Tag Archives: Mayor Cam Guthrie

Why won’t city council tell us why the sudden departure of the CAO?

By Gerry Barker

February 13, 1019

Opinion

Who agreed to “part ways” with Thomson out the door and no explanation for a quick exit?

Near the end of last week the announcement was made that Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson had “parted ways with the city.”

Who decided he had to leave so abruptly, Thomson or Council?

The public has the right to know why the Chief Administrative Officer of the city was summarily dropped.

Was it something he said? Did he pixxed-off certain members of council including the Mayor?

Was it so terrible that neither party wanted to reveal the details?

Or was it a personality conflict between certain members of council?

Did he misappropriate public funds?

Or was it because of health issues?

Or has he accepted another job, like he did in 2016?

So what does the Mayor do? He calls yet another closed-session meeting and, to illustrate why this council fails once again and bungles another serious senior staff development.

Witness the witless creation of a Troika assigning three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers to run the store for six months while the search seeking a new boss goes on.

Is this not a crisis where three senior staff is assigned to perform the duties of an absent CAO?

This is a dumb idea. Forcing a committee of three top managers to fill in for their former boss only exemplifies the lack of business management experience of most members of council.

There is no succession plan in place for senior management. To create this Troika is an example of the misfits of knowledge by city council.

Council, in secret session has created this awkward senior management structure by increasing their compensation for up to six months following the appointment of a new CFO of the city.

This commuter is not to disparage the ability of the three remaining DCAO’s who are capable and worthy candidates for the job.

I don’t envy the situation on which the council has put them.

In the middle of the 2019 Budget creation, why did this happen?

Some history

Since 2006, there has been four CAO’s heading the city staff: Larry Kotseff, Hans Loewig, Ann Pappert and Derrick Thomson. Of the four only one actually lived in Guelph. A year following Ms. Pappert’s appointment, council gave her $20,000 to move from Waterloo to Guelph.

Of course the city should conduct a search for a new CAO and select a candidate with an independent view and ready to clean house of the dominant partisan council.

We need a CAO who understands the role of staff is to serve the public interest and not to bury those rights behind closed doors.

The record shows that the city administration have wasted millions on building a new city hall; the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc financial loss of $63 million of shareholder value; the giveaway of Guelph Hydro; the bike lane network expansion; subsidizing Guelph Transit support of a variety of services to the University of Guelph, including low property taxes on the largest land owner in the city.

These are just a handful that has drained the Guelph Treasury for projects that often lacked a business plan. Most important has been the neglect of the city infrastructure, some of which is 200 years old.

Despite warnings from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and more recently from the city staff that has put a $450 million price tag on infrastructure renewal and replacement.

In its usual response, city staff recommended to council to place a special levy of 2 per cent for infrastructure work on property taxpayers.

Even that was bungled when council decided to split the levy with 1 per cent dedicated to “City Buildings.” Sponsored by Councillors Karl Wettstein and Mark MacKinnon, the money went to the proposed South End $63 million Recreation Centre.

It was learned that professional outside planners had spent some $3.5 million on preliminary site and design of the complex.

There has been no budget planning in the capital budget for this project. It is only one example of the voodoo financial management of council, most of whom don’t understand a balance sheet or a business plan or the correlation of each. But that’s what we have a staff for, right?

Mind you, I believe the city now has much stronger and experienced senior managers to maintain fiscal responsibity and management practices.

That’s why citizens should be concerned about Mr. Thomson’s sudden departure that has not been explained.

Once the money has been spent, we cannot get it back.

That’s why it will be most important to hire a CAO of experience, proven performance and that old standby, guts, to steer our city to create a balanced and affordable community for all citizens.

We wish council Godspeed in this search for a new CAO.

 

 

 

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The short memory of Susan Watson ignores history of the past 12 years

By Gerry Barker

January 28, 2019

Opinion

Editor’s Note – Before launching into another overview of unvarnished civics reports on the management of our city, I urge everyone to read and absorb the history on which I have been reporting and commenting since 2011.  The administration is in charge of our $500 million corporation. But who is really running the show?

Susan Watson, the high Priestess of the Left-leaning coalition of power figures controlling our city administration. In a letter to the media, she says: “We all care about our property tax bills.”

