Tag Archives: Mayor Guthrie

Apparently, to land a good job with the city it helps whom you know in the administration

By Gerry Barker

September 9, 2019

Opinion

The city announced last week that a former member of the Cam Guthrie re-election team has been hired to be manager of corporate communications and government relations.

Jodie Sales comes to Guelph from the Town of Milton where she has held a similar position for three and a half years.

On the surface it appears she is qualified for the job.

However, was the position advertised? Were other candidates applying for the position? Was Ms. Sales or other candidates interviewed for the posted position?

Tell us, was the job posted and where?

Before accusing me of nit picking, this is a job serving the public interests. It entails that there is opportunity for qualified citizens to apply. The city release did not mention the salary or benefits for the position.

Further, I am not criticizing Ms. Sales but the methods used by the administration to hire anyone for a staff position, especially one described as an “executive position.”

Perhaps in hiring employees over the years, the administration must focus on being careful to ensure that the recommended candidate will not be disruptive or offend other employees. Recommendations by a friend or relative of an employee should always be part of the hiring process.

Prior to being appointed to the management job, was Ms. Sales interviewed by senior management? Recruiting is 50 percent performance knowledge and 50 per cent having a gut feeling.

In this case, the perception is that she had the inside track on getting the job because of her work on the Mayor’s campaign.

Mayor Guthrie was asked if he had recommended her and denied he had any part in the process. Judging from that I would surmise that he was consulted but politically, he denied it.

Maybe he did not have to say anything. One thing we do know is that she did a bang-up job handling communities for the Guthrie campaign.

The most interesting part of this announcement is, what is the role of council, including the Mayor who is the only member elected across the whole city?

That email sent by the Mayor stated: “All city administration hiring is done through the CAO or other city management.”

Former DCAO Mark Amorosi who stated that council did not approve staff increases they are approved in the annual budgets. He confirmed this during a recent sworn testimony. That would indicate that council does approve salary increases because it must approve the annual city budget.

Those increases, according to the Mayor and Mr. Amorosi, are set in December for the upcoming calendar year. But the increases are not publicly released until 15 months later.

In formulating the 2015 city budget, did council have the right to approve or disapprove staff salary increases? If true, why didn’t council tell anyone? The salary increases were only reported annually each March in the provincial Sunshine List.

It lists every public employee in Ontario who earned more than $100,000 annually.

That data names the employee, the salary and taxable benefits. That list is the only record available to the public.

In recent years, the administration has published its own list prior to the Sunshine list. It is incomplete when compared to the previous provincial list to illustrate changes in salary or job responsibiliyies.

Case in Point; In 2015, the public did not learn about the three senior staff manager’s increases until Match 2016.

The 2015 budget was approved in January boosting property taxes by 3.96 per cent, including adjustments reported later.

I will be reporting more details of this and other tactics used by the administration to suppress information of concern and what is in the public interest.

I also recognize that our new CAO, Scott Stewart, is not responsible for these tactics that were created by a previous administration. Instead I am hopeful that all bylaws covering procedures and operational details be reviewed and open for the administration to open government, to accountability.

I personally wish Ms. Sales success and fulfillment in her new position.

The administration leadership has markedly changed in the past year and the opportunity exists to return our city into one of progress, financial responsibility, transparency and accountability.

A good first step is to reintroduce online voting in 2022.

 

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How Guelph Hydro was given away attempting to solve the GMHI debacle

By Gerry Barker

Augurs 8, 2019 – Updated 8/7/19

Opinion

Part Five of Seven Parts

Note to viewers: Part Six of this series is delayed pending some new information. Thanks for your support and interest. GB

Why did Guelph Hydro’s merging with Alectra Utilities Inc. with ignoring the questions raised by the public before council approved it December 13, 2017? Why did council approve spending $2.6 million to finance the campaign to merge with Alectra? Why didn’t the city inform the 55,000 power customers of the details of the merger with Alectra Utilities?

Just prior to council approving the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities, I was lying in bed November 2, 2017, contemplating my day and trying to absorb the Trump Twitter follies and its effect on Canada.

I received a call from a councillor and we talked about the proposed Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities Inc. I was advised to send my question to a website “energizingtomorrow.ca and the questions would be answered.” I discovered that the website rationed questions and the number of characters. In my opinion, this was suppression of public information.

