives – has dominated and controlled public business for more than 10 years.

Under the leadership of former Mayor Karen Farbridge, grandiose schemes and social engineering policies have brought the city to a state of a serious financial condition. Not the least of which is the $163 million loss made by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and its impact on Guelph Hydro.

This loss was verified in the Consolidated GMHI balance sheet audited by the KPMG accounting firm, completed last December.

Part of the $163 million GMHI losses are two debentures issued by “investors” to fund an ambitious plan to build two large natural gas generating plants to achieve electricity self-sufficiency for the city. Although GMHI purchased land to build these plants, the corporation collapsed. Because GMHI is wholly owned by the city, these debentures have been transferred to Guelph Hydro that now has a $94 million debt on its books.

There is little disposable cash available to meet the growing demands of the city. Assessment is only increasing at a rate of 1.5 per cent per year. Taxes are increasing exponentially at an average rate of 3.6 per cent per year. The city has one of the highest per capita debt rates in the entire country.

Spending remains out of control as major projects initiated by the Farbridge council have failed to meet budgets or acceptable performance. The detailed comparison of City of Guelph operating and capital spending budgets is telling. The 2015 report by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, compared Kitchener and Cambridge showing both those cities’ matching budgets were 50 per cent lower than Guelph’s.

There are fundamental reasons why this disparity of these two similar-sized city’s overhead and operating costs are substantially lower on a per capita basis. And yet Mr. Fung was mocked by a number of councillors after he left the chamber following his presentation. And that report was made before the GMHI audit revealed the complete failure of the former two administrations to force citizens to trust their judgment. Maybe that’s why for four years the GMHI board of directors dodged public scrutiny by holding its meeting in closed session.

The GMHI board operated like mushrooms, growing in the dark.

The GMHI board was chiefly composed of the former mayor as chair and four of her council supporters who controlled the operation. Two of those councillors are still on council, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein. Neither has disclosed any of the details of the GMHI collapse in which they were a party.

The overspending marches on. Mayor Cam Guthrie ran on the promise to match property tax increases with the Consumer Price Index. His promise was defeated in the first two months of his election by the Gang of Seven councillors who were supporters of the former mayor.

But he has accomplished some important achievements the greatest being exposing the failed GMHI Community Energy Initiative (CEI) founded in 2007 by the former mayor.

The CEI was the basis of the attempt by the former mayor to make Guelph energy self-sufficient. It was matched with a system of thermal underground co-generation piping to supply hot and cold water to a small number of buildings.

It was a colossal failure, as reports and an audit of GMHI’s operations were made public of the “initiative.” As a result, there’s a number of senior staff who left the city. Part of the reason was due to a closed session meeting of council December 10, 2015 that awarded $98,202 in salary increases to four top city executives.

Three of the four are now gone including former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, Former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, and former Deputy Administrative Officer (DCAO), Mark Amorosi. The fourth senior staffer receiving the secret increase was the current CAO Derrick Thomson.

We, the public did not discover the executive increases until March 31, 2016 when the Ontario government posted its Sunshine List of all public employees who were paid more than $100,000.

Operating a $500 million Corporation without a Chief Financial Officer

After some 28 months, the city did not have a designated CFO, although Trevor Lee has been recently hired as a DCAO taking over Mr. Amorosi’s responsibilities that includes the finance department.

The policy of constantly increasing property taxes approved last December included an extra two per cent tax levy on all city properties above the normal tax increase. Those funds were to be applied to infrastructure repairs and maintenance and city buildings. For the past ten years the increases have averaged 3.6 per cent. The exponential growth of these annual increases has created a cash box of money to fund the failed projects of the former mayor and her supporters.

Starting next month, the 2018 budget process will start. Already the staff is preparing its recommendations to council. The staff report will be the basis for discussion and provide for public input.

To say it will be the most important budget since 2007 is an understatement. Because it will occur in an election year, expect some goodies and a possible lower property tax. That’s what happened in 2010 and 2014. It’s called political survival and is the final opportunity by the 13 members of council to ensure their re-election. Or, at least that’s the theory.

I believe that it’s time for political courage and council should take the necessary steps to reduce the operating overhead of operating the city.

So, what are the choices?

There has been a fairly high turnover of staff since 2014. The biggest expense the city has is the cost of its 2,200 employees. It would be a good first step to freeze hiring for six months giving managers time to reconcile their operation to reduce costs. A real staff reduction goal of five per cent is achievable in all areas of operations. Cost reductions lies not just in numbers of employees but also in reform of operational procedures.

Hanging out there is the potential sale or merge of Guelph Hydro with another Local Distribution Company currently underway by the Strategic Options Committee. It is co-chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson and Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong. Nine years ago, the former mayor attempted to persuade her colleagues to merge Guelph Hydro with utilities from Hamilton and St. Catharines. It was a bad idea then and it still is.

