Tag Archives: Ontario Ombudsman

How the city administration is doing it their way with your money

By Gerry Barker

September 25, 2017

Let’s start today’s commentary by introducing the late Marshall McLuhan, the University of Toronto Philosophy Professor whose 1967 book: “The Medium is the Message,” predicted the Internet and its effect on sharing information globally.

“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with,” he said.

“By shaping how societies obtain information, the medium (television, telegrams, telephones, etc) shaped people as much, if not more, than the message did.”

This got me thinking about how, in 2017, the city administration uses the Internet to communicate to the citizens. Aside from the Internet, there are other methods of communicating including the old reliable telephone, landline or cell, sending a letter by snail mail or reading the city-paid City News advertising pages in the local weekly. Believe me, those last two methods are old school communications. They are one-way communications that in some cases require a response.

But if a citizen is computer savvy and can send a message to the administration, most times they get a response.

Here’s a recent example of what I am talking about.

Last Thursday I sent the following request to City Clerk. Stephen O’Brien.

Hello Stephen:

I would appreciate a list of all the closed-session meetings conducted by council since September 1, 2016.  It would be useful to also include the reason for the meeting and the authority per the Ontario Municipal Act.

I realize your staff is busy and I’m in no great rush. The closed-session meetings are now published so I may pick up the current meetings as they are announced.

I was talking with a former councillor and he said that when he was on council, whenever a closed-session was held, there was a statement following, outlining the decisions made during that meeting. Understandably, the discussions, details and identity of the speakers would not be included in the brief post-meeting synopsis.

In your opinion is that option still available to the public?

Thanks for your assistance,

Best, Gerry Barker

Here is Mr. O’Brien’s reply sent the following day. It has be slightly edited for space.

To: Cam.Guthrie, Derrick.Thomson, Trevor.Lee, me

Good afternoon Mr. Barker,

Thank you for your email.

Our meetings, associated agendas and minutes, are all posted on line. I’ve provided easy to access links to this information based on meeting type below in order to assist with your request/inquiry:

Council and Council Planning Meetings

Council and Council Planning Meetings (for year 2017)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/city-council/agendas-and-minutes/

Council and Council Planning Meetings (for years 2016 – 2017)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/city-council/agendas-and-minutes/council-meetings/

Committee of the Whole and past Standing Committees

Committee of the Whole (for year 2017 and 2016)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/committee-of-the-whole/

Former Standing Committees (pre Committee of the Whole)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/council-and-committees/committee-archive/standing-committees/

All of the information/data you require, including the open meeting exception cited, is included on meeting agendas. In fact, section 239 (4) of the Municipal Act requires that before holding a meeting or part of a meeting that is to be closed to the public, a municipality shall state by resolution the fact of the holding of the closed meeting and the general nature of the matter to be considered at the closed meeting.

As such, our agendas list the following as an example:

Authority to move into closed meeting

That the Council of the City of Guelph now hold a meeting that is closed to the public, pursuant to the Municipal Act, to consider:

C-CON-2017.9  Public Appointments to the Environmental Advisory Committee, Water Conservation and Efficiency Public Advisory Committee, and Wellbeing Grant Allocation Panel Section. 239 (2) (b) of the Municipal Act related to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees.

The vote and associated result of that vote with respect to this resolution to close a meeting to the public is contained within the meeting minutes as such:

Authority to Resolve into a Closed Meeting of Council

  1. Moved by Councillor Van Hellemond
  2. Seconded by Councillor Allt
  3. That the Council of the City of Guelph now hold a meeting that is closed to the public, pursuant to Section 239 (2) (b), (e) and (f) of the Municipal Act with respect to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees; litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals; and advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose. Carried

To answer your question about the process following a closed meeting, Council does offer a statement following the closed portion of the meeting. This statement is listed on our agendas as “Closed Meeting Summary” and generally occurs either before or after the initiation of the open meeting (i.e. before or after O Canada, the moment of silent reflection, etc.). These statements are also captured in our minutes, an example of which is as follows (my emphasis added):

Closed Meeting Summary

Mayor Guthrie spoke regarding the matters addressed in closed and identified the following:

C-CON-2017.9  Public Appointments to the Environmental Advisory Committee, Water Conservation and Efficiency Public Advisory Committee, and Wellbeing Grant Allocation Panel

Direction was given to staff and recommendations will be introduced later in the meeting when the public report is discussed.

