Tag Archives: Mayor Cam Guthrie

Say hello to Guelph Tomorrow, the new people’s participation association

By Gerry Barker

July 29, 2918

Please Note: There is a lot of material in this lengthy piece. It is part of the long march of electors to voting day, October 22. Check out Guelph Tomorrow’s website opening in mid August for reliable updates and information.

This is composed of like-minded citizens who reject the policies of the past three councils that have conducted the people’s business chiefly behind closed doors. The city debt has never been higher. By taking development fees from other projects, public buildings have been financed outside the box of financial management. Millions have been lost on failed energy and environmental projects such as the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc’s failed projects.

The reserve funds have been depleted to a point that the administration will not reveal. In 2009, Coun. Leanne Piper was quoted that the city held $70 million in reserve funds. Would she care to update us on that one?

This occurred over the past 12 years because we the people let it happen. We elected ward councillors in the majority who collectively, were controlled by a mayor and professional staff. The former mayor who bragged that she was turning Guelph into a world-class leader in waste management and other environmental projects drove the agenda.

It’s time to elect and support individuals who are politically in the centre of the political spectrum. Guelph Tomorrow will assist those councillors running for the next four years to ensure that our municipal management must be conducted with transparency, with active accountability and open government.

This means shutting down the closed-session meetings of council that suppress public participation. It includes a quarterly summary of the financial status of city operations distributed through the Hydro mailing system.

Most important is to stop the annual property tax and user fees increases that are crippling the city and exceeding the inflation as set by the Consumer Price Index currently running at 2.5 per cent.

When was the last time you received a financial statement from the city?

For example, under the current Guthrie administration property taxes alone have increased by an estimated 17 per cent in four years.

To pay for all the mistakes, the Guthrie council approved giving away Guelph Hydro lock, poles, wires and most of the staff for a tiny dividend from the acquiring corporation.

It is a recipe for disaster, especially for lower income folks, those on fixed incomes and functioning below the poverty measurement.

In 12 years, the majority of a highly-organized political organization that operated below the public’s radar has shattered the public trust.

This group manipulated the agenda to promote their misguided and unreliable projects.

Let us count the legacy of political Action and its impact on the citizens.

Start with the Community Energy Innovation plan that was the mother ship of such leftist failed projects.

The Organic Waste Processing Facility cost $34 million and has yet to turn a profit. It imports wet garbage from Simcoe County and the Region of Waterloo, both of which are paying less per tonne than the basic operating costs.

Reason? The facility was overbuilt to the extent that its capacity was six times the needs of the City of Guelph. This is an example of a leftist dream that has resulted in the city having the highest waste collection and processing in the province.

The kicker? Don’t expect to get compost even though you paid for it

The $23 million over budget cost of the new City Hall complex took the end cost to $65 million. The settlement to the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group, was $8 million following judgment by a Superior Court judge.

The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. built a district Energy scheme that included installing a geo-thermal piping system to supply hot and cold water to five nearby buildings. Coupled with other zany projects costing the citizens according to the KPMG audit some $60 million in shareholder equity.

The list of wasted funds is extensive. What it has accomplished is forcing Guelph taxpayers and citizens to pay for it. The result is the city has become one of their most expensive places to live in Ontario.

Guelph Tomorrow’s mission:

Transparency, Active Accountability and Open Government in all city operations.

The No Frills plan to reform and change our city to be less proactive and more reactive to measure and control management through the council and not the professional staff.

That’s why this election is so important.

Just recall the recent announcement that the city was entering a Public Private Plan to redevelop the Baker Street parking lot into a $350 million mixed-use project including a new downtown library of some 88,000 square feet.

Plans call for shovels in the groun in 2024 and occupation in 2028 barring any delays, heritage or environment problems. By just calculating the effect of inflation on the cost of the project over ten years is easily an estimated 30 per cent or more than $105 million.

Guelph Tomorrow is in favour of affordable development but not long-term schemes designed to ensure re-election of city councillors including the Mayor.

The attached No Frills reform package is necessary to halt spending on projects that bind future councils.

First, we have to clean up the mess and rebuild our city with fair taxes and fees we can all afford today but not tomorrow.

The No Frills Action Plan for the People by the People

Here is the Guelph Tomorrow No Frills Action Plan to return common sense and councillors’ fiduciary responsibility to the administration.

No Frills means hiring an Auditor General to supervise the internal auditors.

No Frills means the city auditor will complete a full audit of city finances before submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal h\Holdings Inc. and removing Guelph Hydro from GMHI returning it to the city as a separate department

No Frills means halting capital spending until the audit of the city finances is completed.

