Tag Archives: Phil Allt

What are they thinking? Council agrees to bid on Provincial Guelph Innovation District property

By Gerry Barker

April 8, 2019


A staff report recommended council should bid on the sale of the Guelph Innovation District (GID) lands, owned by the Provincial government. Council unanimously approved bidding on 245 acres to create its green satellite community.

The desired lands are part of the former Reformatory and Turf Institute properties, totaling 1,074 acres. The decision was made despite the absence of important details that are in the public interest.

Details such as how is the bidding to be conducted; who can bid; financial details of the transaction; the public’s risk in such a transaction; is the process going to be transparent and made public and who pays the land transfer tax and development fees if the bid is won?

Apparently, a new plan concerning the Provincial properties, will be sold through Infrastructure Ontario, an arms length provincial agency, and CBRE Canada, the agency’s real estate broker.

The city wants to bid on 245 acres to develop its planned green satellite community that has been on city staff planners drafting boards for six years, at public expense.

CBRE, a Los Angeles-based real estate firm, oparates more than 450 offices worldwide, including Waterloo Region.

According to reports, Infrastructure Ontario employs CBRE as its real-estate broker. It would appear that CBRE directs the disposal the firm does not report to any Legislature committee to ensure that oversight and accountability is part of the process. Remember, Infrastructure Ontario is an arms-length provincial agency.

The province has announced it will start the process of disposing the surplus lands starting in 60 days. And should be completed when the new owner is successful by March 2020.

According to CBRE spokesman, Michael Cztsochowski, Executive Vice President of CBRE, the land services group, revealed the land would not have a set price. He describes a “modified auction.” He estimated that the market, once the disposal marketing materials are offered the pro[erty wuld be on the market for about two months. The bids would be treviewed and select the approved bidders, including the City of Guelph.

He outlined that because CBRE is a global company, purchasers will include developers, investors, and potential bidders thoughout the CBRE global network.

Sounds exciting, right?

But here’s the problem. The Ontario Municipal Act allows real estate transactions by municipalities to be conducted in closed-session. However, the public interest is deflected as the sale of this publicly owned property is being conducted by a third partyin closed-session.

In my opinion that’s only the start of these proposal’s problems.

We just went through a similar situation with the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities. The public was denied access to the details of the merger that, to me, was a giveaway of a city-owned successful power distribution system with a book value of $168 million, plus cash of $18.5 million cash reserves.

What did Guelph get in exchange besides a $18.5 million return of Guelph Hydro’s customer’s money? What did the city do with that gift from Hydro?

Alectra got former Guelph Hydro chair, Jane Armstrong, as the city representative of the Alectra Utilities board. Her salary is $25,000 per year plus travel expenses per diem for each meeting. All this resulted in a minuscule share of 4.86 per cent but only 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profit. This whole takeover was conducted in closed-sessions. This occurred except for one council meeting in which council ignored the protests of 22 citizens who respectfully asked council to study and review the Alectra proposdal. Instead, council voted 10 to 3 to approve the merger.

That was the night that transparency and accountibility took a beating.

Some Guelph residents, who opposed this terrible deal, were later denied making their case before the Ontario Energy Board that approved the deal.

Strike three against public participation and the right to express public concern and interests.

Is GID about to cost the city millions more to fulfill the ambition of a small group of supporters of the environmental disasters of the past 14 years?

Is this about to happen to us again?

Who pays for the provincial mandated environmental study on the lands if the city plan contains wetlands?

Will CBRE explain in detail what CBRE means by a “modified auction?”

How is CBRE being compensated orchestrating the sale of the property?

Who pays for the extended city services links such as power and gas mains, water, sewer, police, fire, EMS, medical and hospital services, cable and telephone hook-up and Guelph Transit?

If the city wins the bid, does it absorb the development fees for the project?

As GS pointed out in a recent column, the administration was hoping for a sweetheart deal from the province that would allow the city to flipping the property to a developer. Thereby, avoiding costs of obtaining the property.

This could be shaping up to a simultaneous closing between the province, city and an unknown third party developer. Having been through one of those in my life, anything can go wrong if one of the parties questions or reneges.

When can residents learn how much the property is worth?

Can anyone tell us how the city plans to pay for this in the next 12 months, if it is the winner of the “modified auction?

Now the staging of this party is just beginning

Outsiders with major league credentials that impress our administration despite once again, influence council with pitches that leaves us in the minor leagues.

We are being told that this proposal is in our best interest.

In my opinion, no, not true. It’s in the council’s best interest to avoid becoming a third rate community while the rest of southern Ontario prospers.

Can anyone explain why or how this proposal is in the public’s best interest? Especially when there remain hundreds of acres of vacant land in the city that can developed.

Why have two successive city administrations speny our money attempting to build Green-oriented showcases for the world to decide we are a world-class city?

Adding it up for 12 years, estimates come to more than $250 million in capital wasted building monuments, driven by social engineering.

This project is just another exercise to spend money to prove we are something we aren’t.

Two councillors pushing the city to declare a climate change emergency

Coun. Phil Allt and James Gordon seem to forget why they were elected. It may come as a surprise to them that most people in the city understand the risk of climate change to their planet.

They also understand that the climate change problem is global and Guelph’s footprint in solving the problem is miniscule considering the magnitude of the problem.

I see their job as serving their constituents to fix the pot holes, plan a city that moves efficiently and safely without catering to the chattering, demanding alternative transport advocates, aka the bicyclists.