Some additional general information that you may find helpful:

The City maintains a Closed Meeting Protocol to assist Council and staff with questions relating to closed meeting processes. This protocol is available here and is accessible from the City’s Accountability and Transparency page online.

  • The City’s Procedural By-law, which is also available online, codifies many of the above mentioned requirements and actions. The specific section(s) (see section 4.6) the by-law can be referenced here.

I trust this information answers your questions and assists you with your request.

Thank you and enjoy your weekend,

Stephen

Let the search begin

Now I must admit, Mr. O’Brien’s response was thorough but requires some time spent on searching the various components of the response to obtain the information requested. I’m still working on it.

Did Marshall McLuhan ever believe in 1967 that the Internet would transform the distribution of knowledge and the way it was managed to support his philosophical theories?

There are 131,000 people living permanently in Guelph today. Add to that, the more than 20,000 students who attend the University of Guelph for approximately eight months of the year. That group is, for the most part, computer savvy and active on the Internet. That is not the case for many of the permanent residents. In that group, the availability, use and operation smarts using a computer, drops off dramatically. I know because I can’t keep up with tech changes and procedures.

This brings us to the City of Guelph’s website. It is extremely difficult to navigate even by highly qualified computer users. Using a computer requires a high level of proficiency, if for no other reason, to keep up with technological change.

Using a computer is not like riding a bicycle but more like training to be a concert pianist.

The city website is designed to serve the needs of the administration not the citizens. I’m not suggesting to dumb it down but make it open and easier to access. It should be built to serve the citizens not the other way around.

Today, the printed word reflects the diminishing interest in newspapers and magazines

This brings us to the printed word as seen by the younger demographic as being old school communications. The demise of the Mercury is an example of this.

The Guelph Tribune is the sole community print outlet in the city. It has the benefit of having the administration of being one of its largest customers. The city’s full-page ads running in every issue labelled “City News,” average 5 full pages per week. Assuming that pages are deeply discounted at $1,000 that comes to a tasty $260,000 a year account, paid by the citizens.

But that’s only the beginning. There is the city communications staff, Legal department, Finance and Clerk’s office all contributing to the content of those City News ads. The Tribune staff can put the material together but the source has to be generated by the city staff.

In my opinion, this is a waste of the public’s money. Why, you may ask? Because this give the administration complete control of the medium. The editorial content of the twice-weekly paper. is dominated by friendly reports as distributed by the city communications department. When was the last time you read a story in the Tribune that was critical and exposed operational mistakes and loss of public funds?

The owners of the paper will never bite the hand that feeds them. That’s why the paper is rarely critical of the administration. The medium is indeed the message and the city administration owns it.

It’s reflective of the cultural malaise of the administration. They can think of 50 ways to spend your money on their pet projects, but rarely take steps to save your money.

It will not change unless the people decide to change it and to elect knowledgeable, responsible candidates with the political will to change the pernicious culture that has existed for too long at City Hall.

You know we have a problem when the Mayor, apparently assisted by consultant, the Hildred Group, to prepare his explanation why closed-session meetings are important to the public’s business but then only sends the explanation to his council and four other people.

I guess Marshall McLuhan got it right? The medium is the message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How the administration’s Cone of Silence closes the door on public participation

By Gerry Barker

September 18, 2017

Today there is good news and bad news

First, it’s my birthday, please no applause.

Second, is yet another confirmation that we the people of this fair city don’t count when it comes to the operations of the administration headed by Mayor Cam Guthrie. The Mayor sent out an explanation of how he “polices and oversees” closed-session meetings of council. He claims it ensures the discussion stays within that which the Municipal Act (OMA) allows. He added that he takes this responsibility seriously.

