Tag Archives: Mayor Cam Guthrie

Why Democracy has left the building and we are the less for it

By Gerry Barker

September 3, 2019

Opinion

When the underlying issues of a civilized society are endangered by a dictatorial and secretive administration, democracy, as we know it, vanishes.

It’s a natural instinct for those in power to withhold information that may reflect on their actions and management of the public assets.

Once in power the tendency is to surround you with friends and supporters who blindly follow.

One of the first tenants of political power is to control the message and give the appearance of serving the public stakeholders. Those controlling the agenda ignore disagreement and rejection of the controlling political organization’s policies.

This leads to anger and disillusionment on the part of the stakeholder, you and me.

So, thanks to a report by Carol Goar, a senior writer and columnist in the Toronto Star, some years ago that are even more important today. Here are three lessons to emphasize the theory of democracy discarded by those empowered.

* Lesson One: “Those with power – politicians, police and bureaucrats – don’t believe they should have to share that power. Basically, they dismiss the rights of citizens to share that power and don’t believe they have any role to play in their sphere of influence.

* Lesson Two: “Governments frequently slap pejorative labels on those who oppose and complain. Such methods are to use surrogates to attack those objectors labeling them as ignorant, dangerous, violent and out of touch.

* Lesson Three: “Citizens have to use the tools they have to keep democracy alive. These include solidarity, willingness to stand up to authorities and to reach beyond their own ranks.”

How do those lessons in maintaining democracy rank with what has been going on in Guelph for the past 13 years?

First, we have been governed by a civic dictatorship composed of a majority of councillors who, 99 per cent of the time, vote collectively their own agenda. The opposition – in the first four years consisted of just two councillors. Since 2010, the opposition has grown to five councillors who have voiced concerns about the operation of the city government but are defeated most times when votes are held

There is evidence that former mayor Karen Farbridge, the architect of Guelph’s public policy, along with a close-knit group of unelected advisors, created unrest among voters.

Democracy is no longer operative in this council. The results of the 2018 civic election only exacerbated the lack of public participation, transparency and open government.

The use of closed=session meetings has drained accountability to which the stakeholders are entitled.

It has become so pervasive that despite the absence of the four senior city managers between 2016 and 2019, little has changed in terms of controlling the operational details to the public

The administration works in two parts. The mayor and a majority of city council carry out the agenda and handpicked the senior bureaucrats. Policy rests with the mayor and his advisors.

It has beeb\n five years sunce the Farbridge elected supporters have influenced and received support from a number of community and neighbourhood groups supplying public funding, support in planning and social issues.

The offshoot of all this is the vast silent majority of voters who are not united, knowledgeable nor organized to question or oppose policies advanced by the city administration.

This has resulted in a perverted, participatory democracy failing to acknowledge the needs, will/ and interests, of the people.

Once again, here is Lesson Two: “Governments frequently slap pejorative labels on those who oppose and complain. Such methods are to use surrogates to attack those objectors labeling them as ignorant, dangerous, violent and out of touch.

I am one citizen who has felt the wrath of the Guthrie administration that has supported a dismissed employee who sues me for $500,000 for defamation by paying all his legal fees since August 2016.

I have had to spend a great deal of money to defend myself. And it’s not over yet.

This lawsuit seems to strech the meaning of “pejorative” describing the action of the City of Guelph government.

Still not convinced?

The ambition of this group has cost taxpayers millions in failed personal pet projects, dumb planning, excessive legal expenses and fiscal mismanagement aided and abetted by unqualified or now absent individuals,

those no longer responsible for maintaining the public interest.

Mayor Guthrie, democracy has left your building.

 

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It only took 13 years to change Guelph politically, culturally and economically

By Gerry Barker

August 22, 2019

Opinion

Part Seven of Seven

Experiencing the ebbing of summer as it morphs into fall, I reflect on the forces and political events that in the past 13 years have changed Guelph forever.

The city has changed as the demographics have changed. Many new people have moved to this city touched by gentle rivers, lush parks and being a preeminent home to the new Canada, one of diversity, tolerance and peace.

With that statement of idealism comes the downside of transferring a beautiful city to meet the challenges of a changing planet, separate of the demographic between the young and old and the handmaiden of authoritarian civic rule.

The outcome has been a mixed bag of modernization, coupled with a rigid cultural shift that transferred political power to an efficient majority of progressive believers in change at any cost.

It has been incredibly uncomfortable in this period of dominant control of our civic affairs, pegged to some 16 years of Liberal-dominated provincial governments. In fairness, some of the mistakes in wasted capital were made in Guelph by the administration of dream catchers.

If you have been following this series, you have read the details of the high cost of change driven by a council and senior staff to turn the city, they said many times over, into a world class municipality of unparalleled elimination of fossil-fueled vehicles, alternative transportation (bicycles), reduction of waste, developing self sufficiency in sourcing clean power.