The best thing that can occur is that the city is outbid for the GID lands and our attention returns to common sense and fixing what’s broken.

There is no shortage of projects to be managed by our elected representatives.

One potential problem facing Guelph General Hospital and the entire medical community is the growing inability to handle the surging population of the city. We have lived in Guelph for 16 years and the current StatsCanada population’s figure shows an increase of some 35,000 new permanent residents in that time frame.

Today, there are 131,000 folks living in Guelph and the nimbers are projected to grow at each StatCan survey conducted every five years.

Further, this does not include the 22,000 University students that arrive in September and leave, for the most part, in April.

It’s something to think about.














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Filed under Between the Lines

The three cheesy political moves designed to suppress your vote in 2018

By Gerry Barker

May 28, 2017

There is an interesting parallel comparing the controlling antics of the Bloc of Seven dominating city council and the Walt Disney classic “Snow White and the seven dwarfs.”

Before beginning our tour de fromage, keep in mind that for every action there is a reaction.

We all know who Snow White is in our comparative exercise. If you don’t, send me a self-addressed envelope and I will reveal who it is. We are going to play a little game when it comes to the seven dwarfs. I’ll name them and you mentally attach the names of these councillors who act and resemble our players in this exercise in political shedding of the Cheddar.

Here is the list of the Disney Seven. Make your choice beside the appropriate dwarf.

Doc                        Reader’s Choice

Happy                   Reader’s Choice

Dopey                    Reader’s Choice

Bashful                 Reader’s Choice

Sleepy                   Reader’s Choice

Sneezy                  Reader’s Choice

Grumpy               Reader’s Choice

I know, a couple of them are easy to identify with current members of council’s Bloc of Seven. But there is one other character in this bubbling pot of political fondue. The unelected defacto leader of the Bloc of Seven, Susan Watson, led the attack to stop Online voting by importing an Assistant Professor, Aleksander Essex, from the University of Western Ontario. He informed council that it should not proceed with Online voting because it lacked cyber security and trust. More on this later.

If you just arrive in town from a trip to the Moon, here is the scoop on the Bloc of Seven and how they lost their Snow White in the Kingdom of Guelph’s forest.

With a couple of exceptions, the Bloc votes on most issues as a group. The exceptions include the recent defection of Cathy Downer who voted for Online voting and retaining the operational Committee of the Whole (COW) system.

There have been three key occurrences involving the Bloc that were offensively planned to stop progress of the business of council. All three were self-serving and cheesy politics rolled into one gigantic cheese ball.

The infamous walkout by the Bloc of Seven

The first was the walkout January 25, 2016 by the majority of Bloc councillors to thwart a meeting to discuss the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.’s (GMHI) disastrous failure.

Well here’s the skinny. We believe the closed meeting was to discuss a personnel matter, a legal reason. When the Bloc of Seven did a head count, they were outnumbered 6-5 because two of that group were absent.

But let’s hear Phil Allt’s response: “You will have to trust that this rather simple message is of importance to all Guelph residents. By denying a quorum we were defending the integrity of the city as a corporation and staff.”

No, Mr. Allt, you and your colleagues were complicit in covering up the most serious mistake of the previous administration ever recorded in the history of the city. We learned in May 16, 2016 that the GMHI losses over five years was $26.6 million and an impaired loan of $65 million provided by Guelph Hydro, a wholly owned utility by the city and controlled by GMHI.

Aside from the Allt explanation, it wasn’t until May 16 that the truth and details were revealed. Did Mr. Allt take back his pious worded stated four moths earlier? “By denying a quorum we were defending the integrity of the city as a corporation and staff.”

Ah, the essence of Blue Cheese permeates that statement

Whistle while your work

The next Havarti experience by the Bloc of Seven came when a straw vote was held in a COW meeting last month to reaffirm allowing Internet Online voting in the 2018 civic election. Prior to that vote, Susan Watson expressed her disapproval of the Online voting. Two weeks later, she trotted out the Assistant Professor who specializes in cyber security and Internet voting to bolster her position.

Essex is not a resident of Guelph and dumbed down the Bloc of Seven to believe it was too risky to use in 2018. This was stated despite the fact that 13,000 residents voted online in 2014 without any threat, loss of privacy or security. Also, 97 Ontario municipalities use Online voting, Unfortunately it failed to impress the deniers and the system was cancelled by a 7-6 vote.

You don’t have to look further than British Columbia where the final outcome of the May 4 Provincial election is still not confirmed. The province does not have electronic or Internet voting. This is what happens when your election system has not caught up with the 21st century.

This motion to defeat Oline voting was an orchestrated effort by the Left on council to suppress voting. The denial affects hundreds of Guelph citizens who are disabled, the elderly and those whose schedule denies their vote.

The only conclusion is that the Left saw Online voting as a threat to their re-election.

Crackers anyone?

The latest power move by the cheesy Bloc of Seven was to kill the new council operating system called the Committee of the Whole. Last fall council voted to approve the system with a 12-0 margin. It eliminated the individual committee meetings thereby opening the process of government to allow transparency and accountability.

So here comes the Limburger part. The Left noticed that two supporters of the COW, Councillors Cathy Downer and Andy Van Hellemond, were absent and quickly called for a vote that killed the COW by a 6-5 margin.

Before the cheesy crowd could exalt over their victory, the City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien, offered the option of suspending procedures and re-voting the issue. The concerns of councillors emerged when they discovered there was no alternative immediately available. The vote had the effect of dismissing the staff recommendation to retain the COW.

Following a break, a second vote was taken with only Coun. Leanne Piper opposing.

Following the meeting there were some interesting comments made by those who voted to eliminate the COW.

Coun. Gordon said: “The first (vote) was a signal, the second was maintaining our democratic process until we can reassess.’

He went on to claim that, “it has a lot of problems, it’s ineffective, it’s confusing.” He added that it doesn’t matter if this committee made things easier for staff. “That’s not our job.

James, that being the case, why did you vote for the COW systemlast fall? Is it your plan to reassess the COW before the next election? Your bench mate Phil Allt agreed with you saying that the “highlight was public confusion as one of the biggest issues.”

There they go again, the breeze brothers defining what their job is. If what they say is true, who’s confused here, you two or your constituents? Your job is to help and inform your people to understand the issues.

Holding regular closed session meetings does not help public clarity of city business.

Please pass the Camembert and crackers.



Filed under Between the Lines

A dysfunctional council most of whom fail to understand the financial implications of their actions

By Gerry Barker

July 21, 2016

Let’s confirm that Guelph’s council is divided and dominated by seven councillors who don’t have the guts to close down a $37.1 million failed energy project that doesn’t produce enough energy to pay the bills.

Mark your calendar that Monday night, July 18, is a night that will go down as a failure to do the right thing. The majority Bloc of Seven failed to arrest spending more money on a project passed by the former Farbridge administration saddling citizens with more debt that even the Urbacon fiasco.

Here are some of the facts that have made a nine-year capital-spending plan after only a year, firmly in the ditch. Yes, it already has a 2016 capital budget deficit of $170 million as the first year of a nine-year capital budget.

Monday night, a delegation asked council to build a new downtown library and, get this, not partner with private investors to finance it. The last estimate for a stand-alone downtown main library was $60 million, or was it $63 million? These days the way some staff and activists are running the finances of our city, one cannot tell what the amount is. Nor did the two delegates produce a figure.

Take the Community Energy Initiative (CEI). On May 16, staff gave specific figures on how the previous administration launched a District Energy plan that was composed of two operating Nodes.

The downtown Node was located in the Sleeman Centre and the other in the Hanlon Creek Business Park. Total cost was $8.7 million. The financing and operational details were conducted in secret and hung in there for five years before Mayor Cam Guthrie, last year started asking staff for financials on the CEI operations. He especially questioned the District Energy Nodes that were connected to buildings downtown and in the Hanlon.

According to a detailed staff report July 18 on the District Energy operations, the cost of this operation, were managed off the city books through Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) and Guelph Hydro. Two Guelph Hydro subsidiaries corporations, Envida Community Energy Corporation and Guelph Hydro Electric Services Inc, were used to implement the District Energy project.

Adding up the costs of this adventure to develop sustainable energy and thermal hot and cold water to nearby customers, are estimated to be $37.1 million. That excludes the $68.5 million currently sitting on the city books as an asset.

The cupboard is bare

Here’s the nitty gritty. GMHI and Envida have zero financial capacity. Envida owes GMHI $11.8 million. GMHI is being carried on the city books as an impaired asset of $68.5 million. Today, because of the impairment, the asset is being depleted in value because the carrying charges exceed the capital on the books. Result, it is converted on the books as an expense as the value of the asset declines. Now the cost of carrying the asset exceeds the value of the asset.

Despite this damning evidence, on Monday night, July 18, council voted to adopt a strategy prepared by consultants Deloitte, to keep operating the money-gulping Nodes until the first quarter in 2017. Then, results will be reviewed. But there is not to be additional capital invested. Deloitte calls it the “As Is” option. Their fee for this analysis is between $130,000 and $160,000.

To this observer, this looks like another method by staff to hire a consultant to create a plan supporting, at the time, a point of view to salvage the project. Later evidence produced by staff, reinforced what everyone feared … it was a major expensive flop.

Oh! In order to make the Nodes able to meet a commitment to the Ontario grid of 10 MW for upgrading each Node, the price is estimated to be another $60 million. And there’s more, if the Nodes are shut down, there will be costs to cover broken contracts plus retrofitting some buildings to return to standard sources of hot and cold water and heat in some cases.

And yet city council receiving all this detailed information, prepared by the city staff, voted to keep the Nodes running until next March.

Two councillors urge not to look back

Two councillors stated that it was a waste if time and money to investigate those responsible for this ill-conceived and carelessly managed project. Coun. Mike Salisbury said any attempt to pin-point responsibility was “political.” He was joined by Coun. Phil Allt who said any recriminatory investigation would be a waste of staff time and money.

Phil, that money has already been spent by staff and Deloitte. They had to untangle the facts surrounding this failed exercise. It is one that does not produce power to the grid or provide any environmental benefit, zero.

The only beneficiaries are that handful of nearby buildings hooked up to the Nodes to supply hot and cold running water. It still requires natural gas to operate the Node pumps.

Jason Dodge spoke to council and affirmed the previous administration that they were not justified bypassing proper business planning. He added the project exemplifies loss of public trust in past councils and credibility. Mr. Dodge said the city needs a council that takes responsibility and holds itself accountable.

Up speaks Coun. Phil Allt to demand what evidence Dodge had that the previous council didn’t do due diligence.

Phil, you had better start reading your staff reports. There is ample evidence that not only was there no due diligence but there was no evidence of accountability. This was because the practice of the former administration was to conduct its business behind closed doors.

