Tag Archives: Mayor Guthrie

Rush to judgment: How the sale of Guelph Hydro leaves a trail of deception

By Gerry Barker

October 26, 2017

Citizens have just 47 days left to mobilize and protect their ownership of Guelph Hydro before council votes to accept the Strategic Options Committee’s (SOC) recommendation. A memorandum of agreement has already been signed between Mississauga-based Alectra Utilities and the City of Guelph, owners of Guelph Hydro.

That being the case, why is the SOC recommending and Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, agreeing to hold “Town Hall” meetings to inform the public of the details of this agreement that has been crafted behind closed doors?

Well a funny thing happened on the way to cutting this deal.

Digging into the SOC’s own document presented June 2016 to council, here’s their timetable for investigating and recommending an alleged suitable partner to take over Guelph Hydro.

Here are some excerpts from that document so you can judge for yourselves whether this is a con job or just an unvarnished lie?

Here’s what the SOC told council last year

Phase 1 (Complete)

Explore options; begin community consultation, present findings and recommendations to Guelph City Council in early 2017.

Phase 2 (March to June)

Scan the industry for potential merger partners. Consider publicly owned utility companies likely to provide value to Guelph Hydro customers, the City and the community.

(June to fall) If City Council votes to explore further: Engage specific targets, develop a preliminary business case and financial analysis, outline impact on shareholder’s rate payers, discuss governance, compare to maintaining full ownership, and make recommendation to City Council.

Phase 3 (fall to winter)

If Council decides to pursue a merger: Enter into memorandum of understanding, announce the parties involved, continue community engagement, begin exclusive negotiations, conduct financial, legal, operational and regulatory due diligence, develop merger and shareholder agreements, finalize rate impact and make recommendation to City Council.

Phase 4 (late 2017 to 2018)

If City Council approves the transaction: submit a MAADs (Merger And Acquisition Document) application to the OEB (Ontario Energy Board) for approval, develop implementation plan and establish leadership and governance of the new utility. Following OEB approval the transaction would close, the parties would enter into the shareholders’ agreement, and the merger would be given full legal effect.

Recommended Next Steps

Given the potential cost of developing complete business cases with multiple parties, the SOC recommends developing preliminary business cases with the most promising candidates and making a recommendation to Council in early fall 2017. This approach is a cost effective way to provide Council with more information while being fair and respectful to potential merger partners.

The Guelph Hydro board affirmed the recommendations made at the outset of this report at its May 29, 2017 board meeting.

*         *         *         *

GS comment: This timetable has turned out to be a myth perpetrated by not only the SOC but with the support of the chair of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., Mayor Guthrie. You see, the SOC was not directly linked to city council but to the failed GMHI operation. Here’s why:

SOC Recommendation

  1. THAT the Strategies and Options Committee (the “SOC”) of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (“GMHI”) be directed to conduct further discussions, engage in further due diligence, and prepare preliminary business cases to assess potential mergers between Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc. (“Guelph Hydro”) and potential merger partners.
  2. THAT the SOC continue its communications and community engagement to inform its work.
  3. THAT the SOC report back to Council in early fall 2017 with the results of further discussions and due diligence, communications and community engagement and a preliminary business case, including recommendations regarding next steps.

The plot thickens

So the SOC lied about its timetable to dispose of Guelph Hydro.

Were the 12 potential partners that had indicated interest in merging with Guelph Hydro not considered by the SOC?

Why did the SOC speed up the decision by almost six months? Was the SOC ordered to do so and if so, by whom and why?

The SOC committee originally had five members: Co-chairs CAO Thomson and GMHI CEO Pankaj Sardana, now CEO of Guelph Hydro, plus Robert Bell, a member of the Guelph Hydro Board of Directors, and two civilian members who resigned.

The SOC committee was revamped with CAO Thomson sharing the chair’s job with Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong. Ms. Armstrong replaced Mr. Sardana and two new civilian members were appointed, one of who was a former member of the GMHI board of directors.

This shuffle came out of the blue with no explanation as to why it was necessary.

The SOC functioned chiefly behind closed doors only reporting periodically to city council that went into closed session. Despite the SOC claims of engaging members of the community, most people had no clue of what was going on in regards to their property.

It is now apparent there is determination on the part of the Mayor to complete this deal before next year’s civic election. If he truly believes that this is a good deal for Guelph, then why won’t he release full details of the memorandum of agreement between GMHI and Alectra?

That’s all predicated on his decision to run again. He has denied that he has been approached by the Progressive Conservatives to run in the next Provincial election next June.

It is odd that the link with GMHI and the SOC even exists. Perhaps city council did not want to get its hands dirty if the bad stuff hits the fan. In my opinion, after tracking the history of all this, there is an unprecedented storm of civic discontent looming.

Note: The following is an informed comment in today’s guelphspeaks. ca written by contributor Colleen spelling out some revealing details of the Alectra proposal:

“The recently merged Alectra Company is four large provincial players – Hydro One Brampton, which was purchased by Alectra, and Powerstream, Enersource and Horizon. Remember Horizon? They are the ones that the citizens of Guelph did not want to partner with in 2007-2008. Here they are again. Guelph has been guaranteed a seat on the Alectra board, which will then have 14 board members. With a 4% share in Alectra it’s a pretty small seat. Customer service will not be local. Our general service customers already pay 37% less than the provincial average so they will not see any further savings. Residential customers thinking that they will save money are misinformed. They will not see an increase on the distribution portion of their bill only for a period of time. This amounts to about 20% of the electricity portion of their bill. So, what the “nothing but good news for Guelph” that Mr. Mayor is talking about? A bigger dividend payment to the City.”

 

Perhaps the city administration should inform the public of how much this project has cost so far. There was a consultant hired to steer this to a conclusion as evidenced by the content and words of the elected officials and the SOC members who are not elected.