Or, is he suggesting that the closed-session subject strays into other discussions not realted to the OMA authority?

So what does this mean to us? Well, after three years in office, little has changed when it comes to properly informing the public of city business. The system works like this and was used extensively by the previous administration:

Whenever there is a contentious issue, let’s use the $2.5 million loss by the city-operated recycling plant for starters, the council dives into closed-session. It uses a section of the OMA that defines the criteria for holding such a meeting.

Can the Ontario Ombudsman open the closed-session meetings?

Every one of the 445 municipalities in Ontario is bound by the terms of the OMA. The section allowing closed-session meetings of council is very broad. So broad in fact, that the Ontario Ombudsman, the independent overseer of all Municipal and School Board meetings, handles an estimated 35 per cent of its docket investigating closed-session meeting complaints at many levels

Now here’s a wrinkle. Last December, I requested the minutes of a closed-session council meeting held December 10, 2015. I requested that the Ombudsman investigate this and was told that Guelph had its own “closed-session investigator” known as Amberlea Gravel based in London. After requesting an answer after waiting more than four months, I was told that my request was denied.

Now Amberlee Gravel has been on retainer to the city since 2008. Since then it has investigated three closed-session complaints or requests for information. None were approved. The organization was hired by the Farbridge administration. The amount of its retainer paid annually over nine years is not available.

This was a deliberate move that effectively put the lid on the public being informed of the contents of any closed-session. It remains an integral part of the Cone of Silence that shuts down public participation in city operations.

Introducing the Integrity Commissioner, the second leg of the Cone of Silence

Five years ago, the Farbridge administration hired a Caledon lawyer to act as its Integrity Commissioner with an annual retainer of $5,000 plus time spent investigating breaches of the code of conduct by councillors and staff. The reason was her concern, along with her Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, of alleged leaks of information that was supposed to be private not for public access.

The irony of this was a demand for the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the action of then Coun. Cam Guthrie. His alleged offence, joining with other opposition councillors at the time, was to request a Freedom of Information release of a public document. The department involved refused to allow Mr. Guthrie to see the document that the province had already released to the public.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner decided there was no reason to pursue the matter and sent a bill for $10,000.

What this accomplished was warning any councillor or staff member that they would be disciplined if it were proved they revealed discussions and decisions made following a closed-session meeting of council. It also had blanket coverage of disciplining any councillor who broke the code of conduct. That’s what occurred in the Guthrie case.

Both those weapons are still in place today. That’s the Cone of Silence that surrounds the administration and prevents public participation in the affairs of its city.

Shutting down public participation using leg three of the Cone of Silence

We now know that Ms. Farbridge as chair of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) held closed-session meetings during the four years that created one of the greatest losses in the history of the city. The Chief Executive Officer of GMHI was Guelph CAO, Ann Pappert.

During the four years, GMHI paid an annual “dividend” of $1.5 million to the city despite a money losing operation. In fact, GMHI never made a profit and by 2015 was worthless because it owed more money than it could pay its creditors. That essentially wiped out the $65 million shareholders’ equity in GMHI. In this case, the shareholders are the citizens of Guelph whose interests were represented by the city council.

That’s so much for the lack of public participation, accountability and transparency. The citizens are the victims in this betrayal of the public trust for the past 10 years.

Mr. Mayor, let’s drift back to early 2015, your first year in office. A citizen launched a legal complaint against another resident claiming he received an illegal donation of $400 from a citizen’s activist group, Grassroots Guelph.

Susan Watson, a friend and supporter of the former mayor who was defeated in October 2014, asked the Compliance Audit Committee to audit the election financial report filed by Mr. Glen Tolhurst.

An auditor specializing in candidates’ financial reports was hired by the city to investigate. William Molson interviewed the parties involved including my wife and me. It did not take him long to figure out that Mr. Tolhurst was not the target of Ms. Watson’s claim but was GrassRoots Guelph of which I was one of the founders.