The public revolted and council voted the proposal down. In my opinion I do not believe anything has changed insofar as the current public rejection of a similar proposal. Again, the Mayor is in favour of selling the utility with current assets stated as $228 million. I see this proposed sale as a band-aid to fix a major financial problem.

Experience has shown that once council has money on the table it will disappear down the rabbit hole of personal agenda and schemes. It is impossible to repair the financial damages caused by previous administrations with an open cheque for selling an important and vital utility that pays an annual dividend to the city.

Reform city council by reducing the number of councillors to nine from 13

Another choice facing the electorate is reformation of council in the individual ward elections in which the progressives have controlled for almost 11 years. It’s a lousy system that requires amendments to make it more democratic and effective. By that I suggest reducing the number of councillors to nine, one from each ward and three councillors including the Mayor who are elected at large across the city. The present council will never agree to that, Instead the change should be included in the 2018 ballot and let the citizens decide.

Another choice that voters have is to prevent any future mayor or member of council to integrate Guelph Hydro with city operations. This is what happened with the integration of Guelph Hydro with GMHI. The mayor achieved control of Guelph Hydro that created her unwarranted full control of the financial disaster of GMHI. It must never happen again and only the voters can prevent it in the next civic election. Accordingly, we citizens should demand the cancelling the Community Energy Initiative and a wind-up of GMHI.

To assist citizens in making this happen, I suggest that Guelph Hydro dump the present appointed board of directors as of October 2018 and replace it with five elected Hydro commissioners who would elect their own chairperson.

Maintain an operational firewall between Guelph Hydro and city council

It is now essential that there must be a firewall between Guelph Hydro and its owner, the City of Guelph. The recent experience of GMHI that created long-term losses should be a grim reminder that control of Guelph Hydro should never be used again to perpetuate the will of any mayor or member of council.

Well folks, next year will be a game changer if citizens act to not only vote but also let their representatives know how they feel about the future of the city.

The greatest challenge is to seek out and persuade candidates who are prepared to be game changers to return truth to power and to the people.

Guelph Speaks will continue to report and comment on events as they unfold. Mind you, at times it feels lonely in the weird world of local media with the exception of the online paper, Guelph Today. It often produces real news stories and not the usual Pablum of rewritten city press releases instead of challenging or investigating the real issues that affect us all.

Good government is based on a system of checks and balances. In Guelph there is an absence of this because our elected representatives rarely challenge staff recommendations. Failure lies in all the closed-session meetings in which the public’s business is discussed in private often with the staff. It happens before every meeting of council and often during a council meeting.

In my opinion, the $98,202 payment to four senior managers authorized by council, in closed-session, December 10th 2015, was an affront to the public but also to members of staff. The fact that the citizens did not know of the action until the provincial Sunshine List was published four months later, only made the barn smell worse. It’s called lying by omission. And council still refuses to accept responsibility, or allow release of the minutes.

It’s something to recall in the next civic election.

Remember that all this occurred before the citizens knew about the $163 million GMHI fiasco and the losses of public money. In reality, this makes the 2014 Urbacon lawsuit that was part of the $23 million cost overrun of the new city hall, look like penny ante.

Just remember that both these projects were planned and executed by the former mayor and her elected supporters. Seven of those supporters are members of the current council.

Let’s not forget.

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Shared Economy: Another incomprehensible project we are expected to accept

By Gerry Barker

August 17, 2017

This week the city sent a press release about “navigating the shared economy.”

It was long on jargon and these was a pathetic explanation by Mayor Cam Guthrie.

“I’m proud of the leading role Guelph has played in creating a tool that will help local councils and communities analyze the impact of various sharing economy services on their own residents and businesses so they can make decisions based on local needs.”

Some clarity please, Mr. Mayor. What kind of tool are you talking about? How will it help the cost of services to the citizens specifically, what are you talking about?

Perhaps Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson can explain it: “Sharing economy initiatives are being shaped by zoning codes, hotel and taxi licensing regulations, transit and all manner of distinctly local policy. The Shared Economy guide is designed to help municipalities understand this new economy, what it means on a local level and how to respond appropriately.”

Does this Shared Economy include include tighter financial control of operating overhead and capital budgets? Particularly, in view of the huge losses incurred by the city management such as the $163 million wasted on the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc? Part of that has been parked on the Guelph Hydro financial statement as a $94 million debt. The balance of the loss is the shareholder’s (all citizens) equity of some $67 million spent on a variety of projects, most of which were authorized and executed in closed-session meetings between 2011 and 2015.

Was this a shared economy issue?