No Frills proposes a new senior management structure to change with a City Manager heading the staff with Directors in charge of major departments.

No Frills recommends that a reorganized administration will include an executive management team composed of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, City Manager, City Clerk, City Solicitor, Chief Financial Officer, Director of Public Services, Director of Environmental, Engineering and Planning. The City Manager acts as chair. Ex officio would include the Chief of Police, Fire Chief and Director of EMS.

No Frills recommends that the first responder departments, Police, Fire and EMS be amalgamated into the Public Safety Department. Chair would be rotated every two years between the three heads of divisions.

No Frills means stopping the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities.

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. and removing Guelph Hydro from GMHI, returning it to the city as a separate department.

No Frills means Guelph Hydro board of three members will be elected for four years.

No Frills encourages public participation in all areas of the administration.

No Frills means that the status of finances in all reserve accounts and the purpose of each and be revealed to the people.

No Frills means evaluating all polices including NGO subsidies and donations.

No Frills recommends on the advice of the Executive Team to restore the committees of council with members receiving a stipend based on attendance.

No Frills means scrapping the protocol allowing closed-session meetings. Only those conditions for such a meeting are to be used according to the Ontario Municipal Act.

No Frills means a review of the purchasing and procurement system by the CFO and Internal Auditor filing their report to the Executive Team.

No Frills mean freezing all salary and benefits until the city audit is completed.

No Frills means ordering a staff rationalization review by an independent authority.

No Frills means reviewing all by laws by the City Solicitor and reporting finding to Council.

No Frills means investigating to change the University “B ed Tax” law in lieu of property taxes.

No Frills Communication Plan

No Frills means publishing a summary of the city’s financial status every three months including budget variances.

No Frills means freezing all communications, contracts and systems.

No Frills means the General Manager of Commications will conduct a weekly media news conference at City Hall.

No Frills means recognition of staffers for operational excellence as recommended by Department Directors.

No Frills means that any closed-session meeting conducted under the Ontario Municipal Act must be summarized by the Mayor or designate within 24 hours.

No Frills fixes of Property Taxes and User Fees

No Frills means freezing property taxes to 3 per cent for 2019 and 2020.

No Frills means immediate elimination of the 2 per cent property tax levy.

No Frills means eliminating the storm water levy on Hydro bills returning it to operational expenses.

No Frills means freezing all user fees pending a review by the CFO.

No Frills mean freezing all planning and development approvals pending a review by the Director of Environmental, Engineering and Planning.

No Frills steps to fix procedures, protocols, and governance issues

No Frills means dismissing the Integrity Commissioner.

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal holdings Inc. andf removing Guelph Hydro from GMHI returning it to the city as a separate department

No Frills means dismissing the closed-session investigator Amberlea-Gravel of London. Replace with the Ontario Ombudsman’s services.

No Frills means review of the Council Code of Conduct.

No Frills means staff accountability at all levels.

No Frills means rewarding and encouraging staff performance and efficiency.

No Frills means courtesy and civility, at all levels of the administration, is required.

No Frills means that complaints by the public must be dealt with expeditiously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The illusion of progress, decoding the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment

By Gerry Barker

July 20, 2018

Gee! And all this time we were told the proposed downtown main branch library was only going to cost $53 million. It has now morphed into an 88,000 square foot facility in the proposed $350 million Baker Street redevelopment plan.

Instead, the city staff, buttressed with the signatures of eight senior managers, convinced city council to approve the huge redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot. The public library being the anchor of the development.

Costs were estimated to range from $315 million to $360 million but staff said the real costs have yet to be determined. The inflation factor for the next six years will boost today’s average cost of $350 million by at least 15 per cent or an additional, estimated $52.5 million.

Then there is the strange inclusion of some $29 million that the city claims it has already invested toward the redevelopment plan. Some $22 million of that is the Wilson Street Parking garage now under construction adjacent to city hall. Why is that capital being assigned to the Baker Street plan?

It was announced that “green” private developer from Ottawa, the Windmill Development Group, had been selected to be a 3P partner – Public Private Partnership over four other private proposals, Windmill’s design proposal was accepted and will create a huge downtown complex complete with hi-rise residential, commercial retail, possibly a Conestoga College campus.

The “green” reference is because Windmill will create “innovations in land use, water, air, energy, design, waste management and smart building technologies to create healthy, high performance green buildings and communities and underground parking.”