She then adds that we should all care about impending increased changes to the development impact by-law updating currently before city council.

Three guesses as to where this is going.

She urges readers not to believe the ‘old’ slogan that, “Growth will pay for growth.”

However, before we consider her statement that in the next ten years, citizens will subsidize development in Guelph at an estimated rate of $5 million a year or $50 million. Those figures come from Tara Baker, the city’s General Manager of Finance and Treasurer.

Ms Watson claims that in the past five years taxpayers paid $21.5 million to subsidize development in the city.

There seems to be a difference here between the city staff manager, responsible for all things accountable is projecting in public administration. Susan Watson’s recent five-year analysis of taxpayers subsidizing development does not agree with the Financial GM’s forecast.

None of these figures define ‘development.’ For example, do the figures include city development projects or are these Ms. Watson’s personal political views?

Are development impact fees charged to the Wilson street five store parkade the city is building across the road from City Hall? That’s a $22 million project.

That cost has been declared as part of the estimated $350 million renovation of the Baker Street project announced before the civic election won by Mayor Guthrie. He said a deal has been struck between the city and Windmill Developments based in Ottawa. It is called a 3P or Private, Public Participation Plan. Whoops that’s four P’s.

This apparent proposal won’t start until 2024 and take at least five to six years to complete. The joker is what is the city’s capital share of this and its public liability? What is the estimate of revenue including taxes and, wait for it! Developments fees?

Some may believe it is heresy regarding city-managed projects to dredge up some of the spectacular management failures in the past 12 years.

Whopper Alert!

Here’s a run down of some of the historical failures:

* The organic waste processing facility costing $34 million of taxpayer’s money and the public does not have access to the organic mulch by-product. It was so overbuilt to handle Guelph’s wet waste that it depends on Simcoe County and the Region of Waterloo for feed stock to keep the joint operating. To top it off, a subsidiary of the company that built the facility, operates it through a subsidiary corporation and sells the finished compost. Details of this arrangement have never been revealed to the people who financed it.

Would you agree this information is in the Public Interest?

*         *         *         *

* Along came the new city hall construction. In 2006, city council approved a contract for $42 million. In 2007, a new council took over and by September 2008, booted the general contractor off the job. The contractor sued the city for $19 million and six years later, a Superior Court judge ruled the city responsible for wrongful dismissal. The overrun cost of the entire project was $23 million.

Why did a lawsuit outcome fail the interest of Public Interest?

*         *         *         *

* The $34 million police headquarters renovation will not be completed until next December. This is a city-managed project and so far it is on schedule to avoid cost overruns coming in at contract cost. However, experience dictates that missing the 2018 completion date indicates possible cost overruns.

* The greatest city mismanaged failure was the five-year record of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) led by former mayor Karen Farbridge and aided by her former Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, who had the dual responsibility as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

The real cost of this multi-tasked attempt to create self-sufficiency in power supply and a geo-thermal heating and cooling water system to a small collection of nearby buildings. These include the city- owned Sleeman Centre, River Run theatre and Hanlon Business Park. The only information about the cost of this operation was stated in a consolidated audit of GMHI conducted by accounting firm KPMG

There was a shareholder’s liability of $63 million. That’s a loss to taxpayers in any language.

Was GMHI shrouded in closed- sessions in the Public Interest?

*         *         *         *

Does Ms. Watson object to private enterprise and its role in creating housing both affordable and upscale? Or is it another undocumented scare tactic to reflect her ongoing anti-Conservative campaign to discredit the likes of Mike Harris and Doug Ford?

Susan, look back to the future

Ms. Watson should go back 12 years to examine the track record of former mayor Karen Farbridge and close friend who was supported financially in the three elections.

The Farbridge administration thatran the city for eight years was no slouch in cutting deals with private developers. These include Tricar developments that received deferred development fees in construction of two high-rise condos. There were others given deferred development and deferred property taxes to build housing, particularly in the downtown area.

These deferments were covered by transferring funds of the Brownfield reserve fund valued at more than $30 million. One of those sites was the former LaFarge cement manufacturing plant, east of the Hanlon, south of Paisley.

The funds were set aside to clean up contaminated sites that needed remedial action to remove dangerous elements in the soil.