This week the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) is meeting in Ottawa. The Guelph delegation composed of some councillors, led by Mayor Guthrie, has joined in support of a recommendation to the provincial government to raise the Ontario portion of the sales tax by one per cent taking the HST to 14 per cent.

The Ontario government rejected the proposal a few hours after the presentation. What were the municipal representatives thinking? Did they believe that the Wynne Liberals would approve increasing the HST before a provincial election June 7, 2018?

First, the provincial government funds the AMO. That gives it power to accept or reject proposals.

Second, excessive spending of the public’s money are the problems facing the 445 Ontario municipalities. Chiefly, in most cases it is repairing and replacing neglected infrastructure. A Guelph staff report pegs the cost of infrastructure in the city at more that $400 million.

In many cases it’s about cash management particularly, revenue from property taxes and user fees. In Guelph, there has been endemic abuse of boosting revenues from those sources to pay for misadventures in environmental projects with no return.

In most homes and businesses, revenues must balance spending. The use of credit to invest in necessary lifestyle issues such as emergencies, operating costs and capital projects, is practised in more than 90 per cent of property owners and businesses.

The corporation of the city of Guelph is no different. It is obligated by the province to supply a Financial Information Report (FIR) annually with no deficit.

What has occurred over the past ten years is that the budget forecasts have been exceeded because of overspending. It is an annual occurrence. The city does have a safety net called reserves. In 2009, Coun. Leanne Piper was quoted as stating that the city had $77 million in reserves. In 2014, an outside management consultant, BMA, said those city reserves had been depleted and used to balance the city books. Their report raised a “red flag” over the reserves’ depletion.

In 2012, a citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, presented a petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The documented petition, using the city’s financial statements, presented data that showed the discrepancies in the annual FIR’s. The petition requested an audit of the city’s finances. The Minister said the two parties should get together to resolve their differences. It never happened. The former CAO, Ann Pappert, claimed it was a waste of time.

This was a fight between two pit bulls in which there was no loser except the citizen’s of Guelph.

Guelph has become the poster city for failing to control spending on projects initiated by elected officials and staff of public servants with little public input.

For the past 10 city budgets, starting in 2007 until 2017, property taxes have increased annually by an average of 3.6 per cent. This has resulted in an exponential increase of some 45 per cent.. Now we are about to begin the 2018 budget negotiations spurred by staff recommendations.

Keep in mind this is an election-year budget so there will be debate about revenue and expenses. The council will end up approving budgets designed to please the electorate and lull us into believing all is well.

Instead, citizens are being fed another new management plan called the “Sharing Economy.”

Here is a capsule of the city press release’s explanation:

“The Guide provides a brief introduction to the sharing economy and then identifies the following six decisions to guide municipalities that are anticipating or reacting to a shared economy platform in their jurisdiction.

Ulp! Why is Guelph the instigator of this?

  • What type of approach is most appropriate?
  • Answer: Control spending and control of revenues is limited. That well has drained. Change the composition of city council. Reduce the number of councillors to nine from 13. Elect a single full-time councillor in each ward. Elect at large the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and an executive councillor with the key responsibility of overseeing city finances.
  • What are the primary public policy goals?
  • Answer: Fix the assets that are broken or are redundant. Stop buying the people with their own money such as the Well-Being handouts and miscellaneous city supported community projects.
  • What type(s) of sharing will be included?
  • Answer: Managing a city is not rocket science. We elect people presumed to be aware and competent and professional staff to manage the city.
  • What kinds of policy actions or tools are needed?
  • Answer: Control spending on consultants. Reduce staff and overhead costs. Work on developing growth in the manufacturing area to increase assessment and reduce the dependence on residential assessed properties. This will also provide jobs outside of the public sector.
  • Design considerations
  • Answer: The city council must enact considerations based on facts supplied by the professional staff. There must be a clear division between elected and professional officials to provide a system of checks and balances. In Guelph, there has been a serious lack of financial management and policies.
  • Implementation and evaluation
  • Answer: Most people in the city feel that there has been too much money spent on failed mismanaged projects. This is one program that should have full public input.

The Guide was commissioned by the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario, financially supported by the Province of Ontario and developed in collaboration with the Guelph Lab—a partnership between the City of Guelph and the University of Guelph.

A variety of other partners including the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and the municipalities of London and Mississauga contributed to the Guide.

We should be wary of this proposal, as we have just experienced a similar collaprative venture known as the Community Energy Initiative. It is important that we solve the immediate problems facing the city before launching into an academic exercise that may distract us from what’s needed today.

Too much money has already been wasted; it’s time to stop the bleeding.

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Ever try to put lipstick on a pig? That’s what city spin-doctors are trying to do with GMHI

By Gerry Barker

July 10, 2017

Here’s the premise of a story that won’t go away. It’s about the losses associated with the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and how some $163.474 million was lost in a bungled former administration’s attempt to create energy self-sufficiency in Guelph.

