Tag Archives: Mayor Cam Guthrie

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

By Gerry Barker

August 5, 2019

Opinion

Part Four of Seven

Previously in Guelph Speaks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double-barreled command enhanced by closed-session meetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some words of wisdom from someone who has been there

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

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

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

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

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

A convenient collusion denied public participation

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

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

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

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

Now we know the identity of those investors.

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

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

Nightmare at 1 Carden Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following the mone

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a new sheriff in town

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

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

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

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

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

Next, Part Five: Along comes Alectra

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

By Gerry Barker

July 29, 3019

Opinion

Part Two of Seven

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

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

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

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

Here are the reported CEI goals:

* Use 50 per cent less energy per capita

* Produce 60 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions per capita

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

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

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

How has that worked out for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does more mean less?

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s follow the money

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did all this lower energy use reduce greenhouse gas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

By Gerry Barker

June 29, 2019

Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This party started in 2007

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

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

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

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

Was this a competition?

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

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

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

The $23 million mistake building the new city hall

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

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

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

City enters the real estate business

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

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

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

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

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

The mysterious departure of CAO Thomson

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

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

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

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

Why our property taxes and user fees are juiced every year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not expect anything to change.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Is the Police HQ renovation completion delay another Urbacon debacle?

By Gerry Barker

June 17, 2019

Opinion

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

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

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

Is it déjà vu, all over again?

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

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

That’s progress right?

Here are the caveats about increasing the city debt

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where is the new money being spent?

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, many a promise is embedded before an election.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Was Derrick Thomson’s 2018 bonus of $67,703 then leaving a cover up?

By Gerry Barker

June 3. 2019

Opinion and commentary

The definition of free speech is covered under the Charter of Rights of the Canadian constitution.

However, there are other measures that protect the right of citizens to freely address the issues of the public’s business. And do it without fear of retaliation by deep-pocketed institutions. These include governments at all levels, corporations, and the public servants who claim defamation with their legal expenses paid by their employer.

For example, I learned last week that the 2019 property tax rate in Guelph was 3.14 per cent following the annual April city budget adjustments, including applying increased assessments.

It happens every year.

When the budget was passed last December, Mayor Guthrie proclaimed the 2019 property tax increase of 2.63 per cent was the lowest in years.

That friends, turned out to be not true. It is an example of fake news that was spoken by the Mayor knowing full well there would be adjustments when all details are finalized by the financial department.

We are already aware of the staff senior manager’s salary and benefit increases that are never disclosed until reported in the annual provincial Sunshine List. The names of very public employee in Ontario earning more than $100,000 are published each March.

Why do we have to wait for the Sunshine List to learn of the the Guelph salaries for the previous year? The city files the staff information to the province and must realize their decisions will be available to the public. Not even the Sunshine list reveals the reason for changes in salary and benefits..

It should be noted that negotiations with the Chief Administration Officer, the only senior manager who reports to council are held in closed session. The council authority is the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001-239 (2) (b) and (d). That information is not readily available to the public and lacks accountability and transparency (A & T)?

Does that qualify to meet the city’s own pledge to maintain an open government?

This is only the tip of the iceberg that our civic government continues to manipulate pubic information to serve its interests. It is done by concealing the details of a perceived potentially contentious issue behind a barrier of arcane regulations. Or otherwise failing to provide the public with the details of the final outcome. Is this not the epitome of Fake News?

Don’t get me wrong. There are certain conditions in which discussion must be withheld from the public

Here’s another example of message manipulation

The former CAO, Derrick Thomson’s, 2018 salary was revealed in the 2018 Sunshine list. His salary was $335,081.60 plus a taxable benefit of $11,393.57.

Shortly after the Sunshine report was published, in a March 18, 2019 meeting of council, Mayor Guthrie advised that Mr. Thomson received an additional $67,703.59 in compensation in 2018 as per Staff Report CS 2019 – 53.

This increase stated the Mayor was in recognition of Mr. Thomson’s work as co-chair of the Strategic Options Committee, concerning the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities that was finalized in January 2019.

Mr. Thomson’s co-chair on the SOC was Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, who was appointed by council to be the city’s representative over five years on the Alectra Utilities Board of Directors. Her reported compensation is $25,000 salary plus travel and per diem expenses when attending Alectra meetings.

Council knew in February the CAO was leaving in March

The most interesting part of Mr. Thomson’s career in Guelph was the meeting in February this year in which city council and Mr. Thomson agreed to “part ways,” The result was that the public was not informed of the impact of this decision until March 18 when the 2018 Sunshine list was published.

It appears the cat was out of the bag. But why?

The Mayor’s March 18 explanation to council about Mr. Thomson’s generous $67,703.59 bonus in 2018 seems strange and was awarded before the Ontario Energy Board approval was completed in January regarding the merger of the two utilities.

