Tag Archives: Mayor Cam Guthrie

Is the Dark State ruling Guelph?

By Gerry Barker

May 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

It sure got my attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Student tells Mayor how his family had to move because of Guelph’s high taxes

By Gerry Barker

May 8, 2017

This student told the Mayor that his family was forced to move to Fergus because Guelph taxes and fees exceeded their ability to pay. For his part, Mayor Guthrie was sympathetic and wondered if his own children would be able to afford their own homes in Guelph.

It comes as no surprise that after ten years, three successive administrations have painted property owners into a corner with average annual tax increases of 3.5 per cent.

Starting this year, property owners will be facing a two per cent special levy to pay for infrastructure and a slush fund called “City Buildings.” Toss in the growth of compulsory user fees such as electricity, water, storm water, public transit, waste removal, and parking. Adding those essentials the cost of owning property and living in the Royal City is making it tough on pensioners, lower income folks, and young families just starting up.

Another factor influencing the rising cost of housing in the city is exacerbated by the demand of people escaping the soaring costs of housing in the GTA. Our problem is years of financial mismanagement resulting in the loss of millions, has added to our corporate debt, the reduction of reserves and an operational overhead that is 50 per cent greater than either Kitchener or Cambridge.

The city has received all kinds of advice from consultants and citizens to reduce spending and overhead. According to the latest Statistics Canada census, the population of Guelph increased by 9,000 in the past five years. That’s about 7.5 per cent or 1.5 per cent increase per year.

The mayor claims that the city is forced by the provincial “Places to Grow” demands for higher density residential development. Guelph’s PTG target is a population of 175,000 by 2031. That’s an arbitrary target of population increase of 45,000 that must be met within 14 years.

Whoa! Increasing our population by 9,000 in five years and maintaining that rate, the city will miss the target in 2031 by 20,000 new residents.

The frantic efforts of the two Farbridge terms in office has accelerated the number of homes by greater use of land, building complexes of low-rise condo buildings mixed in with strip housing. Very few single-family homes in comparison have been built in Guelph since 2007.

So, after ten years of almost killing single-family home construction, forcing builders to seek more friendly communities to develop housing, this great social engineering mission has failed its purpose. Purpose? To cram people into areas without front or back yards in most cases only benefits the builders and boosts assessment revenues to the city.

The City of Guelph has oodles of land, most of it owned by the University of Guelph, to develop properties that are calm, open and beautiful residences. These are the real places to grow. Such development gives character and convenience to those folks who don’t want to live in the crammed ghettos, the hallmark of an administration that fails to understand the need for personal space as a part of living.

The high-density developments in the south end between Victoria and Gordon, on Eastview orchestrated by the administrations has created a new kind of sprawl in which traffic increases, access is limited for emergency and city service vehicles.

Now that we put two and two together, the Farbridge plan was to plan a new city on the reformatory lands owned by the province. It is now revealed that city staff was used to plan the new city where vehicles would be banned except for deliveries, businesses would locate allowing workers to walk or ride their bikes to work, shop or play tennis.

This was the plan to meet the provincial Places to Go population targets.

Just last February the administration announced that it was pursuing ownership of the lands. The cash-strapped provincial government was not prepared to give the property away to the city and it was listed for sale.

But wait! Plan B called for attracting developers to participate buying the lands, because the city does not have the capital to do so. Here we are with a land use plan and detailed construction of mixed housing, commercial and industrial development.

There has been a lot of public money spent already on this project laying out detailed plans for development. Trouble is the city doesn’t own the lands that contain the former reformatory complex and potential available land for development at about 55 per cent.

Why is the administration even considering this? Now we know why. They need the property to meet the PTG target and control the design and elements of the lands.

I don’t know about you but combining the capital that has been misspent, blown on failed projects and draining the reserves, this social engineering project should be stopped. Stopped that is, until the city finances have been restored to be able to afford such enterprise.

The prices of housing will taper off but Guelph housing is already too costly for the average person.  The question is will the high-density residences hold their value?

We need development that serves the people and is broad in terms of variety, location and choice.

Today we don’t have that choice.

 

P.S. Today is my wife’s birthday, Barbara is the eternal goddess who has brought joy and all that other good stuff to our union. Happy 39th, honey.

 

 

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How personal exploitation leads to mismanagement and higher taxes

By Gerry Barker

April 10, 2017

If you read the story about our taxes going up again this year in the local weekly, you wouldn’t know up from down. That’s when a rewrite of a city press release and an attempt to turn it into English happens.

Bottom line, homeowner’s property taxes under the Guthrie administration have risen 10.56 per cent since his election.

It’s an astounding figure when considering that the senior staff has been in total disarray since Mayor Guthrie took over, but not necessarily because of him. The residue of millions in losses land mismanagement left by his predecessor hangs over him like a cloud burst waiting to happen.

He has tried to work with council but the majority of Councillors, James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein and Cathy Downer, have obstructed, denied and pushed the agenda of the previous administration.

It’s as if there never was an election

Then we have Ward four Coun. Mike Salisbury, pontificating that the Mayor has failed to be a leader because he has not been collegial with council. Goodness knows, Mayor Guthrie has tried only to be thwarted when the suggestion of change or reform surfaces. Well, you have to understand the source of the Salisbury whining spectacle.

So, now the new property tax increase is 3.61 due to the impact of assessment by the Municipal Provincial Assessment Corporation (MPAC), an independent body set up by the provincial government to conduct informed and fair assessments of properties across Ontario.