On that basis, I went to work and prepared some 50 questions that I felt the Hydro customers and residents, of which I was one, needed to know about this proposal and its consequences.

Here’s a snapshot of a portion of the website that was recommended:

The committee’s (SOC) education and community engagement efforts will continue through all phases of the process.

If Council decides to pursue merger negotiations, the community will be invited to comment on any proposed merger before Council makes its final decision.

Learn more. Ask us anything.

energizingtomorrow.ca

Well, city council had already signed a memorandum of agreement with Alectra Utilities; the corporation was ready to merge Guelph Hydro. The merger would give away Guelph Hydro without any immediate compensation for the $228.4 million city investment. Hydro’s customer’s investment in poles, wires, substations, equipment, technical staff and Hydro headquarters would be sucked into the Alectra network.

Because the public was not told the details of the memorandum of agreement already signed, it is safe to say there was no consideration for the following: asset valuation, goodwill, operating surpluses, investments or the wonderful culture of the organization. It was one described by knowledgeable experts as well run and profitable. In fact, it is one of the top performing Local Community Distribution operations in the province.

The city puts a No Sale sign on Guelph Hydro

Let’s start from the beginning when the city council in the fall of 2017, formed the Strategic Options Committee (SOC) co-chaired by CAO Derrick Thomson and Hydro Chief Administrative Officer, Pankaj Sardana, There were four non-elected individuals named, two from Hydro and two ratepayers.

The SOC was charged with disposing of Guelph Hydro.

Why, one may ask? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

From the start all options were on the table although the SOC meetings were held in closed-sessions with only members of council being informed of discussions and developments.

In February, the SOC reinvented its purpose. First Panaj Sardana was removed as co-chair and replaced by Jane Armstrong, chair if Guelph Hydro. Two members of the committee were replaced including Richard Puccini.

Something else occurred that month and was only reported later, the option of selling Guelph Hydro was no longer considered by the SOC, despite interest from unnamed persons to make an offer.

The source of this development was one of the SOC members who were no longer on the committee.

In my opinion, this triggered speculation that the SOC had selected Alectra Utilities to merge with Guelph Hydro. But it became increasingly clear that disposing of Guelph Hydro was an antidote to clean up the Guelph Municipal holdings Inc’s losses of $66 million.

While Mayor Cam Guthrie cheer-leaded the merger message, it turned out the city spent $2.6 million on a campaign to convince the public this was a good deal. It was an attempt to change the spots on a leopard.

Approved by council that few understood the deal

In my opinion, it was a fluffy campaign with little attendance at town hall meetings. The administration’s communications strategy using the energizetommorrow.ca website as its conduit for merger information. It included city staff time to turn out a thick report justifying the merger just a few days before the council made its decision. This report was only available online with a small number of hard copies available to key individuals.

It reminds me of the tactic: Paralysis by Analysis

It’s ironic that prior to this last minute presentation less that 12 days before this December 13 2017 council meeting to hear citizen delegates. They didn’t listen to the 22 delegates who have reasoned argument to delay approval and to review and allow more public information.

By a vote of 10 to 3, council approved the merger.

Isn’t it strange that this same council killed online voting in the 2018 civic election but used online not to reveal the details of the merger?

This was a planned expensive project that turned over our electric distribution system for 4.86 per cent of 60 percent of Alectra utilities profit. It remains an exercise in deliberately disguising or covering up the truth, and the people are the real victims.

In agreeing to this deal, the Guthrie administration was had by experts from team Alectra. Further, they indirectly denigrated Guelph Hydro as failing to respond to the rapidly changing power technology,

The accounting labyrinth created by this so-called Community Energy Innovation has done irreparable financial damage that has resulted in annual property tax increases of averaging more than 3 per cent.

Remember in the 2014 civic election campaign, mayoralty candidate Guthrie promised he would keep the property tax rate to that of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that was 1.11 per cent in 2014.

Then, last year our Mayor undermined the Progressive Conservation Guelph Riding Association in charge of selecting a candidate. Guthrie attempted to obtain an unopposed nomination to run for the PC’s. He was maintaining, at the time, that he would be running for Mayor. Good thing he had a card in his hand.

Of the 50 questions submitted to council, none answered except the Mayor, the last three remain a mystery.

“ Why is Guelph Hydro involved in Green Energy technology when a mismanaged sustainable energy project by GMHI has cost the citizens $66 million in loss of shareholder equity?