It’s a story that most people cannot figure out because they were not told details of the financial misadventure by the GMH Board of Directors chiefly composed of city councillors. They worked behind closed doors. Further, two of them, Coun. June Hofland and Coun. Karl Wettstein are still silent about their association as directors of GMHI.

Now it’s alarming that council continues to vote for projects such as the $12.3 million extension of trails over ten years. The off-road maintenance of these trails is estimated to be $271,000 a years. Council balked at this one and ordered staff to re-think its recommendation. In making this recommendation, why didn’t the staff, particularly those senior managers, think the maintenance costs were excessive particularly in winter?

Council caught it and recognized it was too high.

But I digress, the following is a statement by the accounting firm, KPMG, auditors of GMHI’s consolidated balance sheet.

“In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the consolidated financial position of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. as at December 31, 2016 and its consolidated results of operations and its consolidated cash flows for the year ended December 31, 2016 in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards.”

As quoted in the Guelph Tribune July 3, 2017: “Pankaj Sardana, the CEO for Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., the parent company for both Guelph Hydro and Envida Community Energy Corp., also updated councillors on the status of the district energy project, which has seen millions of dollars written off or written down from the city’s books.”

The key words here are “millions of dollars” If anyone should know, it would be Mr. Sardana who addressed the dire financial condition of GMHI 14 months ago.

“The expenses are higher than the revenues, and expect to remain so for the duration of the contracts,” he added.

Here are the figures on the GMHI balance sheet audited by KPMG

The consolidated total audited current assets of GMHI are $67,943,000.

The total consolidate non-current assets according to the audit is $162,653,000.

Total assets are $230,596,000

“The capital asset has been written down to nothing, zero,” Sardana told councillors, adding many of the assets from the district energy portfolio are now considered “onerous.”

Now, here is what the audit declared as GMHI Liabilities:

Total current liabilities:                                    $30,736,000.

Total non-current liabilities:

Provision for liabilities and changes                $    490,000

Senior unsecured debentures                             $94,283,000

Employee future benefits                                     $10,297,000

Customer deposits long term portion               $ 5,196,000

Deferred revenue                                                  $22,472,000

Total current liabilities                                         $163,474,00

Shareholder’s equity:

Share capital                                                            $67, 530, 000

Accumulated other comprehensive loss            $     (555,000)

Retained earnings                                                  $     147,000

Total Shareholder’s equity                                    $67,122,000

Total liabilities                                                $230,596,000

The shareholder’s equity is worthless. The former administration used public funds to invest in the Community Energy Initiative. It needed capital to finance its blind ambition to change Guelph and convert its demand for power through what turned out to be a failed District Energy plan.

Few people knew the depth of losses that GMHI generated over five years. Almost all of GMHI meetings were conducted in closed session.

Shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic

Now the city is moving money between agencies controlled by GMHI to pay down part of the debt owed by Envida Community Energy, the total of which is estimated as $20 million.

Trouble is, it’s our money that is being shuttled around with Peter paying Paul.

According to the Tribune, “following discussion of the money lost … Mayor Cam Guthrie remarked that it “does feel good to feel that my concerns have been validated.”

How does the Mayor feel now that he and his council are stuck with a huge problem: What do we admit to the citizens? The KPMG audit reveals a brutal situation in which the public’s financial resources have taken a monumental financial dump of dollars.

There was the deliberate use of secret meetings denying the right of the public to be informed of what was going on. It was not only undemocratic but a cover-up by senior city employees and at least four councillors plus the former mayor as chairperson, who served on the GMHI board of directors.

This allowed the city council members of the board to have total control of GMHI including Guelph Hydro.

When you are not accountable, you can get away with anything

During this period, millions were being spent and committed to projects that were never openly discussed in public. GMHI never made any money but sent $1.5 million annually as a dividend to the city to validate its existence. It was all a phony exercise in which money was taken from capital funds to pay the dividend. No one questioned it yet in 2015 the GMHI board said more than $9 million had been transferred to the city over six years. In that same year, GMHI lost $2.8 million.

Now we are seeing some of the fallout. Guelph Hydro is buying the dying Eastview generating plant that relies on a dwindling methane-gas supply from the former landfill site. Also approved during a special meeting, councillors, acting as GMHI shareholders, approved the sale and transfer of solar panels. Ownership of solar panels on top of the Guelph Hydro headquarters was transferred to the utility. Also approved was the sale of solar panel installations on eight city facilities back to the city.

The sale of Eastview will generate $558,000. The solar panels on the Guelph Hydro HQ roof solar panels $796,000. The city solar installations transfer cost $276,000.

