Tag Archives: Ombudsman of Ontario

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines