Tag Archives: Ontario Municipal Act

Minister hands off Guelph’s financial and operational crisis to the same people who created it

By Gerry Barker

September 15, 2016

You will recall that my wife and I sent an open letter to Bill Mauro, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, detailing the several decisions and events that clearly bypassed the Ontario Municipal Act (OMA). It is an Act that lays out the regulations under which municipalities must conduct their business on behalf of those citizens who elected them.

It is the job of the MMA to oversee and ensure that the terms of the Act are being adhered to in Ontario’s 445 municipalities.

Mr. Mauro, in his response today ducked his sworn responsibility as Minister of the Crown in charge of enforcing the provincial rules concerning the management of municipalities.

Here is an extract of his response: “The government of Ontario views municipalities as accountable and responsible governments, with the authority to make decisions within their own jurisdictions based on local values and goals.”

Tell us Minister, how do you determine local values and goals, accoutability and responsibility?”

It gets better: “The concerns you have raised are related to the general administration and financial management of the City of Guelph, which are local matters.

Well, what are your standards of intervening in local issues, such as fiduciary responsibility failure, dereliction of duty, cheating and other human frailties?

“Therefore it is not appropriate for the Province to Intervene in local matters within the City of Guelph and they are best dealt with at the municipal level”

Minister, you have missed our point. How can we trust our council in view of our proven information?

We requested an investigation to confirm the validity of our claims, not an intervention. The City of Guelph is a creature of the province and is created and supervised, to a point, by your Ministry. But you fail to even investigate the situation in which the people are extremely concerned.

We have presented clear evidence that there are serious abuses of the city operations and breaching of the OMA regulations and public trust. Your suggestion to take this matter to the Ontario Ombudsman is a cop-out.

Did you or your staff consult with the Guelph Member of the Provincial Parliament, Liz Sandals? This situation is occurring in her riding. As such, she should be aware of general feeling of distrust by the majority of people of their city administration. Concern in the city over the management of the people’s business and public funds are real. One would think that Ms. Sandals would see the merit in a fair and balanced investigation of the matters raised.

Her silence may be determined in the spring of 2018.

To suggest that my wife and I take our concerns to members of city council for their consideration is ludicrous. The current majority of council is perpetrators of the serious financial and operational management of our city.

You obviously are unaware that along with many other citizens, all of us have been unsuccessfuly stemming the wasteful spending, holding closed-door meetings and creating major capital projects rarely without public input. This controlling group is rooted in New Democratic Party principles to which the majority of the current council adheres.

You have sidestepped a very serious situation that has existed for the past nine years and now refuse to take responsibility. Our case is not political but based on financial analysis by a qualified accountant using the city’s own Financial Information Reports submitted to the province. When analyzed, these audited statements reveal the mismanagement and cover-up by the majority of city council and senior staff, past and present.

And you want us to sort the issues out with these guys?

Your former colleague and MMAH minister, Mayor Linda Jeffrey of Brampton, recently requested a provincial investigation into the affairs of that city’s administration. Did you deny or approve that request, Minister?

Is the Ontario Ombudsman an extension of your Ministerial responsibilities to uphold the OMA, or is his department independent of government?

Minister your response to our request is confusing.

But why are we not surprised?

Sincerely,

Gerry and Barbara Barker

Editor’s Note: To read the original open letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs dated August 22, 2016, please go to the guelphspeaks.ca archives.

 

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Shake-up of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. as mayor becomes chairman

By Gerry Barker

Posted March 9, 2016

The pieces are starting to fall in place regarding that January 25 walkout by five members of council following a closed session of council. You’ll recall that they refused to return to the regular council meeting.

When asked, Coun. Phil Allt said he could not “reveal what occurred.” He later added that the action was taken to “protect the integrity of the corporation and staff.”

Citizens were left wondering what really happened.

It now appears the reason for the closed session was to discuss the future of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI). It was another incident of using closed-door meetings to discuss matters that may be politically dangerous.

As guelphspeaks pointed out yesterday, the Ontario Municipal Act, is often used to justify calling a closed meeting. In fact, this has been the trademark of the previous administration in which much of its business was conducted behind closed doors, far from public exposure.

This is known as “controlling the message” and has been abused by councils in the past nine years to the detriment of the public’s interests.

In 2014, GMHI, operating off the municipality’s books, announced a loss of $2.8 million. Then it donated a $1.5 million to the general revenue account of the city of Guelph. The annual report also stated that some $9 million had been sent by GHMI as dividends to the city since the inception of GMHI in 2011. It defies explanation.

GMHI was set up by the previous administration to manage the city’s assets. Mayor Farbridge chaired its first board and the board consisted of city councillors plus two outsiders. The purpose, allegedly, was to buy, sell and create corporate organizations that the city owned or was to own. That’s the asset part and it included Guelph Hydro, the Guelph Junction Railroad and some properties. The crown jewel was Guelph Hydro that services more than 50,000 households and businesses in Guelph and Rockwood.

Yesterday, the city announced sweeping changes to the structure of GMHI.

The previous board was dismissed with the exception of Mayor Cam Guthrie and Coun. Karl Wettstein. Mayor Guthrie became chairman of the new board and Councillors Wettstein and Cathy Downer were named to the board. The city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, was named interim CEO of GHMI.

“The change reflects this Council’s philosophy about governance. Direct Council oversight of GMHI decisions that affect the City of Guelph will ensure better alignment of City assets, resources and strategic planning,” says Mayor Cam Guthrie.

The intent of these changes is to provide more council oversight of GMHI operations. Now GMHI will report quarterly on operations, including compliance, and financial performance.

On the surface, this appears to be a step to making GMHI more transparent and accountable by reporting to council. The question remains, will its operations still function behind closed doors? There is now ample proof of the abuse of the Municipal Act rules governing closed-door meetings of council. It’s not just happening in Guelph but the Ontario Ombudsman has been given the mandate to investigate closed-door council meetings across the province.

Why is it necessary to even have a GMHI? Its only real source of funding comes from Guelph Hydro. The danger of this is the possibility that Guelph Hydro will pass through the funding it sends to GMHI to its customers. The revelation that $9 million has been sent to the city masquerading as “dividends” from GMHI indicates this operation is a money-losing charade.

It’s interesting that the subsidiary GMHI corporation, Envida, was set up to spend millions of citizen’s dollars to install a geo-thermal heating and cooling network in downtown Guelph and the Hanlon Business Park.

That plan is presumably dead, hopefully.

Council has set an 18-month deadline for reviewing GMHI operations. This whole operation, a signature project, was planned and executed by the previous administration. It remains an example of the self-serving policies of a mayor and council that has cost Guelph’s citizens untold millions in a variety of schemes and projects all in the name of wellbeing, environment and sustainability.

We now know the folly of these policies that left the city with a $23 million unbudgeted overrun cost of the New City Hall. It has left a legacy of costly systems and operations that we are stuck with, supporting a failed attempt to create a new city. Trouble is, that administration also left an aging infrastructure that the staff estimates will cost more than $250 million to fix.

That’s why our operating and capital spending costs are 50 per cent higher than Cambridge and Kitchener. That’s why we pay $28,000 per kilometer for road repairs and the provincial average is $11,000. That’s why an estimated 13 per cent of city households and businesses have to pay private contractors to remove garbage. Yet they still pay for those services through their property taxes.

It remains a legacy of financial mismanagement that citizens will be paying for the next 20 years.

Note: Read more about how the city uses closed-door meetings to conduct the public’s business, posted March 8.

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