But in most cases, MPAC does what I call, a drive-by calculation based on their own formula and process. In recent years, it has been complicated by a four-year freeze on assessments by the former McGuinty government in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis.

Starting in 2014, MPAC resumed raising the assessment on a pre-set formula basis with modest increases for four years.

I fail to understand why this 2017 assessment by MPAC was not included during the budget preparation last fall and approved in December with only three councillors voting against the budget. What did they know that the other councillors and staff did not? We received our annual MPAC notice that showed the assessment increase on our property for four years including 2017.

It is important to understand the impact of assessment increase. First of all, they are mandatory. The city takes the revised assessment information, and using the mill rate determines the added cost to property taxpayers. This process occurs during the annual budget deliberations.

What happened to the two-per cent special property tax levy?

The local weekly made reference to the one per cent special levy on property taxes although council approved a two per cent levy on property taxes in the 2017 budget. Also, how did the city determine the average price of a home in Guelph is $333,877? The story claimed that taxes on that average value would go up by $86.04 or 2.61 per cent. That included the one per cent property tax levy for infrastructure maintenance bringing the increase to 3.61 per cent.

And you’re confused?

Didn’t council approve a two per cent property tax levy for 2017? Remember that Coun. Mark MacKinnon moved to add another one per cent tax levy for “City Buildings” that was approved by council and would provide $2.23 million per year for the next five years?

Must have been a typo.

The approved property tax levies, each aimed at specific areas requiring capital spending, just added a $4.46 million extra burden on homeowners. The irony is Coun. MacKinnon has stated that people should be willing to pay taxes for the services they receive. He theorizes that because the value of their home increases, they could refinance through a new or second mortgage or reverse mortgage in order to pay their taxes.

Is the council majority too subjective, ignorant or willful?

This is the kind of beliefs that MacKinnon epitomizes about the majority of his colleagues on council. They don’t care about the impact of their authoritative policies on the very people who elected them. They have the power to access the public ATM machine at will without recourse. This fall the 2018 budget will be prepared.

It is now necessary to hire a Chief Fiancial Officer with the proper financial accreditation and experience. If any department in the city needs capable manage,ent, it’s Finance.

Here are some other examples of decisions made by the majority of council in the past seven years:

Start with the $23 million increased cost of the new City Hall project; the $26.6 million loss by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. operation; the inflated cost of the downtown police headquarters of $34 million; employment costs that have been growing exponentially; the retirement settlement amounts paid to former senior managers who have left the city, either forcefully or resigning; the high costs of living in Guelph with electricity, water, taxes, user fees, among the highest in the province; the high cost of managing our waste reported to be the highest among peer group of cities; the costs of overhead that the administration refuses to address and ignores.

These are examples deserving of an indictment of sheer malfeasance mixed with self-serving stupidity.

Stopping Online voting, a precursor of losing an election

One final example: The seven members of council voted recently to cancel electronic voting in the 2018 civic election after listening to delegates and not accepting the staff recommendation to extend the service.

The decision was made during a council committee meeting and will be confirmed or rejected April 24 by council.

Go figure! Every one voting to reject electronoc voting, benefited from this type of voting when they ran successfully in 2014 when some 13,000 citizens used the system.

In my view, this bloc of councillors, are motivated by fear, fear of losing after what happened in 2014.

If this majority continues to oppose Online voting, they will lose in 2018.

If they support the sale/merger of Guelph Hydro, they will lose.

If they continue to raise taxes at rates similar to the past three years, they’ll lose.

If they continue to insult the Mayor, they’ll lose.

 

 

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Royal City Blues: A documentary

By Gerry Barker

March 20, 2017

If there ever was the opportunity to develop a documentary to describe the woeful record, it is now outlining how three administrations have lost more than $136 million in ten years. Perhaps it’s time to reconcile the city’s finances by hiring a Chief Financial Officer with experience and savvy.

Here is a draft outline that details the events that have drained the financial resources of the city, to the extent that the current Guthrie administration is engaged in selling Guelph Hydro to rebuild the financial losses of previous administrations.

The Guthrie administration is hamstrung to even pay for needed infrastructure repairs and replacements, let alone reducing costs. A new city report clearly states that it is going to cost double what the administration estimated when approving the 2017 budget.

And council couldn’t even get that straight when it voted to double the so-called special property tax levy from one per cent to two percent. The staff recommended a one per cent levy to help pay for the infrastructure costs but council added another one per cent to pay for “city buildings.” The reality? It is an attempt to start construction of the $60 million South End recreation centre.

Trouble is there is no capital funding for this project. So council approved shelving some $700,000 to replace the parking meters downtown, a project in the 2016 budget, to produce parking revenue. Then council turned around and spent some $650,000 toward pre-construction costs of the South End recreation centre.

Most people would believe this is a commitment to proceed with the project. Most people will figure out what is occurring is a back-door attempt to force the next council to come up with the capital funding for the project.

Both Ward Six councillors, Karl Wettstein and Mark MacKinnon, pushed this attempt to force future councils to pay for it.

Is this any way to run a city? Any way to mortgage future generations of residents to pay for something they did not vote for? Is it right to ignore the costs of infrastructure to assuage the desires of a minority of citizens?

Already, there are decisions being made to ensure the re-election of the present majority of council including the mayor. A key problem is the greatly diminished level of reserves that have been used to shore up projects and balance sheets for far too long.

That’s where we stand today. But let’s look back at how and when we got into this mess.

Back to the future, Guelph style

In February, City Solicitor, Donna Jaques, resigned and left for a job in North Bay with the Ontario Northland Railway. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi, who was dismissed, followed right after her departure. They are yet further additions to the exodus of senior executives leaving the city since Mayor Cam Guthrie was elected. Scott Worsfold, another city lawyer resigned last fall.

More than 20 senior managers have left the city since 2014. These are the people who administer the operations of our corporation. In any business, the adage is it’s more difficult to replace a key employee than to fire the incumbent.

An example is the recent announcement that the General Manager of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI), Rob Kerr, has been dismissed. At the same time the city is setting up a Climate Change Office. Is this really needed? Premier Wynne is already taxing us through our Hydro bills for our use of household fossil fuels. These include use of natural gas in a variety of appliances including barbeques, stoves, dryers, fireplaces, furnaces, and water heaters.

And now we need a Climate Change Office?

What follows is a documentary of how our city investments have been squandered by three administrations. Since 2007, these administrations have created social engineering projects that most people did not request or want.

It documents abuse of the public trust, its right to know and participate. We have been subjected to absolute control, secrecy, distortion of facts and unparalleled arrogance. So, we can only blame ourselves as we elected them. Here is a record of how our money was misused and managed without recourse on our part.

Scene One: The genesis of a financial disaster

It’s early in January 2007 when the newly elected Mayor of Guelph, Karen Farbridge, persuades leaders of organizations across the city to join, creating the Community Energy Initiative. More than 20 prominent individuals accepted her invitation to join and participate. They represented the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, The University of Guelph, Guelph Hydro, Industrial and commercial leaders and energy experts.

Little di we know then of the impact on city finances of this project.

Scene Two: Spending $16 million renovating a derelict building on someone else’s property

Mayor Farbridge becomes immersed in running her city and introducing a number of initiatives. These included approval of spending $12.7 million to move the Civic Museum into a leased former derelict convent next to The Church of Our Lady. This project took five years to complete and cost more than $16 million. Of that amount, the federal and provincial governments provided roughly $6 million. As an aside, more than $1 million was spent landscaping the hill in front of the Museum, on land the city does not own.

Scene Three: The $33 million great landfill diversion scheme

With little public input, council approved a new solid-waste management system. It included spending $33 million on an organic waste-processing facility that had a processing capacity that was three times the needs of Guelph for 20 years. It was operated by Aim Environmental a subsidiary company of the builder of the plant, Maple Reinders. Another Maple Reinders subsidiary called Organix sold the compost produced.

Details of the organic operation were never revealed to the public, including the sale of the composted material. The city management said it could not reveal the details because of “private proprietary interests.” An internal audit of the waste- management operations in 2016 revealed it was losing $270,000 a year. The Executive Director of Environmental Services, Janet Laird, resigned after the 2014 election. Her General Manager, Dean Wyman, left in December 2015 for a job in Edmonton.

The department is now undergoing a rationalization study to develop a greater degree of effiency and reduce reduce costs of an operation that is losing $270K a year. This is under the leadership of Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO) Scott Stewart. Good luck, Scott.

Scene Four: A fateful decision to get tough and lose millions

It’s spring 2008. Mayor Farbridge was getting impatient about the progress of General Contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Corporation, building the new city hall and renovating the old city hall into a provincial court. The original contract was $42 million for both projects. On September 19, 2008, Acting CAO Hans Loewig ordered Urbacon off the site, supported by Guelph Police.

For his loyalty, former CAO Loewig was given a four-year contract starting at $199,000 plus generous benefits, including several weeks of vacation annually. Ann Pappert replaced him in 2012.

Urbacon responded by suing the city for breach of contract and sought $19,184,181.71 in damages. This began a legal wrangle that lasted for five years and eventually included five lawsuits. Fast forward to March 2014. Justice Donald MacKenzie delivered a stunning verdict in favour of Urbacon and chastised the chief city witness, the site manager, Murray McRae for his testimony. The mayor’s impatience cost a $23 million overrun of the new city hall, from $42 million to $65 million.

Here is a comment from a guelphspeaks posting September 9, 2014:

“This remains an epic error in judgment for which the Farbridge administration must take responsibility. How can they say, with a straight face, that the costs are covered and there will be no impact on taxpayers? They’re manipulating your money to suit their agenda and again avoiding responsibility.”

As it turned out, it was CAO Ann Pappert, who made that claim misleading the citizens.

Scene Five: The year of multi-mistakes leading to the defeat of the mayor

Election year 2014, witnessed several events. They included the Urbacon decision, transit strike and approval of the $34 million police HQ renovations which would take more than five years to complete. These events impacted the future of Mayor Farbridge and four council supporters who either decided not to run or were defeated.

The progressives were stunned over the loss of their leader. Changes came swiftly. The top senior staff was reorganized when Janet Laird retired to Whistler, B.C. and Derek McCaughan resigned. The shuffle occurred before Cam Guthrie took over as the city’s new mayor, December 1, 2014.

Observation: The city administration does not have much success when it comes to constructing major capital projects and staying on budget. Besides Urbacon, there was the Civic museum, both of which exceeded contracted costs by $33 million.

Scene Six: It’s 2015 and we’re off to a rocky start

Early in 2015, there were events that would shape the new council that was dominated by seven supporters of the previous Mayor and her policies. In January, Mayor Guthrie attacked me in an email urging his followers to ignore me. The outburst was attributed to a piece I published in guelphspeaks.ca in which I said the council was reviewing CAO Ann Pappert’s contract.

The Mayor, for whatever reason, supported Ms. Pappert until the day she gave her notice in April 2016 that included her extravagant retirement payoff estimated to be more than $150K. Early last year, concerned citizen, Rena Akerman, sent a detailed email to other citizens outlining the performance of the CAO in the past four years. Mayor Guthrie threatened legal action against Ms. Akerman. Fortunately for him, that didn’t happen.

Scene Seven: the Guelph Municipal Holdings debacle

In 2015, there was an even bigger scandal brewing. Mayor Guthrie and Coun. Karl Wettstein were appointed as council representatives on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) board of directors. The former mayor said GMHI was to manage the city-owned assets including Guelph Hydro, its subsidiary Envida Community Energy Corp. and the Guelph Junction Railroad.

Simmering below the surface was this disastrous experiment created by the former mayor. It is a wholly-owned corporation of the city. Mayor Farbridge appointed herself as chairperson of the GMHI board of directors, composed of a majority of her council supporters, plus two members of Guelph Hydro and two independent directors. CAO Ann Pappert was appointed Chief Executive Officer of GMHI and remained in that job for four years.

On May 16, 2016, the truth was revealed in a GMHI situation report signed by Ms. Pappert in her capacity as city CAO, and Pankaj Sardana, her successor at GMHI. In fact, in its five years of existence it has never made a dime but the losses climbed to more than $26.6 million. This loss, according to a May 16, 2016 was reported and presented to council, jointly by CAO Ann Pappert and Pankaj Sardana, CEO and CFO of GMHI.

The report stunned everyone when Mr. Sardana said GMHI had lost $26.6 million and had no financial ability to continue operations. It turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg. GMHI had accepted a loan of $65 million from Guelph Hydro to expand its projects to achieve electric power self-sufficiency for the city. That loan is now an impaired asset on the city’s books and was on the 2015 Financial Information Report valued at $69 million. “Impaired Asset,” means that the receiver of the funds, GMHI, has no money to pay the interest on the loan. Also it has insufficient assets underlying the loan.

Over time, this large loan will have to be written off. Unless, the city can sell Guelph Hydro and profit from the estimated proceeds of more than $150 million. Later this year, the Strategic Options Committee will make its recommendation after shopping Guelph Hydro in the market place.

It is only recently revealed the former mayor and the GMHI board had secured land in the Hanlon Business Park and Downtown to build large natural gas-fired generation plants as part of its Community Energy Initiatives. Again, public input was not invited or considered.

The two natural gas plant sites were obtained when the Guthrie administration shut down operations. Guelph Hydro was brought into the city as part of its finances.

It is now plain what the former mayor was bent on accomplishing. Electric power self-sufficiency and sell Guelph Hydro to the highest bidder to get rid of the losses.

Please think about this: If Ms. Farbridge had been re-elected in 2014, we would still be kept in the dark while millions were poured into a scheme to make our city self-sufficient in electricity supply. If fact, Mr. Sardana said that in order to make the two $8.7 million District Energy Nodes to break even, it would require an additional investment of $60 million.

Did the former mayor ever consider the billion it cost to dismantle two partially built gas-fired plants by Premier Dalton McGuinty to save four Liberal seats?

Well folks, so far it’s only cost you and me $96 million including the $65 million loan from Guelph Hydro. It will eventually disappear into the mists of One Carden Street.

For comparison, the Ontario gas plant tear down cost just over a billion dollars. The population of Ontario (including us) is more than eight million people. So Guelph loses $96 million spread over some 121,500 residents and businesses. Our loss will cost $790 per person, babies, young, old and the infirm. That money has gone.

McGuinty’s gas plant loss cost each of the eight million population of the province $12,500.

But wait a minute! We are included in the Provincial figure so that means every citizen of Guelph is responsible for $13,293. A high price to pay for badly managed, high cost social engineering schemes, all of which failed on both levels of government.

The real problem is that it’s public funds that have been misspent. Regardless of whether it’s posted in the Guelph Hydro books or the city books, it’s a stunning loss and misuse of public money. The city has no choice but to write it off.

But here’s the concern for all citizens: Until there is an independent investigation and forensic audit of the whole GMHI debacle, the people will never know the truth. Most recent development is the dismissal of Rob Kerr, general manager of CEI and the formation of ”Climate Change Office.”

Is this what Karen Farbridge promised when she campaigned in 2006 to “Put Guelph back on track?” Just asking.

Scene Eight: Revenge: Thy sting is not so sweet

In early 2015, Susan Watson, a strong supporter of the Farbridge administration, hired a Toronto lawyer to represent her in an action before the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC). It was in regard to a $400 donation that had been given to former Ward Six candidate Glen Tolhurst by the civic action group, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). Her lawyer argued that GRG was not permitted to donate to candidates under the Ontario Elections Act (MEA).

Two of the three CAC members voted to have an independent auditor examine Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial statement and the role of GRG. As members of GRG, my wife, Barbara, and I, were subpoenaed to appear before the auditor, William Molson of Toronto. We were questioned for an hour and a half. A couple of weeks later the auditor presented his findings to the CAC committee exonerating Mr. Tolhurst and GRG of any breach of the Municipal Elections Act.

The estimated $11,000 costs of this procedure were paid by the taxpayers and not by Ms. Watson who initiated the complaint.

Scene Nine: Along comes the mother of municipal financial failures

Starting in 2011, GMHI annually deposited a $1.5 million dividend to the city. In 2015, GMHI said it had sent a total of $9 million to the city as dividends. The only problem was the GMHI never made any money. Ten days after signing the report, she left the city to work for the Province of Ontario.

So far, more than $8.7 million, the cost of installing the two District Energy nodes, has either been written off or written down. But there remains a number of unresolved issues including contracts with those buildings connected to the co-generation thermal system supplying hot and cold water. The city cannot afford to subsidize these already installed connections to five large buildings. The statement has been made that it will continue to supply the service. The city has maintained that the Community Energy Initiative is under review with decisions to be made when a staff report is presented to council.

The real problem lies with the $65 million Guelph Hydro loaned to GMHI after board chair Karen Farbridge and her board voted to fold Guelph Hydro and its subsidiaries into GMHI. Since then, the city has taken control of Guelph Hydro. But a major problem remains. In doing so the city has shifted the Guelph Hydro loan to GMHI into its own books as an asset, although impaired. That means that in 2015, that impaired asset had grown to $69 million because GMHI had no money to even pay the interest. The huge problem is that there are no assets in GMHI or funds to even pay the interest on the loan.

Well, the fact is the city now has the loan on its books it’s like lending your son or daughter $25,000 to go to college and never expecting it to be paid back. It’s all in the family.

Scene Ten: The fallout of financial mismanagement will affect all of us for years

Please think about this: If Ms. Farbridge had been re-elected in 2014, we would still be kept in the dark while millions were poured into a scheme to make our city self-sufficient in electricity supply. If fact, Mr. Sardana said that in order to make the District Energy Nodes to break even it would require an additional investment of $60 million.

It is only recently revealed the former mayor and her colleagues on the GMHI board had secured land in the Hanlon Business Park and Downtown, to build large natural gas-fired generation plants as part of its Community Energy Initiative.

Again, public input was not invited or considered. Did the former mayor ever consider the billions it cost to dismantle two gas-fired plants, partially completed by the McGuinty Liberals to save four Liberal seats?

Well folks, so far it’s only cost you and me $96 million including the $65 million loan from Hydro.

When you stop and think, imagine what that $96 million could have done to capital spending in the city. Particularly for a new downtown library, the former mayor promised that 19 years ago. Or the South End recreation centre that was promised by the same mayor nine years ago as a priority.

These are bread and butter issues. We have been held hostage for ten years now by a radical group of progressive councillors who are “big picture” representatives. They obsess about climate change, energy, bicycle lanes, public transit, water sold commercially from the aquifer, protecting the environment.

Running a city is not rocket science. Councillor’s primary responsibility is to make sure everything works. It includes roads, water supply, waste disposal, parks and recreation, cleaning the streets, picking up the garbage and creating jobs.

And please don’t tell me that we are better off than we were four years ago adding more than 400 new full time equivalent employees, with property taxes soaring by 14.2 per cent and user fees for using our own dump and managing our storm water.

 

 

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GuelphSpeaks annual Top losers and winners for 2016

By Gerry Barker

March 12, 2017

It’s time to review 2016 when we look back and pick those events and people who won some and lost some. It was not a great year for our city as political reform is still a bridge too far. No matter what good things happen and there are a number, they are offset by the frequent absence of transparency, accountability and common sense governance at City Hall. Feel free to add or pooh-pooh the picks.

Coming up is the 2016 Sunshine list in a couple of weeks that will reveal all the names of public employees earning more than $100,000 a year. In June the 2016 audited Financial Information Report should be made available to the public on the city website.

First, Here are the losers:

  1. Mayor Cam Guthrie abandoned his promises to reduce property taxes to the equivalent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In three budgets over which he has presided, the property taxes approved by council were increased by 10.08 per cent. He, along with eight councillors, voted to approve the 2017 budget.
  1. Waste management and the struggle to unwind costly business practices and losses by the former management of waste control, collection and environmental services. The leadership is gone but citizens remain stuck with the financial fallout. The former internal auditor said the waste management operation was losing $270,000 a year. That flies in the prediction that controlling waste and diverting it from the landfill would be self-liquidating. Help is on the way, (see number 5 in winners).
  1. The hundreds of Canada geese who make their year-round home in Guelph paddling in the rivers and munching on parkland grass. Well, you know the rest of the story when they leave their calling cards. What ever happened to that $50,000 approved by council a couple of years ago to study the goose problem?
  1. Those two councillors, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein, who were members of the GMHI Board of Directors for four years and paid for their service, never said a word about the collapse of GMHI. During a GMHI discussion by council, Wettstein recused himself because he had a “pecuniary interest.” That’s not all he had.
  1. The privately owned Guelph Storm Junior Hockey club successfully extracted $5 million over ten years in a new rental agreement with the city. It effectively ties up the Sleeman Centre for 12 months each year. Under the old agreement, taxpayers were subsidizing the arena by $249,000 a year. Release the details of that contract including revenues, expenses, cost sharing and insurance. Go figure!
  1. To the eight councillors who usually vote as a bloc. They believe in the agenda of the former mayor and perpetuate her theories of a new Guelph. A city with a vibrant downtown, self-liquidating waste management, reduction of carbon emissions and approving high-density development but few single-family homes. Is this what you voted for?
  1. To Coun. Mark MacKinnon goes the annual Chutzpah Award for his assertion that paying taxes is not only an obligation but also a privilege. His rationale was because house prices have increased then people should be prepared to meet their ever-increasing tax bill. Even if it means taking out a second mortgage to pay their taxes. This sounds a little self-serving, isn’t Mark in the mortgage business?