That Brownfield reserve transfer was done to limit the annual property tax increases and deferred development charges that would impact the city budgets over the years. Again, details of these deals have not been revealed.

But there is more

But the biggest flop of the Farbridge administration was the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. The audit of this project by accounting firm KPMG, revealed shareholder’s loss (the citizens of Guelph) was some $63 million. The details of this were published following council meetings May 16, 2016 and mid-July 2016.

This audit showed the costs of creating self-sufficiency in power and a geo-thermal underground system providing hot and cold water supplied to a few city-owned building, a church and two large high-rise conco towers near the Sleeman centre.

The Guelph Hydro giveaway

Then the new council, in 2017 voted to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities.

I remain convinced it was a terrible deal because the only thing citizens received was return of its own money. The surplus of Guelph Hydro cash of $18.5 million, that’s our money, is about to be returned to the city. Also, the city is to receive a 4.36 per cent share of 60 per cent of the Alectra Utilities profits.

Breaking news! In 2019 the city, according to budget documents, will receive a dividend of $1 million from Alectra Utilities.

So, why was it merged with Alectra when Guelph Hydro was sending an annual dividend to the city of $3 million?

The administration’s war on fossil-fueled vehicles

The reconfiguration of major city streets is another alleged development of reducing the use of fossil-fueled vehicles. In fact, the opposite has occurred as traffic congestion has substantially increased due to the shrinkage of traffic lanes on major streets to accommodate bicycle lanes.

The cost of this abortive attempt to cut emissions is in eight years: Council has spent some $300,000 annually on bike lane development. Included also was $2 million received for special bike lanes on Stone Road as part of the 2009 infrastructure program of the provincial and federal governments. Oh yes! That also included spending $75,000 on a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre. That replaced one that was working well.

What in hell has that to do with infrastructure?

Added up, there were millions spent on projects described first as optional, but the Farbridge administrations were determined to adhere to climate change and environmental projects to achieve their dream. As usual, citizens picked up the tab.

I do agree with Ms. Watson about private developers paying the costs of connecting to city roads, water and sewer lines, power distribution and public safety facilities, to name a few. But I remain confused about the financial status between private and public development.

Property taxes spiral because of kitchen table accounting

We have just gone through 12 years of council and support staff that have strayed off the reservation.

The good news is there are some moves made to install experienced money managers who can re-focus and concentrate on fixing the infrastructure and freeze the mega projects such as Innovation Guelph Reformatory lands plan and the Baker Street renovation.

Reducing overhead operating costs, debt, pie-in-the-sky projects and maintains services are more important than ever.

How do you get out of the hole, stop digging.

 

 

 

 

 

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How do we get off the Bike Bandwagon?

By Gerry Barker

January 21, 2019

Opinion

The other night council received its first blush of the $87.37 million capital spending budget. Here’s where it will be spent providing that council and lobby groups don’t add to the total. That’s what usually happens during the budget process every year.

It is an unnatural opportunity for councillors to impress and placate their constituents. It is far too tempting with the power to spend the public’s money on projects to patronize the various special interest groups and individuals.

For starters, here’s the list of Capital spending projects produced by the staff:

  • $3.325 million for contaminated site-related projects.
  • $8.361 million for corporate projects, including planning studies, vehicles and equipment and facility renewal and expansion. This figures includes planning and strategic initiatives of Baker District and the beginning of the city’s Official Plan review.
  • $4.96 million for emergency services. The majority being directed at the expansion of paramedic services.
  • $7.916 million for open spaces, recreation, culture and library. This includes renewal of equipment and facilities and additional funds to progress the South End Community Centre project.
  • $3.107 million for solid waste. Includes planning and construction for a public drop-off scale.
  • $4.683 million for stormwater management. Including repair, renewal and replacement of assets.
  • $14.502 million for transportation services. Including bridges, culverts, roads and parking.
  • $13.104 million for wastewater services.
  • $27.445 million for water services. Includes water testing and studies at two new wells potentially to be used for city expansion.

More than 63 per cent of this proposed $55.051 million capital budget is being spent on three vital services all involving potable water, treating wastewater and building wells.