Following a question by Coun. Dan Gibson, chief administrative officer Derrick Thomson confirmed the assets were being sold to generate cash that could be used to help pay Envida’s lenders. Who were these lenders? Did this involve the holders of the senior unsecured debentures, one for $65 million and the other for $30 million?

Who is liable for repayment of these debentures that are listed on the balance sheet as a liability?

Mayor Guthrie, as a councillor for those four GMHI years, were you ever informed of what the former mayor and her entourage were doing? Were all members of council receiving regular reports of the GMHI and Guelph Hydro activities in relation to the Community Energy Initiative?

Was the plan to make the city “look good?”

In the past, Guthrie has called the district energy project “a vision that was rammed forward” because the city “wanted to look good.”

Well Cam, you and your council colleagues have known about this multi-million dollar financial disaster for almost three years. Or maybe you didn’t because there was no Chief Financial officer in place to raise the alarm. It took two and a half years to finally hire a CFO who has financial accreditation and experience to provide the necessary checks and balances needed to sort out the mess.

In 2014, the voters figured it out that there was gross mismanagement by the city administration. As a result, you were elected mayor with the majority of people seeking change.

Unfortunately the honeymoon ended March 25, 2015 when council approved what turned out to be a 3.96 per cent property tax increase. That was a long way from your election promise to contain the property tax to no more than the Consumer Price Index.

But while that was a repudiation of you as Mayor, there was a much bigger problem brewing. While praising the contribution of the GMHI board, you did take over and named two councillors to the board. One was Karl Wettstein, who had served on the GMHI board for four years. The other was Coun. Cathy Downer. Wettstein remains silent on the activities of GMHI along with Coun. June Hofland, the former chair person of the city finance committee.

Did the city finance committee ever discuss what was going on with GMHI and Guelph Hydro, both owned by the City of Guelph?

What possessed elected officials to develop such a brain cramp about their connection with GMHI? Were they so loyal to the former mayor’s vision that they refused to blow the whistle?

What the public needs to be told are details of the wind-up of GMHI and the Community Energy Initiative. And, it is more important, to be informed of the costs resulting from this misadventure.

Stop playing games. Report to the real shareholders the details of this costly exercise to fulfill the ambition of a community leader who is no longer in power.

Meanwhile lets stop spending public funds on trails, road shrinking to create more bike lanes, wading pools, art centres and wellbeing giveaways until our house is put in order through an action plan.

Let’s learn from what happened in the 2014 election. The real political power in Guelph for the past ten years has rested with the 12 ward councillors. This will be the 2018 battleground and the citizen’s only opportunity to restore political balance on city council

 

 

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NO SALE: Is the city selling Guelph Hydro to recoup losses by a previous administration?

By Gerry Barker

June 12, 2017

Part Two: Selling the crown jewel of Guelph

When will the Mayor tell us the truth about why we are spending thousands to sell Guelph Hydro in the next 12 months?

It is one of the most expensive and devious plans to capture the equity of Guelph Hydro that has an estimated book value of $125 million. On the surface, when reading through the 48 pages of plans and goals of the council-appointed Strategic Options Committee (SOC), it would have you believe this is the right thing to do.

Council appointed five people to represent the city in selling Guelph Hydro. The committee lost two members between October and April. Included was co-chair Pankaj Sardana, CEO of Guelph Hydro, who was replaced by the Guelph Hydro board chair, Jane Armstrong. A public representative, Ron Puccini, stepped aside to be replaced by Douglas Auld.

Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson remains, as co-chair of the SOC. Is Mayor Guthrie an ex-officio member of this committee?

Before going any further, this is a sale of all or parts of Guelph Hydro. To dress it up as a merger is mere window dressing. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Sardana was removed from the SOC because he warned about the sharing of responsibilities as a result of a merger, does not have a successful track record. History in Ontario has shown that local community-owned electricity distribution system mergers don’t always work well because of the cultural clash between the parties of the merger.

We should mention that the SOC plan points out that the Province has encouraged the consolidation of small (Provincial designation) municipally-owned power distribution systems to create more efficient systems across the province. This is NOT mandated but suggested.

Why the push to amalgamate local power distribution systems? The McGuinty and Wynne governments granted juicy 20-year overpayments to corporations to produce solar and wind turbine renewable power. Now it has attracted interest in corporate ownership power distribution systems. These deals have cost power consumers millions and left Ontario having the highest cost of power in the country.

“It isn’t easy being green,” Kermit the frog.

Without hesitation, the beneficiaries of these deals include both Liberal provincial governments and those corporations that have benefitted from their largesse.

One of the members of SOC said that the distribution of power is changing, predicting that most homes in the future will have electricity storage units in their garages, powered by solar panels. The cost of this is astronomical for most people. Why the rush to sell off Guelph Hydro, lose any semblance of control and costs as it now it provides economic benefit to the 53,000 current customer base?