At the time, these efforts were appealing to the council supporters, including the labour unions, employee associations, the University of Guelph and Conestoga Community College, plus the two Liberal governments at Queen’s Park.

The previous six parts of this blog have detailed, in my observation and opinion, a dismal record of misuse of power and personal ambition lust to alter a way of life.

New housing did not include detached homes

The type of housing in the city changed dramatically almost overnight. The virtual elimination of detached single- strip attached homes incorporated in low-rise condominium development. It was the urging of the Wynne Liberal provincial government to create the intensification developments to discourage detached single-family home sprawl.

Unfortunately, the costs of servicing these new developments soared as the city’s operational overhead costs increased with each new proposal.

City council adopted the intensification proposal mainly because it had a higher return of property tax than the detached home developments.

Many viewers reading the series of blog posts for whatever reasons, may sneer, some will dismiss me as an ”irritant,” I call others the Monday regulars, those who appreciate my reporting and analysis. Then there are the readers on Twitter and Facebook where the blog material is regularly posted.

In my opinion, Guelph is still a small town and managed accordingly. On the ground, we have the size of a city but are controlled by ward councillors who have been in charge for 13 years. I call it parish pomp politics run chiefly by a part-time council.

There remain important issues to be resolved. Some are the result of a transformation of society. Many are neglected and need action with the most important being the city’s aging infrastructure.

Past mistakes are hard to fix and expensive. If we have learned anything, we need much closer public participation, a new reduced full-time city council elected at large, and nine would be a good number.

Instead of the dated Community Energy Innovation plan, circa 2007, lets study the new jobs that the future will demand. The shift in information collection and delivery has seen the loss of print media including newspapers, snail mail, call centres, transportation, healthcare and delivery of cyber services.

Like it or not, the transformation of our society is bringing rapid changes. Manufacturing jobs are shrinking with the advancement of robot technology that is pervasively replacing workers. This issue will hit Guelph’s manufacturing companies who will have little choice but to lay off employees due to robots taking over.

You know, robots don’t pay taxes, do not participate in the community, don’t drive cars, don’t get emotional and have one line of repetitive thinking. This will seriously impact the future basis of determining business taxes in the city.

Guelph’s drug crisis that is deadly and growing

A comment from a reader described Guelph as the Meth (amphetamine) capital of Canada and the downtown area was awash with needles. Is that an exaggeration? Will legalized distribution of pot change this dangerous opiod growing epidemic? Don’t bet on it.

My experience living in Guelph, is I believe that use of illegal drugs in our city has been a long-term problem. It is one that can be controlled but will never disappear even with the advent of recreational pot.

Guelph police have focused on the dealers of these drugs including the arrival of the powerful opiod fentynal

Several things need to happen: Enforcement of choking off the supply and distribution. That includes drug wholesalers, pharmacists, physicians and illegal drug dealers. This campaign will be costly and take time. It’s time city council stops denying and providing the resources to halt this scourge that is not unique to Guelph. Regardless the drug supply and culture in the city lays the groundwork for very serious consequences.

Dealers and users should be arrested and dealt sever penalties if found guilty. No more releases of accused druggies on their own recognecense, provide the resources for more law enforcement, the courts and the professional organizations whose members may be part of the distribution of illegal drugs.

This is the time to set aside the capital projects such as the proposed Baker Street $350 Million project, the Guelph Innovated District planned purchase, the South End Recreation Complex, all bike lane expansion and climate change and other environmental and Innovation projects.

The focus must turn on the transformation issues now affecting our immediate future. Council has a lot of work to do to meet the new direction of society including public health.

I am in the December of my years but my one regret is that I will not be around to witness and participate in the real changes that are at the doorstep of civilization.

Where do Guelph citizens figure in all this?

I am positive that if the administration is reduced and keeps the public informed regularly, allows online voting and attracts representatives with experience and qualifications, and pays them well as full-time councillors. I am confident if this occurs, Guelph will become more than just another pinpoint dot on the atlas of Canada.

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Was city council duped giving away the $228 million Guelph Hydro to solve the GMHI losses?

By Gerry Barker

August 16, 2019

Opinion

Part Six of Seven

It began in the fall of 2016 when city council formed the Strategies and Options Committee (SOC) to select the best way to dispose of Guelph Hydro and its substatial assets. That ibcludes a guaranteed customer base of some 55,000 who pay thrie account mpnthly.

This committee was asked to examine all options including merger with other utilities, sell Guelph Hydro or keep it as a profitable and effoicient city-owned corporation. Seems the latter choice is logical and straight forward.

The SOC was composed of the following: Co-chairs Derrick Thomson and jane Armstrong, Robert Bell, co-chair of GHESI and Mark Goldberg. It is assumed that at a closed-session of city cou ncil, June 9, 2017, that Ron Clark, solicitor of Aird and Berlis, was representing GMHI. In fact, he attended a number of those closed meerings according to city records. The one missing link is when Mr. Clark was appointed solicitor for GMHI.

