Tag Archives: Ombudsman of Ontario

By a 6-3 vote council agrees to a staff proposal to spend $197 million on a new operational super garage

By Gerry Barker

October 28, 2019

Opinion

Why did four city councillors not show up to vote spending $197 million on a maintenance and transit garage? Council voted 6-3 to proceed with planning the project which will take 25 years to complete.

The vote was as follows:

IN FAVOUR: Mayor Guthrie, Councillors Allt, Gibson, Goller, Gordon and Hofland (6)

AGAINST: Councillors Bell, Piper and Salisbury (3)

ABSENT FOR VOTE: Councillors Billings, Downer, MacKinnon and O’Rourke (4)

That’s 46.15 per cent of the 13 members elected to council making this decision.

Considering the outcome, why was it so necessary to hold the meeting on federal Election Day?

It happened last Monday night when council met to approve spending $197 million on a new consolidated operations complex next to the Waste Resources Innovation Complex, aka the city dump, off Watson Road.

Council voted to proceed with preliminary planning. It is remarkable that six councillors voted to spend $197 million by 2045. If by some miracle there will be seven successive councils elected and each agrees to continue this plan.

But here is the kicker. Coun. Mike Salisbury seconded the motion to proceed with the project moved by Coun. Dan Gibson. When it was time to vote, Salisbury was one of three councillors voting against the motion.

What happened? Did some councillor say they would second the motion but failed to turn up?

Here is the actual amended motion approved by six councillors:

That staff be directed to proceed with planning and design for a consolidated City Operations Campus consisting of operations facilities for Transit, Operations, Fleet Maintenance, and Corporate Building Maintenance located on the City owned Dunlop Drive property and that the final decision on a new city operations campus be determined following the presentation of a detailed business case and staging plan being provided to Council.

Not even the Government of Canada would commit that amount of money on a single-fixed service facility to be completed in 25 years.

Of course it has been said that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Get out the Togas staff; looks like you will break the Guinness World Record for long-term planning.

Next, a staff proposal to apply another tax levy on taxpayers

I predict the cost will zoom in the next 25 years if all seven successive councils go along with it, based on just inflation to an astronomical $400 million. The affect of inflation impacts on increased labour costs, materials including cement, steel, bricks, lumber, tools, consultants, vehicles, fuel, insurance, finance charges, change orders.

The special levy is estimated to provide $50 million in capital to help pay for the project in the next ten years. This is beginning to smell like that $350 million Baker Street renaissance Private and Public project to include a library. That was a proposal Mayor Guthrie announced before last year’s civic election.

Is this a moon-shot by council?

In view of this latest display of staff self-serving planning, after 18 years when former Mayor Karen Farbridge announced council would build a new downtown library, it appears council has benched it again.

Those six councillors won’t be around to witness the ribbon cutting in 2045. So why would they approve a 25-year project of such magnitude? Is this some magical municipal financial proposal that would be created by David Copperfield … now you see it, and now you don’t?

The preliminary plan, authorized by the six coucillors, focuses on building a new Guelph Transit maintenance and operations facility. That is only estimated to cost $80 million.

How will the administration finance projects already in the pipeline?

What about those two capital projects including the downtown library, ($68 million), the South End Community Centre, ($68 million). That adds up to $136 million. The new well construction project, ($30 million) adding two new deep wells is included in the 2020 capital budget. Not in this list is the $450 million for infrastructure that is currently being financed by one per cent levy on property taxes.

A report published in the Mercury Tribune outlined cost of the South End Community complex of $68 million. In 2021, $58 million will be available chiefly from development charges. That leaves a gap of $10 million. Some of that missing amount has already been spent from city operating funds passed by the previous council. In the 2022 capiital budget there is another $587,140 for maintenance equipment.

Now there is wind of another property tax levy. Pardon my cynicism but when the administration blows $66 million on Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc and gives Guelph Hydro away for pennies on the dollar, what do we expect?

Staff predicts another 60,000 new residents by 2045

Does this group of six councillors seriously believe this is even remotely possible?

They decided these long-range capital projects to justify their egos, loyalty and survival. The city staff is also married to senior management who know what they are doing. Or more likely, are some members of council listening to their supporters and ignoring the financial requirements of such a huge project.

The process started Monday without analysis of how all those other capital projects will be financed. They made a decision that did not include a business plan.

It’s time to serve the people’s immediate needs

I can think of immediate needs for a new dowtown library, plus a major construction of two new wells to supply future needs (already in the 2020 Capital Budget). Is the Guelph Innovation District plan still alive?

The 2020 capital budget is $151.6 million subject to public and council review. The ten-year capital spending forecasts that by 2029 the total will be $1.7 billion.

According to DCAO Trevor Lee: “The ten-year plan is funded based on asset management principles that lays out the long-term investment needs for our city.

Our General Hospital is asking the city for $4.7 million to expand to meet the needs of a growing population.