Two members of the present council, councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein, were present at those meetings of GMHI more than five years. Yet they did not, it appears, even inform their council colleagues of events that have led up to this $37.1 million cost to the city.

Coun.Wettstein made the comment that he believe the new CAO and city staff understand the problem and he is confident they will handle the public fallout of the project. “I am proud to be able to vote for this in its entirety,” he said.

How can Coun. Karl Wettstein keep a straight face?

Is he serious? He refuses to take any responsibility for his role as a member of the GMHI board of directors

Mayor Guthrie was on target to shut the District Energy Nodes down but the majority of council disagreed. The Bloc of Seven was joined by Coun. Bob Bell in opting for continuing the District Energy Nodes for another eight months.

This is just perpetuating the mistakes of the previous council.

Hopefully the mayor and a majority of council will be successful to shut this operation down, including the abortive Community Energy Initiative. The evidence is clear that the thermal heating and cooling underground system is too expensive and disruptive to expand without a much larger customer base.

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Scott Stewart agrees with GMHI CEO Pankaj Sardona that a customer user base of between three million and four million square feet is necessary to make the District Energy project viable.

The fact the previous administration failed to understand this key factor is the root cause of the massive spending on a project that was doomed to failure from the start.

That’s another reason why there is no money to build a new downtown library or South End Recreation Centre.

It also explains why councillors Phil Allt and Mike Salisbury don’t want to look back and hold those responsible. The reputations of Hofland and Wettstein are at stake along with former mayor Karen Farbridge.

Do you think it’s fair to ignore obvious indiscretions by the two councillors who were directly involved for five years serving on the Board of GMHI? Why did they not question the decisions that led to this multi-million dollar failed project?

Not only did they not perform their fiduciary responsibility to the citizens but also they took money to serve on the board.

The only course left for them to salvage what’s left of their professional reputations, is to resign.

It cannot happen soon enough.




Filed under Between the Lines

Coun, Mike Salisbury confesses and the Orange Crush takes a hit

By Gerry Barker

April 27, 2016

Monday night, Coun. Mike Salisbury finally admitted that he tipped off the friendly blogger Adam Donaldson about why the five Orange Crush members walked out of a closed meeting Jan. 25. He left the chamber with the Integrity Commissioner (IC) sitting in the audience.

But for Salisbury, his confession did not come easily. At first, he denied he spoke to the friendly blogger. Then he left the chamber and admitted he was the one who leaked the reason for the walkout of five councillors.

It was a wild night of charges and counter charges, prepared statements regarding leaks of closed session information to bloggers including GuelphSpeaks (GS) Its editor has been reporting the news about our city’s governance for four years. In that time, a library of more than 767 posts or columns, have been published. The content has become an invaluable tool in writing new posts and, by consistent audience measurement, guelphspeaks.ca is the top read blog in the city and beyond.

This blog would not exist without the support of citizens who supply tips and comments. Somehow the Orange Crush believes that there are officials among them including members of council, who are providing so-called confidential information to GS. I am aware of the backbiting and finger pointing that has bee going on about who is leaking the information to Barker. I keep my sources confidential and that won’t change.

On Monday night the poisonous vitriol surfaced in open council.

It is now safe to say that those two elected officials who have admitted leaking information about that January 25th walkout, are members of the Orange Crush, Phil Allt and Mike Salisbury. Both, it is presumed, failed to understand that under the code of conduct, they are forbidden to comment on any information of content of any closed session meeting.

But a motion by Coun. Mark McKinnon and Coun. Andy Van Hellemond demanding that Salisbury be sanctioned and suspended for 90 days was predictably defeated.

Whether the IC will recommend sanctioning both these two leakers remains to be seen. We are still stunned that Robert Swayze, the IC whose contract expired at the end of March, was given another five-year contract. Again, this was approved in closed session with the Orange Crush majority supporting it.

The unfolding story of the Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. spending

 Reports and leaks are occurring over former mayor Karen Farbridge’s Community Energy Initiative (CEI).

The municipal holding corporation was formed in 2012 and operated outside the city’s financial accounting. There are two basic reasons for this: One, it gave the mayor who was chairman of GMHI, the ability to use Guelph Hydro as a revenue source to create a company called Envida Corporation. We know how that worked out. Check your Hydro bills.

This artful use of tapping into taxpayer funding outside of the property tax base of revenue of the city, was off the city’s books and not reported in the annual Financial Information Report mandated by the province.

So the former mayor introduced a new revenue stream, the source of which was buried in your electricity charges. There was a cute wrinkle. GMHI has sent more than $9 millions back to the city as a dividend. What anyone with financial smarts can’t figure out is how can GMHI do that when the 2014 annual statement reported a $2.5 million loss?

Two, the CEI through Envida commenced launching the geo-thermal underground system in the city without city funding. The first Chief Executive Officer of GMHI was Guelph’s CAO, Ann Pappert. As a trusted lieutenant of the former mayor to whom she owed her $257,000 annual job, Pappert was part of the plan to launch the CEI starting in late 2013.

This was done just prior to the civic election. The whole operation was not revealed to the public for fear of the former mayor losing her job. But she had other reasons to be defeated including settling the Urbacon Buildings Group lawsuit of $8.96 million.