Speculation is rampant of Mr. Thomson’s sudden departure in March and the reasons remain unknown.

It has always been a mystery to me why the City of Guelph has stifled public participation concerning issues of interest to which the public is entitled.

This is not the first time that senior managers have received large increases and bonuses, withholding the details until the Sunshine List is published.

The administration continues to baffle the public using misinformation, publishing information on its website without informing the public, paying to advertise the “City News” in the only print publication remaining. This alone casts doubt of control over the news pages where advertising and editorial departments should operate separately from each other.

The citizens of Guelph deserve an administration that is competent, devoid of self-serving projects, function as a an open government, accountable and transparent.

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One a personal not: My wife, Barbara Barker, has been invited to display her artwork in the Evergreen Seniors Centre on Woolwich Street. With the assistance of Ted Pritchard, she is displaying 21 paintings she has completed in the past 25 years. The gallery will be on display for the month of June. For further information, call 518 763 7993.

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What does Cam Guthrie really want?

By Gerry Barker

May 27, 2019

Opinion

Is it my imagination or is Mayor Cam Guthrie seeking a higher calling?

It is becoming clear that the Mayor has an agenda to seek higher office.

Here is one example.

Last year’s jumble of the Progressive Conservation leadership debacle led up to the provincial election last June 7. In those uncertain times, Mayor Guthrie, actively campaigned behind the scenes, seeking the PC nomination by acclamation bypassing the nominating convention required by the riding association.

He had already announced that he was running for Mayor of Guelph in the October civic election. He said he loved Guelph and his job as Mayor. He presented his documents on the first day the civic election nominations opened.

In October, he won in a landslide against the NDP backed candidate who ran third in the provincial election. You remember that one that the Ontario NDP launched the fake “orange Wave” claiming the province was going to elect an NDP government.

Instead, the PC’s won 73 seats to form the government and Doug Ford became Premier.

As for Cam Guthrie’s secret ambition to be elected to the Legislature, the huge victory of Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green Party, saved Guthrie’s future. The Green Party spent $119,0000 to elect Schreiner who won with 29,000 votes.

By comparison, Mayor Guthrie’s official financial statement contained the names of 100-persons who donated some $88,000 to his 2018 mayoralty campaign.

Was it an accident or just good luck?

Call it an accident from which Guthrie could walk away and he kept his job.

The bottom line is, why did the Mayor disguise his intention to run for the Ontario Legislature as a PC? He is, or perhaps was, a well-known Conservative supporting both the federal and Ontario branches of the party. Why did Guthrie deceived the Guelph voters claiming he wanted to be re-elected Mayor while trying to get the nomination for another?

Mayor Guthrie has moved along in his path to high office. As a member of the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus he was elected chairman of the group.

This past week, the Mayor told Guelph Today that the provincial government policies “could” jeopardize building the South End Community Centre and a new Downtown library.

Earlier he commented that the Ford government was using stealth techniques to divert public attention.

“I am very, very concerned,” he said, commenting that so are most municipalities.

So what’s the actual beef here?

The Ford government has floated a proposal to lower municipal developers’ fees. This has thrown some municipalities into a tizzy.

Here’s why, and Guelph has been misusing developer fees for funding capital projects. That is not the purpose of developer fees. It’s about infrastructure connections, increasing public safety personnel and public services impact of new development.

“ Our priorities would have to be re-looked at and it would have to be filtered through an affordability lens of what our taxpayers could handle,” warning this could happen if the municipal developer fees are reduced by the Ford government.

The big problem is the South End Community Centre

Council has already tapped the taxpayers to start the preliminary planning and design of the centre to the tune of $3.5 million. That’s a commitment toward spending the estimated $63 million to complete the project.

Here’s a clue of how council spends your developer fees.

“To be blunt, the Mayor continued. “The taxpayers should not have to front these costs.”

He goes on to state that the new main library will cost more than $50 million and 35 per cent of that was to be funded through development charges. That works out to be $17.9 million to come from development charges.

Here’s the beef.

If indeed, the Ford government mandates lowering municipal development fees, that $17.9 million will increase creating a financial gap for taxpayers to pick up.

In my opinion this is smoke and mirrors. And here’s why.

The long-awaited downtown library is part of the initial estimated cost of the $300 million Baker Street renovation project. The plan is to have costs shared between the city and a private developer. This sharing arrangement details have not been revealed.

This project is to start in 2024 and will take six to seven years to complete. Best estimates is that will be 11 years from now.

The South End project is at least five years to complete once the financing is secure. Hello taxpayers!

Then the city is about to enter an auction of the reformatory lands, aka Guelph Innovation Development lands. The plan is to develop a 245-acre satellite green community that city staff has been working on since 2013. The cost of this is unknown.

Depending on the city’s bid, this is an international invitation to bid on the property owned by the province.