“Is Alectra agreeing to take the $93 million long-term debt of Guelph hydro?

“Who is representing the citizens’ interests negotiating the merger details?

Oh! There is one question I’d like the Mayor to answer: Who received the two TESLA home power storage systems that he said were installed in Guelph?

The citizens of Guelph were the big losers in this episode involving mismanagement of city business and resources.

And the winners are:

Mayor Guthrie re-elected in October 2018,

Former CAO Ann Pappert who walked away from her job May 16, 2016 receiving $263,000 for five months work,

Former CAO Derrick Thomson received a $57,000 performance bonus for his role in the Guelph Hydro/Alectra merger in 2018. He left the city in March 2019,

Former Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, was appointed by council to represent the city for five years on the Alectra Utilities Board of Directors. She is being paid $25,000 a year plus expenses.

Finally, Alectra Utilities who received a gift worth $228.4 million, the book value of Guelph Hydro.

Think about this. Even if Alectra pays a $1.500 annual dividend to the city it would take an estimated 153 years to even repay the $228.4 million 2016 book value of Guelph Hydro.

Was this a great deal or what?

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The stealthy shadow of civic corruption that hangs over Guelph

By Gerry Barker

December 17, 2018

Opinion

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.

Breaking news

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.

 

 

 

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After four years Karen Farbridge is alive and well on the city’s website

By Gerry Barker

August 5, 2018

Contained in a new glossy addition labeled “Working Together” that can be found on the city’s website, we discover the omnipotent presence of the former mayor circa 2007 to 2014.

The following outlines some of the projects and policies of the former mayor. In fact there is a large presence on this new section of the city’s website. Today, we only address some of the topics of interest and concern of citizens in Guelph. There will be more coverage in the next few weeks, exclusively in guelphspeaks.ca.

So you thought when Karen Farbridge was defeated in 2014 the voters rejected her and her policies.

Nope. She’s still present and on the record according to the Guelph city website’s “Working Together” a new remake featuring the Guthrie years as Mayor

Any presumption in early 2015, that new Mayor, Cam Guthrie, would keep his word to end the so-called “Guelph Factor” and keep property tax increase no greater than to the Consumer Price Index. That flew out the window March 2015 when city council passed a property tax increase of 3.96 per cent. The CPI rate at the time was reported to be 1.99 per cent.

It was the beginning of an administration headed by a Mayor who is now described as Farbridge ‘Lite’, and with good reason.

In December 2015, the administration’s greatest test however fell upon the administrative professional staff. Four top city managers were granted, in closed session, huge increases totaling $98,202. Within four months, CAO Ann Pappert, Al Horsman and Derrick Thomson had resigned. Only Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Mark Amorosi remained.

The senior management was gutted and the city council struggled to maintain some form of leadership. CAO Pappert left May 26, 2016. Former senior manager Derrick Thomson resigned in January 2016 to take a job in his town of residence. He was recalled and took command of the professional staff in June 2016. Former Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman left in August 2015 for the CAO’s job in Sault Ste Marie.

The Sunshine List showed that Ms. Pappert received $263,000 for five months work and Mr. Horsman received $181,000 for his eight months tenure in 2015.

The lady remains a featured player in the Grand Royal City Opera

After reading the details on the city website, one would believe that former Mayor Karen Farbridge was still in charge. Even though she has been gone for almost four years, her imprint remains on the official city website. Yikes!

This can only be described as the current city councillors giving the middle finger salute to the people they work for and are responsible to.

The following is on the city’s website today:

“In November 2008, Mayor Karen Farbridge and Guelph City Council committed to the development of a new ten-year Economic Development and Tourism Strategy for Guelph — Prosperity 2020.

Prosperity 2020 will support the City of Guelph’s vision of being “the city that makes a difference”, and the strategic goal of having “a diverse and prosperous local economy.”

The Phase 2 Economic Development & Tourism Strategy will provide direction, priorities and performance measures for the transformation of Guelph’s economy over the next decade and beyond.

Here are the members of the Mayor’s Prosperity 2020 task force.