Those self-sufficient storage units have a definite future but are only cost efficient for the wealthy among us. It will take years to become a common reality.

But it is a prime rationale among an element of civic leaders who foisting their opinions, were bolstered by outside consultants including the core of the SOC.

Here’s a sample of what the SOC is planning:

SOC RECOMMENDATION:

  1. THAT the Strategies and Options Committee (the “SOC”) of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (“GMHI”) be directed to conduct further discussions, engage in further due diligence, and prepare preliminary business cases to assess potential mergers between Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. (“Guelph Hydro”) and potential merger partners.
  2. THAT the SOC continue its communications and community engagement to inform its work.
  3. THAT the SOC report back to Council in early fall 2017 with the results of further discussions and due diligence, communications and community engagement and a preliminary business case, including recommendations regarding next steps.

            The four phases leading to selling Guelph Hydro

The SOC plan is divided into four phases. Following the June 13 meeting, the next phase is Part 3 to be reported to council in October, or thereabouts.

Here’s one of the reasons citizens should be concerned. Two members of the SOC, in my opinion, have a conflict of interest.

Note in the recommendation above that the SOC is the offspring of the Farbridge Folly that created Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI). We now know that it cost citizens close to $100 million, so far. This appears to be a desperate attempt by the Guthrie administration, to convince citizens to support the sale of Guelph Hydro. We say: NO SALE!

Getting back to those two SOC members. The former mayor appointed Mark Goldberg as an independent member to the GMHI board of directors. Did Mr. Goldberg support the GMHI projects that lost $26.6 million? What is he doing on the SOC? Is he part of the salvage crew out to sell a profitable, locally owned Hydro Distribution system to cover up the total failure of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI)? It is now clear that the former mayor sold the merits of the CEI to an unsuspecting public. Then buried its operations in closed sessions of the board.

Or, let’s hear from SOC member Guelph Hydro Deputy Chair, Robert Bell, who in answer to a question by Coun. James Gordon about how the public feels about the sale of Guelph Hydro replied that he was an expert in mergers and acquisitions, (M&A) and knew more about it than the general public.

That arrogant answer confirms the takeaway that this is a contrived set-up to sell the publicly-owned Guelph Hydro in part or all-in, to pay off the debts of previous administrations.

Well, those two men, for different reasons, seem to have their minds made up.

This is a very serious political play in which, with respect, may result in Mayor Guthrie’s ongoing support for the sale, being figuratively bitten in the derriere come Election Day. His fair-weather friends on council could blame him for either the success or failure of the Hydro sale proposal. As he is Mayor, it’s a lose, lose situation no matter what happens.

It’s not too late to regain the support of the majority of the public by disassociating himself from continued support of the sale.

Here is the SOC schedule of how we can say bye-bye to Guelph Hydro before the next election.

SOC says: “If, in the fall, Council directs the SOC to pursue the next phase of the process, details about potential merger partner(s) will be shared with the public. At that time, the SOC will seek public input on the proposed merger. More public and stakeholder engagement will occur to generate that input.”

GS Comment: Just how are the SOC and its partners Guelph Hydro and City Council going to inform the public during this “process?” There is a ground swell of objection among many citizens that this phase is not going to sell. So far the attempts to communicate this to the real stakeholders, the citizens of Guelph, has been an abject failure. But read on to see the proposed timetable of selling the utility.

SOC says: “Phase 1 (Complete)

“Explore options; begin community consultation, present findings and recommendations to Guelph City Council in early 2017.

SOC says: “Phase 2 (March to June)

“Scan the industry for potential merger partners. Consider publicly-owned utility companies likely to provide value to Guelph Hydro customers, the City and the community.”

GS Comment: Phase 2 is the topic of the June 13 meetings including a closed session of council starting at 4 p.m. and the public open meeting at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Let’s get this clarified. Guelph Hydro supplies electricity to 53,000 customers. No one in this city or Rockwood is without power. This should make them the stakeholders in this plan. The City of Guelph owns this utility and history shows that the citizens want to continue owning it. The SOC should conduct a poll by an independent polling organization to measure public support for selling Guelph Hydro. The result may save citizens the cost of pursuing this project.

SOC says: “(June to fall) If City Council votes to explore further: engage specific targets, develop a preliminary business case and financial analysis, outline impact on shareholders rate payers, discuss governance, compare to maintaining full ownership, and make recommendation to City Council.”

SOC says: “Phase 3 (fall to winter)

“If Council decides to pursue a merger: enter into memorandum of understanding, announce the parties involved, continue community engagement, begin exclusive negotiations, conduct financial, legal, operational and regulatory due diligence, develop merger and shareholder agreements, finalize rate impact and make recommendation to City Council.”