When council approved the merger, Mr. Clark made a presentation that gave the impression that he was representing Alectra, or at the least supporting the SOC merger proposal.

So, why were the meetings of the SOC and liaison with cuty council conducted in closed-sessions?

Well, a lot did happen between the fall of 2016 and February 2017 whenthe SOC recommended to city council that the option of selling Guelph Hydro be withdrawn. In short, no longer considered. Council voted 7-5 to not sell Guelph Hydro.

We now know what happened. On December 13, 2017, council voted 10-3 to merge with Alectra Utilities. What motivated those ten elected councillors to agree to the merger? Further, Mr. Clark advised council that the agreement was not finalizeds and it would take a few months to complete.

Why did council rush to approve the agreement? Reading on that irgency will be revealed.

Let’s backtrack to why Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., for more than four years, under the leadership of Mayor Karen Farbridge, was also chair of GMHI? Her Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, was also Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

Under any corporate organization chart, having the two top executives controling in the same capacity, of both the City of Guelph Corporation and its corporate subsidiary, GMHI. Itwould not be tolerated. Here’s why, it’s a dangerous concentration of power in the organization..

It gave the two women carte blanche to do what ever they wanted to achieve goals without oversight or checks of balances. Thar’s not the way our municipal systems are supposed to work.

But make no mistake the Mayor was in complete control of both corporations. As it turned out it wasn’t the GMHI situation that defeated mayor Farbridge in 2014. It was the wrongful dismissal lawsuit by the general contractor of the new city hasll, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc.

That six year legal battle cost the city an additional $23 million to complete the project.

The mystery that prevails is what made the SOC recommendation to city council that the sale of Guelph Hydro be taken off the table as an option?

Was the SOC a masquerade or just following orders?

To this day there is no explanation or details of who or what influenced the SOC to recommendation removal of not selling Guelph Hydro.

It left only two alternatives, merge with another utility or continue to operate it. If that was the SOC choice it would eliminate the opportunity to help clean up the GMHI $66 million losses.

In my opinion, no bank was prepared to put up the $68.3 million considering the depth of the losses revealed in two staff reports in May and July 2016. Instead, the city loaned the money to GMHI not aware that there was no possibility of GMHI repaying the loan. This was confirmed in the GMHI consolidated audit perfotmed by the accouting firm KPMG. They described the loans as “Shareholder’s Liability.”

This placed the city administration in a bind. Because the province demands that all municipalities must ballance their books at year end, where was the city going to find $66 million before then end of 2016?

The city debt limit could not handle it. The risk managers at he banks would not touch impaired assets that was being written down. There were no GMHI profits available to service the growing debt some of which remains today and is growing.

Then, along came the strategy to sell Guelph Hydro and use thr proceeds to pay off the $66 million. In the fall, the wheels started turning when the SOC was selected to find a buyer or merge Guelph Hydro with another partner.

Merger negotiatins began in earnest in June 2017. In early October, Mayor Guthrie announce the city had signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Alectra.

So here’s the deal:

The city transfers title and assets of Guelph Hydro with a 2016 book value of $228 million to Alectra. In return, Alectra promises to establish a Green Technology centre in Guelph and the city would receive an annual dividend of 4.86 per cent of 60 per cent of Alectra utilities profits. City council appointed Jane Armstrong as Guelph’s representative on the Alectra Board of Directors.

The merger was approved by the Ontario Energy Board in 2018. The decision denied intervenor access ti the meeting despite a number of residents who requested a open meeting and the opportunity to speak.

None of us were granted that request. On January 1, 2019 the deal was completed.

There are more details of this deal that have not been revealed. Why did this merger solve the city’s GMHI problem? Did Alectra assume the $66 million losses that were financed internally by the city? Did the city recover the $2.6 million it admitted spending to sell the deal to the public?

Is it not true that Alectra promised there would no charges to the city regarding rate increases for power? Alectra recently asked the Ontario Energt Generation Board for a 5 per cent rate increase.

The city did receive $18.5 million from Guelph Hydrp’s surplus. What happened to those funds that were the property of the citizens?

Council, despite the leaking of the SOC recommending dropping the sale of Guelph Hydro, did not explain the reasons or even a summary of the SOC decision. The SOC assumed it was covered in closed-sessions protected by the Council Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct prevents any councilor or member of the SOC to discuss or reveal the contents of any designated closed-session meeting in which they participated.

If there is an apparent breach of the rule, the offender may be subject to dicipline as determined by the Integrity Commissioner who may suspend the offender following an investigation and fine them.

Closed-sessions are the most abused procedural rules that prevents disclosure by council or any board or committee to not discuss the content of such closed-session.

In my opinion, this suppresses information of the public’s interest that should be revealed. There are certain legitimate reasons for a closed-session including contract negotiations, real estate transactions and certain staff issues.

The fact is that in the first two years of the Guthrie administration, there were 84 closed-sessions. There was supposed to be a summary of the meeting reported after but that did not occur.