It is understandable of the fallout if the province reduces the developer’s fees.

What taxpayers need to know is why are development fees being used to finance major capital projects that are mostly far over the horizon in terms of years.

The taxpayer and those charged user fees cannot continue to pay for big buck projects when it cannot fix the pot holes or pick up the garbage in parts of the city.

Guelph’s tax rates have averaged more than three per cent per year for the past 12 years greater when compared to similar-sized cities.

Perhaps Guthrie has the right idea, move up and leave the problems to someone else.

 

 

 

 

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Is there a new citizen’s organization on the horizon: Huelph Guelph 22?

By Gerry Barker

May 13, 2019

Opinion

Is Mayor Cam Guthrie still a card-carrying member of the Guelph riding association’s Progressive Conservative Party?

I should state that Mr. Guthrie does not like me and the feeling is mutual.

My wife and I voted for him in the 2014 civic election despite his screaming accusation on the phone just days before the election that: “You have cost me the election and my wife and children are crying.”

It is a known fact that the final days of an election campaign can cause hysteria, uncertainty and what I call the Nixon syndrome of intense paranoia about those enemies surrounding him.

Gee, Cam. I wasn’t one of them.

That was the beginning of the end in which a relationship disintegrated. Regardless the GrassRoots Guelph supported his candidacy. I wrote many posts revealing the mismanagement by the former mayor’s council involving a $23 million cost overrun. That included the new city hall and provincial court conversion of the old city hall.

It only took Mr. Guthrie about 45 days to send an email to a number of people informing them that I did not know what I was writing about and frequently got the facts wrong. One of my supporters sent me a copy, as I was not on his mailing list.

My sin? I reported that council was reviewing CAO Ann Pappert’s contract.

I then realized that Cam Guthrie had a powerful ego fed by ambition but little experience to support his lust to seek power and control.

To be fair, those first four months were not easy for the Mayor.

First, he did not have the support of the majority of council, most of whom were part of the former mayor’s council supporters.

His first test was overseeing and approving the 2015 city budget.

During the 2014 election campaign, candidate Guthrie promised that he would keep the property tax rate at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) level that was 1.11 per cent in 2014.

On March 25, 2015, the budget was revealed. The property tax rate was more than 3 per cent and adjusted later for the increases in assessment of Guelph properties to total 3.96 per cent.

It would take a year before the truth about that budget was exposed.

It turned out that council approved $98,202 increases to three senior managers for 2015 but never told the public who or why. That is until the provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning $100,000 or more were published.

Guelphspeaks.ca was the only media outlet that compared the salaries of city employees with the 2014 Sunshine List. And that, Inspector Clouseau, is how the public learned of the names and increases. However, at the time, still unknown was the “why” for the increases.

In my opinion, this plan was hatched in the waning days of the election campaign. Regardless council had to be aware of it, including the Mayor who already supported CAO Pappert, who resigned in April 2016 and left the city May 26.

When the 2016 Sunshine List was published in March 2017, Ms. Pappert was paid $263,000 but only worked five months.

Former employee Derrick Thomson replaced her in June 2016. Eight months later he fired colleague DCAO Mark Amorosi, one of the three recipients of the 2015 secret senior manager pay increases.

In March 2019, CAO Thomson and the city “parted ways.” Thomson was earning $335,000 plus an $11,000 taxable benefit. There was no explanation and a four-month search was launched to find a successor.

It was the end of a dark cloud of cover-up hanging over the city, as all three senior career employees were gone. Mayor Guthrie presided over 84 closed-session council meetings in two years that denied any public participation, accountability or transparency to which the public is entitled.

It only proves that pigs can fly.

Addendum

Recently, Mayor Cam Guthrie formed a Task Force to investigate and develop a plan to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. In the Task Force’s third report, it admitted that the local groups currently engaged in dealing with this serious problem, lacked sufficient funds to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is stating that Provincial Budget cuts will result in “tax hikes and service cuts” for cities. Has the Mayor read the Ontario budget and supporting documents to reach that conclusion?

This is a Guelph/Wellington problem that has needed funding to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately successive city councils have not addressed the growing problem and  the treatment of addicts occupying the city. That’s why the Mayor decided to corral the stakeholders responsible for the homeless and addictive.

Perhaps, it’s time not to depend on senior governments to finance our problems and how to pay for it. All Ontario municipalities lacking the power to broaden the narrow tax base reliant on property taxes and user fees. That’s why when it comes to dealing with a serious  local situation, council’s only  alternative is to take their begging bowls to Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill.

And this is where Mike Schreiner, MPP and Lloyd Longfield, MP use their influence to help solve the problem of under-funding.

Until support comes from the province and Ottawa, both the city and county will be unable to make real change in dealing humanely with those less fortunate persons and addictives.

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