Wow! That’s a lot of green

Let’s get real. This project will not even put a shovel in the ground before 2024, six years from now. Why is this lame-duck city council approving this now without knowing the real cost in today’s dollars?

What is the cost sharing arrangement?

What is the city’s financial and legal exposure in this proposal?

The staff is pushing this today when it is apparent that the first book or video taken from the proposed downtown library, under perfect conditions, will not occur until 2028.

Comparing it to the length of time a major similar development has taken to complete is the new Guelph Police Headquarters.

Council approved spending $34 million on the project in August 2014. Almost four years later the job is still not finished. Perhaps I missed my invitation for the open house.

Early in the process the police issued reports of the progress of the renovations to a vital public safety HQ that continued to function. But there has been no report on the costs and whether it is going to come in on budget.

If this is any example of completing complex buildings then this could easily be a ten-year project to complete.

The Baker Street redevelopment can be an important addition to the downtown but we need more specific information, not just the potential news of more jobs, more money spent and more property tax income.

Let’s skip the gravy and get to the beef

This announcement’s urgent approval smacks of politics to demonstrate how progressive and action oriented the city council is under the leadership of Mayor Guthrie.

It’s another ram job by the mayor in this election year to enhance the image that he is doing a great job, when in fact his track record has failed to come close to the promises he made in 2014.

The capital spending deadline in an election years is mid-August.

The risk is that this city council is committing future councils to a multi-million dollar spending on a project that will be costly to cancel now that it has been approved bu council. Financing, beginning today and extending for the next ten years will daunting regardless of who is in power.

When is the Guthrie administration going to tell the truth about all those closed-session meetings concerning management of the public’s money, that have shut out the public?

As the British paratroopers dropped in Holland in WW 2, their objective was to take and hold the bridge over the Rhine.

It turned out to be a bridge too far.

It’s a lesson in failed strategy that city council should consider.

Most councillors, if not all, will not be around to see the Baker Street redevelopment completed.

It is their bridge that is too far.

 

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Introducing a No Frills blueprint to change and control the people’s business

By Gerry Barker

July 16, 2018

The following is a detailed Action Plan to return power to the people that has been denied, covered up and mismanaged by successive councils and administrative staff.

Guelph Tomorrow is an organization created by concerned citizens to return democracy and accountability to the civic administration of the City of Guelph.

The people’s hope and expectation, following the election of Mayor Guthrie in October 2014, have been drowned in hypocrisy, blatant cover-ups, secrecy and disdain for the public trust.

The Guthrie record is clear. He capitulated authority of the public trust to the professional senior staff that perpetuated the failed policies of the two previous administrations.

Are you better off today after four years of this Guthrie administration? His record in just two instances, escalated property taxes by more than 3 per cent annually plus 2 per cent special levies. He gave Guelph Hydro, worth $228 million, away for peanuts. The value contained in the 2016 Guelph Hydro financial statement, is just the tangible assets, not including cash on hand or goodwill.

Now we learn of his “action plan” to elect friendly supporters to councillors positions to gain control of council and continue more of the same.

In my opinion, Cam Guthrie was like the month of March; “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Don’t be deceived any longer. The city council needs an election enema to stop the political wrangling, control by individuals whose performance has been dismal.

Now it’s our chance to change the administration to serve the needs of ALL the people not the few who have controlled our city for 12 years. It’s a situation that mirrors the recent demise of the Ontario Liberal Party in the provincial election.

In Guelph, the disenchanted Liberals, disdained their own candidate and turned to electing a candidate with no election experience representing a Green party with no power. Mike Schreiner espoused the same policies that drove up the debt in Guelph under the previous administrations. Mike Shriener ran as the Green Party’s Ontario Leader. He is now the boss of a party of one, Mike Schreiner, MPP.

Small guess: Mike will be wooed by the Liberal seven-member cause that needs an eighth member to be recognized as an official party in the Ontario Legislature. That will make all those Guelph Liberals happier than Doug Ford cutting the gas tax.

Here’s’ the people’s No Frills Action Plan developed by a team of fellow citizens familiar with the tawdry history of 12 years of administrations.