Bottom line: Mr. Molson found no evidence that Mr. Tolhurst or GrassRoots Guelph violated the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. Here comes the kicker. The bill for all this was more than $11,000 and council, headed by Mayor Guthrie, ruled that Ms. Watson was not responsible for the costs. The taxpayers had to pick up that bill.

For example, there are five members on this council who benefited from Ms. Watson and her husbands’ donations to their 2014 election campaign. Now you know how it works: It’s whom you know not what you know, that counts.

So where was our Mayor when he claims that he takes closed-session matters seriously? This was a decision made in closed-session and announced by the City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien.

The Mayor speaks to a selected few not the citizens

Mayor Guthrie’s three-page explanation of the necessity of holding closec-session meetings, was sent to 16 individuals including 12 members of council. It was the result of a letter sent to the Mayor by Guelph resident by Pat Fung, CA, CPA asking for an explanation why council conducts much of its business in closed-session. He specifically addressed the $2.5 million loss concerning the city’s recycling centre.

In his September 8th email, the Mayor detailed why closed-session meetings are needed and the criteria for calling one, more or less.

In his email reply to Mr. Fung’s question, the Mayor claims that a program of service reviews was started by his administration. He says that the reviews are an excellent way to show taxpayers that “we take department reviews seriously.” Well, we certainly hope so.

Further, he says the reviews “look to identify opportunities … to confirm that our services are effective and efficient.” But isn’t that what management should be doing on an ongoing basis?

Last year, it was suggested that an independent audit firm should conduct a staff -rationalization review. That was shot down by the progressive majority on council because of a potential threat to their labour supporters. They claimed it would cost too much. As compared to the loss of $2.5 million in recycling operations, which is only one part in the Environmental Services department, how does that argument stand up today?

Question: Why did the Mayor select a tiny sample of the electorate to convey his explanation of the necessity of holding closed-session meetings of council?

The Mayor agrees with Pat Fung that council has a “may or may not” alternative to hold a closed-session. He then goes on to say that council must vote to discuss items allowed under the Act as exemptions that would be of a “closed” nature. So, by that definition, why is losing $2.5 million operating the recycling plant an exemption?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations and potential labour or union impacts.”

What is so private about not revealing reasons for the loss of $2.5 million by city employees? Whose reputation is being protected here?

The provincial Sunshine List lets the cat out of the bag

Flashback: December 10, 2015, council in closed-session, voted to increase the salaries of the four top city managers by $98,202 for 2015. The only problem was, the citizens were never informed. Not until Guelph Speaks posted the details when the provincial Sunshine List was published more than three months later, March 31, 2016. Those increases ranged from 14 to 19 percent.

Chairing that meeting was Mayor Guthrie. Is this what he means when he says he takes the policing and overseeing of closed meetings seriously? The Mayor had to know the details would be eventually published.

What citizens have to question is why was it deliberately covered up and when, there was not one iota of reasons why these four were entitled to have their increases concealed from the public.

In my opinion, it was an abuse of the public trust by its elected officials. So, we will never know which councillors voted for the increase and which did not. They were all bound by the closed session omerta, fear of reprisal for leaking the information. That’s a primary example of how the Cone of Silence protects every one in the administration but not the taxpayers.

The public had the right to know what their senior managers were being paid and they were all identifiable. Instead, council concealed the decision avoiding transparency, accountability and potential negative public reaction.

It gets better, in August 2016, Coun. Cathy Downer asked the Human Resources department for a breakdown of the retired Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert’s final salary package. It included unused vacation and sick leave benefits and a $28,000 retroactive performance payment. She left the city May 26, 2016 and received $263,000 in 2016 for five months work.

It was complicated when Ms. Pappert announced in March 2016 about the same time that the news of her 17 per cent increase was revealed in the Sunshine List, that she would be leaving but would stay on to assist her successor. That turned out to be Derrick Thomson who had resigned to take a job with the Town of Caledon. He took over in June as CAO and announced in the fall of 2016, that he would make his salary and taxable benefits public. The 2016 Sunshine list showed he earned $245,000 plus a taxable benefit of more than $9,000.

Of the four senior managers who received that large salary increase Dec. 10, 2015, only one still works for the city, CAO Thomson.

Question: Will the service review of the recycling plant explain how it lost $2.5 million?

Moving along the Mayor explains: “In this particular case under Section 239 (b) and (d) states that council can “consider” in relation to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including board employees and labour relations or employee negotiations. … and potential labour or union impacts.”

Who would know better to keep those details secret than our council? There’s that Cone of Silence descending again.

The case of the missing 53,000 emails

This brings up the case of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired by the former CAO, Ann Pappert. Mr. Poole, a 30-year veteran in the building department, and chief for 20 years, sued the city for wrongful dismissal claiming $1 million.

The alleged reason for his dismissal was because he complained that some 50 building projects being conducted by the city did not take out building permits. He said he would have to take the information to the province for failure of the city to follow the rules. For carrying out his responsibilities, he was fired.

Well a funny thing happened. Mr. Poole’s lawyer, as part of examination for discovery, requested from the city all electronic files pertaining to his client. Instead, he was sent 53,000 emails from the city’s Information Technology department in an external drive that contained personal information about city employees including performance reviews.

To make a long story short, the case was quickly settled in Mr. Poole’s favour and the errant files returned.

Details of the settlement were sealed at the request of city. The city solicitor resigned to take another position. It is yet another example of using the Cone of Silence to paper over incompetence.

Truth or consequences

About a week following the December 10 closed session meeting, council again in closed-session, approved a protective barrier, Bylaw 19995. It is designed to provide legal assistance to any staffer or elected official facing a procedure brought by a citizen or corporation. It was yet another leg of the controlling Cone of Silence.

Question: Has the Corporation of City of Guelph or any employee or elected official ever been sued for defamation, slander, or libel? This is the Mayor’s explanation of the consequences if the corporation failed to not conduct its business in closed-session.

This effectively makes it almost impossible to sue city hall, its hired staff and elected officials. Again, the door is slammed shut and public participation is denied and ignored.

Question: Does the city not have liability insurance to protect employees from civil suits? If so, why is it necessary to have such an offensive bylaw to protect the members of the city administration? It is also interesting to know if the city employees or elected officials have ever been sued.

This mélange of administration stiff arms to protect their own interests and not those of the people who pay their salaries, benefits and guarantees their pensions, has reached epidemic levels.

The shadow of deceit and obfuscation hangs over 1 Carden Street like a darkening cloud of public distrust of its managing institutions that hides behind appropriated OMA terms and conditions.

October 2018 cannot come soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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Since 2008, here’s why two Guelph administrations held so many closed meetings

By Gerry Barker

October 31, 2016

This is no Halloween prank.

Last Friday I complained to the Ontario Ombudsman’s office about that December 10, 2015 closed-session city council meeting that awarded $98,209 to three top staff managers for 2015. This decision was never reported or acknowledged by council until the provincial Sunshine List was published in March 2016.

You know how most of us felt when we found out the amounts given to former CAO Ann Pappert and DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson. Mr. Thomson had resigned to take a job with the Town of Caledon, where he resides, when the Sunshine List was published in March. He was quickly persuaded to return as CAO of our city to replace Ms. Pappert who resigned in May.

The Ombudsman’s office called me within two hours to say that they had no jurisdiction to handle the closed session complaint. It was because we had a council- appointed Closed Session Investigator

It turns out that back in January 1, 2008, the McGuinty Liberals ordered municipalities to hire their own Closed-Session Investigator to adjudicate whether councils had the right to discuss public business behind closed doors or not. In 2007, the Farbridge council voted to hire an outfit called Amberlea-Gravel Inc to be the city’s closed-session investigator.

At the time, it was legal and above board, according to the Ombudsman’s representative.

And almost nine years later, that outfit is still with us.

Checking out their website, we discover that there is an umbrella group called Local Authority Service (LAS) that is a subsidiary of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). The membership is composed of elected officials from across the Province and is supported by the Ontario government.