It is, in my opinion, the essence of convenient cover-up that denies public participation, accountability, transparency and open government.

This is what happens when the real shareholders of Guelph Hydro are rarely informed of the methods, reasons or, dare I say it, what happened to due diligence?

 

 

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How Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, covered-up losses of $68.3 million

By Gerry Barker

August 5, 2019

Opinion

Part Four of Seven

Previously in Guelph Speaks:

Catch-up synopsis of the first four posts about the turbulent and financial history of the two Guelph administrations serving the city in the past 13 years.

The introduction of the seven-part series summarizes the impact on the citizens.

Part One –The birth of the Community Energy Initiative and the failure of citizens to petition for an audit of the city’s finances by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Part Two – The unrealistic goals of the Community Energy Innovation plan to restrict greenhouse gases, by 50 per cent less energy per capita.

Part Three – Executive spite cost citizens $23 million more than the new City Hall contract when the general contractor, Urbacon Building Group Inc, was fired with the project 95 per cent completed.

And now, Part Four- A convenient collusion in which Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. lost $66 million

Details of this GMHI audited financial loss of $66 million, has been surrounded with few details of why, in four years, it lost $66 million.

More importat to citizens, is what did GMHI and Guelph Hydro, do with the money?

In this part you will learn about what we do know, including the duplicate management of Mayor Karen Farbridge and Ann Pappert, Chief Administrative Officer of the Guelp. The mayor was also chair of CMHI and CAO Pappert was also Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

That set the stage for a convenient collusion that ended with the city stuck with a debit of $66 million.

Read on for the details of this project, how it was mismanaged, conducted its business in secret and there were no checks and balances by our elected representatives. The public interest was ignored as was accountability and transparency.

Again what did GMHI and or the city do with the money over the four years?

There are three clues to what happened. First clue, in May 2016, a report to council from the GMHI management stated the holding company, owned by the city, was losing money and the business plan was not viable.

The second clue was a devastating staff report in July 2016 that declared GMHI was $68.3 million in the hole.

The third clue was the 2016 consolidated audit by the accounting firm KPMG that, among other things, stated the shareholder’s liability was $66 million.

It is calculated by a staff management’s review that GMHI has an “investment impairment” of $68.3 million. By 2017, it was estimated GMHI had lost an additional $17 million and was losing money every year. The reason was the operation of GMHI’s defunct District Energy operations that had to continue servicing customers with hot and cold water.

Double-barreled command enhanced by closed-session meetings

It didn’t help the public to understand what was going on because the GMHI Board of Director’s (BOD) meetings were conducted in closed-session as were a number of council meetings regarding GMHI.

To be blunt, the Farbridge-inspired Community Energy Innovation (CEI) an enterprise project, created in 2007, was a financial disaster with little or no hope of ever becoming remotely viable or an asset of the city and its citizens.

These projects, inspired by the CEI manifesto, impacted needed infrastructre maintenance as funding was diverted to GMHI.

Proof is that in 2017, city council approved a special one per cent levy on property owners in the 2017 budget following the 2016 KPMG audit of GMHI. The money was to be applied to infrastructure maintenance and replacement.

The CEI manifesto is still being used today as a guideline to fulfill the objectives of the environmentalists looking to change the city to conform to their principlres.

This decision by council was made following a staff report that there was a shortfall in infrastructure requirements of $400 million.

In my opinion, this levy was a ludicrous attempt to thwart public interest into believing council was doing the right thing dealing with infrastructure demands.

Some words of wisdom from someone who has been there

Back then, for the newly elected Mayor, Karen Farbridge, the comment of former U.S First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the 2012 Democratic Convention: “ Being President doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.”

Becoming mayor, revealed who Ms. Farbridge was. As we subsequently learned, she was canny, comfortable in her persona, secretive and determined to change our city into her image of what it should be.

Did I mention that she was ruthless in dominating her administration?

It became the centrepiece of the CEI and reflected the vision of Mayor Farbridge.

In retrospect, we learned who Ms. Farbridge was. She became the uber boss of Guelph, serving not only as Mayor but also chair of the GMHI Board of Directors with her CAI, Ann Pappert, as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

A convenient collusion denied public participation

To the best of my knowledge, neither woman had any technical experience in managing large energy projects. They oversaw the GMHI energy projects that cost citizens $68.3 million as well as the corporation of the City of Guelph.

As it turned out, the city corporation was also the GMHI banker.

Their secretive complicity reminds one of the lines in the movie, Field of Dreams: “If we build it, they will come.”

Today, Guelph’s enironmental dreams linger as both Ms. Farbridge and Ms. Pappert are gone. There is no apparent benefit to the public to show for the huge investment made by the unknown “institutional investors.” These unidentified investors spent millions in the GMHI projects because they were convinced their boss, Mayor Farbridge, was in charge and knew what she was doing.

Now we know the identity of those investors.

They were the members of the Guelph city council supported by senior managers. Translation, those “unknown investors” were the citizens of Guelph represented by those city councillors they elected. It was a colossal failure by those elected representatives to assume their sworn fiduciary responsibility.