Guelph Tomorrow

Presents

The No Frills Action Plan

No Frills means leadership, transparency, accountability and responsibility to all the people p

No Frills Priorities

No Frills means that the city auditor will complete a full audit of city finances before submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs

No Frills means halting capital spending until an audit of the city’s finances is completed

No Frills proposes a new senior management structure change to have a City Manager heading the staff, with directors leading the major departments

No Frills recommends that the he city administrative structure will include an Executive Management team composed of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, City Manager, City Clerk and Department Directors. The City Manager will act as chair

No Frills means making every effort to kill the Guelph Hydro-Alectra merger

No Frills means using common sense, arresting spending and encouraging public participation

No Frills means reviewing the status of all reserves and clarify each for its purpose

No Frills means evaluating policies involving all subsidies, donations, and employment contracts

No Frills means eliminating the Committee of the Whole system of conducting public meetings

No Frills on the advice of the city manager, restores the committees of council with appropriate honourariums for councillors serving on committees based on attendance.

No Frills means no closed-sessions council meetings unless there are legitimate legal reasons to do so

No Frills means a complete review by the Director of Finance and the internal auditor of purchasing and procurement systems

No Frills means freezing all salary and benefit increases pending review of pay systems

No Frills means ordering a staff rationalization review by an independent authority

No Frills means reviewing all bylaws to update and remove those not applicable

No Frills means Investigating areas of increasing revenue including the University of Guelph’s ‘bed tax’ deal in lieu of property taxes.

 

No Frills Proposed Communications Plan

No Frills means reporting a summary of the financial state of the city every three months

No Frills means freezing and reviewing all communications contracts and systems

No Frills means the general manager of communications will conduct a regular media briefing weekly

No Frills pledges publishing a monthly report of the administration’s hits and misses and introducing personality profiles of council members and staff using the Guelph Hydro mailing list to distribute

No Frills means that the mayor or designate following a closed-session must release a summary following the meeting within 24 hours

 

No Frills proposed fixes of Property Taxes & User fees

No Frills means limiting property taxes to a 3 per cent increase for 2019

No Frills means an immediate elimination of the 2 per cent infrastructure levy on property owners

No Frills means eliminating the storm water levy on hydro bills

No Frills means freezing all user fees until the financial review is completed

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.

No Frills means freezing all residential planning until a full review is completed

 

No Frills action to fix procedures, bylaws and protocols

No Frills abolishes the Integrity Commissioner, cancels the Closed Session investigators, Amberlea Gravel of London

No Frills means freezing all consultant contracts until proven justified

No Frills means a complete review of the Council Code of Conduct

No Frills means banning any closed sessions involving political strategy issues

No Frills means staff accountability

No Frills means rewarding and encouraging staff performance and efficiency

No Frills means reporting regular financial performance with a clearly defined base line

No Frills means public accessibility to the people’s house and its services

Join the crusade for change at Guelph Tomorrow.ca.

 

 

 

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Its time to clean up the Guthrie administration’s inherited train wreck

By Gerry Barker

July 9, 2018

In 2006, some 12 years ago, the Mayor elect, Karen Farbridge, campaigned on the slogan “She will put Guelph back on track.”

Well, eight years with Karen Farbridge and four years of Cam Guthrie, has created the train wreck that is the legacy of three election cycles being dominated by the successive council’s being stymied by the leftist majority In the case of the Guthrie administration the leftist majority driving up debt and escalating property taxes and user fees.

After monitoring and writing this for those 12 years it is not rocket science to know what has happened to successive administrations. Three councils all made promises they never kept. But the two Farbridge administrations set the the downward glide of excessive spending and mismanagement.

Remember the new downtown main library? A promise made by then Mayor Farbridger and not kept. Cam Guthrie made that same promise. We still have no new downtown library.

Remember the Urbacon disaster in which the Farbridge administration wasted more than $23 million to complete the new city hall complex that was originally contracted to cost $42 million?

It cost Farbridge and four of her councillors their jobs in 2014.

The doozy of bad deals occurred December 13, 2017 when by a 10-3 cote, council approved the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra utilities in which there was no payment by Alectra for the estimated $300 million Guelph Hydro distribution system.

That agreement is now before the Ontario Energy Board and some citizens have been approved to intervene when the hearing is held.

Turning to Mayor Cam Guthrie’s performance, his penchant to hold closed-session meetings of council led to the infamous secret increases to four senior managers in December 2010. The cost came to $98,202 with Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, receiving more than $37,000 most of it was a $27,000 retroactive performance bonus.

Pappert resigned four months later but stuck around until May 26, 2016 then left. The provincial 2016 Sunshine List revealed she was paid $263,000 for five months work.

Couple that with the seven months performed in 2016 by her successor, Derrick Thomson, and the cost of paying the two CAO’s in 2016 was $397,166 not including taxable benefits. In Mr. Thomson’s case, his taxable benefit was an additional $11,000.