Tah Dah! The Winners:

  1. Those three city councillors, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Bob Bell, who had the courage and understood their responsibility to protect the public trust in city government. When the mayor called the vote to approve the 2017 budget, these three Councillors voted no. They deserve your support no matter where you live in the city.
  1. While GS is not a big fan of Coun. Phil Allt, he performed a courageous act donating a kidney to his brother.
  1. The approval of a rationalization of the waste management and environmental services is the right step cleaning up a system that is out of control. Citizens spent $33 million building a compost plant but we cannot even buy the finished composted mulch. It’s sold privately.
  1. The resignation of Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert who left May 26 only after she had secured a job as an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Culture Tourism and Sports Ministry. Goodbye, hold the luck.
  1. The unfolding details of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. story of mismanagement, deception and a loss of $26.6 million. There are still many questions about this abortive project that conducted its business in closed sessions led by the former mayor. This is what happens when you operate in an opaque vacuum shutting out public participation.
  1. To former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired without cause and sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. The case broke wide open when, in the process of examination for discovery, Mr. Poole’s lawyer received an external drive from the city Information Technology department that contained 53,000 files, most confidential and unrelated to the case. The city demanded a return of the drive after the story broke in Guelph Today. The result was a rapid mediation of the Poole case that produced a settlement. The outcome remains confidential. Well, I guess this is another case where the city loses another lawsuit. City Solicitor, Donna Jaques, has left for greener pastures joining the exodus of more than 14 senior and upper management employees who have left the city administration in the past 17 months..

 

 

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How ten years of socialistic fascism has dominated and cost Guelph citizens millions

By Gerry Barker

February 28, 2017

Judging from the comments on the guelphspeaks blog, there is a lot of confusion about what happened to the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) and its control of Guelph Hydro and the Guelph Junction Railroad.

Remember, confusion is the tool of authority.

But what is socialistic fascism?

The fabric of political socialism is a fair description in which most Canadians believe. Fascisim means total control. And the two previous admiistrations were experts at denying the right of the public to know, using closed sessiona to discuss important public business.

Even afrer 11 years of the former federal administration led by Stephen Harper, our basic beliefs in socialism pervaded. Remember Mr. Harper steered Canada through the world’s greatest global economic disaster. Canada survived for the most part thanks largely to the Canadian Banks that were not exposed to the mortgage-backed worthless securities securities that were being flogged by the major U.S. Banks as well as many banks oversears.

But when you drill down to the municipal level, Guelph’s two Farbridge administrations have introduced and then concealed projects by adding radical energy and environmental projects that, by latest count, have cost $96 million with miniscule tangible return.

I know there is the doyens of the socialist Left, including the former mayor and her supporters, who disagree with this. There is the old expression in the financial business, “you can’t fight the tape.” But that’s what is going on right now as our elected officials, aided by senior management, are fighting the tape by trying to seek solutions to avoid what has already been revealed.

The shades of grey and black of the cover-up

A former mayor created it. Her ambitions of energy self-sufficiency and unproven theories of accomplishing her goals have led to this debacle.

It ended October 27, 2014 when she was defeated as mayor of Guelph by Cam Guthrie by more than 5,000 votes.

In early 2015, Mr. Guthrie suffered through a couple of political events as council approved the 2015 budget including a property tax increase of 3.96 per cent. It was not what he campaigned on, promising voters that he would keep property tax levels at the rate of the Consumer Price Index. The second shock was the state of the city-owned GMHI, that had been chaired by the defeated mayor.

What they learned was GMHI was a money losing, failed operation that was virtually bankrupt. The one big GMHI asset was Guelph Hydro that the former mayor had quietly incorporated in GMHI.

Protected by a closed-mouthed administration, who knew of this development?

Guthrie became chair of GMHI along with Councillors Cathy Downer and Karl Wettstein.

Wettstein, a four-year member of the GMHI board, told the October 24, 2016 council meeting that he and Guthrie had “ a negative impact” on GMHI operations.

Mayor Guthrie angrily replied: “That is the most inaccurate statement I’ve heard in the past two years.”

Wettstein knew what GMHI was up to because he was on the board. To now say that he played a role in its discovery of waste, secrecy and politics, is the height of arrogance and of covering his behind.

Then, at the same meeting, Coun. June Hofland made the following statement: “I feel very sad because I feel we have been moving backwards but we don’t have the sophistication or leadership at this time to move forward with the holding company.”

Okay June, as chairperson of Finance, you get two minutes for forgetting your fiduciary reponsibility to the citizens as their elected representative. And June, this is a game for adults.

These are comments from two members of council who were paid to serve on the GMHI board for four years. Did they sit on the board like birds on a wire? Did they not realize what their sworn responsibility was to the citizens who elected them as their representatives?

And on the February 15, 2017 they voted to sell Guelph Hydro as recommended by the Strategic Options Committee (SOC).

But wait! This 8-5 vote not to sell Guelph Hydro was not necessarily a vote not to sell Guelph Hydro, according to some councillors. Coun. Phil Allt voted to sell the utility but then hedged his decision by saying he wanted more alternatives. Some councillors who voted not to sell Guelph Hydro also said their vote depended on the SOC phase two report in midyear.

Was this motiob a vote to instruct the SOC to “explore further options?”

Huh? While it was an up and down 8-5 vote not to sell Guelph Hydro, or so we thought, it was not necessarily a vote by council to not sell Guelph Hydro.

Are you still with me?

Why are there no council representatives on the SOC? Any volunteers?

For baseball fans, this is called a politiclal squeeze play. This is when a runner is trapped between the first and second basemen and is tagged out., because there is no place to go.’’

In this case, the metaphor seems to fit.

No elected official wants to be caught between selling Guelph Hydro or not. What they do know is the people they represent are dead against selling the utility. Councillors wanting to sell Guelph Hydro are motivated by the cash the city will receive from the highest bidder, It is estimated the proceeds could be as high as $150 million.