There was no public knowledge of the GMHI operations or the growing financial losses that built up for four years. The GMHI Board of Directors operated almost all the time in closed-sessions.

Nightmare at 1 Carden Street

The defeat of Mayor Farbridge in October 2014 was the start of the flood of information until May 16, 2016 when a report signed by GMHI’s CEO Pankaj Sardana. He replaced Ms. Pappert who left the administration ten days later.

There were no tag days for Ms. Pappert who was paid $263,000 for five months work according to the 2016 provincial Sunshine List published in March 2017. That amount included her 2015 performance bonus of $27,000. Wouldn’t that be called double dipping?

But why repeat the bonus in 2016 when she only worked for five months?

Council hired the accounting firm KPMG to conduct a consolidated audit of GMHI and its links to both Guelph Hydro and the city. That revealed the shareholder’s liability of $66 million.

The KPMG audit confirmed the cost of a project that was controlled by the Farbridge administration, aided and abetted by city councillors and senior staff.

Servicing the carrying costs of this investment by the city loan was estimated to carry 2 per cent interest cost. That’s $1,300,000 per year. When this is added over slightly less than three years, the debt is now stated as $68.3 million on the GMHI and city books.

Now, add in the growing annual $1,967 245 of GMHI “tax losses” of Guelph Hydro subsidiary Envida Community Corporation. You don’t have to be an accountant to figure out this was a growing serious financial disaster. It adds up to between debt-servicing and so-called tax losses, to some $3,268,245 every year.

Note: Tax losses can only be recovered when there are tax gains. GMHI never made a dime in its existence.

The arrangement of “the investors” loan to GMHI was one pocket being picked by another, with the public not knowing how their money was being played.

This was an example of municipal corruption at the highest level. It deserves a provincial inquiry to return the city to responsible management and reveal the truth.

Following the mone

The sick joke about all this is the some $10.5 million that GMHI allegedly sent to the city treasury through Guelph Hydro over a six-year period. Was it just a book entry on the GMHI balance sheet or did the cash really get transferred. How does a money-losing millions GMHI afford to send an annual dividend of $1,500,000 to the city?

That money was paid indirectly by the City of Guelph with no reduction of principal of the GMHI “investors” loan. It was the accounting merry-go-round of money between GMHO, Guelph Hydro and the city. Remember the city, that’s you and me, were the bankers.

Did Guelph Hydro, through its subsidiary, Guelph Hydro Electric Services Inc (GHESI), mortgage the city by more than $66 million due to those “institutional investors” aka city council, who provided the money?

The answer is no. The funds were advanced by the City of Guelph and approved by council. Who served on the GMHI Board of Directors? It was four loyal Farbridge councillors, Lise Burcher, June Hofland, Karl Wettstein and Todd Dennis, giving the mayor an ensured majority on city council and GMHI Board.

This resulted in blocking public accountability and transparency conducting the public’s business.

There’s a new sheriff in town

When newly elected Mayor, Cam Guthrie, took over city council he was handed a rock known as GMHI. As a member of the previous council, did he know about GMHI and its financial problems? It took a year of learning about the serious damaging details facing the GMHI financial disaster.

Yet, under his watch, city council held 42 closed-session meetings in 2015, thereby denying the public information about GMHI and its troubles. The shroud of secrecy descended barring accountability. During this period, who was his chief source about GMHI? Why it was CAO Ann Pappert.

Is it possible that Ms. Pappert sold out Karen Farbridge? Is that why council, in closed-session December 10 2015, rewarded Ms. Pappert with a $27,000 retroactive performance bonus? Was it for her work as CAO and CEO of GMHI since 2011?

Following the devastating staff report in July 2016, details of the depth of the GMHI mess became known, but not all the details. The plan to bail out of the multi-million dollar debacle was not revealed.

Any attempt to keep this failed project alive is just pushing more money down the rabbit hole, with no guarantees the city ever gets our money back or stops the bleeding of funds.

Next, Part Five: Along comes Alectra

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The 2007 Community Energy Initiative steered Guelph down the financial rabbit hole

By Gerry Barker

July 29, 3019

Opinion

Part Two of Seven

This part of the series outlines the objectives of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) plan that was formed with excitement across a range of citizens when the non-elected consortium produced the future plans for the city. It was the beginning of the greening of Guelph.

The CEI was created by former mayor Karen Far bridge and supported by her majority on city council. As a result there were no checks or balances to question the decisions made by council for the following seven years.

The founding group was composed of members of the city administration, Union Gas, (now Enbridge), Guelph Hydro, representatives of business and Industry, University of Guelph, school boards and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

Without doubt it was a blue chip group from many interest groups in the city.

Here are the reported CEI goals:

* Use 50 per cent less energy per capita

* Produce 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions per capita

* Encourage and facilitate community-based renewable and alternative energy systems

There is no estimate of the costs of these goals or details of achieving them.

The CEI report, at the time, said that the goals would position Guelph among the top energy performers in the world.

How has that worked out for you?

Let’s start examining goal One to use 50 per cent less energy per citizen.

Setting goals is one thing but forcing people to change the way they live is another matter.

In 2007, the Farbridge administration initiated expansion of bicycle lane networks on major city streets to help reduce dependence on fossil fuel emission by motor vehicles.

Piggy-backed on this goal was increasing use of alternative transportation, (bicycles) and public transit.

The first major project was installing dedicated bike lanes on Stone Road in 2009 by taking advantage of the tri-government infrastructure program in which Guelph’s share was one third of the $66 million approved by all parties.

That project cost $2 million. Then council approved a ten-year bike lane development plan, spending $300,000 per year. But here’s what happened:

The city embarked on resurfacing portions of major streets all of which were to accommodate bike lanes. Part of the individual projects was to shrink the road to three lanes to two for traffic and a centre lane for left turns. The shrinking included painting in bike lanes on either side of their freshly resurfaced road.

But this accommodation for cyclists did not extend beyond the portion being resurfaced in most cases. These include Silver Creek, Woodlawn, Stevenson, Speedvale, Woolwich, Victoria, Gordon, Downey, and Clair Road to name a few.

This attempt to provide alternative transportation, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was thwarted by a growing population that was 119,000 in 2007 when the CEI was approved, to 131, 000 by the last national census in 2016.

Does more mean less?

Accordingly, more people mean more cars, trucks and transit vehicles. That adds up to increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The new housing enclaves of attached strip houses, low-rise condos and high-rise apartment buildings, has further exacerbated the building boom of new housing. Then add the undergraduate population of the University of Guelph that has expanded with 22,000 now attending.

Traffic congestion, intensification following new housing development and improving rail service to Toronto, These are factors in increasing energy use, not decreasing it when the CEI goals were approved.

The same events apply to the second goal of producing 60 per cent less of greenhouse gases per capita. The timing of this vision is not mentioned in these goals’ report. As it turned out, it was an open cheque book opportunity for city council to introduce personal ideas and projects to achieve these CEI goals.

WE now know that more people driving more fossil-fueled vehicles does not reduce the greenhouse gas emissions

Let’s follow the money

Who benefits from all this housing built in Guelph since 20017?

Well, the Chamber of Commerce should be happy with the growth of commercial business in the city. The building trades have prospered and last, but not least, the development industry and supporting cast of architects, town planners and lawyers who benefit from the housing and commercial growth since 2007

In Mayor Guthrie election financial report presented to the city, it revealed an interesting fact. The mayor collected some $86,000 for his campaign from people who did not live in Guelph. Most were developers and service corporations seeking access to the Guelph market. Of this group, out of the 100 individual and corporations who donated some 29 per cent were from the development industry. Most of the donations were $1,200, the maximum allowed by Elections Ontario.

Did all this development meet the 2007 CEI goals of reducing energy in the city by 50 per cent, or reducing 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions or facilitate and encourage community based renewable and alternative energy system?

WE now know how that last goal went. All it costs citizens more than $66 million with the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. district enery projects.

The irony is that despite the loss of millions of dollars by two administrations, is that the remnants of the Farbridge eight-year social engineering adventure is why does the CEI still exist? Its premise and goals are still influencing today’s council.

How did all this lower energy use reduce greenhouse gas?

This part will explain in 2009 how the wheels falling off when Guelph Hydro announced its subsidiary, Ecotricity Corporation, reported a loss of $3,945,000. The report stated that the loss was due to declining extraction of methane gas used to generate electricity at the Eastview landfill garbage site. This is contributed to an “impairment charge” of $2,984,000 of the corporation’s total loss in 2009.

An “impairment charge” is an accounting term based on the amount of an investment is less than the carrying charge, then the assets are deemed to be impaired. The amount of the investment must be eventually written down to the recoverable amount, if any exists.

In 2014, Councillor Cam Guthrie defeated Mayor Farbridge. There was hope that reform would occur and civic sanity would arrive.

In other words, it’s Act Two of the Farbridge CEI legacy and citizens are all empty-pocket endangered species.

There is only one way out and that is to elect a council of moderate, thinking, and responsible candidates to change the menu and reform the administration.

Stay tuned to more information that will be revealed in future parts of the Guelphspeaks seven-part series on the pathological odyssey of corruptive practices. There are other examples of losses and impairment charges that slammed city finances.

Miss the introduction and Part One? All published parts are located in the Guelphspeaks archives located on the website and are filed post publishing’s usual comments are welcome

Next, Part Three: is  to be published August 1, 2019.

How irritated spite increased the cost of the new city hall by $23 million

 

 

 

 

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Is the Province shutting down the city’s development fee piggy bank used to finance capital projects?