Karen Farbridge, Mayor, City of Guelph
Frank Valeriote, Member of Parliament, Guelph
Liz Sandals, Member of Provincial Parliament, Guelph
Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President, University of Guelph
Mark Goldberg, President, GlobalTox International Consultants Inc.
Mike Bouk, Executive Director, Ag-Energy Co-operative
Lloyd Longfield, President, Guelph Chamber of Commerce
Kevin Hall, Vice President (Research), University of Guelph
Dave Smardon, President/Director, BioEnterprise Corporation
Don Drone, Director of Education & CEO, Wellington Catholic District School Board
Kathy Bardswick, President & CEO, The Co-operators Group Limited
Michael Annable, Industry Representative.”

 

Let’s update the ten-year program titled “Prosperity 2020.”

What did the task force accomplish in those ten years? Also where are most of them now? Are we better off today?

Well, it’s what they didn’t accomplish is the real question. It’s fair game for citizens to question why this is still posted on the city website’s new feature presentation ‘Working Together.’

So let’s review how ‘Prosperity 2020’ has affected the quality of life in our city in the past ten years.

First, economic development means creating jobs, increasing industrial and business assessment and creating a balance of property tax revenue between residential, industrial and commercial expansion.

That has not changed in 12 years under two Farbridge and one Guthrie Administration. At a ratio of 84 per cent residential and only 16 for industrial and commercial assessment, it has not altered since 2001 when Karen Farbridge was first elected Mayor.

By any measure that does not mirror economic development. Instead, the load keeps falling on the shoulders of those property-taxed owners who have experienced huge increase in taxes on their properties.

The average assessment ratio in Ontario is 60 per cent residential and 40 per cent industrial and commercial.

Think about this: If the ratio increased from the present industrial/commercial figure of 16 per cent to 30 per cent, the effect would be less dependence on the residential assessment. But three administrations, in 18 years, failed to accomplish anything to correct the imbalance.

Just look at why the city administration failed to increase the economic development revenue ratio. The city website remains a mortuary of the Farbridge administrations that has cost we citizens millions.

Taking a trip down memory lane

* Remember the $23 million Urbacon cost overruns?

* The $15 million GMHI? District Energy and geo-thermal plants?

* Natural gas generating plants that were never built?

* Waste management debacles including buying trucks for auto pick-up of bins??

* Spending $5 million to buy two buildings on Wyndham Street to turn the space into    enlarging the Baker Street parking lot?

* Overbuilt organic wet waste processing facility costing $34 million?

* The Detroit recyclable fiasco?

* Closing lanes on major roads to allow bicycle lanes?

* Intensification of residential complexes with little open space and parking?

* The lack of parking downtown?

* Failure to clean up the downtown possessed by druggies, drunkenness, panhandlers and the homeless?

* Failing to build affordable housing for the less fortunate working poor?

* The renovated railway bridge on Wyndham Street that had large trucks crashing into it.

And don’t forget the high increases annual taxes paid by the residential owner and user fees charged for city services. The city is so desperate for revenue that it inflicted a one per cent levy on property taxes allegedly to pay down the $500 million infrastructure deficit. Then Council approved an additional one per cent levy on properties for “City Buildings.”

Truth to tell it was a move to start funding the $63 million South-end Recreation Centre. The two counncillors sponsoring the motion were Mark MacKinnon and Karl Wettstein. Both represent Ward Six. Some $3.5 Million has already been spent on plans for the $63 million recreation  centre in Ward Six.

Until citizens realize that their 2014 vote was wasted when the new mayor capitulated to the demands of the seven-member progressive bloc who are dedicated to preserving the Farbridge legacy.

Otherwise, what more proof do you want that if anything there is a ton of Farbridge’s ill-conceived and executed action plans that have left an indelible historical imprint on the history of our city.

This study of the Farbridge unabridged legacy is far from over, more to come.

Perhaps a website content purge is in order.

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Part Two: How to change our city by reducing operating costs, property taxes and user fees

By Gerry Barker

May 3, 2018

Here is a list of changes that a new council will face to effect change. For every action there is a reaction including job security, money, public services and that old standby, entitlement.

Some will say these proposed reforms are draconian and the staff service to the public will be seriously affected. Let’s look at some examples:

Bike lane expansion;

Waste management costs;

The wellbeing program;

Grants to non-governmental organizations;

Materials and service procurement checks and balances;

Subsidies to Guelph Transit and other organizations;

Cost of water and electricity;

Legal and consultant costs;

Staff reduction through rationalization;

Planning and development costs;

Debt management and costs;

Staff and council expenses;

Advertising costs;

Budget variances;

Reserves rationalization and replenishment;

Review all staff contracts.