Is this any way to run our city? Do we have to spend $600,000 to get some outsider advisor to tell us about the options? We just lost $96 million on the abortive GMHI schemes. Why are we now spending more money to placate those councillors who still believe the Community Energy Initiative was an important contribution to the city?

Remember, confusion is the tool of authority.

It remains the most epic mismanagement of the operation of this great city in its 200-year history.

Last October, the strategy of unwinding the money-losing GMHI entwined with Guelph Hydro was discussed by city council. A staff report to council recommended to “shelve, cease or park” the failed city-owned corporation.

Mayor Guthrie was thrilled when council voted 10-2 to investigate the future of GMHI using the term “rationalization.” That’s muni-speak for investigation and taking action.

That action has wrapped up GMHI by about 90 per cent. The remaining obligation to support the District Energy Nodes (pumps) is to continue supplying hot and cold water to five buildings downtown. The Hanlon Business Park Node has been written off.

It all started with the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) created by the former mayor, Karen Far bridge, in 2007. In 2011, the then mayor, supported by her majority of council, approved setting up GMHI. The first board of directors included the Mayor as chair, four members of council, June Hofland, Karl Wettstein, Todd Dennis and Lise Burcher. There were two independent members and the CEO of Guelph Hydro.

The Mayor also brought in her city Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, to be Chief Executive Officer of GMHI. She remained in that job for four years. On December10, 2015 in closed session, council awarded Pappert with a retroactive pay increase of some $26,000.The reason for this was never disclosed.

Is it possible that this incresse to the CAO, that totalled $37,501, was followed four days later when council approved a new Indemnification bylaw, It stated that the city would reimburse legal expenses of any elected or staff member if they were the subject of a legal procedure initiated against them.

Guess you may describe that timely action as locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.

On May 16, 2016, council, acting as shareholders, was told that GMHI had lost $26.6 million and had no financial ability to pay off a loan from Guelph Hydro.

Now that loan sits of the city books as an “impaired” asset totalling $69 million in 2015 as reported by the city.

Now, supposing you are a major Canadian bank risk manager and based on the GMHI business plan, considered loaning the money to GMHI. With the state of the GMHI balance sheet showing a loss of $26.6 million, would you take the risk and loan GMHI the money?

It is safe to conclude that the former mayor, having control of Guelph Hydro, convinced the publicly-owned utility to use its credit rating to allow the loan of some $60 million.

Here are two city-owned corporations, both controlled by the former mayor as chair of GMHI and serving on the Guelph Hydro board.

This action was all done in secrecy over four years. The public was not informed nor participated in the merger of the two corporations owned by the citizens. Nor was there any information regarding the justification for obtaining the loan.

There are no underlying asssets of GMHI to justify calling the loan an “impaired” asset.

The citizens were double-duped by the whims of an eco-centric former mayor whose actions went far beyond her capability to manage fiscal responsibility. It was a monumental echo of the Urbacon affair that cost the city more than $20 million to complete the new city hall. It occurred on the former mayor’s watch.

Fortunately, her blind ambition was halted upon her defeat in 2014. By then most of the damage had been done.

In my opinion, I believe the SOC and Community Energy Initiative should be scrapped. In its place we need an independent audit of the financial impact of the Governmental and financial relationships of the three three public institutions, the Corporation of the City of Guelph, GMHI and Guelph Hydro.

Why, you may ask? Guelph currently has no Chief Financial Officer or City Solicitor. They are key players in administering life support to an administration that is bereft of qualified senior management.

If council is ready to spend $500,000 to obtain additional information on how to deal with Guelph Hydro and wrap up GMHI, the money should be spent on the audit.

Since October 2014, there is evidence that an independent audit is indicated. Here are the 11 senior staff managers who have left:

Janet Laird, Executive Directort of Environmental Services; Derek Mcaughhan, Executive Director of city Operations; Dean Wyman, General Manager of Solid Waste management; Al Horsman, Chief Financial Officer; Bruce Poole, Chief Building Inspector; Don Kudo, Deputy City Engineer; Janice Sheehy, General Manager of Finance and city Treaurer; Ann Pappert, Chief Administrative Officer; Mark Amorosi, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Corporate Services; Donna Jaques, City Solicitor.

If the audit reveals criminal action by the three corporations, the Ontario Attorney General should order a police investigation.

 

 

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Headline of the week: Mayor chooses Taco Bells over sale of Guelph Hydro

By Gerry Barker

February 20, 2017

Last week the news was a mixed bag of burritos. Mayor Guthrie exclaimed in print that Guelph was getting two Taco Bell restaurants. It was an artful attempt to deflect a critical personal defeat by using the trivial Taco annoucement ignoring his abortive support of selling Guelph Hydro.

And all this time we believed things at city hall couldn’t get any worse.

Wednesday night, in a special meeting of council, there were two main discussion points on the agenda. On was to receive the report of the Strategic Options Committee’s (SOC) recommendations for the disposition of Guelph Hydro.

The other was to discuss the future of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI). As it turned out, there was no discussion or conclusions reached about that defunct organization that has cost taxpayers an estimated $96 million.

When the former mayor and chairperson of GMHI officially added Guelph Hydro to its short list of municipally owned properties, it created a deliberate comingling of assets. That resulted in a ruptured financial debt of epic proportions coming about three months after the defeat of the mayor. By March 2015, Mayor Guthrie became the GMHI chair and was joined by Councillors Karl Wettstein and Cathy Downer, and the GHMI board was fired.