The GMHI conducted all its business behind closed doors. The public had no idea except for annual reports that were so fudged that they were essentially meaningless. Last month, the board of directors, except Mayor Guthrie and Coun. Karl Wettstein, was dismissed. Mayor Guthrie took over as chairman and Coun. Cathy Downer was added to the board.

The reasons for this sudden major change have not been made public. The new board however has promised to report the financial status of GMHI in June.

A former GMHI board member says the report will stun the public with the spending on various CEI projects including the thermal heating and cooling plan in the Hanlon Business Park and downtown. Apparently, without public knowledge, GMHI proceeded with this thermal energy program through its corporate partner Envida Corporation.

Reports of special electric heat/cool exchange pumps installed in the Selman centre and Hanlon Park are already operational to serve the CEI thermal heating and cooling plan. One report says the cost of this project has reached some $35 million. Not even Guelph Hydro can support that kind of spending by Envida. Seeing that is operating off the city’s financial books, what is the basis of the plan, which is paying to operate the fledgling CEI system?

What the former administration did was saddle future generations of taxpayers with capital projects and policies reflecting the then administration’s goals without public input.

Now there is wiggle room for increasing spending without raising property taxes and user fees to record levels in comparison to peer communities across the province. The dog is off the porch and only cuts in spending to reduce debt and maintain a strained credit rating can turn things around.

Guelph can no longer sustain this financial boondoggle. It is imperative that GMHI be collapsed and its tattered financials brought back to the city financial authorities, whoever they may be.

If you want to watch a horror movie, check out the Rogers Community TV channel to view the disgraceful performance of our most of our elected officials.

Okay, let’s start to think about the 2017 budget. First, there is the $2.6 million lost in 2015 but pushed forward to 2017. Oh, that was taken from the reserves before year-end to balance the books.

Next the staff has proposed a delayed ten-year special property tax levy against taxpayers of two per cent over ten years. Add that to the annual increases in staff, capital costs and the looming GMHI financial losses trying to complete the Farbridge dream of CEI, and you have a load of big-time financial trouble in the Royal City.

There are five people on this council who understand the severe ramifications of this financial mismanagement. The Orange Crush who collectively bleats that the council is dysfunctional, reviles them.

Until the Orange Crush members leave a new Guelph will not occur.

In 2018, the citizens will elect representatives who will bring true reform. Between now and the next election, discord and disfunction will grow to the degree that warrants an investigation today by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.




Filed under Between the Lines

Now more information is leaking out about that five-councillor walkout

By Gerry Barker

April 25, 2016

Tonight is the night when the Integrity Commissioner will attempt to discover who leaked the reason for the January 25 walkout by five councillors to a local blogger, (not GuelphSpeaks).

There is a new element in the coup that deposed the former board of directors of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. It turned out to be a messy dumping of the board and an investigation into finances. It was carried out in closed session. The code of conduct rules prevent any councillor from revealing what was discussed for fear of being sanctioned by the Integrity Commissioner and the council. The secret discussion was to drill down to what this operation has cost the taxpayers.

My informant says the costs will dwarf the $2.6 million, lost by the waste management group.

GS will never reveal the source but it came from someone who was there the night the walkout occurred. Under the Farbridge imposed rules of procedure, no person attending can disclose details of what occurred that January 25th night.

But the administration will say the details weren’t in the public interest. Translation it was none of the public’s business. Wrong, who are they protecting?

In March 2015, following a closed session of council, excessive increases were awardied to the three top senior managers. That was in the public’s interest but was withheld until a year later by the rule of confidentiality.

Maybe it was the bananas

Not even the Integrity Commissioner can advise council on this issue. Because he is bound by the same procedural rules as you and me, and the participants in closed session. It’s comparable to: Monkey attends, monkey listens, and monkey walks out because it didn’t like the outcome of the discussion, (or the bananas). And monkey’s lips are sealed.

Well not quite. One of the Councillors who walked out, Coun. Phil Allt wrote in an email that “protecting the integrity of the corporation and staff,” prompted the move.

But in my opinion, that explanation is a breach of the closed session rules of confidentiality. The statement was political but he broke the rules. Tell me, when did dysfunctional politics replace political common sense?

The operations of this administration are to deceive, and cover-up their incompetence revealed in management mistakes. They are driven by an ideological detraction, developed by a group of NDP big brothers who direct, they think, the way we should live.

The 128,000 citizens of this city have been lulled into complacency. It hangs like a cloud of lassitude enveloping our city in which we have lost control. It is an existential surrender of our rights. It’s about as close as most of will ever get to a dictatorship by a small group that has been ordained with absolute power. And, they know how to use it.

I don’t have to tell you about our soaring taxes and user fees. I don’t have to repeat the millions of dollars of your money that has been wasted on social experiments or unnecessary environmental projects.

We are blanketed by a hardcore group of individuals who make policy mistakes and refuse to admit failure.

Because friends, it’s all done in secret.

Using your money to shut you up

Thousands of dollars have already been spent by the administration to proclaim the walkout by five councillors, was “political” and not illegal.

But there is a morality issue here that the administration conveniently overlooks. The 13 members of council have a moral obligation to represent all the people of the city. The Orange Crush has managed to elect members to council in wards in which a few thousand votes are cast giving the majority of winner’s, power to control the entire city. All the people across the city elected only one member of council, Mayor Guthrie, who only has one vote.

The city’s political and electoral structure needs reform to put a stop to this ward system that delivers control to members of a political party. A minority of electors in each ward has the same single vote power of the mayor. This majority collective of councillors has dominated Guelph governance for nine years.