This all happened under the leadership of Mayor Guthrie. Aside from the Finance department and members of council, 99 per cent of citizens would never know how much that December 10, 2015 closed-session would impact the citizens. That is until guelphspeaks.ca revealed it.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Council by an 8-5 vote approved increasing the Mayor’s salary from $122,000 to 152,000. The 12 city councillors were also given an addition $5,000 increase.

These increases were made to maintain the take-home pay of all councillors because the Federal government has cancelled the one-third portion of their income that used to be tax-free.

Now here’s what happened.

The Remuneration Advisory Committee, appointed by council, recommended that 12 councillors should receive the increases but not the Mayor. Four days after that decision was published, council awarded the Mayor the increase in order to retain his take-home pay.

Then the Mayor voted to increase his new salary and that of the councillors.

The question, was this a conflict of interest? Five councillors who voted against the motion seemed to think it was. These council salary approvals are always a difficult decision. I happen to advocate that all elected position salary should be greater in order to attract qualified candidates but reflect the increasing workload as the city grows rapidly..

In the case of the Mayor he should have recused himself.

It reflects the deep-seated disregard of that business that is troubling and must change.

I don’t disagree with the increases to elected officials, just the way it was handled that leads to public mistrust. Something that’s not a good idea in an election year.

I do not agree with the method of choosing salary and benefit increases by senior management. Those salary and benefits of senior managers should be determined by an outside body to avoid further conflicts of interest.

Final example. When Mr. Thomson was appointed CAO in June 2016, he said his contract was for three years at a salary of $230,000 plus a taxable benefit of $11,000.

The 2017 Sunshine list revealed his salary was more than $260,000.

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How living in Guelph has become a stagnant pool of political mediocrity

By Gerry Barker

July 3, 2018

There was a report published recently that the mayor was not receiving a raise next year. In fact, his take-home pay, thanks to a change in the Federal income tax regulations starting in 2019, that denied the one-third tax-free portion of his gross civic salary of $122,724.

The irony is that the 12 members of council will receive $40,000 next year, an increase of $4,497. Councillors were paid $35,503 these past four years.

Now the initial report in the local bi-weekly was based on the recommendation of the Remuneration Advisory Committee. Names of those on the committee were not revealed.

By an 8-5 vote last Monday, council bumped the mayor’s pay from $122,724 to $152,oo, a 23.4 per cent increase. This decision was based on maintaining his current salary, about to be fully taxed take home pay. The same went for the 12 councillors who will receive $40,000 to maintain their take home pay.

Voting for the motion were Councillors Billings, Gibson, Downer, Hofland, MacKinnon, Piper and Mayor Guthrie. Voting against the motion were Councillors Allt, Bell, Gordon, Salisbury, Wettstein. Coun. Van Hellemond was absent.

It only took four days from the published report for council to perform an Olympic style back flip to ignore the Remuneration Advisory Board’s recommendation to stay any increase for he mayor’s pay for 2019.

This reversal by council is not only stunning in sheer alacrity to perform but presents an interesting split of the councillors rarely seen. Further, why is the mayor voting on an increase that involves histhe next mayor’s salary in 2019?

Here’s what one commentator posted on the Guelph Today website:

Gruntfutak – 18 hours ago – if you owned a business would you increase salaries for every increase in taxes? I doubt it. The Mayor and Councillors have had many years of reduced taxes (33% tax free salary). Let them join the rest of us. This is a tax and will be paid by all income brackets – some of the new minimum wage now goes to the city Mayor and Councillors.

Gruntfutak – 2 days later – If the federal government changes tax rules for the majority of workers those workers have to suffer the reduced income. Just because councilors and mayors have had their tax-free amount changed city tax payers have to pay the increase!!! City taxation has been increased with little or no discussion with the voters.

Without knowing who sits on the advisory committee, common sense was never a virtue of this council.

You have to wonder how city council can act so quickly to over-rule its own advisory committee regarding the salary for 2019 of the office of mayor.

A study in dealing with city hall.

The width of driveways in the east end of the city is being challenged by a bylaw that has ignited the anger of most residents. The fine for an infraction of widening your driveway is up to $600.

Coun. Dam Gibson has been meeting constituents and has filed a notice of motion to review the driveway bylaw. Council will discuss it July 23. If council agrees to debate that motion, it will occur sometime in September.

Council can move like lightning to secure its salaries but a pressing problem by citizens is swallowed by arcane procedure controls.

This is one of the reasons that the structure of council must clearly reflect the interests of all the people.

