By Gerry Barker
December 17, 2018
In a recent letter to the media by Kevin Bowman, we learned there are three levels of denial employed by the administration to suppress public access to view the reason and results of all closed-council meetings.
Mr. Bowman expressed concern about the administration’s shutting down a complaint about the Clair Maltby Secondary Plan that was discussed in closed-session by council in June 2018.
A decision was made five months later in November, made by the inner sanctum of the outgoing city council, absolved itself and the staff of any wrong doing citing conformity with the Ontario Municipal Act rules concerning closed-session meetings.
The excuse supplied said the city’s procedural bylaw laid out the rules of conducting a closed-session meeting.
Let’s stop for a minute. How many of you out there are familiar with the city’s “procedural bylaw?”
Mr. Bowman did his homework and his following comment is clear and right: “Everything done in the name of the public … should be public.”
Otherwise, denying the right of the public to be able to access closed-sessions conducted by council, elected to represent the people of its business, could well be described a cover-up or, worse still, civic corruption?
Reading this post there is a number that will popup throughout the piece, 84, that’s the number of closed meetings conducted by council in the first two years un office by the Guthrie administration.
As it has now turned out, these 13 councillors were all complicit denying the right of legal public participation in the business of the city. But we’ll never know the result of those 84 votes.
One of the most important aspects of this denial, not only the purpose of the meeting, the discussion or the result of the vote, it’s today the blatant disrespect of the people’s interests in such a disgraceful undemocratic manner. Remember, there were 84 closed-session meetings in 24 months.
Now here’s where this council tramples on your rights
Attempting to obtain the results of Clair Maltby close-session meeting, Mr. Bowman revealed there were two levels of special investigation committees to determine if the information denied to the public could be revealed.
The first was to advise the staff, called the Technical Advisory Group or TAG. The second committee was the Community Working Group or CWG for the Clair Maltby Plan. The identity of the two committee’s personnel, their expertise, their pay or how they were selected is not known.
So instead of involving the public, two faceless, unelected committees with no authority, are deciding whether to allow a citizen’s complaint to be made public.
But wait! There’s more. Super-imposed over this issue are the real hired guns to have the final say in whether you allow the results of a closed-session meeting of council to be made public. It’s called Amberlea Gravel that is on retainer with the city to investigate closed-session meetings of council.
This outfit, retained by the city since 2008, had investigated just four complaints by Guelph citizens. The record to date is just four, all denied. I was one of the four and it took four months to learn of their decision denying the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting.
Thanks to Mr. Bowman, I no longer feel alone.
Pretend you are a judge. Would you accept the argument that the people are not entitled to closed-session meeting details? Remember those 84 closed-session meetings in 24 months.
Is there reasonable doubt that council is using closed-session meetings to suppress public interests?
The evidence is clear that the Closed-Session Investigator, Amberlea Gravel, only received four requests for information about specific meetings in 10 years tells me there are a lot of secret meetings going on. With respect, that thwarts the meaning of the Ontario Municipal Act. I believe that it is a deliberate policy to deny the public‘s business to, well be public about it.
In my opinion, it’s a corruptive practice and should be investigated by the authorities.
I refuse to believe that the Municipal Act intended to allow municipalities to wander off the reservation rules for conducting closed-session meetings and set up the so-called procedural bylaws serving only the interest of the administrations.
Let’s consider the second greatest cover-up of all
I take you back to December 10, 2015. It is close to approving the 2016 city budget. Council went into a closed-session to discuss, as it turned out, salary increases for four senior staff. There were never any details of that meeting revealed by the Guthrie Administration.
Fast forward to March 21, 2016 when the 2015 provincial Sunshine List was published. It identified every public servant in Ontario earning a salary of $100,000 or more.
Remember, the public was never told about the closed session meeting. So, like any reporter, I pulled up the 2014 Sunshine List and checked it against the 2015 figures for those four top staff managers. I discovered that the four, CAO Ann Pappert, Deputy Chief Administration Officers (DCAO) Derrick Thomson, Mark Amorosi, and Albert Horsman collectively split $98,202.
The dollars and percentages allotted of that pie were:
CAO Pappert, $37,591 (17.11 percent);
DCAO Thomson, $33,834 (19.48 per cent);
DCAO Mark Amorosi, $26,826, (14.7 per cent)
DCAO Albert Horsman. He left the city in August 2015 before the closed-session meeting of Dec. 10. The 2015 Sunshine list shows he was paid some $157,000. His share was never revealed.
Another revelation of Ms. Pappert’s departure
Here’s a wrinkle that has never been revealed in the media. When the 2016 Sunshine List was published the Former CAO was paid $263,000 and worked only five months of the year. Dividing the 263,000 by 12 equals a monthly payment of $21,916.
When Ms. Pappert resigned May 16, 2016, why was she paid $153,416 for the seven months when not employed?
Who authorized that excessive payout? Further, why didn’t the Guthrie Administration inform the public? The public never knew until 10 months later, after she resigned, when the 2016 Sunshine List was published in Match 2017.
Ask yourself; did you believe these increases were justified? Do you believe the drizzle of explanation from the administration was appropriate and responsible?
If so, why did they cover it up?
It was a concerted effort between a needy council and powerful senior staff.
The strangest part of this cover-up was that didn’t council approve these increases not realizing it would be reported when the 2015 Sunshine List was published? This was an ill-informed and awkward decision by the very people elected to represent the people.
In my opinion it is a perfect example of civic corruption.
Of the four senior staffers or beneficiaries, only Mr. Thomson remains as Chief Administrative Officer of the city. One remains unconvinced that this party is still in play and operating with impunity and rare public scrutiny.
Here’s an example. When appointed CAO in June 2016, Mr. Thomson announced he would reveal his salary. The figure he used was that he signed a three-year contract of $230,00 plus an $11,000 taxable benefit. Well the 2017 Sunshine List reported him earning $263,000 plus taxable benefit.
He did not announce that but it was in the Sunshine List reporting the salaries for 2017.
Do we need to keep supporting these senior manager’s practices without recourse or accountability?
The recent re-election of city council returned the same individuals who participated in all those closed-session meetings. The only tool the public can rely on for accuracy are the provincial Sunshine Lists.
Is this anyway to run a railroad? Or, are we the people getting railroaded?
Oscar Wilde was once quoted: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to give in.”
Unfortunately, given the result of the recent civic election it epitomizes that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The Guelph Mercury tribune is asking readers to register to obtain the stories and features online.
Having operated a controlled distribution newspaper in my career, I know what’s going on.
First, the advertisers want proof of the circulation numbers, where the paper is being delivered and confirmation of delivery.
Second, it is an apparent innocent appeal to invite folks to register that is a potential prelude to converting to paid circulation.
In my opinion, if the management decides to go that route, they will have to beef up their editorial coverage to not be reliant on city press releases puff pieces and the police incident records.
I am reminded of a comment made by Tribune Editor Doug Coxson in a Globe and Mail feature on the Guelph media two years ago. He was quoted as saying that the Tribune was planning to do more investigative reporting.
I’ve been covering the Guelph political beat for 12 years and have yet to read one investigative story in the paper.