By Gerry Barker

June 29, 2019

Opinion

The story in Guelph Today was an expose’ of the weakness of our Mayor protesting the provincial legislature’s Bill 108. That’s the one that proposes reducing the amount of development fees a municipality can charge developers.

The whining over this from the Mayor and his council has been going on for some time. Tara Baker, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer, said the impending bill could cost the city $150 million over the next ten years. That averages $15 million per year.

Have the developer’s fees morphed into a piggy bank to finance certain capital projects? You can bet that Guelph is not the only municipality that has discovered this silent source of revenue.

Bill 108 deals with changes in the Development Charges Act. The city’s GM of Finance suggests that two key capital projects include, the estimated $53 million proposed downtown main branch library and the $63 million South End Recreation complex, might be in jeopardy.

Nothing new here, we have been waiting 19 years for a new library

For several years, the city has been increasing development fees by using proceeds to fund capital projects. This includes sweetheart deals that suspend payment of those fees for up to ten years.

It is next to impossible for citizens to find the details of these deals intended to encourage residential development downtown.

More important, why doesn’t the city come clean about transferring funds from the Brownfield remediation reserves to cover the ten-year development holiday not paying those development fees or suspending property taxes? Take your pick.

Municipal development fees or impost fees, are intended to connect new development with vital city services such as water and sewer hook-ups, power, increased emergency staff and equipment, parks, hospital, transit, and infrastructure.

This party started in 2007

Former mayor, Karen Far bridge, campaigned in 2006 vowing to “put Guelph back on track.” Sad to say that promise has gone off the rails as personal issues to convert the city into a paragon of environmental rectitude and a world class leader in coping with climate change.

The administration was determined to reduce the use of fossil fuels and spent millions trying to force cars to use major streets by shrinking lanes to allow bike lanes.

Today there are more vehicles using Guelph streets causing daily congestion.

The majority of her council is still pushing much of that agenda. The 12-year cost to citizens has been more than $1500 million due to poorly planned projects to satisfy the former mayor’s desire to create a new Guelph, one that was to be world class.

Was this a competition?

Compared to what? Let’s start with the money spent on waste management: The organic waste processing facility costing $34 million and built with a capacity of processing 60,000 tonnes of wet waste a year. That decision was made when Guelph processed only 10,000 tonnes a year. The plant was built by Maple Reinders (MR) then was staffed by a subsidiary company of MR that also sold the compost created. So the city turned over the entire project to the original developer, MR.

Financed by the taxpayers since 2011, not one ounce of composted material is available to citizens.

Conclusion? Guelph is in the organic waste processing business but cannot access the finished compost.

The $23 million mistake building the new city hall

Here’s another example of wasting money. The new city hall project was contracted to cost $42 million, it lost a major lawsuit by the defrocked general contractor, Urbacon Biuldings Group and ended up costing$65 million.

But wait! The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc chaired by the former mayor, according to the KPMG consolidated audit cost $66 million in shareholder equity.

That’s more than $123 million wasted by the previous eight-year term of the former mayor.

City enters the real estate business

Those are the biggies. While all that was going on, in 2012 city council was planning to create a green city on 245 acres in the former Reformatory lands, property it did not own. Known as the Guelph Innovative Development, (GID) it is now being offered in a modified auction to all qualified parties. The result of the sale will be announced at the end of July.

Where is the city going to find the money to purchase the land if it wins the auction? Take more from the reserves to take ownership and then spend millions to develop it?

Then we have the Baker Street redevelopment project estimated to cost $350 million in a Public, Private Project (3P) to create a retail, library and condominium centre on the site of the Baker Street parking lot.

Mayor Guthrie announced the project during the October election campaign. We know how that turned out. Shovels in the ground are scheduled to start in 2024. The big question needing an answer, is what is the liability to the citizens?

But it took the administration headed by Mayor Cam Guthrie to giveaway Guelph Hydro with an adjusted book value of $16o million to Alectra Utilities for a 4.86 per cent of 60 per cent of the utilities’ profit. Was that a great deal or not?

The mysterious departure of CAO Thomson

It gets better. Both co-chairs of the council appointed Strategic Options Committee to dispose Guelph Hydro, Former CAO Derrick Thomson and the un-elected chair of Guelph Hydro, Jane Armstrong, personally benefited from the merger.

Thomson received a $67,000 performance bonus for his role in the merger while Ms. Armstrong was appointed by council to be its representative on the Alectra Utilities board of directors being paid $25,000 a year for five years plus travel expenses.

Mr. Thomson left the city in March just after the provincial Sunshine List showed that in 2018 he was paid $335,000 plus a taxable benefit of $11,000.

The mayor announced the Thomson bonus March 18, yet not one media outlet reported the bonus or details of why it was awarded in 2018 or the reason that he abruptly ended his employment.

Why our property taxes and user fees are juiced every year

These are some of the reasons why our property taxes, annual increase have exceeded three per cent for more than 13 years. The only exception was in 2014, the civic election year.

Now I know readers of guelphspeaks.ca have read parts of this posting before.