GS Comment: And during this phase when does the public have its say? Where is the business plan underlying any proposal?

SOC says: “Phase 4 (late 2017 to 2018)

“If City Council approves the transaction: submit a MAADs (?) application to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for approval, develop implementation plan and establish leadership and governance of the new utility. Following OEB approval the transaction would close, the parties would enter into the shareholders’ agreement, and the merger would be given full legal effect.”

GS Comment: Just in time to create a huge issue in the October 2018 civic election. This is an attempt to wrap up the before the election and deny the public the right to dissent.

            Recommended next phases of developing the sale:

SOC says: “Given the potential cost of developing complete business cases with multiple parties, the SOC recommends developing preliminary business cases with the most promising candidates and making a recommendation to Council in early fall 2017. This approach is a cost effective way to provide Council with more information while being fair and respectful to potential merger partners.”

GS Comment: The Guelph Hydro board affirmed the recommendations made at the outset of this report at its May 29, 2017 board meeting. None of them were elected to represent the public’s interests. So, why now? Why is this plan being presented to the citizens who are not collectively in favour of selling Guelph Hydro? Here’s more of the sale plan.

Value for the City of Guelph
SOC says: § Realizing the best financial return and overall value.

GS Comment: Again what is the real purpose of this proposal? Is the city in such financial shape that we have to sell Guelph Hydro to pay for the financial mismanagement of the past ten years? Is it fair to say that if Guelph Hydro is sold that it can recover that “impaired” asset that it loaned GMHI and now sitting on the city books, can be recovered? One would believe that had to be a condition of any sale.
SOC says: § Supply electricity efficiently and cost-effectively.

GS Comment: Isn’t that what is being delivered today?
SOC says: § Contribute capital funds for reinvestment.

GS Comment: Ah! The truth is starting to come out. What reinvestments are they talking about? Is it reduction of debt? Paying down the Police Headquarters $34 million renovation? Providing $400 million for the aging infrastructure? There is no shortage of projects but because of the financial mismanagement, the cupboard is essentially bare.

It is welcome news that the city has finally hired Trevor Lee, an experienced professional who has the financial accreditation to bring responsible order to our city’s finances. The evidence exists that successive councils relentlessly continue to jack up property taxes and user fees to cover up bad management and questionable decisions.
SOC says: § Support long-term community planning and economic development.

GS Comment: There has been little effort to address the high overhead costs of running a city. What has this sale got do with economic development? How will it create jobs and at the same time protect Hydro employees? How can citizens be assured of cost controls if the utility is sold or merged? How much has this proposal cost year to date? Who is paying those costs? What operational guarantees are included in this proposal that affect all Hydro customers?

What does the SOC mean when it says it will engage in “open, honest communication with community and industry stakeholders?” This and past administrations have a terrible track record of operating in closed sessions without transparency and accountability doing the public’s business. The record of the previous GMHI board of directors conducting its business in an open and accountable fashion is a sick joke.

City councillors Karl Wettstein and June Hofland were members of the MHI board for four years and today accept no responsibility for the financial disaster. SOC member Mark Goldberg is another former GMHI board member who has never commented publicly about his role on the board.

A good place to start is opening all SOC meetings to the public. Making all electronic communications pertaining to the sale among SOC, its consultants and members of council available to the public. The one exception is discussions regarding proprietary information of bidders.

Regardless, in my opinion, this proposal was tried in 2008 and was rejected by a majority of council including supporters of the former mayor. I see no reason why this won’t happen this time. Sorry, NO SALE

Frankly, city council approved this methodology of selling Guelph Hydro. It’s time for a serious rethink of the project.

Now council owes the citizens a specific reason for creating this proposal to sell Guelph Hydro. That includes full financial disclosure of the costs and benefits to the citizen stakeholders.

This is only Act One of the Theatre of the Absurd

Until that closes, we still say: NO SALE.

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Is the Dark State ruling Guelph?

By Gerry Barker

May 23, 2017

Yes, who is running our city? Why have there been so many closed session meetings of council? Whose reputation is being protected?  Why is the public’s right to know being consistently thwarted?

In a letter to the editor in the Toronto Star, Pat Biondi, takes umbrage over an editorial in the paper entitled: Long live the deep state in Washington – May 19.

Biondi’s opening paragraph set the stage for a blistering criticism saying, “I could not believe the Toronto Star, the self-proclaimed bastion of democracy, would stoop to such a level.”

At this point, I should reveal the headline of the letter: “Civil servants subvert the will of the people.” Such headlines are designed to capsulate the content of the letter but also to attract the reader.

It sure got my attention.

Biondi went on to say, “that in a democracy, it is the elected officials empowered by virtue of the ballot box. It is those same politicians who are held accountable for their actions the next time the electorate is asked to pass judgment on their performance while in office.”