These are a few of the pressing issues that affect all citizens, not just the working conditions of the staff. Spending $22 million plus on a parking garage next to city hall will basically serve the city employees. More than two-thirds of the parking spaces are only available to monthly users. Guess who they are?

City council has continued to ignore the downtown area. despite the promise by the former mayor that the downtown would be a vibrant and exciting place for everyone.

How did that turn out?

The property tax deal is a hidden subsidy to the U of G

I’ll wrap up this pet beef. When is city council going to influence the provincial government to amend the 32-year property tax deal granted to all post secondary institutions? They only pay $75 a year per registered student in lieu of property taxes.

The University of Guelph has a huge advantage under this outdated plan because it is in the property land rental business, obtaining income from properties it owns along Stone Road plus hundreds of acres currently not in use. That acreage can be leased to developers with no impact on the city property tax deal with the province.

Bottom line is the city receives approximately $1,65 million per year based on 22.000 students in lieu of property taxes. Meanwhile, the University leases it land to developers and the city receives no property tax assessment income.

How does this compare to Linamar’s property taxes with 19 plants operating in the city?

Yet citizens owning property receive annual tax bills that in recent years increases by an average of 3 per cent. In 32 years how much of an increase has the University paid in lieu of property taxes? Zero.

It has been going on for years and Guelph residents are subsidizing city services pertaining to the University and the community college.

This is iniquitous and has not been upgraded since inception to even allow for inflation.

This places a huge burden on city residents who must subsidize transit, infrastructure, police, fire and EMS services to the growing city and university/community college population. In the 2020 budget, the police services board is requesting a 10 per cent increase in the police budget.

By 2045, the staff estimates there will be 60,000 new citizens living here.

It’s something to think about.

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Has the stain of corruption been the city administration’s operating practice since 2007?

By Gerry Barker

October 7, 2019

Opinion

What is corruption? Is it good people behaving badly? Is it a matter of convenience to hide operations by using closed-session council meetings?

Looking back in the coverage of the city administration in the past 13 years, my bulging files are full of data including dates of publishing either in the Guelph Mercury or guelphspeaks.ca.

Well, the records shows that closed-session meetings were the product of the Farbridge administration with Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, as head of the city staff and Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) for four years.

The Mayor also served as chair of GMHI that eventually scooped up Guelph Hydro and its subsidiaries.

In my opinion, these top executive controled the epicemtre of administrative corruption.

First, it gave awat control of all the City of Guelph Corporation assets and operations. It artfully eliminated public participation.

Second, the Board of Directors of GMHI was made up of the mayor’s loyalists on city council, including Todd Dennis, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland and Lise Burcher. Not one has disclosed details of those GMHI closed-session meetings. And I am not on their Christmas List.

Conducting closed-sessions enhanced control by the GMHI Board of Directors. The only occasional press release stated in principle that GMHI had sent $1,500 to the city as a dividend each year.

The problem was that GMHI was losing bags of money so what was the source of that dividend?

Actually, the only GMHI asset making money was Guelph Hydro.

The wheels starting coming off this comingled collection of the public corporation with the defeat of Mayor Farbridge and a number of her supporters.

Cam Guthrie was elected Mayor but was stuck with a majority in council of the former mayor. They managed to be in control with seven members. What few people realized was that the progressive supporter had built a formidable political firebase throughout the city.

The Mayor oversaw some 84 closed-session meetings in his first two years in office. In 2015, CAO Ann Pappert requested that she wanted reimbursement for her unused sick days and vacation allowances. She also knew about her new salary would include a $27,000 retroactive performance bonus.

Did you know about this? Neither did I or anyone else except the staff and council insiders who kept their mouths shut.

Then in March 2016, the provincial Sunshine List was published. I was the only media outlet that compared the salaries of staff in the 2014 List with the 2015 List. The annual List reports the salaries and taxable benefits of every provincial public service employee earning more than $100,000 in the previous year.

The three senior managers, Ann Papper, Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson share increases totaling $98,202. That figure was never confirmed or denied.

As the lone wolf in this, I wrote a number of blogs that were critical of Mr. Amorosi who was the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer in charge and responsible for Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, Special Projects and Court Services.

If anyone should know about the salary increases it should be him, right?

On Novembers 16, 2016, I was served with a charge of defamation of Mark Amorosi. On February 9, 2017, Amorosi was fired for cause by his colleague Derrick Thomson who replaced Ann Pappert as CAO. Thomson went out of his was to say the dismissal had no affect on the city-financed legal fees of the departed Amorosi.

To be clear, I had nothing to do with his firing. His evidence presented to the court was that he agreed to leave his job. His counsel said that in two years he applied for four jobs and never obtained an interview. He was listed on LinkedIn as a retired civic manager listing his experience in Guelph.

In my opinion, no matter how you slice it, the city by agreeing to pay his legal bills is complicit in this vigorous personal attack on my wife and me just because I wrote the truth in words they didn’t like.

The senior manager receiving a share of that $98,202 remununeration boost for 2015, are all gone.

So much for checks and balances of the public’s interest.