Prior to implementation of LAS, municipalities were told they had to hire a “Closed Session Investigator” to investigate complaints about councils, committees and boards. Such a selection had to be completed by January 1, 2008.

That’s why the Farbridge administration hired Amberlea-Gravel to be its closed- session investigator. For nine years, they have been paid an annual retainer, plus an hourly rate for the investigator when a complaint is made and expenses.

Since 2008, I could find only one investigation made in January 2016 regarding the alleged walkout of four councillors during a closed-session meeting. The complaint was dismissed following the investigation.

The main reason is that the people did not know that the city had retained a Closed-Session Investigator to which they could complain about closed-sessions city operations. The proof of this is the number of investigations conducted by Amberlea-Gravel. So far in nine tears it’s one.

Here’s the conundrum. The closed-session investigation company is hired by the council, how is it possible to remain impartial? There is a requirement for trust and integrity by both parties in the resolution of the complaint.

This is a successful attempt to shut down citizen’s complaints. Not informing the public of the existence if this city closed session investigator, demonstrates another method to not expose details of the two administration’s agenda. It is one that has wasted millions in the past nine years. Both administrations were determined to maintain the now familiar pattern of secrecy and non-exposure of the city corporation’s business and operations.

Now we know why city Clerk Stephen O’Brien tells us the minutes of that Dec. 10 closed session of council are not available because, “they are not part of the public record.”

Well, I am requesting a complaint form from the Clerk regarding that December 10 closed-session meeting that gave those large salary increases to three managers. This is the complaint procedure outlined by Amberlea-Gravel.

It is now apparent that very few citizens, except in the administration, knew the closed-session investigator services existed.

Does this closed-session investigation firm only act when council or the City Clerk requests it? And why would council allow its closed-session meetings to be investigated by its own appointed investigator?

I am asking Amberlea-Gravel to confirm the number of closed-session investigations it has conducted in the past nine years for the City of Guelph and complainants.

I am also asking for the fees they are being paid to perform this function.

I found only one investigation by Amberlea-Gravel reported on its Website. There may be more. It does appear odd, that the Farbridge administration conducted an untold number of closed-session meetings during its eight years in office, and yet there is no evidence of investigation of those meetings?

It took a judge to expose the wrongful dismissal of Urbacon, the general contractor of the new city hall. The judgment was open and available to all citizens. It led to the defeat of Mayor Farbridge because it was made public and not locked up behind closed doors.

It should be noted that there is always a closed-session meeting held, starting two hours before every open council meeting. But it’s the other meetings in which decisions were made, in camera, that affect the citizens and the public treasure.

The case for the LAS investigations being independent is suspect in view of the AMO connection including in its membership members of Guelph city council. This organization is a creature of the province whereas the Ontario Ombudsman is totally independent.

Now here is delicious irony. In 2013, the Farbridge administration hired a Toronto consultant to develop an Open and Transparent Government Plan. The cost later revealed was $500,000 and a lengthy report was developed to direct the city toward setting up an open and transparent government that promised accountability to the stakeholders, that’s us.

Well, an election happened in the fall of 2014 and Mayor Karen Farbridge was defeated plus four member of her council, two of who did not run and two who were defeated.

Then in July 2015, Andy Best, a Farbridge supporter, was hired as a contractor earning $92,000 a year to manage the Farbridge Open Government Initiative. Results to open up council business to the public have been, year to date, a futile exercise.

According to the Ombudsman’s office, that Amberlea- Gravel Closed-Session Investigation firm is still with us. The Ombudsman cannot help expose this closed meeting.

So, how does the Guthrie administration reconcile the city paying a half million dollars to open up our city government? How many citizen complaints have been made to the Clerk’s office since 2008? Is Mayor Guthrie even aware that this outfit is still employed by the city? Is he aware that the Ombudsman’s office cannot investigate a closed-session complaint by a citizen because the city has its own investigator?