At this stage, the public remains in the dark and judging from the secretive way this project has been conceived and misled the public, the responsibility lies with city council that must either approve it or just say no.

It is surprising that the Mayor was responsible for initially bringing the GMHI disaster out in the open and launching an investigation. But now, he is promoting this merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities and the details are back in the closet.

This is the same kind of handling of important public issues that were masked by his predecessor for eight years aided and abetted by senior staff almost all of who are no longer with the city.

Mr. Mayor, please level with the people

Management on the Mayor’s level is complex and required patience, understanding, being tough and fair-minded, occasionally, being ruthless. Mayor Guthrie’s weakness is trying to be all things to all people. When he was elected in 2014, I told him to serve the people not the staff and council opponents.

This is a time for redemption and courage. Let’s hope Mayor Guthrie exercises both.

A good beginning is to level with the people and explain this agreement in detail. If the Mayor believes the deal is in the best interests of the citizens, then explain why in terms they understand. I know, it is tough to explain complicated deals but it is possible and with professional help, essential.

The evidence is mounting that’s creating doubt in the people’s minds.

In my opinion, I remain concerned about the link with GMHI and the Community Energy Initiative. Also the Alectra mission statement includes green energy technology development. Alectra’s promise is not backed up with precise information and management. This city has just experienced a costly misadventure in experiments with green power self-sufficiency. The price tag is a loss of shareholder equity in GMHI of some $63 million.

This is supposed to be an amalgamation of small to medium sized municipally owned electric distribution systems. It should not include dabbling in costly green power projects. History has shown alleged cost reductions linked to green power in the name of climate change are not achieved but instead, boost costs to the consumer.

This consolidation of local power distribution systems is a part of the Liberal government’s energy plan that so far has delivered the highest cost of electric power to Ontario consumers in the country.

Ontario’s leaders tore down gas energy generating plants in Oakvile and Mississauga to save four Liberal seats in the 2010 provincial election… it worked!

Then the Liberals awarded rich wind and solar power contracts to major corporations such TransCanada Pipelines.

In their rush to achieve green power at any cost, the Liberals sold 57 per cent of Hydro One to private enterprise allegedly to balance the books in 2017. That last one is a doozy as the privatized Hydro One just spent $4 billion to buy the electric generating and distribution system serving 375,000 Seattle and area customers. Most of its generating capability is coal-fired. That’s ironic in that we banished coal usage in Ontario some time ago.

The intention of Alectra to build a Green Power Technology Centre in Guelph is something we don’t need or want. Been there, done that.

Sorry Alectra, NO SALE

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The high cost of departed senior City of Guelph managers

By Gerry Barker

May 18, 2017

We learned this week that former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ann Pappert is looking for a job according to an extensive online Linkedin profile. Ms. Pappert left the city last May 26 for a new position as Assistant Deputy Minister in the Tourism, Culture and Sport Ministry.

That position lasted from October 2016 to February 2017. For whatever reason, she left prior to expiry of her six months probation. The 2016 Ontario Sunshine List shows Ms. Pappert received $263,757 from the city of Guelph although she only worked barely five months. The question is: What were the other benefits to which she could have been entitled? What were the terms of her contract? Such benefits could include pension, car allowance, unused vacation and/or sick time, travel expenses and insurance.

We do know that part of her package awarded in December 10, 2016, during a closed session by council, was reimbursement of unused vacation time, and a $28,000 retroactive performance bonus. Much has been written about that closed session but there has been no official acknowledgement or explanation why Ms. Pappert, Al Horseman, Derrick Thomson and Mark Amorosi were given such high increases.

The kicker is not one person in the entire Guelph administration said a word about those increases until the Sunshine List was published in March 2016.

The revelation ignited a wave of the four senior manager’s departures. Pappert left in May, Thomson resigned shortly after the Sunshine list announcement to take a job with the Town of Caledon, Al Horsman left in August 2015, and Mark Amorosi left the city last February.

These four executives were handsomely rewarded by a gob-struck city council, in secret, not having the guts to tell the people who pay the bills. To this day the minutes of that closed session are locked up. I know, I tried to get them released. Turns out the special “Closed Session Investigator,” a city paid consultant from London took four months to even reply to my request. Their opinion is that the city acted according to the rules of the Ontario Municipal Act.

The thing that citizen’s should take away from all this behind closed-door handling of the public’s business is that our Mayor, Cam Guthrie, went along with it.

Today only Mr. Thomson remains the last of four top senior managers who, after resigning, was hired last June to take over the CAO’s job. Why wouldn’t he? His first year on the job will earn him $245,000 including a $9,900 car allowance. To his credit he went public with his salary.

There were some astonishing inclusions and exclusions.

According to the 2016 Provincial Sunshine list, former CAO, Ann Pappert, was paid $263,757.32 in 2016. Now you would assume that was for the year but Ms. Pappert left the city May 26, 2016, Seems like a lot of money for less than five months work. Why did she earn a $28,000 performance bonus? People earning performance bonuses don’t plan to leave, so why did she leave Guelph?

Checking the 2015 Provincial Sunshine list it showed Ms. Pappert was paid $226,060.96.

The only possible conclusion was that Ann Pappert was paid $489,818.26 for 17 months work as CAO, from January 1, 2015 to May 26, 2016. That works out to a monthly salary of $28,812.

At those rates, why did she resign when the Sunshine List revealed her increase onMarch 2016?

So while her provincial government job did not pan out there are still many unanswered questions about that December 10, 2015 closed council meeting. A total of $98,202 salary increases was awarded to Ms. Pappert, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer’s (DCAO) Al Horsman, Derrick Thomson and Mark Amorosi.