 

 

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Why the indelible stain of council secrecy still muzzles our right to public participation concerning public interests

By Gerry Barker

June 24, 2019

Opinion based on facts

Here are some of the tools of secrecy and controlling the message as practised by the Guelph Council since 2007:

* Conducting its business in closed-sessions.

* Retaining London-based Amberlea Gravel as special investigators of closed- sessions since 2008 and are on annual retainer.

* Establishing a system of discussing the public business as the Committee of the Whole (COW) eliminating the various committees of council.

* On the pretext of efficiency, using the councillor’s Code of Conduct to prevent any leaks of closed-session meetings or face discipline by the Integrity Commissioner who reports to council and is on retainer.

* Controlling the message by buying advertising space in the Guelph Mercury Tribune weekly newspaper passing it off as “City News” and not labeling it as advertising.

* The city communication staff prepares the content of these ads.

* The impact of this is that the Tribune editorial material rarely is critical of the city administration and rewrites press releases handed out by city staff.

* This results in muzzling any matter that council decides requires a closed-session to discuss responding to public participation with a potential negative outcome.

* The closing of the Guelph Mercury in January 2016 was the end of responsible print coverage of the public business.

* The fallout of denying public participation results in voter manipulation, that in October 2018 civic election resulted in the lowest voter turnout in many years. All of the incumbents who ran were re-elected.

* This was caused by voter suppression by giving Guelph Hydro away to Alectra utilities without the stakeholders being given no specific information about the terms and specific conditions of the deal. And that included most members of council and the sycophantic media.

The denial of online voting by city council also contributed to a lower turnout.

Guelph has been in the hands of successive administrations that used all the tools mentioned above, to obscure the truth and resulting in financial damages.

Why did the CAO drop out?

Let’s talk about recent examples of the fog of obscurity that is employed daily by the senior city staff and city council.

Last March, the Chief Administrative officer, Derrick Thomson, “parted ways” with the city by mutual agreement. The city did not state the circumstances of its CAO leaving.

The 2018 provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning more than $100,000 a year was published. It revealed that Mr. Thomson received $335,000.

That was some $67,000 plus a taxable benefit of $11,000 more than he earned in 2017. This time, Mayor Guthrie told city council it was a bonus for Mr. Thomson’s role as co -chair of the Strategic Options Committee that was charged with disposing of Guelph Hydro.

Citizens and members of council still don’t know how that worked out.

There is one other detail. In September 2018, Mr. Thomson received a one-year extension to his existing contract that would end in April 2020.

We are not aware of why he suddenly left on a Friday afternoon in March or the circumstances of his $67,000 bonus or the reason for his departure.

There was no succession plan in place as the three remaining Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, (DCAO) were named to handle the duties of the departed CAO. That process is estimated to continue until August when a new CAO will be either named or hired.

The fog of secrecy continues unabated

Again, secrecy is used to cover –up why Mr. Thomson left without a successor in place and received a whopping great bonus for his role in dumping Guelph Hydro.

It is mindful of the games played in 2016. Mr. Thomson resigned in January. CAO Ann Pappert announced her resignation in mid-April agreeing to stay on until a successor was named. She left May 26, 2016.

Behold! Mr. Thomson agreed to a three-year contract as CAO and rejoined the staff in June 2016. Case closed or so we thought.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

In March 2017, the Sunshine List revealed that in 2016, Ms. Pappert received a 12-month salary of $263,000 but only worked five months.

There was no explanation from the Guthrie administration as to why she received a full year’s salary, adjusted for inflation. The only hint came in August 2016 when

Coun. Cathy Downer asked the city HR department for a breakdown of Ms. Pappert’s 2015 salary and benefits payment.

The report stated that Ms. Pappert received a retroactive performance bonus of $27,0000 part of her 2015 salary of $253,000. Again, there is no explanation supporting the bonus.

When compared to the $67,000 in 2018 performance bonus paid to Mr. Thomson, her’s is penny ante.

The spin is in and it’s with our money

That friends, is why and how successive city administrations continue to flaunt your rights by going to ground through closed-sessions over which we have no recourse. There were 84 such closed-session of coumcil in 2015 and 2016.

I know because I requested the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting of council and received an answer four months later denying my request.

Now I know why.

In 11 days, my legal counsel will present my statement of defence. We will request for a dismissal of the lawsuit accusing me of defamation in 2016. The action was brought in November 2016 by a former DCAO whose legal expenses are being paid by the city.

Thursday morning, April 4, at 10 a.m. in the Wellington County Court House, the motion to dismiss will be heard by a Superior Court Justice.

Based on the current law, the outcome will depend entirely on the facts presented to the judge.

I have already paid a severe personal price for revealing the truth. I am hoping that this hearing will force real accountability and transparency of all operations of our city’s business. This would include a complete public overhaul of the council’s procedural bylaws.

I feel that I underestimated the power of successive administrations to stifle and, cover-up using our money to stop criticism and challenge to public operations.

That is the essence of voter suppression, using secrecy while managing our public business without recourse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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