You be the judge.

Let’s start with an action plan.

* Stop the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra even if it means hiring an energy experienced lawyer to make our case before the Ontario Energy Board.

*   Make no specific promises about lowering property taxes until council receives a full, independent analysis of proposed budgets in 2019 and 2020.

* Review all bylaws to establish effectiveness, relavence and currency.

* Close down the recyclables’ operation of Dunlop Road and negotiate a deal with Waste Management to take our recyclable materials to its plant in Cambridge.

* Hire an Auditor General to oversee all spending and systems who reports directly to council every three months.

* Review the council Code of Conduct and dismiss the Integrity Commissioner. Also dismiss the Amberlea-Gravel special closed-session investigators. Replace A-G with the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office closed-session investigative team.

* All closed-session agenda require approval of the Mayor, and two designated councillors. The public must be informed in advance of any such meeting, the reason and outcome. The Mayor must file a separate report to briefly explain the reason, outcome without using names. Residents have the right to request the minutes based on impact and cost of a closed-session meeting. If challenged by any resident, authority to allow a closed-session council meeting will be made by an outside appointed adjudicator.

* Adopt the recommendations of the Pat Fung report that outlined how the city can reduce its overhead to save $20 million a year.

* Confine the committee of the whole system to only vote on a motion, because most of the issues have already been discussed in closed-sessions. The committee of the whole meetings are still too long and time wasting.

* Review all rules concerning public participation including notifying all citizens of council meetings. Reliance on such notices excludes many citizens who do not have access to computers.

* Restore Online voting for the 2022 civic election.

* Order the internal auditor to investigate the following.

*  Rules and regulation of procurement of supplies and services including systems’ controls, verification of work performed. Any order exceeding $1,500 must be  made by a Request For Proposal (RFP) and publicized Online and in the local      newspaper.

*  Commence a formal review of Guelph Transit operations including an audit of the last three departmental budgets.

*   Appoint a public advisory committee to work with Transit management to plan a more efficient system.

*  Freeze the bike lane budget until a thorough study is completed to ascertain future viability and usage.

* Develop a plan within 90 days to reduce full-time staff, part-time staff and contract employees by ten per cent by December 2019. The Police, Fire and EMS will be exempted.

* Cancel the ”City News” advertising pages in the Guelph Tribune. Replace with weekly online reports and supply a print copy to residents without a computer.

* Examine and redefine the role of the communications department.

* Cancel the two per cent property tax surcharge and the storm water charges added to the hydro bills.

* The finance department will send a quarterly copy of the financial status of the city as it pertains to the city budget (variances) and non-budgeted charges.

* In all new staff contracts the accumulation of unused sick leave and vacation time will be eliminated. Use it in a calendar year or lose it. An arbitration board composed of two councillors and three civilians will oversee any derivations or exceptions.

* Appoint a new accountability committee composed of three councillors and three civilians to examine and recommend reducing the amount of funding the city provides many organizations and services.

* With council and staff, prioritize budget items by October 15 each year.

* Drop all planning department work on the Reformatory lands.

* Halt the intensification emphasis on future developments and freeze all plans. Commence planning subdivisions of single-family homes in a range of price points.

* Cancel free downtown parking for all employees.

* Review all payments made to non-governmental organizations.

The city is not a bank or a lender. All such requests must be considered by the staff and approved by council. Such requests will be frozen until the state of the city finances is positively corrected and overhead is substantially reduced to lower property taxes.

The terms and results of the annual city financial audit, as required by the province, must be made public Online and in print to those requesting it.

Similarly, a summary of the Financial Information Report to the province must be available by Jan 31 the year following.

The direction of these issues has a two-fold affect. The first is to returtn the power to the people through its elected representative. Second, the staff influence will be more focused on executing the reforms and thereby restoring open government, and meeting the will of the people.

All citizens should be on guard to prevent the financial disasters of the previous and current administrations.

Next October the people have their say on how they want their city to function and seize opportunities to develop smartly and gradually lower our taxes and user fees.

 

 

 

 

 

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Guthrie’s Great Wall blocks public participation using closed-sessions meetings

By Gerry Barker

March 22, 2018

Donald Trump is still trying to get his $18 billion wall proposal to be built between Mexico and the U.S. Cam Guthrie has succeeded in erecting a wall to protect his council and city staff from public participation in city business.