But there is more:

Former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman, left the city in August 2015. Today his name shows up receiving $188,999 in the Sunshine 2015 report, the equivalent of a full year on the job. Not bad for eight months work … in 2015. The question is, why did Horsman leave? He was deposed as CFO in the November 2014 reorganization of the senior management and switched to the Waste Management, Environmental Services and Engineering portfolio.

Former CAO Ann Pappert supervised that reorganization, following the 2014 civic election.

Horsman discovered the debacle of the deal made with the Rizzo brothers of Detroit to recycle material shipped from the motor city. The deal fell apart and was reported to have cost Guelph some $2.5 million. In December 2015, Solid Waste General Manager Dean Wyman, who was involved in the Detroit deal, left for a similar job in Edmonton.

DCAO Scott Stewart is now engaged in a rationalization procedure to discover and fix why the Waste management operating costs are losing $270.000 a year.

With Horsman gone, it left just three Senior managers, CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson.

The revelation of the large increase awarded by council to the remaining three top managers in March 2016, triggered the resignation of Mr. Thomson who said he was taking a job with the Town of Caledon. In April, Ms. Pappert announced she was resigning. But Mr. Thmson came back.

Along with her duties as CAO, Ms. Pappert was also Chief Executive Officer CEO) of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), for four years. As CEO she signed off, along with her successor at GMHI, Pankaj Sardana. They jointly presented the report to council, acting as shareholders, May 16, 2016. It revealed that the city-owned GMHI was broke and had lost $26.6 million. Ten days later she left her job.

The unfolding story of GMHI leaves many questions to be answered.

Was Ann Pappert paid two salaries for her two senior responsibilities as CAO of Guelph and CEO of GMHI?

Why did two Councillors, June Hofland and Karl Wetstein, both appointed to the GMHI board, not report to council about operations? The chair, former Mayor Farbridge, appointed them. Did they not realize that appointment carried specific fiduciary responsibilities to the public?

What was the role of Guelph Hydro in the Community Energy Initiative program?

How much did Guelph Hydro invest in GMHI in four years?

Why did Guelph Hydro loan GMHI $65 million without any collateral or expectation of repayment?

How can GMHI give the city $9 million over four years in dividends and lose $26.6 million in the same period?

Were the GMHI financial books audited, if so by whom and when?

What was the impact of Guelph Hydro bills to residents during the five year period, 2011 to 2015?

Will the city reveal the total wind-up costs of GMHI and when?

How do GMHI’s financial costs and losses impact the sale of Guelph Hydro?

Is the potential Guelph Hydro sale to pay off these GMHI losses and clear the city books of the debt?

This is the result of misuse of political power and mismanagement of city resources.

The closed session meetings, regardless of what the staff says, are nothing short of secret manipulation of events and decisions. Much of it is political because the city has been held hostage for the past ten years by the political left, supported by the powerful labour movement.

If the majority of citizens don’t complain and demand answers from their elected representatives, then nothing will change. Property taxes will continue to grow exponentially annually. The same will happen with user fees.

The fall-out is that we allowed a CAO to leave this city after receiving more than a million dollars after just over five years on the job.

We can only blame ourselves for allowing it to happen.

Our only chance for electing responsible and experienced councillors next year, to clean up the financial mess the city is in to reduce the operating overhead, restore the reserves and demand performance of the professional staff.

 

 

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Denial continues, aided and abetted by the “independent” closed session investigator

By Gerry Barker

March 3, 2017

You have to be amused when the lonely weekly reportedly quoted a report by the so-called “independent” closed session Investigator, chastising the council for holding its meetings past midnight because it denied public participation

The Investigator, London –based Amberley-Gravel, took four months to come up with t its decision that council acted legally December 10, 2015 when, in closed session, it awarded $98,202 to three of the top executives. Two of the three are no longer employed by the city.

There is still one of three remaining, Derrick Thomson, who, like a Phoenix, has risen from his almost job with another municipality. In the wake of the 2016 provincial Sunshine List revealing in March 2016, the $98,202 2015 increases, he became the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). His current salary plus taxable benefit is $240,000.

He had the recent distinction of firing one of his colleagues, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO), Mark Amorosi, who received a $26,000 increase for his service in 2015 taking his salary to $216,000. The day after firing on February 8, The CAO praised him for his “valuable contributions to the City of Guelph.” Mr. Amorosi had been with the city since 2007. He never explained why Mr. Amorosi was fired. Also, there was no mention of the financial package he received upon leaving.

The CAO also went out of his way to say that Mr. Amorosi would have his legal expenses paid by the city despite being summarily dismissed. He referenced the lawsuit commenced by Mr. Amorosi against me with a claim of $500,000 for alleged defamation.

Would someone explain to me just how that works?

He was apparently fired because he failed to monitor the Information Technology department of which he was responsible. This was because of the 53,000 emails contained in an external drive was sent to former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole’s, lawyer. It was part of an examination for discovery regarding the $1 million lawsuit brought by Mr. Poole for wrongful dismissal.

Now follow closely because events occurred at warp speed

Tony Saxon, columnist in the online Guelph Today, revealed on Friday morning February 3, that the deluge of emails contained all kinds of private information about a large number of people and not related to the Poole case.

This information came from Mr. Poole’s lawyer and Mr. Saxon reported parts of it.

The city went into high operating mode and demanded the lawyer return the drive. It notified the Privacy Commissioner of the error and promised anyone mentioned in the emails would be notified.

That did not occur until a few days later when the Poole case was settled by mediation with the results being confidential. The drive was returned.

Once again, secrecy surrounds the outcome of this chain of events that would display incompetence, sloppiness, abuse of the public trust and yet to be known are further legal expenses by potential aggrieved victims.

In the middle of this, Donna Jaques, the City Solicitor, left her job. The city was forced to hire outside legal counsel to manage the situation.

So the city has no Chief Financial Officer, no City Solicitor. A rookie DCAO, Colleen Clack, was drafted to take over the Corporate Services department that was run by Mr. Amorosi, plus her regular responsibilities as chief of city operations.