Kind of reminds us of the Maytag repairman who never had anything to do because the machines were so well built.

Is this a case of the 12–member city communication staff incapable of informing citizens of their right to complain about closed-session meetings?

Do we need more evidence that this is a giant threat to our rights of free speech and freedoms as citizens? Unless of course, there are complaints lodged by citizens through the Clerk’s office demanding explanation.

There is only one solution. Dismiss Amberlea-Gravel and engage the Ombudsman’s office to represent the city as its closed-session investigator. Some 210 Ontario Municipalities have already done this. At least if a citizen asks for an investigation of a closed-session of council, there will be an independent investigation by the Ombudsman’s office and the decision will be made public.

As a public service, here is the list of exception subjects that the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001, permits to hold a legal closed-session meeting of council or any subsidiary board or committee.

Preamble: A meeting or part of a meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered is:

*   (a) The security of the property of the municipality or local board;

* (b) Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees;

*   (c) A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board;

*   (d) Labour relations or employer negotiations;

*   (e) Litigation or potential litigation, including matter before administrative tribunals affecting the municipality or local board;

*   (f) Advise that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;

*   (g) A matter in respect in which a council, board, committee or other body may hold a closed meeting under another Act. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (2).

The only possible category that council last December10 could have used as a reason to hold a closed meeting is the category, “Labour relations and employee negotiations.”

Exception (d) is a razor thin reason to close the meeting to award those excessive increases to three senior managers. It was confirmation of a decision already baked in the decision.

It was not a negotiation, it was a naked grab of power exercised in secret without any public knowledge or input. It allowed CAO Ann Pappert to retire in late May 2016 having earned some $52,798: ($3,132 per month increase X 16 months plus 26 days $2.677 = $52,798). This was in addition to her 2014 base salary of $219,500 but not her contractual severance allowances or taxable benefits.

Now we know why this was done behind closed doors. To this day not one member of council has admitted voting for that increase. It’s obvious the majority attending the meeting did vote to award the increases.

So, why haven’t elected councillors spoken up? It’s because of a threat of breaking the Code of Conduct that prevents members of council to reveal anything said in closed session. This could lead to an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner and possible sanction of the offending member.

Isn’t this a great way to run the public’s business? You elect a councillor with the belief he or she will represent your interests only to discover they don’t. It is the essence of the Big Brother syndrome, the control of the many by the chosen few concentrated in power.

Here’s how that works: What they don’t know, won’t hurt them.

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Dr. Galon, fool some of the people some of the time but not all the time

Posted May 20, 2015

The Mercury published a long refutation of the truth about the Susan Watson complaint that Glen Tolhurst accepted an illegal contribution to his 2014 civic election campaign.

Dennis Galon, the author of the piece, describes Watson’s attempt to clarify the position of non-profit corporations to be allowed to contribute to election advertising campaigns. He alleges she contacted the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding the so-called “third party” support of issues and candidates in a municipal election.

He stated that the Ministry, “didn’t know and Watson was referred to Guelph’s city clerk”. But he does not identify this Ministry official or whether she received a decision in writing or, as Galon puts it, she “was told effectively” by a nameless person in the MMAH.

Following this anonymous advice, Watson contacted city Clerk Stephen O’Brien and was told he had no authority to investigate or prosecute offenses under the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. He suggested she should pursue her concerns with a formal complaint to the city’s Compliance Audit Committee (CAC).

The trouble with this argument is that the CAC has no authority to, as Galon puts it, to adjudicate her “noble tradition of ‘test case’ public interest litigation”.

Dr. Galon does have a way with words.

There is nothing noble about this sham of spending the public’s money to chase a specious theory that GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) did not have the authority to invite readers to consider candidates. It collectively believed that its participation would bring about change in Guelph.

This noblesse oblige on the part of Watson is a bare-faced attempt to assuage the pain of seeing her friend, Karen Farbridge, lose her bid for a fourth term as mayor.

Watson’s pious comment that she had no quarrel with Mr. Tolhurst but she merely sought to clarify the role of third parties in municipal elections.