It’s time for a referendum by all the people to level the political playing field

The following is a framework of reorganizing the administration to return power to the people:

Start by advocating that all candidates are elected at large and are full-time. One full-time councillor representing a specific ward, is to be elected. Three additional fulltime councillors would serve as a board of control with an appropriate increase in pay to reflect their responsibilities. Also elected at large are a deputy mayor and the mayor. The deputy mayor would chair the council meetings.

The Mayor would have veto power on all bills involving public funds. The Board of Control, plus the mayor and Deputy Mayor, would appoint councillors to the various boards such as the Police Services Board, Fire Department and Emergency Services, public health, and County of Wellington liaison.

The city solicitor and clerk will review all procedural bylaws to streamline operations and ensure the public is informed. The goal is to stop the closed-door sessions. It is the antithesis of the way our city business is currently being conducted. It will be the true reflection of an open and transparent government.

The city would hire a city manager to direct the staff. The city is now advertising to hire a Chief Financial Officer a long overdue development, as the position has been vacant for 17 months.

Abolish the present management structure

The present structure of Chief Administrative Officer would be abolished, as would the Deputy Chief Administrative Officers. Five directors report to the city manager and through to the Board of Control. The responsibilities would include: Operations, Engineering and Planning, Finance, Administration and Parks and Recreation.

Operations – Includes infrastructure replacement and repairs, Guelph Transit, water management, emergency services, liaison with Guelph Hydro.

Engineering and Planning – Includes Waste Management, Street lighting, Processing all development plans, Building department, and zoning, Economic Development.

Finance – Tax accounting and collection, money management including restoring the reserves, financial reporting and internal audit. Annual Financial Information Report, required annually by the province, and external audit. Pension management. Creating quarterly financial summary reports for the citizens. Supervising all capital spending. Creating the annual budget based on reports of all departments. Adopting a zero-based budget system.

Administration – Legal staff and legal issues, clerk’s office including overseeing an independent election committee, Inter-government liaison, Human Resources including union contracts, hiring and terminations. Liaison with appointed public boards and committees, communications and tourism promotion, Information Technology, review support for worthy groups representing the arts, culture and poverty.

Parks and Recreation – Includes social and welfare programs, senior services, parks and city beautification programs, recreation facilities, Guelph Library system, maintenance of all city-owned property, heritage and forestry departments. Guelph Civic Museum and McRae House, all historic monuments and the Sleeman centre.

First responders’ management reports to the city manager. This will ignite protest from the Guelph Police Services Board. The Board’s demand to have the city pay $34 million for the renovation of police headquarters requires more financial oversight on police spending. The Mayor is ex-officio of all department management units.

Restoring common sense to the budget process

Most important, the budget process must be changed. Instead, each major department director would prepare the budget reflecting operations for the coming year. The data would be presented to the city manager and to the Board of Control for review and any recommended changes. Then sent to the council for approval. Each senior manager would be responsible for the department budget. Each department budget is based on a zero-sum system annually.

The managerial target is to reduce costs in areas that do not affect performance or provision of essential services.

All committees, boards and organizations that depend on the city to fund their operations will be required to produce a business plan to validate their operations.

The Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. is at the top the list for review if it has not occurred already.

Once approved by council, only emergency services and operations are permitted to request variances. This will force the administration to adhere to the budget and stop balancing the books each year by raiding the reserves.

Such a system would prevent a single party taking over the city, as all candidates would require election by all the people, not just a few in each ward. It would also attract candidates with more experience in management, culture and professional accreditation.

How much would this cost? For discussion purposes, the six full-time councillors representing the wards should receive $65,000; the three councillors on the Board of Control, $80,000; The Deputy Mayor, $100,000 and the Mayor, $150,000. The City Manager should receive $200,000, the five department directors, $165,000.

This would shift control of the administration back to the officials who have been elected by all the eligible voters.

Food for thought and action.


Filed under Between the Lines

Guelph’s financial operations are rooted in high staff costs and excessive spending

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 12, 2016

It’s the dirty secret that is driving up operating costs. So far, council refuses to tackle it or even listen to valid points describing the sorry state of financial management and the cost to the citizens.

It’s the untouchable cost of running a city after nine years of non-stop wages and benefits growing exponentially exceeding the Consumer Price index (CPI) by a country mile. Throw in the more than 500 new, full-time equivalent employees added in that time, and taxpayers are being forced to ante up every year to keep up.

The truth is that 80 per cent of the property tax levies goes to pay the city staff.

So when the staff submitted its estimate of the property tax increase for 2016 of 1.58 per cent to city council, it was a mythical, contrived figure that had little basis of reality. It’s the equivalent of the workers at Linamar telling the management how much they think it’s going to cost to produce car parts.

So they scare council’s majority, who support the nine civic unions, by saying the Guelph Transit fares are going up and weekend and holiday service will be reduced to save $1.5 million. Compared to the 2013 Guelph Transit overtime bill of more than $5 million, that’s chicken feed.

Oh, woe is me! Says Coun. Phil Allt who again, insists Guelph has to get cars off the road and only public transit is the answer. So the left-brain cramp of some members of council, is maintaining the “war on cars” that beats on.

It’s all part of the senior staff game to serve and protect … their interests, not those who must pay the bills. And there are a number of senior managers that don’t even live or pay taxes in Guelph.

In the past ten years, the growth of Guelph city staff exceeded the growth of our population by 85 per cent.