I’d be the last guy to complain about spending money on our vital use of clean water and developing new supplies to meet the needs of a growing population. With the 2016 census, Guelph has grown to 131,000 residents. Recent increase in newcomers is in the 10,000 per person range that the 2016 census reported for Guelph.

That means that by 2021 Guelph’s population will be 142,000 if the rate of growth remains the same as the previous census period.

I agree with the staff recommendation, water is the top priority.

That total water spending proposal does not include $4.683 million for storm water management that is in the capital budget. But property owners are already paying a special levy of one per cent for storwater maintenance. It used to be part of the operating budget but was transferred to the citizens for payment, monthly, through their Hydro bill.

Let’s talk about demands by the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation. Translation: The tiny minority of cyclists who feel it is their right to travel the streets and be protected from those dirty, stinky and loud vehicles. They take it upon themselves to chiefly be responsible to support climate change by banning the use of fossil fuels.

But here’s the rub

Operators of motor vehicles pay taxes, licences and user fees to use the roads. In fact the City of Guelph, receives a gas tax rebated from the senior governments of more than $5 million annually. It’s rebated to the city not the people who previously paid for it at the pump. This results in the very people using fossil fueled vehicles end up subsidizing more bike lanes.

How much do the active transporters pay? They are not licensed, pay no taxes, are not insured, no mandatory bike inspection, no tests for ability to safely use the streets and know the rules of the Highway Traffic Act.

And yet, one Yvette Tendick, speaking for the Coalition, laid out their demands to be included in the 2019 Capital Budget.

The Guelph Mercury published the following profile of Yvette Tendick who joined the community editorial board in 2015.

Yvette Tendick is a primary school teacher with a bachelor of environmental studies degree. She has always had a strong interest in environmental issues. Over the years, her environmental focus has morphed from sustainability of natural ecosystems to sustainability and resilience of cities.

She is interested in the steps citizens might undertake to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels while simultaneously increasing our quality of life. She believes one way to achieve this lofty goal is through active transportation, which she engages in during her commute to work by bike or on foot.

She also has a keen interest in getting the next generation physically active, and is rather certain that city design and infrastructure are crucial to nudging all of our citizens to get moving.

Getting to the root of the deal

Now here is what she is proposing city council to do to improve cycling, aka active transportation.

  1. January 16, she told council that the city should clear up some of the trees and roots. These are putting pressure on the existing retaining wall along what will one day become a multi-use trail at Speedvale, including a proposed underpass.
  2. “So before even considering tearing down this retaining wall in a few years, a quick fix of removing the trees ASAP seems to be the first logical step in increasing the longevity of the current wall.”
  3. “Separated bike lanes are needed on Gordon from Kortright all the way to Wellington, and also on Woolwich from Woodlawn all the way to downtown,” she said.

Well, that’s a tall order.

I think after reading this report, she is asking the council to add $30,000 to the capital budget for her short term plan A to make it easier for cyclists to use the trail to downtown. Trouble is the location of this on Speedvale, some eight kilometers long, is not identified in the article. Which retaining wall? Which trees and roots? Where on Speedvale?

This is a game of assumptions that leave the rest of the citizens out of the loop.

City council, since 2007, has spent millions on developing bike lanes, reducing vehicle lanes on major routes to accommodate them.

Ms. Tendick’s profile is clear but misguided. Does she really believe that the so-called active transportation theory will work and vehicles using fossil fuels will disappear in her lifetime?

How many citizens depend on bicycles 12 months of the year?

It’s a known fact that the city has zero documentation of the number of residents using bicycles on Guelph streets and roads 12 months of the year.

The groups of environmental activists, who ride bicycles, resemble a cult bonded by the belief that they can change the way we transport ourselves while at the same time clean up the atmosphere.

I think of Kevin Costner in the movie, A Field of Dreams, in which the punch line is ‘if we build it, they will come.’

This group is the whiniest, pushy and provocateurs of social engineering for which we have already paid to placate their cause.

It is if they want to roll back society more than 150 years or, as my wife is fond of saying ‘I loved the good old days.’ Neither of us has ridden a bicycle since we were 16.

We are not alone.

How can the proponents of active bicycle transportation be so narrowly focused on the environment when most citizens cannot and never will use bicycles to get out and about?

