Tag Archives: RiverRun Centre

Why does this council perpetuate what 45 per cent of the voters rejected in 2014?

By Gerry Barker

June 27, 2016

It’s a revelation that two city-owned facilities, managed by the city and used by the public, lose a total of $780,000 a year. Not just in 2013, but also by admission of the former General Manager of Tourism and Culture, Coleen Clack, it has averaged that for the previous four years.

This is a stunning admission by the newly appointed Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) of all city operations including infrastructure maintenance and repairs, Guelph Transit and public first responder operations, Police, Fire and EMS.

Now we don’t know Ms Clack. But as a taxpayer and shareholder in our city’s corporation, I find it difficult to understand why Ms. Clack would be promoted to such a senior position without experience or accreditation in managing such a large portfolio and attendant responsibility.

We understand there was urgency in appointing Operations Senior Manager in view of former DCAO of Operations, Derrick Thomson’s, and appointment as the new Chief Administration Officer (CAO).

But why the haste? The city operations won’t cease because of a temporary gap in leadership. There are capable middle managers that are able to keep the city working.

Coleen Clack may be capable of handling the job. I have been told she is an able and good manager.

But wait a minute! If this is true, why under her responsibility as a manager of these two facilities, is the RiverRun Centre losing more than $531,000 and the Sleeman centre losing almost $249,000 every year?

Now that Ms. Clack is in a most senior management position, how can we taxpayers be assured that she can handle the job in view of her past record?

Perhaps the powers making this decision should have put Mark Amorosi in charge of Operations awaiting arrival of the new Chief Financial Officer has been hired.

What we do know is that we don’t mind paying taxes as long as I get value. In 14 years that has not been the case. This is our personal beef about not getting value for our taxes. My wife and I live in a community of 22 homes that is a land condominium corporation.

The City of Guelph does not plow the street in winter, clean the street of winter debris in the spring and fall; does not pick up our garbage, saying we live on a dead end street and the trucks cannot turn around, although the fire department has no such difficulty. As members of a Home Owners Association, we own and are responsible for the infrastructure of the development that includes paying into a reserve fund to replace roads and aging underground water and sewer pipes. The reserves are based on an engineer’s study estimating when the infrastructure needs replacement or maintenance.

Our little community is a self-sustaining village within a city. The rub is that this development was approved by the city and regardless; we must pay taxes for basic services that the city does not supply.

So, for the privilege of living in Guelph, we must be double taxed for basic services.

Seems to us that is reminiscent of the kind of thing that started the American Revolutionary War in 1755 when the citizens, protesting the tax on tea, boarded a ship in Boston Harbour and dumped crates of tea from England into the harbour.

As we said, we don’t mind paying our way but this is a parallel tax grab by a corporation dominated by the political activists who are hungry for revenue.

We can hear the complaints coming that we elected to live here and must accept the responsibility. That’s true but the city has created ghettos of condominiums in which its planners disregarded access to public service vehicles. The number of households affected by these policies is estimated to be more than 6,000. That’s 13 per cent of the total property taxed properties in Guelph.

The misguided war on cars

The previous Farbridge administration developed policies that emphasized restrictions of vehicular traffic on major streets. Often well-travelled major streets were remarked to accommodate bicycle lanes by reducing four lanes for vehicles to two lanes.

In eight years in office, the Farvridge administration permitted new housing in the area bordered by Arkell, Victoria, Clair and Gordon streets. There are few single-family homes in the area but scores of low-rise condos and linked, strip townhouses. The residences are not welcoming to cars or commercial vehicles because of narrow interior roads that prevent street parking and interior connections to major roads. Driveways barely accommodate a full-sized vehicle and there is little visitor parking.

It’s an example of social engineering to create intensified housing in accordance, the administration claimed, was the Ontario “Places to Grow” directive. The administration believed that single-family housing created increased dependence on the automobile. Instead, it spent millions creating bicycle lanes that are used by a small minority of residents in many cases as basic transportation but chiefly not in the winter months.

This same group of cyclists ignores the law that states they cannot ride on sidewalks when those bike lanes disappear on major roads.

These measures contributed to increased property taxes and user fees in Guelph. Today, the city’s legacy of those forced collectivization efforts has forceded the citizenss into a state that reflects major changes in lifestyle. It has been done in the name of reducing carbon emissions and abortive sustainability projects costing millions.

None of this was discussed or approved by the vast majority of citizens save for loyal supporters of the Farbridge administration. These included the civic labour unions that now represent 80 percent of the city staff. Also the remnants of the Guelph Civic League and its successor 10 Carden Street, that is a publicly funded political action organization.

The trouble is Guelph’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener, due to the excessive spending of the previous administration.

The underlying problem in the city is the culture of entitlement that has grasped not only the minority of leftist citizens who support the social engineering changes but most of the senior staff who are beholden to the previous regime.

It becomes a struggle to change the culture because of the bloc of seven councillors supporters who support and are dependent on the senior staff. For them, it’s business as usual despite replacing the Chief Administrative Officer whose performance over five years led to her resignation.

The cost of financing these projects plus multi-million operating deficits of city- owned facilities is still prevalent among the staff administration that is currently undergoing major senior staff changes.

How the culture is perpetuated

It’s like a game of Whack-a-Mole, when one is whacked down another immediately pops up.

In our view, there are two councillors, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein, who have been deeply involved supporting the former mayor’s policies from the beginning of her mandate in 2007. These policies have squandered the public trust and treasure. Accordingly, as key enablers of these failed costly projects and financial management, both these councillors should resign.

The reason is that collectively, they have failed their responsibility to represent the people by morally abandoning them and forcing an agenda to which the majority of citizens did not agree. This was proven in the 2014 election, in which Cam Guthrie won the citywide mayoralty race by more than 5,000 votes.