It is my mystifying response wondering why that 90,000 voters were eligible in last October’s civic election but only 30,000 bothered to vote.

There are two reasons for apathy when it comes to vote in civic elections. The first is satisfaction with the previous council’s performance. This reason must be based on accurate information, personal impact of council decisions, trust and loyalty.

The second reason is about coverage and details of council’s decisions that affect the 90,000 residents. Regretfully the media is dependent on city department handouts such as press releases, paid advertising of events, policies and legal matters in the local print weekly.

Rarely do reporters question statements in press releases. They should never be an extension of the public administrations. The media in Guelph has a serious credibility problem in failing to cover the news as journalists and get reaction, from stakeholders affected by the council decisions.

The staff should not be immune to critical thinking. There is the flow of producing what the city wants and that dismisses the media’s obligation to the reader and viewer. Their job is to report the full story and not just what the city releases to them.

That friends, is why two-thirds of the eligible voters did not show up. The media only publishes one side of the story. Even on the social media, individuals dominate the message with an axe to grind and political bias.

Do not expect anything to change.

A major story that has broken is the council has decided to review itself with a hint of public involvement. The exercise is to consider reducing the size of council; change the ward boundaries; decide to only elect full-time councillprs; to complete the study in the first quarter next year.

This exercise will cost an estimated $150,000, details of how and when the money will be spent and on whom?

Check guelphspeaks for more details including both sides of the story.

 

 

 

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Is the Police HQ renovation completion delay another Urbacon debacle?

By Gerry Barker

June 17, 2019

Opinion

Mercy me. The similarities between the two most major construction of city buildings, since the Urbacon debacle that ended with the city being found responsible for firing the general contractor.

In 2014, an election year, it didn’t stop city council from approving the $34.1 million renovation of the 40.7 year-old headquarters. When first built in 1960, the city’s population was 38,000. In 1989, the building was retrofitted and a new wing added.

In 2014, the need was apparent, as the city population is now more than 131,000.

Is it déjà vu, all over again?

The new city hall and provincial court project in the old city hall took five years to complete and a cost overrun of $23 million. Now we have the case of the Police headquarters renovation that was approved in August 2014 and has yet to be completed 4.7 years later. The final cost has yet to be determined as the construction was impacted by excessive bedrock formations for new buildings on the site. Also winter weather conditions stalled construction.

This brings us to a new staff proposal to increase the city debt by $33.1 million. In 2017, according to the city, the debt was $110 million. At the end of 2018, the debt was reported as $96 million.

That’s progress right?

Here are the caveats about increasing the city debt

Council, at its June 24 meeting must approve the new debt terms and conditions. However, the staff will present the final numbers and associated cost to council July 8, 2019 according to the news report.

Is that a typo? The staff report follows council approval? It’s time to jack up the car and change the oil.

The new debt is guaranteed by the City of Guelph and it has a 20-year term when fully repaid in 2039, according to the staff report, the end cost of this new loan is $47.8 million.

The lender is not identified nor is the interest rate or any adjustments over the term of the loan.

If now approved the city debt will increase from $96 million in 2018 to $129 million this year. Is it possible that we ordinary citizens could handle the cost of a 29 per cent increase in our debt over 20 years?

FYI, starting next year, the city will be paying $862,000 per year costing 29 per cent more for its 2019 assumed debt.

So, where is the new money being spent?

Of the $33.1 million, $15.1 million is to be spent on the Police HQ renovation and the Wilson Street Parkade, both under construction; some $1.3 million will be spent replacing transit fare boxes; $1.6 million for fuel tank replacement at the city’s operations facility.

The amount to be spent on the two major projects was not spelled out.

It should be noted that the city approved a $16 million debenture for the Police HQ renovation that started in April 2016. The Police Services Board contributed some $3 million toward the renovation. That brought the outstanding balance to $14.1 million to meet the original approved cost of $34.1 million.

This does not include change orders or other unexpected costs that can increase the original council approval last August 2014.

The Wilson Street Parkade financing is murky. Last year, Mayor Guthrie announced the estimated $350 million Baker Street project would include a new downtown library, that is a key part of the plan. Barely mention, the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade was included in the original Baker Street project estimates.

Indeed, many a promise is embedded before an election.

Putting it all together, the report does not specify how and where the balance of the $33.1 million debt funds will be spent. So far, there is some $14.1 million still not allocated.

The other missing piece of promises made is the fate of the $63 million South End Recreation Centre. The city has already spent $3.5 million on preliminary plans from general revenues.

Incidently, whatever happened to that $18.5 million so-called dividend to be received from Guelph Hydrp following the merger with Alectra Utilities?

In my opinion, these developments are paying for a horribly mismanaged past that has milked the citizen’s ability to pay their obligations to the administration.

Under the present administration, don’t expect its collective ambition and disdain for professionalism that in the past four years has turned Guelph into an island of managemnt mediocrity in terms of not serving the people’s interests and blithely ignoring the fallout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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