Think of riding a bicycle to perform simple tasks such as getting groceries and needed drugs, or going to the hospital or doctor’s offices, going to the library, visiting family and friends, going to the cottage or vacation, getting to places of worship, volunteering and going to the park, theatre or your granddaughter’s recital.

Especially when it’s raining, snowing or just damned cold. It’s not a time for the Mary Poppins trick of flying under her umbrella.

Stop and think of children, seniors, the disabled, and all those outside the active transportation groups’ demographic of ages 18 to 40.

I think the expense of expanding or spending more money accommodating the cyclist group should be frozen. That is until we get the handle on our basic infrastructure needs and financial shortfall of some $450 million increasing at a rate of $20 million a year.

Has anyone calculated how much fossil fuel as been reduced as a result of building this network of bicycle lanes in the past 18 years?

We would rather be able to flush our toilet and enjoy a glass of water from the tap than paying for more bike lanes.

Are the demands of the minority greater than repairing the infrastructure of our city that serves everyone? Transportation technology is moving ahead at warp speed. Bicycles are not part of the transition.

It’s time for council to get off the Bike Bandwagon.

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Was this appointment part of the Hydro merger?

By Gerry Barker

January 7, 2019

Opinion

Well, that’s been a weird winter so far. One day the kids are sliding down the first fairway of the Guelph Country Club and a day later there is no snow.

Even stranger is the appointment of Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong as Guelph’s representative on the Board of Directors of Alectra Utilities.

If you missed the news Guelph Hydro is now dead and no longer our property. As of the beginning of the year, Alectra Utilities took over the city’s electricity distribution system.

So, who benefits from this disposal of a $228 million successful city-owned distribution system serving some 55,000 customers?

Well we now know of one person, Jane Armstrong, a 12-year Guelph Hydro Board member and more recently the chairperson. No doubt she is a seasoned, well-qualified individual to represent our interest of things, such as electricity and who is running the system?

Patience friends, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will this takeover of our power distribution system and delivers promised services in a day.

This appointment is shrouded in secrecy. Who made the appointment of Ms. Armstrong? Was it council in secret session? Was it the board of directors of Guelph Hydro? In the release of the news in Guelph Today, there was no mention of just how she got the job.

It’s a juicy assignment reported to have a base salary of $25,000 plus travel expenses and payment for attending the Alectra board meetings.

Oh yes, it includes a four-year engagement.

But here is what bothers me. Ms. Armstrong was the co-chair of the Strategic Options Committee, (SOC) appointed by council, to investigate the sale. Merger or partnership of Guelph Hydro with another municipally-owned power distribution system.

In February 2017, Ms. Armstrong replaced Hydro CEO Panaj Sardana as co-chair of SOC along with Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson.

A closed-session of SOC detailing with SOC’s board personnel changes, also decided to take the option of selling Guelph Hydro off the table. This set the stage for a merger.

This information made public by Richard Puccini who was a member of the SOC board until replaced.

The rest of the story is that Alectra Utilities, in partnership with the Guthrie administration, convinced10 members of council to support the Alectra merger December 13, 2017. Three councillors voted against the merger, Phil Allt, James Gordon and Bob Bell.

Getting back to the Armstrong appointment. As the co-chair of the SOC that recommended the merger with Alectra Utilities, the perception exists that she was in a conflict of interest.

It should be noted that no elected official or city staff were eligible to take the job under the terms of the merger agreement.

Was there any attempt to advertise the position? Were other persons interviewed for the position?

Although public money is not involved in this appointment, she is representing the interests of the citizens.

Now about that $18.5 million “special dividend” the city will receive, it’s a sick joke. It is a return of cash from Guelph Hydro that is the property of the citizens.

There is nothing like closing a deal by paying us with our own money.

Here’s another observation. The low turnout last October in the civic election may be traced back to not only indifference but also failures of people to understand the Merger deal.

I believe that was by design by the Guthrie administration that was determined to merge Guelph Hydro. The only issue left out was what did the city receive for eclipsing Guelph Hydro?

Only in Guelph, you say?