Here’s why ‘structure’ is not just a nine-letter word

People elect the mayor across the city. Each councillor represents a small minority of citizens in each ward. A mayoralty campaign can cost more than $80,000. Two councillors are elected in each of the six wards and the average election cost for each candidate is usually under $4,000. All cost estimates are based on the 2014 financial statements filed by each candidate.

Now here’s how that works. The progressives run and help finance more than 12 candidates. Dredging from memory, in 2014, the progressives (under Mayor Farbridge) ran some 20 loyal supporters in the wards. Costing that at an average of $3,000 per candidate the progressive regime spent an estimated $60,000 to elect seven progressive loyalists. That equals $8,571, the cost to the progressive organization for each successful candidate and control of council for four years.

And that friends, is the main reason for our city becoming one of the highest taxed municipalities out of the 445 in Ontario. Think about controlling everything before council. All it cost was $15,000 per year.

That’s a cheap way to gain and own power on Guelph city council.

So the power on council lies in the hands of 12 councillors elected in the wards. The current council has seven members in control. The mayor only has one vote and must rely on support of at least six members. The present Mayor can only count on four centrist councillors. One councillor is a ‘floater’ who frequently supports the majority bloc of seven.

Until this system changes the city is being used as a piggy bank to fund a number of failed experiments, indulging the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

Too harsh?

Lets cite a few examples. Start with waste management that has cost Guelph millions. The citizens paid the $34 million cost of the compost plant. The benefit is almost zero as truckloads of other municipalities’ wet garbage are delivered regularly. And it does not yet make a profit nor can the citizens obtain any of the finished compost.

Simply, the facility’s capacity was too great to handle just Guelph’s wet compostable material. It was a pet project of the former mayor who envirmental ambition exceeded the pocket books of citizen who financed it.

Then we go to the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., a flawed operation and still costing millions. The shareholder’s equity in this failed corporation is $60 million. Yet the former mayor was chair of GMHI and at least four of her councillors sat on the board. But the citizens were never told about the operations, the contribution of Guelph Hydro and the bills still to be paid for the Direct Energy operations.

And the biggie that has occurred under Mayor Guthrie’s watch is the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities. Council voted to give Guelph Hydro away for a pack of promises and a tiny 4.36 per cent share of just 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profit. If the Ontario Energy Board approves this merger 55,000 Guelph Hydro ratepayers will have been ripped off by some $300 million.

Here comes the punch line

The year 2016 was the nadir of council’s responsibility.

There were four top executives that, in a secret closed-session meeting of council December 10, 2015, were awarded $98,202 in salary increases. They ranged from 14 per cent to 19 per cent. The citizens discovered none of this until March 31, 2016 when the numbers were published in the provincial Sunshine list.

Of the four, only Derrick Thomson remains as Chief Administrative Officer of Guelph. He was rehired after resigning in January, and returned in June 2016.

He declared that he would reveal his salary and the term of his employment that turned out to be three years. Mr. Thomson said he agreed to a salary of $230,000 in each of the three-year term.

Well the 2017 Sunshine list showed that Mr. Thomson was paid $267,378.That’s a 15.25 per cent increase. In addition he has a taxable benefit of $11,236, the highest in the entire city staff.

What’s wrong with this picture? The Mayor, elected by the people, will receive a $30,000 increase next year to maintain his current take home pay.

Mr. Thomson has an ironclad contract. Mr. Guthrie, if elected, has a riskier position having to run to obtain approval of the electorate.

Okay, here’s another example of the dogs running the pound. In 2014, Mr. Thomson was making $177,000. That represents a 48.5 per cent salary boost from October 2014 to December 2017.

Here’s another one.

When Mr. Thomson was named CAO he immediately appointed Colleen Clack as head of the newly named Public Services. She was earning $142,000 in 2014 as head of Tourism and Culture.

Her salary in 2017 as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer was $208,109. That was an increase of $66,109 or 96.5 per cent from 2014 to December 2017.

In both these cases there was an increase in job responsibility. Nevertheless, they are only two examples of non-disclosure of staff salaries except for the Sunshine list. It all happens because council approves it in closed sessions.

This has to change and is deeply embedded in the administration’s operational and political culture of the city.

Only the voters can change it next October by electing candidates who are political centrists and not obligated to any political party and understand their fiduciary responsibility to the people who elected them.

The final award

It’s doubly ironic that when it comes to granting increases to councillors and the Mayor, an outside “Remuneration Advisory Board” performs it.

There is no measurement of performance, no revelation of expenses, payments by outside boards and no financial data provided to the public.