It’s not just occurring in Guelph

A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says in part that: “We have been hearing about cities having a revenue problem, but it’s clear it’s a spending problem they are dealing with,” said Laura Jones, CFIB executive vice president.

The CFIB report states that a municipal employee in Canada is paid 22 per cent more than an employee in the private sector doing the same job.

“When you look closely, it’s easy to see employee compensation is the root of the municipal spending problem,” said Nina Gormanns, co-author of the report.

This report comes in concert with the Fair Pensions for All organization that has been warning municipalities, for many years of the risks of increasing the size of staff and the increasing benefits paid to those workers.

In fact, the organization presented a documented report to the former Farbridge council, indicating the growing pension liabilities the city was facing. It was ignored and a number of Farbridge followers ridiculed the findings.

The staff strategy to use Guelph Transit to reduce costs in 2016 instead of recommending staff reductions, backfired when the council majority of seven voted to reject Transit fare increases and service reductions.

City consultants warned of reserves depletion

The city recently commissioned a consultant report to review city operations.

The BMA municipal consultants are not unfamiliar with the way our city is being managed; having done a similar report in 2011 that cost $480,442 to complete.

This year’s report raised a “cautionary red flag” on the underfunded reserves. Those raided reserves have had little replenishment since the 2014 civic election as was promised by senior staff.

You cannot raid three reserve funds to pay a lawsuit liability of $8.96 million without a firm plan to pay the money back. In approving the 2015 budget last March 25, Coun. Karl Wettstein, the elder statesman of the Gang of Seven on council, made a motion to reduce the $900,000 scheduled repayment to the reserve funds to $500,000. That passed.

Councillors Wettstein, Leanne Piper and June Hofland were on the Farbridge council that witnessed the firing in September 2008 of Urbacon Buildings Group, Corp., the general contractor of the new City hall.

They have never accepted responsibility for that action that triggered a $23 million cost overrun of the project. For that matter, neither has the former mayor ever admitted any responsibility. The people understood and voted the mayor out of office.

The 2016 budget, approved December 10 included another 2.99 per cent increase of property taxes, plus user fees and more staff.

During budget talks, council buried a staff recommended 2 per cent, ten-year special property tax levy to pay for the city’s ailing infrastructure. It was kicked away to be discussed in the 2017 budget discussions next November.

The 2017 property tax increase prospect, next November, is that if the special levy is approved, plus the storm water levy, plus the 4.5 per cent water use increase, the annual property tax increase in Guelph for 2017 will be more than 9 per cent.

Transferring operational costs to debt can reduce tax increases. It is a glaring example of financial mismanagement that has been practised in this city for far too long. If we ran out lives the way this city is being run, we’d be bankrupt in short order. Swallowed by personal debt used to pay the bills.

Oh! Regardless, that’s what staff did this year.

And that folks, is just one of the reasons why Guelph’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent higher than Kitchener and Cambridge. It’s why Guelph spends $28,000 per kilometer on road repair and rehab than the provincial average of $11,000. Bike lanes anyone?

These figures are extrapolated from the official annual Financial Information Reports filed annually by every municipality in Ontario to the province.

Figures don’t lie but liars figure…Go figure!

Maybe that’s why the city changed auditors this year.





Filed under Between the Lines

Karen Farbridge’s capital spending to cost $420 million over the next ten years

Bt Gerry Barker

Posted January 29,2016

So, in the past 15 months, you believed that Karen Farbridge was no longer mayor.

Sorry, but it’s as if she never went away. Commitments made when she was Mayor are still alive and are being actively pursued by her Gang of Seven (GOS) majority on the new city council.

This week five members of that bloc went off the reservation by striking and refusing to rejoin their colleagues following an undocumented closed-door session of a regular Monday night council meeting.

Their deliberate obstruction of the people’s business forced Mayor Cam Guthrie to cancel the meeting because there weren’t sufficient members to make up a quorum. By way of explanation, the city bylaw requires a minimum of seven elected members out of 13 to be present for a public council meeting.

The result was the five members of the GOS attending the closed meeting, denied further discussion when the public meeting resumed. By refusing to participate in the open council meeting, that’s a strike by any definition.

It was the result of two councillors, Karl Wettstein and June Hofland, members of the Gang of Seven bloc, who did not attend the regular Monday night council meeting. No explanation for their absence was given. This removed the majority of the GOS councillors’ 7-6 edge, resulting in the remaining councillors holding the majority.

Coun. Phil Allt, the GOS spokesman, stated the the group refused to participate in the meeting to which they were elected, on the grounds that they “were protecting the integrity of the City Corporation and staff.”

He refused to say what was the nature of this protectionist action that resulted in a shutdown of the council meeting.

This Gang of Seven has made a mockery of cooperation and responsible discourse among all members of council since the 2014 election.

Most of the discussion between members of council is conducted in private before and during the public council meetings when council decides hold a private meeting off the floor.. The result is the stakeholders have no idea of the statements, positions or action of council until the vote is held and the bloc always votes 7 to 6, subsequently forcing their group decision on the citizens, who have no recourse.

This week, they were suddenly faced with being in the minority in the closed session because Wettstein and Hofland were not there. They reacted by walking away from their responsibilities that then shut down council for lack of a quorum.

What it really represents is the determination to continue the failed policies of the previous administration that the majority of voters soundly rejected in the 2014 civic election.

