By Gerry Barker
May 23, 2017
Yes, who is running our city? Why have there been so many closed session meetings of council? Whose reputation is being protected? Why is the public’s right to know being consistently thwarted?
In a letter to the editor in the Toronto Star, Pat Biondi, takes umbrage over an editorial in the paper entitled: Long live the deep state in Washington – May 19.
Biondi’s opening paragraph set the stage for a blistering criticism saying, “I could not believe the Toronto Star, the self-proclaimed bastion of democracy, would stoop to such a level.”
At this point, I should reveal the headline of the letter: “Civil servants subvert the will of the people.” Such headlines are designed to capsulate the content of the letter but also to attract the reader.
It sure got my attention.
Biondi went on to say, “that in a democracy, it is the elected officials empowered by virtue of the ballot box. It is those same politicians who are held accountable for their actions the next time the electorate is asked to pass judgment on their performance while in office.”
That has a familiar ring about it when it is applied to Guelph governance. Looking back, the electorate in Guelph responded in October 2014 to defeat the mayor and two of her council supporters plus two others who chose not to run.
Biondi continues: “A deep state (i.e. civil servants) working in the shadows is the antithesis of what democracy is all about. The notion that a few unelected and unaccountable career civil servants can subvert the will of the people expressed in a free election is absurd and dangerous in the extreme.”
Starting to see what the letter writer is talking about as it’s applied to the unelected senior management of the City of Guelph in the past 10 years?
It’s no secret there has been an inordinate amount of turmoil in the past two years not only among the senior staff but also with the hardworking rank and file who carry out their orders. Look no further than the lawsuit by a fired 30-year veteran of the city Building Department, Bruce Poole, who performed as Chief Building Inspector for the past 20 years.
Mr. Poole sued for $1 million for wrongful dismissal by former Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert.
Follow a mysterious dump of some 53,000 emails sent to Poole’s lawyer containing hundreds of confidential and personal information, the case was promptly settled by the city. It was a legacy left by the former top civil servant for the citizens to pay.
Here is another statement by Biondi. “ When a society is governed by a deep state, democracy crumbles and anarchy ensues.”
Isn’t this the accurate description of how Guelph has been controlled by a two-term autocratic mayor and equally pervasive senior civil servants? They were really running the city with the support of a council that rolled over in their sworn responsibilities to the public.
The examples of that eight-year domination of Guelph governance have been well documented. Millions were wasted on social engineering projects under the guise of world leadership. This included making the city into a world-class leader in the environment, reduction of greenhouse gases, and restriction of vehicular traffic routes to accommodate bicycle lanes and waste management.
What really occurred in that time period, was increased property taxes by a compounded 36.7 per cent; the cost of basic civic services such as electricity and water soared; waste management’s so-called innovation racked up millions in operations and capital and it mostly occurred in secret sessions of council.
Autocratic senior managers and members of council, almost all who have left the city, for a variety of reasons, have left a legacy of alleged corruption and financial mismanagement. Yet, the disastrous policies of the previous administration continue to be supported by the majority of the current council.
Any evidence of city council working together to solve the tattered legacy of the previous administration has not happened in three years. The majority of council is known as the Bloc of Seven as they frequently vote as a bloc thereby dominating the 13-member council.
Regardless, some pluses have occurred, including revelation of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMH. This wholly owned subsidiary of the city is the most costly failure by the previous administration. Chaired by the mayor, this functioned under the Community Energy Initiative, with former CAO Pappert as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI for four years.
Losses to date are $26.6 million plus a $60 million impaired loan from Guelph Hydro that has no collateral in GMHI to even pay the interest. That loan now sits on the city books as a declining asset.
Are you starting get the picture? In my opinion, this is why there is a concerted effort to sell Guelph Hydro, wholly owned by the city, to cover up the huge liability of GMHI.
Ms. Pappert left the city in May 2016, following publication of the provincial Sunshine List in March 2016 of those earning more than $100,000. It reported that she had received an annual salary of $237, 501. This was received even though she only worked five months in 2016. Her increase, along with three other senior managers, was approved in a closed-session meeting of council December 10, 2015. The public was made aware of the $98,202 awarded to four top managers in March when the Sunshine list revealed the increases.
In view of this, why does the mayor continue to endorse Ann Pappert who is seeking a new job? Mr. Guthrie is mentioned twice endorsing Ms. Pappert in her lengthy new profile posted on LinkedIn
It’s all part of the culture of entitlement that pervades the senior management of our city from civil servants to elected councillors. Both share responsibility with one glaring exception: Every four years, councillors must face their constituents and explain their performance. Meanwhile, the hired staff is free to carry on as if there was no election.
A clear example was the reorganization of the top senior staff in November 2014. CAO Ann Pappert conducted the reorganization during the lame-duck period between the changes of administrations. Mr. Guthrie took over December 1, 2014. The new council never had the opportunity to approve the new management arrangement because it was not in charge at the time.
It only took 13 months for the top four managers to receive hefty increases and the public was never informed until March 2016.
I realize that some GS readers are critical of the constant reporting of this event.
It states truth to power and the perpetrators got away with it and now only one is left, CAO Derrick Thomson.
Judge for yourself; is this a responsible and honourable way to run our city of 131,000?
Only if a resolute, informed and politically centrist group of councillors are elected in 2018, can necessary true reform and change occur.
I would be interested in hearing from readers about their feelings, good, bad or indifferent. Send your comments to guelphspeaks.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Your identity will be protected if requested. Thank you.