Now take the senior managers’ method of selecting salary increases.

They prepare a recommendation that is presented to council in closed-session. There is no evidence of who voted for the increases, no explanation substantiating the increases, no breakdown of travel and other expenses or changes in the contracts including details of severance settlements.

In my opinion, in Guelph there are two major pillars that control the flow of public information:

* Successive councils have ruthlessly abused the publics’ Right to Know;

* Those same councils have colluded with staff, secretly suppressing important details of the public’s business. Thereby having the exclusive franchise to choose the Need to Know option to suit their agenda.

“What we don’t tell them, they won’t know or care.”

 

 

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Two sketchy news releases have the City betting $245,000 to win a “prize” of $10 million and hook up with a U.K. Foundation

By Gerry Barker

June 14, 2018

In one of the most convoluted and incomprehensible stories ever carried in Guelph Today, the Online news source, even baffled councillors, including June Hofland, who questioned the “high level language” that was used when plain English was needed to help citizens understand the project.

Well, I’m one who remains baffled. The piece displayed a picture of Mayor Guthrie posed in front of a large chart that resembled a new board game.

The report described the City bid, joined by County Wellington that would see the area develop “a Circular Food Economy to increase access to affordable, nutritional food.”

This is beginning to sound like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

At its planning meeting Last Monday, council voted unanimously to approve a staff recommendation to fund this turkey by taking $245,000 from the city’s Efficiency, Innovation and Opportunity Reserve fund.

This is starting to resemble a social engineering program from the former administration headed by Karen Farbridge. I think most people now understand the high cost of that administration’s green schemes that cost citizens millions. Many of which failed.

Breaking News!

But hold on! Following the original story, the city published a press release that puts a new angle on the “circular food economy” project that confuses the situation even further.

This release says that Guelph Wellington has partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, headquartered in the United Kingdom. The Foundation selected the city and county to collaborate in its “Cities and the Circular Economy for Food initiative.”

Guelph’s Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson stated: “To be selected as a focus city for this initiative is a huge honour and a testament to Guelph’s innovative spirit and the collaborative relationship of the City and County.

“We’re proud of the opportunity to represent Canada and help carve a path for other cities interested in a circular food economy.””

Hmmm. Is that the same opportunity that’s costing us $245,000 to participate in the Federal Government’s contest about, here we go again, the circular economy initiative? You remember the money is to be taken from the city’s Efficiency, Innovation and Opportunity Reserve fund.

That’s the one where Guelph Wellington could win $10 million as the winner of a lottery to participate, we presume, in developing the “Circular Economy for Food initiative.

Are we a third world country with a need to feed the people?”

Still confused?

Okay everybody, have you figured out why the staff would make such a recommendation to spend $245,000 on this wonky scheme? Besides, what does Guelph get out of it?

Also, where does County Wellington fit into this? How much is our partner putting up to participate? The more we learn makes us believe the odds resemble a civic Ponzi scheme with high risk and no guarantee of a return.

Except of course, such intangibles as honour, pride and innovation spirit.

Even if council approves the bid spending, the county will be the chief beneficiary because that’s where the circular economy action could occur.”

Step right up! Give us $245,000 and you might win a $10 million prize from your Federal government.

Did I mention that there are eight other municipalities in the running for this underwriting of a circular food economy plan?

Which is it?

Now that Guelph Wellington has made the semi-finals because there were originally 100 applications, we learn that the Federal Government has “committed” $250,000 to help prepare the proposal because additional research and resources are needed to complete the entry.

Later in the story we find the Feds “awarded” $250,000 to the city to develop its bid.

I’m confused, why do we need to take $245,000 from a reserve fund to enter the lottery?

Councillor June Hofland has a point. Both these releases obfuscates the purpose of spending this money in competition with eight other cities in the under 500,000-population category.

I don’t know about you but this looks like another pet project cementing Mr. Future, Cam Guthrie’s march to be a legend before his time.

He led the charge to give Guelph Hydro away for a pittance in return from the acquirer, Alectra Utilities. That so-called merger has yet to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board if one still exists under new management at Queen’s Park.

The discouraging aspect of this stupidity lies right with Mayor Guthrie and a compliant council that reflects the famous words of Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing, I know nothing, I tell nothing.”

It was funny back then, but it’s not funny now.

It demonstrates that spending $245,000 on the slim chance of receiving a $10 million prize with strings attached is a wasteful misuse of public money.