2015, the year the truth started coming out

That was in the spring of 2015, a year of faceless fumbling including the awarding, in a closed session of council Dec. 10, of $98,202 to the top three senior executives of the administration. That was followed December 14 by another closed session when council approved an Indemnification Bylaw. It essentially protected any employee or elected official, by paying their legal bills if sued by any citizen or corporation. This bylaw’s timing, as it turned out, played a role in protecting the top three managers from any procedure brought against them by the public.

That GMHI/Guelph Hydro investigation included a long period of behind-the-scenes checking of the linked GMHI and Guelph Hydro books. In fact, the process took 14 months.

The public was never told whom in the administration, or outside consultants, performed the autopsy on GMHI and Guelph Hydro or if financial experts conducted the process. What was eventually learned was devastating in terms of the citizen’s liability to pay the bills.

Fast forward to May 16, 2016

This was the day that outgoing Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, and CEO and CFO of GMHI, Pankaj Sardana, reported some of the details of the financial implications created by the GMHI Board of Directors including the former mayor. Ten days later, Ms. Pappert left the city job.

As guelphspeaks.ca has reported on the details of the May revelations, we will move on to July 13, 2016. The city staff produced a detailed, no punches pulled, report showing where most of the money went and how it was spent.

Two current councillors, Karl Wettstein and June Hofland, received a stipend to attend the GMHI board meetings for four years. Yet, on Wednesday, both voted to sell Guelph Hydro. Why? Did they know about the financial mess GMHI was in on their watch but never said anything? Was this the silence of the lambs?

Here’s the real punch line

In September, the council appointed a committee of five called the Strategic Options

Committee (SOC) to investigate the future of GMHI, Guelph Hydro and the Community Energy Initiativem created by the former, mayor in 2007.

Little did anyone know what the GMHI plans were, how they were determined and what the business plan was to develop two District Energy Nodes (gas-fired pumps). Both were designed to perform a number of tasks. First, a contract was signed to supply ten megawatts of power to the grid from each Node. That never happened. Then contracts were completed to connect the two large Tricar downtown condominiums with hot and cold water. There has been no mention of the city’s liability in regard to these service contracts.

Next, a system of underground pipes was connected to nearby buildings, five at the Sleeman Node and one in the Hanlon Business Park node. Cost of these Nodes was $8.7 million. Cost of this co-generation piping is presumed to included in the $2.6 million GMHI admitted losses.

This was the dream of the former mayor to generate power and supply hot and cold running water to those connected buildings. Only recently, it was revealed that GMHI was also planning two large natural gas-fired generating plants, one downtown and the other in the Hanlon Park. In fact, land for these plants had been secured.

Thoughts for your consideration: How was all this financed? Who knew of the sources of funding? How did this affect your tax bills and electricuty charges for four five years? Why were there no checks or balances concerning this waste of public monet that was shrouded in secrecy?

Most of the GMHI players are gone

Only two councillors remain as survivors of the GMHI financial disaster, Karl Wettstein and June Hofland. There is more on them later.

Wednesday, the Mayor, much like his predecessor in 2008, urged council to accept the SOC recommendation to sell Guelph Hydro.

It was soundly defeated. With only the Mayor, Councillors Mark MacKinnon, Karl Wettstein, Phil Allt and June Hofland supporting it, the sale of Guelph Hydro is off the table.

Now, during its five months of deliberations, why did this committee invite the public to offer opinions on the sale of hydro or a merger with another utility? The answer is simple: If you know the answer, why pay attention to the outcome? The response was overwhelmingly negative. Yet the SOC recommended it. The cost of six months of this SOC operation was $100,000.

But there was agreement to review the recommendation and investigate further for other “options.” Council was told that would cost an additional $500,000. The SOC says it will report mid-2017.

Are we not chasing moonbeams here? The public has already spoken about the sale and is lukewarm about a potential merger with another electric distribution organization. Even the SOC co-chair, Pankaj Sardana, warned that mergers are not always successful and the culture clash between merged utilities warrants serious consideration before buying in. Remember, it is the provincial government that is promoting amalgamation of publicly owned power distribution centres.

This is nothing but a political move to allow municipalities to free up cash. Already most of the muncipally-owned Electric Distribution Untilities have been snapped up by private corporations. Then see the value and it explains the comments of Mr. Sardan that mergers don’t always work.

Before the SOC continues it task, the public should be told how, when, and to whom the money is to be spent.

In my opinion, the SOC should wrap up the Community Energy Initiative, the over-riding influence of the demise of GMHI and its quest to make Guelph self-sufficient in use of electricity.

Let the next council decide the direction these energy issues should take.

Why the urgency to sell Guelph Hydro?

So why is the Mayor anxious to sell Guelph Hydro? He has a king-sized financial problem on his watch that 100 Taco Bells can’t solve. He wants to open his 2018 re-election campaign with a clean boatload of money to build the South End recreation centre and the Wilson Street parkade.

With a book value of an estimated $150 million, the sale of Guelph Hydro would have solved a lot of pressing demands for funds.

There are other solutions to reforming the administration. The city overhead is choking growth. When you are faced with a loss of $96 million, there are only three ways to solve it:

Enter an aggressive, cost cutting of operations planned by an experienced and qualified financial expert, or sell off your assets to pay for the shortfall. There is another option, pay it off by using the city’s Standard and Poor’s credit rating and borrow more money (see cost cutting above).

Spending another $500,000 seems like a last ditch effort to salavage the reputations of former GMHI participants who, collectively, must share the responsibility of failure..

The $23 million Urbacon settlement costs are are penny ante compared to GMHI’s flight from financial reality.

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