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts on the gradual death of print journalism in Guelph

By Gerry Barker

December 26, 2018

The Mercury Tribune has dropped its Tuesday edition. The paper is promising every Thursday “readers will find analysis, investigative stories, commentary and a variety of content written by our award-winning journalist.”

Also a;pended are about three pounds of advertising inserts, the bread and butter of the enterprise.

In just two years, Metroland Publishing, a division of the TorStar, proprietors of the Toronto Star, has shut down the daily Guelph Mercury and now the Tuesday edition of the Mercury Tribune.

Ah! But stay tuned. The company says it is providing online coverage 24/7 of the news and commentary. Readers must register in order to access the website. The paper is not demanding your first born but just the usual name, address, telephone number and email to access it.

Welcome to the cyber Age of Aquarius, the new electronic access to the news.

The following are important stories about Guelph that are rarely covered in depth by the eviscerated print media. Instead, when questioned, the newspaper says it doesn’t have the space or resources to dig into the stories that affect every citizen in Guelph.

Here’s a recent sample of lack of coverage:

* Explain the “Open Guelph,” a statement of about open government in relation to city council accountability and transparency. Why are they still conducting the public’s business by closed-sessions?

* Explain why Guelph property tax rates and user fees increase every year by far greater than the equivalent of the Consumer Price Index.

* Failure of the Economic Development staff to expand the industrial and commercial assessment to reduce costs to property owners and businesses.

* Guelph Hydro merger that will see the end of the city-owned electricity distribution system that closes at the end of January.

* How much is the city spending advertising in the Mercury Tribune?

* Explain why it has taken five years to renovate the downtown Police HQ that is not expected to be complete until December 2019?.

* Where does council spends the $10 million in gas tax rebates it receives from the Federal and Provincial government?

* How much, if any, do those rebates go toward creating more bike lanes and trails?

* How much of the gas tax rebates are used to expand downtown parking?

* What are the operating and capital costs of the Guelph Civic Museum since it opened?

* How does that figure square with the cost of subsidizing the downtown library?

* What is the status and costs of replacing the Niska bridge?

* Explain the source and details of the financial statements in “Financial Snapshot” section published in the city’s website called: “2017 Report to the Community?”

* What is the ratio of residents using bicycles on Guelph streets and roads compared to those using vehicles?

* Are cyclists subject to the regulations of the Highway Traffic Act? If so, why are they not licensed and carry insurance?

* What are the stats of bicycle and vehicle collisions in 2017 and 2018? What are the injuries to cyclists and drivers? What are the charges brought by Police Services Board and the rationale?

* How much money has been given away or loaned by the city? Aso, explain whar taxparer’s finds are being used to support the Kazoo Festival?

* How much is it costing the city staff services to support the University of Guelph and Conestoga College?

* * * *

Every example listed here costs those citizens who own or rent property and pay user fees.

It’s your money and you have the right to know how it is being spent.

Happy New Year! May good health and prosperity come to you and yours in 2019.

Gerry and Barbara

 

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Critical words denied by those sworn to allow it, our civic democracy is in peril

By Gerry Barker

December 10, 2018

I am a wordsmith, a lover of language and expression. In some 12 years I have been covering the politics of a city that is drenched in diversion and opacity. I have searched for truth and transparency in reporting some 200 columns in the former Mercury daily newspaper and 997 posts in my blog, guelphspeaks.ca.

I am not always right. It isn’t easy as one pursues the truth from a closed operation known as the City of Guelph. The city administration for those 12 years has been dominated and controlled by a pernicious movement controlled by a coalition of the labour movement environmentalists, the Green Gang and by NDP loyalists.

It is a highly organized group determined to change the way we transport ourselves, collect and process our waste, annually increases charge us for our water, incoming outgoing and storm runoff that now represents 33 per cent of my residential Guelph Hydro electricity monthly bill.

Hey! I’m just a taxpayer

This council has given away, (my words and opinion) our Hydro distribution system to a large corporation that has no connection with the 55,000 customers who were quite happy with the former Guelph Hydro.

That single exercise masked the truth and was not transparent. To this day I would like to hear from any member of council how much the city received for our system. Yes, words do matter but only when they are used to reveal the truthful interests of the public.

The control of this group rests with words. They publish the words that they want you to read and believe. There is little or no media investigation of the major mismanagement of the people’s business since 2007.