Space doesn’t permit examples of mismanagement and waste of taxpayer’s dollars by the previous administration. The people spoke and the result was just an extension of the failure of the previous administration.

For the record, here is a list of the future capital commitments made by the Farbridge administration that this Gang of Seven is still supporting.

The proposed, ten-year, 2 per cent property tax increase to repair an aged infrastructure will ultimately cost $250,000,000.

The Police headquarters renovation – $40,000,000 and counting.

The Community Energy initiative – estimated to be $150,000,000 but the actual cost has never been revealed.

The street light replacement with L.E.D. bulbs – $10,700,000.

Supporting the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, a segregated corporation operating off the city books that lost $2.8 million in 2014.

The Transparent and Open Government Action Plan – $855,000.

Let’s take a closer look at that one. In 2012, The Farbridge administration commissioned a Toronto consultant to develop a Transparent and Open Government Action Plan.

This was the former administration’s answer to growing public complaints about the opaque and secret operations of their government. Jumping ahead, the citizen’s concerns grew to a point where the Farbridge administration was defeated in the civic election.

Since then more than $855,000 has been spent, including $267,000 in 2016 perpetuating a program that has utterly failed to open the secrecy of the administration. The city council majority voted in March 2015 budget, to hire Farbridge loyalist Andy Best last July. His 2015 salary was contracted for $92,000 for one year.

On December 10, the final day of the budget meetings, the GOS voted to spend another $267,000 to continue the program development. This produced a three year opportunity for Mr. Best and probably a full time job.

Trouble is, as it has turned out, the opaque and secret operations continues with Best turning out to be a shill for the administration by broadcasting city staff so-called success stories. And we are paying $855,000 for that?

A recent announcement said that Best was developing Internet applications for various city operations and functions. The big feature is citizens can customize their city news online. And we are spending $855,000 for a few politicized apps?

This group of councillors should be severely sanctioned for their strike.

Perhaps the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing should intervene in this case and investigate the operations of the city administration.












Filed under Between the Lines

Note to citizens: If we don’t get our own way, we’ll strike

By Gerry Barker

Posted January 28, 2016

Last Monday, believed to be the first time in the history of Guelph, five members of council walked out of a council meeting. The five, together with two of their already absent number, stopped the meeting cold following a closed door meeting, as Mayor Guthrie found himself unable to continue the public meeting due to a lack of a quorum.

The underlying reason for this walkout is unknown at this time because Coun. Phil Allt told a citizen that he could not “reveal what occurred” to cause this deliberate boycott of conducting the city’s business. It becomes even murkier with the deafening silence of city clerk Stephen O’Brien.

Well here’s the skinny. We believe the closed meeting was to discuss a personnel matter, a legal reason. When the Gang of Seven did a head count, they were outnumbered six to five because two of that group were absent.

But let’s hear more of this sappy Allt response: “You will have to trust that this rather simple message is of importance to all Guelph residents. By denying a quorum we were defending the integrity of the city as a corporation and staff.”

These are the last guys we should trust to defend the integrity of the corporation and the staff. Besides, it is not their exclusive responsibility to “defend the integrity of the city.” That’s the role of council, the whole council.

Did that closed meeting precipitate the defection of responsibility concerning a senior member of the staff? It has been the opinion of many in the city that there is too strong a bond between the senior staff and the Gang of Seven majority on council.

More importantly, the Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert; Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO), Mark Amorosi; DCAO Derrick Thomson; City Clerk Stephen O’Brien; and City Solicitor Donna Jacques, were all appointed by former Mayor Karen Farbridge and supported by her council majority.

So how do we attain change and transparency if the same team is on the field?

Is this a problem of the Great Divide?

What has occurred here is that we now have two councils, the Gang of Seven councillors who are determined to continue the policies and capital projects of the former administration and raise taxes exponentially, and the real one that is led by Mayor Guthrie, who is the only member of council elected by all the voters in the city with more than 20,000 votes.

The other is led by: Who knows? The role of spokesman has fallen on Mr. Allt, who was elected with some 3,000 votes in Ward Three. His Ward Three colleague, “Landslide” June Hofland, won her seat by five votes.

The bottom line is this group has few bright stars in its stable. In fact, most are financially illiterate to the point where they depend solely on the staff for guidance. The result was the recent two-day budget meetings. The comments from the Gang of Seven destroyed the attempts by the Guthrie supporters to reduce taxes and review the city operations to lower costs.

Collectively, these seven councillors are acting like kids in the candy store with a hundred bucks to spend because it’s not their money.

If you believe Phil Allt, it’s like: “I got the money from Daddy and he said don’t tell Mommy.”

Of course they’re not going to explain their irresponsible actions.

They just didn’t attack the Guthrie administration, they attacked every person in this city and they refuse to explain their actions and on what possible grounds?

Is this the way this totally dysfunctional council is going to operate from now on? If they don’t like something they walk out destroying a quorum?

If the Mayor is smart, he’ll issue a meeting notice to do the city’s business within 24 hours. If the Gang of Seven refuses to attend, then cancel all pay, allowances and perks of those councillors not attending. Revoke any committee chair positions and memberships to other boards they may hold and receive extra pay. Then ask the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the reasons for the boycott.

If none of that works, obtain legal advice to consider suing the absent councillors on the grounds of failure to perform their fiduciary and elected responsibilities. Instruct the clerk that until further notice, there will be no in camera meetings of council.

These seven councillors need to apologize to the citizens of Guelph for their irresponsible actions.





Filed under Between the Lines