The important lesson taken here is how we must elect councillors with experience, who control the agenda and not the staff, and introduce centrist reforms that reflect the needs and interests of all citizens.

 

 

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Part One: This time let’s make change happen to reflect our values

By Gerry Barker

April 30, 2018

The following is a recipe for real change affecting all citizens and not just the ruling class that has dominated civic politics for the past 11 years.

Change One

One serious problem citizen’s face is the lack of in depth coverage of city business and public participation. We are a city of 131,000 that is served by a twice-weekly newspaper with a corporate owner that is a mouthpiece for the administration who are served by a radio station with no reporting staff dependent on police and city press releases. There is an online newspaper that occasionally reports the real news and not just the city handouts and police blotter.

The Kitchener TV station occasionally reports on Guelph news.

The most telling news source is the Rogers Community TV group that covers city council meetings. It does not report or interview citizens or staff as its mandate is controlled by the administration.

Then there are the bloggers (guilty) who chiefly support the administration but rarely are critical or opinionated about administration operations.

Because of this mixture of traditional news sources, in my opinion, Guelph is horribly under-served when it comes to covering the news that matters most to citizens. That’s why more people are dependent on TV news and the Internet.

Fixing the situation will only occur if people stop using those local outlets as a source of news and the managements upgrade their news coverage.

Change Two

Because of our method of electing members of council, in the past 11 years an idealistic group of councillors has controlled council. They are a mixed bag of folks, some good some well meaning and some married to principles that have cost millions without measurable accomplishments.

Now I’m not mentioning names right now because that’s another story for the upcoming campaign that begins tomorrow with the opening of nominations.

The political philosophy is that governments that have controlled our destiny for more than 11 years are ripe for defeat. Every four years, the people can throw long-term governments out and elect a new set of players to create a fresh government.

On the surface it would appear that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are the old tired administration that has galvanized the Ontario Progressive Conservatives to become the government.

We’ll know how that turns out the night of June 7.

The voters in Guelph face the same situation. Do we elect a new responsible group of councillors? In order to accomplish this we need to reform the membership of city council.

Change Three

The Town of Milton reformed its 13-member council reducing the membership to nine including the mayor.

In Guelph we have two part-time councillors in each of the six wards. This system has strengths and weaknesses. It is politically weak because council can be dominated if seven members band together to form a voting bloc. That’s what has occurred in the past three councils.

To describe the ward councillors as part-time is ludicrous. They earn some $35,000 that is out-of-date in terms of workload including paper work, service to constituents and life style. While the responsibilities grow, in my opinion, they are grossly underpaid.

The net result is that the city cannot attract elected representatives with a very limited scale of remuneration, compared to many on staff making four and five times that of the “part-time” councillors.

The next step would be to elect two councillors at large plus the Mayor. This system will prevent the bloc voting that has dominated Guelph politics for 11 years. By now, we know the price of failed projects that have turned the city into one of the highest taxed municipalities in Ontario if not Canada. Millions has been wasted and is one of the chief reasons that Guelph’s operating budget is 50 per cent higher than that of Kitchener and Cambridge.

Bottom line: Reduce the ward councillor to one; pay them at least $90,000 with an independent professional performance review following each election.

Unfortunately, the election process cannot be changed for this year. The new council can vote to reduce its size when it enacts reforms.

Summing up: Years ago decisions were made without considering the growth of the city, its needs and effective planning. That was then and this is today.

Bad decisions made long ago and even in the past 11 years, has increased infrastructure costs to close to one half a billion dollars. Throw in the impact of inflation and the dropping value of the Canadian dollar annually and a tipping point has been reached.

You cannot keep raising property taxes and user fees; you cannot spend millions on failed environmental projects such as the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, financial and structural disaster. These are just some of the serious operational problems facing the electorate next October.

At a point in time Guelph was a small, agriculture-oriented economy town, with an Agriculture College as its main industry.

The city remains an economic island with few exits to the outside world. When the opportunity came to form a Regional government with Kitchener and Cambridge, Guelph council said no.

Since then the city has been isolated from industrial and commercial development that would bring assessment dollars to build the city. In the past 11 years the ratio of Residential assessment to Industrial-Commercial assessment is 74 per cent compared to 16 per cent and has not changed.

Only increasing that Industrial-Commercial assessment will make a dent in the annual property tax rate averaging 3.5 per cent. That does not include the property tax surcharge to repair and maintain the infrastructure.

Change Four

Study and learn about your city. Knowledge leads to action to create change.

Part Two will be published May 2 and outlines specifics to reduce bloated operational costs.

 

 

 

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