The senior management team of CAO Thomson, DCAO’s Scott Stewart and Ms. Clack is running the city that three years ago, had six executive directors running the show.

In fairness, the three top managers have their hands full and it could take months to bolster the top management team. There is talent around but the city’s reputation as being a tough place to work because of the political control and atmosphere makes the recruiting complicated. It’s not a case about the money but the work environment. Losing 12 senior managers in the last two years has not helped the city’s reputation.

I have no confidence that city council will change its reputation or direction. Mayor Guthrie, whom I voted for, has been unable to rein in the spending as he promised. Also he has not been able to convince council to conduct an independent audit along with a staff rationalization.

Mayor took action to disclose the GMHI disaster.

The evidence is there to see that mismanagement of the city continues to spiral down, due to millions lost because of a series of social engineering projects introduced by former Mayor Farbridge. To his credit, Mayor Guthrie did trigger exposure of the Guelph Municipal Holdings/Guelph Hydro financial disaster.

But then he supports the Strategic Options Committee that has no elected officials on it, by agreeing to spend $600,000 to complete it’s work.

Then, he voted to recommend the sale/merger of Guelph Hydro. That 8-5 vote by city council sounded like a rejection, but the comments of councillors negated it because many, including the Mayor, wanted more options.

For another $500,000, we may get a definitive answer: To sell or not to sell, that is the question.

There were five councillors who voted to sell/merge Guelph Hydro. They are the Mayor, Councillors Phil Allt, Mark McKinnon, Karl Wettstein and June Hofland.

By mid-year (whatever that means) the SOC is to report its findings.

Here are some predictions:

First, a lot will depend on how much pressure is brought by citizens on members of council to reject selling or merging the utility.

Next, is the timing of the SOC recommendations following a series of closed session meetings of council. It won’t be in August because council is at the beach. It might be in July when a lot of citizens are watching their lawns and gardens wither from water restrictions or they are on vacation. These could include the members of the SOC.

The only card the administration has is to convince the citizens that they have negotiated this great deal that will flood the coffers of the city with cash.

Wettstein and McKinnon will get their $65 million South End recreation centre.

The Mayor will have a good news story to get re-elected in 2018.

Phil Allt will ask for more options.

June Hofland, well, she will feel vindicated of her role as chair of finance.

Happy days are here again!

And our electricity and water bills will soar under new ownership of Hydro. Water bills go up every year regardless of a diminished use of the stuff. In the summer we can shower but cannot water the lawn when it needs it.

We can’t blame that on Nestle.

 

 

 

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The day Mayor Cam Guthrie blinked and lost credibility over Salary-Gate

By Gerry Barker

October 26, 2016

There are many questions concerning that December 10, 2015 closed-session city council meeting. It was called by the Mayor to approve large 2015 salary increases for three senior staff managers, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, ($37,591) Deputy Chief Administrative Officers Mark Amorosi, ($26.868) and Derrick Thomson, ($33,814).

It’s unlikely any elected official will answer these questions because they were directly involved in that closed meeting and are covering up to protect their standing under the council’s “Code of Conduct.” This was created by the former Farbridge administration when it hired an Integrity Commissioner to adjudicate any breaches of the Code and recommend sanctions if necessary.

Its real purpose was to shut down the closed-door council leaks that were occurring. Ask yourself, why would the Farbridge administration, with a solid majority of council, need to spend your money to stop information that they didn’t want you know or understand? They made it official by hiring an Integrity Commissioner to police and deal with suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct. The Guthrie administration recently renewed this contract.

Funny, the Commissioner must have missed Coun. Mike Salisbury’s confessed leaking to a friendly blogger of confidential information as to why five members of his caucus walked out of another closed-door meeting last January. It appears there is a double standard when it comes to investigating alleged breaking of the code of conduct by city councillors.

Here are some questions citizens should ask their councillors about that Salary-Gate issue and why was it kept a secret for almost four months?

* Why did the Mayor believe it was necessary to convene a closed session to approve the 2015 top management increases when the fiscal year was almost over?

* Did the Mayor receive information about the senior staff increases prior to the meeting?

* Were these increases included in the 2015 budget, approved by council in March 2015?

* Besides the Mayor, who initiated this closed meeting and why on the 12th month of the year, approved the 2016 city budget?

*   Is it not Provincial policy to reveal the name, salary, taxable benefits and job title for every public employee earning $100,000 or more in Ontario?

* What were the substantive reasons causing council to award these increases that took each of the three staffers’ salaries to well over $200,000, knowing full well the Provincial Sunshine List would publish the salaries in March 2016?

*   When the minutes of that closed meeting were requested, did the city clerk reply that closed-session meetings are “not on the public record and therefore not available?”

* Does this mean that whenever the Mayor convenes a closed session, for any reason, the public is denied access, forever?

*   What was the legal reason for calling a closed session under the Ontario Municipal Act rules, governing such meetings?

*   Did city council understand that by conducting the public’s business in closed session they were, in effect, concealing these senior staff increases, in direct violation of Provincial policy?

*   Which councillors voted for approving the increases in the closed session?

Did Mayor Guthrie vote to approve the increases

*   Did councillorrs realize that they shut down any possible public objection because the results wouldn’t be known until three months into 2016?

*   Was council informed of the rationale that determined how much each of the senior managers was to receive?

*   Were any of the three senior managers involved in conducting performance and market reviews of their peers to determine who gets how much and when?

*   Who informed council of the request for the increases?

*   Did the three managers hire a consultant to advise how much they should receive? If so, who was the consultant and the cost of his/her involvement?

*   Did Mayor Guthrie consult the city solicitor about the legality of conducting the closed-session meeting and was it in accordance with the Ontario Municipal Act guidelines?

*   How many, and which staff people were involved in this closed-session and were they sworn to secrecy?

*   Is it true that this meeting was held so as not to interfere with the final approval of the 2016 budget?

*   Did Corporate Services DCAO Mark Amorosi mislead Coun. Mike Salisbury, who asked for the reason for the $37,581 increase to CAO Ann Pappert? Was it because she did not request an increase in 2014 from the Human Resources department, according to Mr. Amorosi?

*   Is it not true that Ms. Pappert received a $5,005 increase according to the 2014 Sunshine List?

Conclusion

Council, including the Mayor, duped the public by concealing these three senior staff increases to avoid public reaction that would have stalled the conclusion of the 2016 budget.

Ms. Pappert resigned in May 2016 following more than five years on the job.

Al Horsman, the last Chief Financial Officer the city employed, resigned in August 2015 before council approved the 2015 salary increases. He is now CAO of the city of Sault Ste Marie.

Derrick Thomson resigned last April to take a job with the Town of Caledon. He was later persuaded to return to Guelph and was named CAO.

Janice Sheehy, former General Manager of Finance and City Treasurer, resigned last March to take a job with the Region of Peel.

Colleen Clack, General Manager of Tourism and Culture, was promoted to DCAO in charge of Operations, formally held by Mr. Thomson.

DCAO Mark Amorosi, following a three-month search using a professional headhunting firm to replace Ms. Sheehy, appointed Tara Baker, an analyst in the Finance Department. She was named Chief Financial Officer, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer. Ms. Baker is currently on maternity leave and will not be available until next year.

What do you think? Was all this a calm transition of power that has lead to a “Better Guelph?”

Or, is it a contrived attempt to retain power by the Bloc of Seven?

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Get ready for the 2017 budget dance that threatens civic enlightenment

By Gerry Barker

October 13, 2016

The city staff is busy these days to create the proposals for two main operational budgets for 2017.

There is the tax-supported budget that includes much of the operating expenses of the city including all city employees, as well as city, police, fire, and EMS. This cost consumes 80 percent of all property tax revenues. According to the analysis done by Pat Fung, CPA CA, in 2008, total city operating costs were $246.801 million. In 2015, the last full Financial Information Report (FIR) available, the city spent $385.611 million an increase of $138.810 million in eight (FIR) reporting years or an increase of 56.2 per cent.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), increased by just 11 per cent, the city population increased by 8 per cent in the same period. The non-taxable services including the cost of electricity, was increased by 42.5 per cent in just the past four years. Water as well, exponentially increasing by an average of 4 per cent every year since 2007 despite the reduction in consumption.

Now, the city is adding a levy to pay for maintaining the storm water sewer system to be paid through your hydro bill. Along comes Premier Wynne’s new carbon tax also being added to your hydro bill starting in January. Let’s not forget the $5 charge to dump your yard waste at the Waste Management centre on Dunlop road.

Property taxes are only the beginning of citizens’ costs to live here

So let’s get this straight. In 2017 citizens will face paying separately for five required services. Its just more user fees loaded onto residents who are already paying taxes through their property values.

When you think about it, it’s paying a tax on a tax just to live in this city. We have to have electricity, water and waste removal. These are essential bread and butter costs to citizens.

Take this new Wynne carbon tax. If you own a car, motorcycle, motorized boat, snowmobile, gas-fired lawnmower, anything you own that uses fossil fuel including natural gas and oil-fired appliances; you are already paying a carbon tax on your usage of fossil fuels.

In the case of gasoline, the city receives a rebate on the federal gas tax that amounts to some $2.5 million. Now it appears that may be reversed as the Wynne carbon tax takes its place. Anyone wonder where that tax is going, the city or the province?

Regarding the Guelph 2017 budget, the elephant in the room is the huge bill to replace aging infrastructure, some of which may be 200 years old. The Association of Ontario Municipalities, (aka AMO), has estimated the cost of infrastructure repairs and replacement in Guelph is $205 million. That is a large chunk of change.

Last December, city council held a closed–session meeting, before the open public one, in which it decided to push a staff proposal of a 2 per cent, ten-year surcharge on property taxes into 2017. This staff proposal would increase Guelph property tax rates to more than 5 per cent for 2017.

Council agreed last December to kick the can down the road.

Looking back during the eight years of the Farbridge administration, there was little effort to tackle the aging infrastructure problem. But they managed to build more bike lanes, shrink major roads to provide more bike lanes. The administration concentrated on environmental services such a waste management, alternative energy sources, and downtown revitalization.

The single largest cost on the city books each year was for environmental services.

There are a lot of mistakes that were made managing this area including the deal made with a Detroit contractor to process recyclables in the Guelph recycling plant requiring an extra shift to do the work. The quality of material for recycling from Motor City created sorting problems and the deal fell apart leaving taxpayers with a bill of more than $1 million.

Then there is the decision to build an organic waste processing facility costing $34 million. The capacity was approved to process 30,000 tonnes of wet waste per year. Guelph only produced 10,000 tonnes per year so other sources were invited to send their wet waste to Guelph. Chief among them was the Region of Waterloo that committed to providing $10,000 tonnes paying less than the operating costs of the facility. Trouble was they couldn’t provide their contracted supply. Today, it is not known if the organic waste plant is running at capacity or not. If not, the city taxpayers are picking up the bill.

The financial costs of operating this facility have never been revealed. The plant is manned by employees of Aim Environmental, a subsidiary of Maple Reinders, builders of the plant. Another Maple Reinders subsidiary, Organix, sells the mulch produced from the wet garbage.

The people of Guelph get bupkiss from this deal except to pay the operating costs of the plant, forever.

Then along comes building a new Downtown Library, again

Preparing this 2017 budget is fraught with problems. In July, the Mayor managed to get council to pass a resolution to include the new downtown library in the 2017 portion of the capital budget.