That has a familiar ring about it when it is applied to Guelph governance. Looking back, the electorate in Guelph responded in October 2014 to defeat the mayor and two of her council supporters plus two others who chose not to run.

Biondi continues: “A deep state (i.e. civil servants) working in the shadows is the antithesis of what democracy is all about. The notion that a few unelected and unaccountable career civil servants can subvert the will of the people expressed in a free election is absurd and dangerous in the extreme.”

Starting to see what the letter writer is talking about as it’s applied to the unelected senior management of the City of Guelph in the past 10 years?

It’s no secret there has been an inordinate amount of turmoil in the past two years not only among the senior staff but also with the hardworking rank and file who carry out their orders. Look no further than the lawsuit by a fired 30-year veteran of the city Building Department, Bruce Poole, who performed as Chief Building Inspector for the past 20 years.

Mr. Poole sued for $1 million for wrongful dismissal by former Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert.

Follow a mysterious dump of some 53,000 emails sent to Poole’s lawyer containing hundreds of confidential and personal information, the case was promptly settled by the city. It was a legacy left by the former top civil servant for the citizens to pay.

Here is another statement by Biondi. “ When a society is governed by a deep state, democracy crumbles and anarchy ensues.”

Isn’t this the accurate description of how Guelph has been controlled by a two-term autocratic mayor and equally pervasive senior civil servants? They were really running the city with the support of a council that rolled over in their sworn responsibilities to the public.

The examples of that eight-year domination of Guelph governance have been well documented. Millions were wasted on social engineering projects under the guise of world leadership. This included making the city into a world-class leader in the environment, reduction of greenhouse gases, and restriction of vehicular traffic routes to accommodate bicycle lanes and waste management.

What really occurred in that time period, was increased property taxes by a compounded 36.7 per cent; the cost of basic civic services such as electricity and water soared; waste management’s so-called innovation racked up millions in operations and capital and it mostly occurred in secret sessions of council.

Autocratic senior managers and members of council, almost all who have left the city, for a variety of reasons, have left a legacy of alleged corruption and financial mismanagement. Yet, the disastrous policies of the previous administration continue to be supported by the majority of the current council.

Any evidence of city council working together to solve the tattered legacy of the previous administration has not happened in three years. The majority of council is known as the Bloc of Seven as they frequently vote as a bloc thereby dominating the 13-member council.

Regardless, some pluses have occurred, including revelation of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMH. This wholly owned subsidiary of the city is the most costly failure by the previous administration. Chaired by the mayor, this functioned under the Community Energy Initiative, with former CAO Pappert as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI for four years.

Losses to date are $26.6 million plus a $60 million impaired loan from Guelph Hydro that has no collateral in GMHI to even pay the interest. That loan now sits on the city books as a declining asset.

Are you starting get the picture? In my opinion, this is why there is a concerted effort to sell Guelph Hydro, wholly owned by the city, to cover up the huge liability of GMHI.

Ms. Pappert left the city in May 2016, following publication of the provincial Sunshine List in March 2016 of those earning more than $100,000. It reported that she had received an annual salary of $237, 501. This was received even though she only worked five months in 2016. Her increase, along with three other senior managers, was approved in a closed-session meeting of council December 10, 2015. The public was made aware of the $98,202 awarded to four top managers in March when the Sunshine list revealed the increases.

In view of this, why does the mayor continue to endorse Ann Pappert who is seeking a new job? Mr. Guthrie is mentioned twice endorsing Ms. Pappert in her lengthy new profile posted on LinkedIn

It’s all part of the culture of entitlement that pervades the senior management of our city from civil servants to elected councillors. Both share responsibility with one glaring exception: Every four years, councillors must face their constituents and explain their performance. Meanwhile, the hired staff is free to carry on as if there was no election.

A clear example was the reorganization of the top senior staff in November 2014. CAO Ann Pappert conducted the reorganization during the lame-duck period between the changes of administrations. Mr. Guthrie took over December 1, 2014. The new council never had the opportunity to approve the new management arrangement because it was not in charge at the time.

It only took 13 months for the top four managers to receive hefty increases and the public was never informed until March 2016.

I realize that some GS readers are critical of the constant reporting of this event.

It states truth to power and the perpetrators got away with it and now only one is left, CAO Derrick Thomson.

Judge for yourself; is this a responsible and honourable way to run our city of 131,000?

Only if a resolute, informed and politically centrist group of councillors are elected in 2018, can necessary true reform and change occur.

 

I would be interested in hearing from readers about their feelings, good, bad or indifferent. Send your comments to guelphspeaks.ca or email gerrybarker76@gmail.com. Your identity will be protected if requested. Thank you.

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