He does it by calling closed-sessions of council to discuss contentious subjects and make decisions that almost all of the people know any of the outcome.

Just ask the 22 delegates who opposed the merger during the open council meeting to approve the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities last December 10.

Each delegate outlined why this was not in the best interests of the community and many requested a deferment until all the facts were known, including the final documents pertaining to the agreement.

Council, by a 10-3 majority ignored those citizen delegates. Instead they agreed with the points raised by seven especially selected Alectra delegates who offered slanted reasons to merge or approve it as it appeared unconditionally.

The structure of Guthrie’s Wall of denial

We looked up how the wall was erected initially by the former administration, starting in 2008 when council appointed Amberlea Gravel, located in London, to investigate citizen’s complaints about closed-session meetings of council. The appointment was made when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government ordered all municipalities to appoint a closed-session investigator.

Since 2008, Amberlea Gravel, our Local Authority Services (LAS), has processed just three complaints, while being paid a retainer for nine years. The city has not revealed the cost of the retainer. Regardless, it has to be the best deal Amberlea Gravel made to bolster the privacy of council doing the public business.

Each complaint was denied or rejected.

A few years ago, the Ontario Ombudsman was given authority to act for municipalities in terms of special closed-session investigations. Today, more than half of Ontario’s 445 municipalotoes, have switched to the Ombudsman’s office to investigate closed-session council and local board meetings.

But not Guelph.

I was one of only three complainants requesting a closed-session investigation in early January 2016. I had plenty of reasons for obtaining the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed council meeting that awarded $98,202 salary increases to the four senior managers of the city.

By now most people in the city know the decision was not revealed until publication of the 2015 Sunshine list which publoshed the salaries and taxable benefits of every city employee earning $100,000 or more.

Guelph Speaks published several posts that decried this blackout decision by city council. For my trouble, I was at first threatened by one of the recipients of our largess and subsequently sued for defamation. That case is before the courts and I cannot comment further.

Four months following my request for the December 10, 2015 minutes, the special closed-session investigator ruled in favour of the city to deny the minutes of that meeting.

That is just one brick in the Guthrie Great Wall to control the public’s business and rightful interest to suit the staff and council. It’s known as shaping the message to satisfy the administration’s interests.

The council code of conduct is the second barrier to open government

Here is an excerpt published on the city website under the title: “Council Code of Conduct/Integrity Commissioner:

The Code of Conduct was adopted by Council to:

  • Establish a common basis for the ethical behaviour of Members of Council and Local Boards.
  • Increase public confidence by making a commitment to operate with integrity, justice and courtesy.
  • Note the words transparency, accountability and operating an open government are not inclded in the C of C.

I can’t make this stuff up.

In 2011, Council appointed an Integrity Commissioner to address the application of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local Boards. The Integrity Commissioner has the power to deal with requests to investigate suspected contraventions of the Code of Conduct. The record shows that all requests referred to the Integrity Commissioner origubated with members of council. Council recommended the following penalties:

  • A reprimand; or
  • Suspension of the remuneration of the Council or Local Board member for a period of up to 90 days.
  • In addition to conducting formal Code of Conduct investigations, the Integrity Commissioner also serves as an advisor on appropriate conduct to individual Members of Council or Council as a whole.

It’s the ultimate muzzle on the very people we trust to serve the public’s interests. It’s yet another brick in the Guthrie Wall of denying public participation in the business of stakeholders in the community.

So, now in his sixth year as Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swazey of Caledon, is judge, jury and prosecutor in cases involving elected officials who may be accused of breaking the Code of Conduct.

It is an implied threat to any councillor who reveals the contents of a closed-session meeting. It threatens their reputation for protecting the public interests.

In just a few words, this policy was approved by council in, we believe, another closed- session. The commissioner, since 2011 has investigated three cases. His annual retainer is $5,000 and he is paid an hourly fee conducting his investigation and preparing his report.

The one case involved then Coun. Cam Guthrie, who received none of the punishment listed above. It cost the citizens $10,000. The irony of this event is suffocating in tracking the performance of the Mayor and his council.

Part two of this post follows March 24: Mayor Guthrie;s Great Wall that is locking us up.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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