What I don’t get is Chief Administrative officer (CAO) Derrick Thomson has already stated that the ten-year, capital-spending budget, is already under-funded by $170 million. So where is the money coming from? There is no attached source of funding for this project. The irony is that Karen Farbridge promised a new library 15 years ago in her first term in office. The estimates of paying for this ranges from $60 million to $93 million.

Let’s convince city council to build the library downtown

Perhaps there should be an organized public effort by the Friends of Library to engage in fundraising by approaching the service clubs, and other community organizations to show the city administration that they are ready to subsidize a new downtown library. Never mind these handouts through the wellbeing policy of the previous administration; the Library is a vital and important part of our social connections in our city. The numbers are there, so we must act. If citizens care enough to raise enough serious money to convince the council to stop stalling and build the new downtown Library, then what are we waiting for?

Why not start with the city including a $1 million annual commitment for the next five years toward the library project? Include it in the 2017 budget and not just a bookkeeping entry but cash deposited in a special segregated account. This should galvanize the citizens to build a beautiful downtown library to broaden the reach of our real sociability for young and old.

But folks, history has told us that we must take action now. The powers at 1 Carden Street will get it.

A modern Library is not just about books. It’s about connecting people to encourage cultural events, to hold conferences and workshops, even a snack stop … it’s a meeting place and keeper of who we are and who we can be.

The Farbridge administration, in its wisdom in 2007, spent some $16 million renovating a decrepit unused convent on Catholic Hill owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.

Construction took five years to complete the project that was, by city admission, over budget by $3.3 million and has less than a tenth of the traffic of the outdated downtown library.

Trouble is, the heritage element of council, supported a decision that used the excuse that it was saving a pre-Confederation building that today has little resemblance to the original. And, It was taken and renovated on someone else’s property.

So Mayor Guthrie, why not tell us the whole story? Is this part of your legacy to create a 3P deal, a joint project of public and private investment, to combine the library with a redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot?

If that happens, what does council do to replace all that lost parking spaces in the downtown where parking is already a serious problem?

With the record owned by the city in building major projects that had cost overruns and delayed completions, it is difficult to assume that anything will change within the present administration culture.

These star-crossed city managed projects include the Wyndham Street underpass; bike lanes that start nowhere and stop nowhere; the farmer’s market renovation; the Waste Management Innovation Centre; The new City Hall project; the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc attempts to install alternative energy solutions costing some $37.1 million; the civic museum (see above).

Managing cultural sites at a loss, is that why the city can’t build a new library?

The city management of two major cultural edifices, The Sleeman Centre and the RiverRun theatre complex is subsidized by $781,000 of taxpayer money every year.

This is not a credit to Guelph. Nor is it fair to the taxpayers.

We have people on council who believe that these two sites are investments. Those among us see it as a total failure of management. Particularly since the Mayor praised the recent ten-year contract between the privately-owned Guelph Storm Hockey Club that has reduced their rent by $50,000 a year taking the city subsidy of this facility to $299,000 a year or $5 million over 10 years.

There is a vacancy of clear thinking; judgment and basic understanding how the city works on the part of the majority of councillors.

We can’t do much about it now.

But think. In the next two years if citizens will band together and raise say $10 million, do you think those elected officials will go to the polls ignoring the debris of their basic functionality?

If they fail to support the downtown public library project and the role of citizens, they do so at their own peril in 2018.

Let’s do it Guelph! The politicians need to have their lamp ignited.

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When respect cuts both ways

By Gerry Barker

October 5, 2016

Comments on the www.guelphspeaks.ca this week have been informative and conducted with respect of citizens’ perspective of living in Guelph.

This shows that people are thinking about how their city has been managed. They are also articulating their point of view with respect. It’s refreshing if only the administration would listen.

Here’s how the owners of the Guelph newpapers and other media played ball with their power unequivacally supporting the administration, not for four years, not for eight years but to date almost forten years.

As a critic of the administration(s) for the past ten years, I am attacked from all sides, particularly by senior management and surrogates of the majority of elected officials. This group was most active prior to civic elections in 2010 and 2014.

For five years up to 2011, I wrote a regular column called Between the Lines in the Mercury editorial page that criticized the Farbridge administration’s mismanagement, particularly of city finances.

I received an email from the managing editor in the fall of 2011, saying I was fired because the paper was going in a different direction. For the record, not only that didn’t happen but also the publication folded last January. That event shocked most people but I predicted it a year before because there was not sufficient revenue to support the publication.

I charge that Ms. Farbridge and her confederates spoke with the Publisher of The Record in Kitchener who was also publisher of the Guelph Mercury, to stop using my column Between the Lines. The messenger was Lynn Haddrell, Editor in Chief of both papers to Phil Andrews, Managing Editor of the Mercury. I always respected Phil but I knew he was caught between a corporate decision and having control of the content of his newspaper. None of these people are part of the Guelph political scene today nor does the Mercury exist.

The relationship between former mayor Farbridge and the Guelph Tribune

As for Ms. Farbridge and four members of her former council, she is no longer in charge of our city.

Why did Ms. Farbridge have the power to do what she did to get rid of http://www.guelphspeaks.ca? Her leverage lay with he city paying an estimated $400,000 a year of taxpayer money to the Guelph Tribude to run “City News” pages in every issue of the paper.

This is nothing but naked power exercised to get rid of an individual consistently critical of the city operations.

Then in early 2012, the administration again tried to shut down http://www.guelphspeaks.ca. This time, Executive Director of Human Resources and Legal Services, Mark Amorosi, stated the city notified a Guelph blogger (not me) that the city would no longer respond to requests for information from “any personal blog website.”

I took it that he meant me.

Amorosi went on to say that the city only interacts with “legitimate media outlets” that follow the Ethics Guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ).