So, do two official turndowns or passing the buck qualify as a noble test case? Further, what is the price of this noble cause? It’s you and me who pay the bills plus thousands of Guelph citizens.

Given their experience in legal cases, does the CAC three-member panel have the power to adjudicate this allegation hiding behind the mask of noble tradition, as Galon describes it? This is the first case the CAC has tried since its formation in July 2014.

Galon argues that GrassRoots Guelph is not a corporation that carries on business. Well, that’s a red herring. GrassRoots Guelph is an incorporated Ontario non-profit, non-partisan organization. Its purpose was to encourage greater voter participation (mission accomplished), organize and inform citizens of the operations of their city. Now that was a citizen-driven noble exercise.

Does he really believe that GrassRoots Guelph is different from the hundreds of non-profit incorporated organizations that exist across the province?

The Farbridge supporters were stunned and angry over the election outcome. That’s the real explanation why this campaign to discredit a legitimate citizen’s activist business that played a major role in the election upset.

Let’s switch gears and look at the how other organizations were involved in the 2014 election. In the most recent campaign an organizations called “We are Guelph” actively recommended candidates in every ward as well as former mayor Farbridge. Those chosen candidates were promoted through the “We Are Guelph” website which is, by definition, a form of publishing.

It was sponsored by the Guelph and District Labour Council who paid for the fancy website and supported its slate of candidates who were all labour members or supporters of the former administration.

Some labour sponsored candidates received donations from a number of unions, located outside the City of Guelph. These included Phil Allt, Laurie Garbutt and others.

So, Galon, we presume, you believe that third party union-sponsored involvement with elections in Guelph legal. Also, it meets your version of what is the true intent of the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

Hold on Buster.

Did the union-sponsored “We Are Guelph” crowd name all the donors to their cause, as you are demanding GrassRoots Guelph should do? Who paid for their website? Who paid for their contributions to support their candidates?

To suggest that Mr. Tolhurst financially benefitted from advertising placed in the Tribune doesn’t quite square away with the Farbridge ad trying to link convicted robo-call operative Michael Sona with Candidate Cam Guthrie. How do you estimate the cost of that debacle? Was the cost attributed to the Farbridge financial election statement? Did the Mayor benefit? What an interesting parallel.

Galon, you repeatedly refer to GrassRoots Guelph as right wing or conservative. You have no evidence this is the case and have no access to the members of the organization. The steering committee represented a cross section of partisan supporters of all parties.

If only the Guelph and District Labour Council would submit its list of members and donations. The problem the labour council faced is that a number of their members voted to defeat the mayor and others because they lived in Guelph and could see first hand the Farbridge bollix she made of city governance and finances.

Her legacy of millions wasted on her decision to fire Urbacon and the legal fall-out; plus the neglect of infrastructure in which vehicle congestion has dramatically increased on some major roads. It was because lanes were reduced to accommodate bike lanes. Galon, do you ever drive around town to experience the long line-ups of cars on the major arterial roads in the morning and afternoons?

Sorry, maybe you are an “active transportation” enthusiast and ride your bicycle around town.

We now have a waste management system that doesn’t serve 13 per cent of households in the city and is costing millions to operate, not including the capital costs spent to create it.

Galon, did you ever stop to think about what you and Susan Watson are trying to do? Do you believe that Glen Tolhurst turned the tide against Farbridge? Do you believe that Madame Farbridge was a great mayor but was misunderstood last October when the people voted her out?

Why should citizens believe you now when the wreckage of the Farbridge administration is still smoldering?

The city is being managed without a Chief Financial Officer. It has a Chief Administrative Officer who misled the people by stating that the Urbacon settlement will not impact property taxes. And it has a deputy CAO who blithely proceeds to hire more staff, settle generous staff contracts and believes it’s business as usual.

Sorry Dr. Galon, supporting the Watson crusade to prevent citizens from forming independent political action groups is something right out of authoritarian control of elections and people.

Anyone got some countries in mind where this works?

 

 

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