Their words are designed to block public participation in the politics of the city.

And In October, that strategy worked because for a lack of transparency and accountability, two thirds of those citizens eligible to vote, some 57,000 of them failed to turn up and vote.

Regretfully it is by design. It’s called the lullaby system. Without a vibrant and responsible media to force open an accountable government to inform people. They are the large group of eligible citizens who are not informed and then assume their vote is not important or needed.

Mushroom manipulation of the public’s business

Here’s what you’ll rarely read or view in the Guelph focused media. Critical news of the administration, particularly when it comes to financial news and development decisions. The exception is the Ontario Municipal Act that oversees the governance of the 445 municipalities in Ontario. That Ministry also published the annual Sunshine List of every public employee in the province earning more that $100,000.

This is an invaluable resource to track down who and how much Guelph employees whomake the list earn each year.

Yes, words, facts and figures do matter. The province gets it, why doesn’t Guelph?

That was a major break-through in discovering how city council, in December 10, 2015, in closed-session, approved $98,202 in salary increases to four top staff managers. Not one of the so-called media covered this, even when the 2015 Sunshine list revealed their salaries in March 2016.

I was interested in the numbers and checked their salaries in 2014 and discovered the size of the increases and to whom they were awarded. The city to this day has never admitted those increases that they covered up for more than three months. Did they believe that none of us would notice or question it?

I attempted in January 2016 to obtain the minutes of the Dec. 10th closed-session. It turned out three levels of consultants denied my request after four months. More on this to come later. It is a form of voter suppression that has been perfected for the past 12 years.

I wrote several posts critical of the silence that enveloped any official explanation or an apology. In addition, my posts aggravated the senior staff and certain members of council.

Yep! Words do matter, along with actions that blind public participation even when such a monumental mistake occurs under the administration’s watch.

Why the city administration wants to control the news

This is an example that words are important and matter in our modern society. Unfortunately, the City of Guelph administration has chosen to shut down public participation because the words do not fit their agenda.

Finally, here’s my point. If city council abuses the right of citizens to know and understand the administration’s operations, there is no better example than the numbers of closed-session meetings of council plus that of some of its non-elected committees.

In two years, 2015 and 2016, council conducted 84 closed-session meetings not including those conducted by other committees appointed by council.

The question is: These suppressive tactics to deny the right of the public’s right to know, are allowed to continue, nothing will change and we can only change it by organizing, and preparing for the next civic election in 2022. Only with political action by the voters can end it and return real democracy to our city.

I will do everything I can as long as I am able to help make this happen. More on this later.

Meanwhile, let’s get started. Let me know, if you are ready to join the coalition to change the way to stop our city being controlled by a group of self-serving people. Drop me a line at gerrybarker76@gmail.com. We can start by forming a steering group to set up an organization that will represent all parts of the city.

 

 

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CAO Derrick Thomson explains Guelph’s global giving goals but doesn’t giving begin at home?

By Gerry Barker

December 3, 2018

The other day a number of community leaders attended a breakfast meeting in a downtown bar. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Guelph Gives organized he meeting in conjunction with the Giving Tuesday campaign of last week.

The UN goals include eliminating poverty, creating gender equality, climate action and reducing inequalities.

Guelph Gives organizer, Emma Rogers said: “We know Guelph is great in terms of financial give-back and in terms of volunteerism. What can we do to take that another step further?

She answered her own question. “Taking a bigger piece of the pie to not only help the people of Guelph but also helping people around the world.”

For the record, Canada is a major contributor to a number of agencies working under the UN umbrella. Also, there are many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) offering services and assistance in a host of countries around the world.

A Noble initiative

It is admirable for this organization to urge support of other people around the world but what about other homegrown issues facing our community? These include affordable housing, public safety, and drug addiction, health and wellness and updating infrastructure.

Then we have the active transportation crowd who demand more bicycle lanes and trails and don’t have to pay for it. Fast-forward 20 years. The greatest revolution in vehicles will be the general use of electricity cars, trucks, and buses.

There will still be congestion and lack of parking on our streets, just like today because in 20 years Guelph’s population will grow by an estimated 40,000. The former Liberal government’s Places to Grow plan estimated that Guelph’s population would be 175,000 by 2050.