It appears that while Amorosi used the CAJ as the benchmark of who should have right of access to public information, he couldn’t have read the CAJ Ethics Guidelines. If he had, he would have read the following:

“News organizations- including newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television – provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. As such we (CAJ) seek to include views from all segments of the population.”

“Personal online activity, including emails and social networking should generally be regarded as public and not private.”

Believe me folks, it takes a lot of energy, research and dedication to produce a blog that is always available online to anyone and comments on events that city hall doesn’t want to talk about. And I do it using my own money because I believe it’s the right thing to do.

Government is for all the people not the chosen few

I do it because I don’t believe that any government, particularly in Guelph has the power to suppress, muzzle or deny information to which the citizens are entitled. This includes Provincial and Federal freedom of information laws.

Despite the information roadblocks set up by the administration, the ugly underbelly of gross mismanagement by an entrenched administration and majority of council is gradually exposed.. It includes neglect of vital civic issues such as affordable housing and family services, the aging infrastructure and wasteful spending on projects that were poorly planned and executed.

The evidence is there. Yet there is an element in this city that keeps saying it’s time to move on. They wish.

So let’s make it simple:

* How do we pay for the Urbacon $23 million excessive new city hall costs? How do we replenish the drained reserves?

* In 2011, Coun. Leanne Piper bragged that the city had more than $80 million in reserve funds. Most of this has evaporated as the reserves were used to cover up mistakes. These include lowball budget forecasting causing negative variances of the city budget at year end. The Province requires that the city accounts be balanced by year’s end.

* The sloppy and careless Community Energy Initiative has already cost $37.1 million and counting. The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GHI) has a staff costing $267,000 annually, yet its Chief Executive Officer says GMHI has no money. Add to that the Guerlph Hydro subsidiary, Envida Community Energy Corporation owes GMHI $11 million and it does not have any money.

Gee, do you think you could run your personal budget that way?

* The role of Guelph Hydro in this convoluted financing of a co-generation plan is murky because the GMHI meetings were all held in private sessions. The plan is supposed to not only generate 10 megawatts of power from each District Energy Node (gas fired pump) to the grid, but also supplies hot and cold water to a small number of nearby buildings. The outcome has been a financial disaster due to poor planning and execution with Ms. Farbridge chair of GMHI until her defeat in October 2014.

Yes we can fight city hall

Supporting this administration is the little paper that can’t, the Guelph Mercury Tribune. It’s biased with one-sided coverage of the administration has been revealed when the paper refused to publish Guelph citizen Pat Fung, CPA, CA’s expert analysis of the financial state of the City of Guelph. Not only that but the paper refused a full-page ad on the Fung analysis claiming it wasn’t documented, was inflammatory and too political.

And all this time we believed that more people would be able to read the financial analysis.

The administration. who received copies of Mr. Fung’s analysis, rejected his findings and this was dutifully echoed in the Tribune news pages. Instead of responding with reasonable questions following Mr. Fung’s five-minute presentation to city council last Monday, council waited until he left the chamber to bolster their opinion that his findings were inaccurate.

For the record, not one member of council or the senior management holds the Degree of Chartered Accountant or Certified Public Accountant. DCAO Mark Amorosi controls city finances. He does not possess degrees in either of Mr. Fung’s professional designations nor has his experiences, performing financial analysis and senior staff management for major corporations.

Now comes the next stage of getting the eight-page Fung analysis to as many people as possible. A group of citizens are supporting a complaint about the paper’s refusal to carry the report. They are in the process of contacting the National Press Council to complain about the Tribune’s rejection of a thoroughly researched report..

Think about this. The city has a communication department with 11 communication specialists plus someone on contract. It includes one of that number to be exclusively assigned to the Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson. Question, does Mayor Guthrie have his own communication specialist assigned to him? Just asking.

Let’s see, the cost of this department is just over $1 million not including taxable benefits. The Tribune has only two reporters covering city hall and they have to file reports twice a week.

Respect is won only when there is open and transparent government that is accountable to the people. And a community newspaper that has no competition openly covers both sides of the story.

Oh yes, whatever happened to Andy Best who was hired last year to bring that type of government to Guelph? Just asking.

 

 

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How a failing Guelph administration is protected by a Mayor defying criticism

By Gerry Barker

October 3, 2016

When Mayor Guthrie announced his intention to run for mayor in January 2014, he talked about “For a Better Guelph.” He also mentioned the “Guelph Factor” as part of the problems facing the city and his reason for running.

But then, he campaigned on holding property tax increases to two percent or the

Consumer Price Index (CPI) that in 2015 was 1.1 per cent. In 2015, his first year in office, the Guelph property tax increase was 3.96 per cent including the effect of the assessment increase on properties.

On December 10, the Mayor presided over a closed session of council that approved paying four senior staffers $137,894 in salary increases for 2015. As this was a closed session, the reasons for including the discussion and vote have yet to be made public.

The four senior managers, CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson, and Al Horsman received excessive increases that became public with the publication of the Ontario Sunshine List last March. Mr. Horsman resigned in August 2015. Ms. Pappert resigned last May. Mr. Thomson also resigned in April to take another job but was brought back to take over the CAO position in June.

Is this the Mayor’s new interpretation of “A Better Guelph?”

Then along comes a Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA CA who examines the audited Financial Information Reports published by the city for the previous four years. He also examined the 2014 BMA consultant’s report of city operations.

This culminated in a detailed analysis of the city’s operational costs, compared with similar sized cities. It broke out the costs of the various departments and institutions of the city and compared them to the Ontario averages.

Mr. Fung, acting as a concerned citizen, sent each member of council a copy of his analysis August 18. Last Monday night, he made a five-minute presentation summarizing his findings. The council response was zero, although the large crowd in attendance applauded the presentation.. In fact, the Mayor shut him down when he directed a question to DCAO Amorosi.

The Mayor followed it up commenting: “I find it a bit disturbing that people would come in here and challenge our staff in this way.”

What does Mayor Guthrie mean when he adds, “in this way?” Are the people he represents not supposed to complain when accurate facts of financial mismanagement are exposed? Which “way” should the people react and respond?

Our Mayor seems to have drifted away from the people, who supported him, to go out of his way to protect the hired help. Does he seriously believe that there aren’t people in the city who clearly understand the gross mismanagement of the city that he promised to correct?

How does a credit rating reduce operational costs?

If the Mayor doesn’t understand the financial state of the city, how does he fulfill his promise of a “Better Guelph?” Does he believe that an AA+ credit rating by Standard and Poors (S&P) makes it all better?

You remember the S&P rating company. Between 2006 and 2008, it gave inflated credit ratings to mortgage-backed securities sold by most major U.S. and global banks. The S&P ratings nearly collapsed the global economy when millions of so-called investments were found to be worthless, except for the people who sold them using S&P credit ratings to support their validity.

Some Questions: The staff reported that S&P gave the city the AA+ credit rating in 2013 same as it is today. Did the city pay for this S&P report and how much did it cost? Why is there a three-year gap between the reports? How does this pat on the back credit rating affect operational costs of the City of Guelph? Answer: It has nothing to do with operational costs. Finally, when the city borrows money, it backs the debt with the assets of a $500 million corporation as collateral. This applies to most Ontario municipalities who borrow money. But then, Guelph already exceeds its debt ceiling as set by city councils.

Aren’t the city staff and some members of council applying the same tactic to misinform the citizens and lull them into not complaining? It appears that the Mayor has joined in that chorus of dumbing us all down.

Which brings us to the public financing of the Guelph Mercury Tribune

When Pat Fung took his report to the Tribune for publication, he was told they couldn’t run it because it was “too long and too political.” At no time did Editor Doug Coxson offer to have a reporter review Pat’s analysis to develop a news story.

By any interpretation, it is a news story and worthy of coverage.

I spoke with Pat and suggested we take out an advertisement in the paper to print the details of his report. I also agreed to raise the money for the ad.

I delivered the copy to the paper last Tuesday that the ad representative accepted and downloaded from UBS drive. I also presented a cheque for $2,083 to pay for the ad. On Wednesday morning, I checked to see a finished proof of the ad and was told there were “red flags” about the copy. And there had to be changes.

I asked if the ad was to run Thursday and was told no, not until the paper approves the copy. I requested the objections in writing and was told they would not comply but the ad rep would give a brief summary of the objections. These included lack of documentation, inflammatory content and details of who was placing the ad and contact numbers.

It was obvious, Metroland Publishing, the owners of the paper, had made a decision not to support the Fung analysis, either in the editorial section or a paid ad.

Now this deliberate blocking of free expression is going to be forwarded to the National Press Council for adjudication. The complaint will name the owners, TorStar Corporation, its subsidiary Metroland Publishing and The Guelph Mercury Tribune.

It’s astonishing, that in this day and age that a newspaper, enjoying a monopoly as the only paper in the City of Guelph, refuses to print a legitimate and accurate analysis without even attempting to review it or write a news story.

Instead, the paper published a news story with the heading: “Persistent city finance critic rebuffed at Guelph Council meeting.” Had the reporter read the Fung analysis? Did the editor even consider doing a news story about a citizen, trained and experienced in his profession, regarding the financial status of our city?

The answer my friends, is simple. The Mercury Tribune receives an estimated $350,000 to $500,000 a year from the city for publishing the “City News” pages in every edition of the twice-weekly newspaper. Those ads are paid by public funds so we have forcibly become partners with a newspaper. A newspaper that is biased favouring its city ads client and refuses to recognize its responsibilities to its readers who have legitimate causes and deserve space in the paper.

Citizens are victims in this unholy alliance between the city administration and this newspaper.

So much for democracy and free speech.

*            *            *            *

An important message from the editor

Dear Donor:

In the last three weeks, I solicited funds to pay for a full-page advertisement in the Guelph Tribune to reproduce the excellent analysis of the City of Guelph’s financial condition, compiled by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA.

I regret to inform you that the Guelph Tribune refused to publish Mr. Fung’s report as editorial comment using the excuse it was too long and too political. But then, the paper refused to allow citizen’s to purchase ad space to expose Mr. Fung’s details of the state of city finances.

I am personally embarrassed over these developments that I believe is nothing but planned suppression of the news that affects our community. I made a commitment to all donors to ensure that more residents would receive the Fung analysis. I can say now that it won’t happen, using the Tribune.

But, there is active planning to pressure the Tribune and extend the reach of www.guelphspeaks.ca, the only consistent critic of the city administration and supporter of the Fung Report.

We are appealing to the National Press Council to adjudicate a complaint that the newspaper, restricted fair comment by denying accommodating coverage of the Fung report on the news pages, but denied our attempt to publish the details in a paid advertisement. This is a clear violation of journalistic ethics and responsibility to the readership by suppressing information of vital public concern and interest.

We are not going to let up spreading details of Pat Fung’s analysis of the financial condition of our city. Doing this will require accumulating funds to inform residents of the details. Without access to the newspaper, we must seek other means of communication to express our points of view, both in print and social media using the Internet.

Accordingly, I will refund any donation made for this cause, if requested.

Please email gerrybarker76@gmail.com if you want your donation refunded. Please include your full address and email ID.

Remember why we are here. There will be an election in 2018. If we fail to plan and fund our point of view now, the outcome will not be attractive.

Next time we have to be sure. This is only the beginning of a long march to create real change.

Thanks again for your support and I hope we can count on you in the future.

Sincerely,

Gerry Barker

Editor, http://www.guelphspeaks.ca

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