So here is my personal dilemma. Do we continue to spend millions on bicycle lanes at the expense of vehicles that use our streets? Just so we can help people around the world? We currently have a transit system that is inefficient, expensive and geared to chiefly supplying transportation for the 20,000 University of Guelph students for eight months.

No matter what the administration has done in the past 12 years, the emphasis on failed energy projects costing millions; demands for climate change by cutting the use of fossil fuels; wasting money on bike lanes on major roads to support a tiny portion of the population of Guelph; projecting spending millions on the proposed $350 million Baker Street Parking lot downtown. The list of financial commitments in terms of multi-millions of capital spending increases while a city council seems devoid of common sense

Here’s an example. We just re-elected a mayor who promised that the city would finally get a new downtown library that would be part of the Baker Street development. Here’s the truth. The city staff says the project will not start until 2024. By the time the library is completed, at least ten years will have gone by before the first book is loaned out.

That’s big time hyperbole and that’s three city councils from now.

The article carried on the GuelphToday website quotes the Chief Administrative Officer, who attended the meeting, at length about the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Chills go down my spine when I hear this

Mr. Thomson outlines the city venturing into areas that a municipality traditionally has not done. Specifically he included the Guelph Community Energy Initiative’s (CEI) efforts by reducing the carbon footprint and the city’s goal of being net zero in its carbon footprint as well as being 100 per cent renewable in its energy uses.

He’s kidding right?

Let’s start with the CEI. The newly elected mayor Karen Farbridge stitched it together in 2007. The organizing meeting was attended by many enthusiastic community leaders about the goals if CEI.

For those of our readers not familiar with CEI here is a brief record of its achievements.

More than 300 change orders to make the new city hall environmentally green, resulted in the firing of the General Contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., and a subsequent lawsuit that cost the city an additional $23 million to complete the project. As a result the Mayor was defeated in the 2014 civic election.

Next was the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. scandal to make Guelph self sufficient in energy. This was another Mayor Farbridge plan linked to her CEI initiative. Trouble was it involved Guelph Hydro and a business plan that was labeled secretive, sloppy and irresponsible. Nobody outside of the administration knew what was happening until the results started to leak out. Long story short, the GMHI shareholders, the people of Guelph, according to a KPMG audit of GMHO operations stated there was a liability of $63 million.

Here’s the CEI Kayo punch to the citizens: In the fall of 2016, the council appointed a committee to investigate the sale or merger of Guelph Hydro with tangible assets of $228 million according to its 2016 financial report. Guelph Hydro was owned by GMHI. The committee, co-chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson, most times met in closed session. In October 2017, Mayor Guthrie announced the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra utilities Inc., a large-scale power distribution corporation. Despite the many questions regarding the sale or merger, the details of this deal have never been revealed. As of January 31, Guelph Hydro disappears and is no longer the property of the 55,000 customers. It’s thanks to the closed session meeting of the Ontario Energy Board thst approved the deal despite citizen’s protests.

Mr. Thomson was involved in these CEI debacles as CAO and co-chair of the dispersal of Guelph Hydro.

His boast that Guelph was the exception not the rule when it came to sustainability and environmental issues is misrepresenting the facts.

As the staff head of more that 2,100 employees not including police, fire and EMS, in his two and a half years on the job, there has been no relief of property taxes, user fees or industrial development. Instead the citizens, including those 57,000 who didn’t bother to vote, are stuck with an administration that refuses to deal with the basic underlying problems.

Darn it Derrick. Why don’t you concentrate on lowering operational costs starting with a meaningful staff rationalization by an independent firm; put a sock in the proponents of the Guelph Innovation District, turn up the heat of the Economic Development Department to attract more commercial and industrial development; work to attract technologists to develop Artificial Intelligence and new software.

At the same time, work to juice city revenue besides tapping the property tax owners every year. You can start by getting our MPP to persuade the Legislature to update the University’s bed-tax deal in lieu of property taxes. After all he says that he has many friends in the PC caucus who are unhappy with the government.

Running a municipality is not rocket science but setting off one or two rockets may make Guelph an even better place to live and work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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