Despite that overwhelming victory, the supporters of the former mayor won ward by ward contests in which it allowed victories with a small number of voters in each ward. Ms. Hofland won by only five votes in Ward Three. Mr. Wettstein ran second in Ward Six almost 900 votes behind newcomer Mark MacKinnon.

These two councillors during their four-year involvement on the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) from its active inception in 2011, provides ample proof that they were complicit in initiating and participating in the failed $26, 637,244 loss implementing the project. This figure is the amount presented to Council May 16 by the GMHI Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Pankaj Sardana and then CAO Ann Pappert.

The two councillors had to know what was going on through their membership on the board of directors in Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), the operating corporation running the CEI. They are the only two serving councillors, appointed by the former Mayor, who are still on council

Wettstein has already recused himself from the probe of GMHI by claiming he had a pecuniary interest because he received a stipend for serving of the board. For her part, Ms. Hofland voted against further investigation by council into the GMHI record. Only she and Coun. Mike Salisbury voted against the motion.

Councillors Hofland and Wettstein not only shared responsibility along with the former mayor for the GMHI financial disaster but also are now stonewalling any investigation including an independent forensic audit of the affair.

They have abrogated their responsibility and there is no back door to escape. They must resign.

Do you believe this is corruption at its very worst? Or is it just business as usual?

 

Editor’s note: I’d like to read your opinions of this post. Please use the comment section of the GuelphSpeaks postings page. Your ID is protected.

 

 

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Noted on returning Guelph’s administration to common sense and sensibility

By Gerry Barker

June 20, 2016

The rapid changeover of senior management of our city staff indicates that there will be a return to responsible management or will it more of the same?

It is now well established that there have been many instances when public money has been wasted and money-losing operations rampant throughout the city.

Two city icons of sports and the arts, the Sleeman Centre and RiverRun Centre are examples of where your money is being wasted.

Coleen Clack, the new Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO), is now in charge of operations, replacing newly minted CAO Derrick Thomson. Ms. Clack was formerly general manager of Culture and Tourism, the department in charge of the two city-owned facilities..

In response to a query by Tim Girouard, July 18, 2014, Ms. Clack said the two city-operated facilities were budgeted to lose $780,801 in 2014. The RiverRun lost $531,440 while the Sleeman lost $249,361. Operational budgets are not available for years 2015 and 2016. Regardless, it now is apparent that these losses, paid by the taxpayers, are the rule and not the exception.

The problem of course, is how long have these two facilities required a substantial subsidy to remain open? The main client of the Sleeman Centre is the privately owned Guelph Storm junior hockey club. There is little attempt by management to utilize the facility that is manned by full-time staff. In fact, the ice is removed for three months in the summer and the staff are either laid off or redeployed to another city position.

The city has not revealed the terms of the Storm contract. One curious aspect learned is that the advertising revenue on the time clock, is retained by the hockey club. The clock was purchased by the city in 2010 based on the demand of the team allegedly to match the facilities in other arenas where the Storm played. The $75,000 new clock replaced a perfectly operating time clock. Further, it was paid out of the 2009 federal/provincial/ municipal infrastructire fund to create jobs after the financial collapse in 2008.

In her reply to Mr. Girouard, Ms. Clack said to track usage of the RiverRun Centre was measured in “event numbers.” She stated that the number of events average over the previous three years averaged 436 per year.

So here’s how that works: One event counts as a single space use for one day. Single space means only one of the two theatres is used. When two theatres are used in a single day, that counts as two events. David Mirvish, where are you when we need you?

That is how the cost of operating the RiverRun Centre is calculated, not revenue collected at the box office. How do these “event” days have any bearing on managing the facility? The basic costs of opening the doors every day, promotion of productions, salaries and benefits, insurance, maintenance, fees and taxes, depreciation and performer’s fees. These are the basic considerations when preparing a budget. Then, how many days are the theatres dark?

Obviously, in four years there has been little change in increasing revenue and reducing costs. It just became too comfortable letting taxpayers to pick up the annual tab of more that $500,000.

In the case of the Sleeman Centre, Ms. Clack says the administration calculated the annual loss as $249,361. She adds that they use 3,000 hours of use as the base for budgeting. Let’s see, there are 8,760 hours in a year. Let’s knock off 2,529 when we all asleep (8 hours a night). That leaves 5,840 hours. When reducing that by the three-month shutdown and statutory holidays, (100 days) we are left with 3.490 hours. That’s a 17.1 per cent overage from the 3,000 hours used by the administration tocalculate the cost of operation..

The question is, was the three months of closing the Sleeman Centre each summer part of the $5.7 million instalationof the District Energy plant to provide power to the grid and heated water via a thermal energy exchange network downtown?

Is this more Farbridge voodoo financial planning?

How this makes sense in preparing the annual budget appears to be accepted by staff and the Farbridge dominated council for at least four years.

Multiply the admitted total annual subsidies to the two facilities by the average of just a four-year span, 2011 to 2014, and it totals $3,123,2014.

By her own admission in July 2014, Ms. Clack revealed these details and did not question why this was the consistent case or what should be done to reduce the annual liability of these two facilities.

In my opinion she was snared in the Farbridge web of wasteful spending, mismanagement and special treatment of the mayor’s friends.

We can only hope that Mr. Thomson, Ms. Clack, Scott Stewart, the new, yet to be named, Chief Financial Officer, and Mark Amorosi start cutting costs to return an open and transparent government to the people.

There are five pillars of change that the new senior management team needs to adapt to return the public trust and fiscal responsibility.

Finance

* Improve budget forecasting; report the city financial status to the citizen’s, quarterly.

* Commence restoring the depleted reserve funds

* Staff to recommend a workable restrained spending budget and stick to it.

* Avoid political influence by certain members of council – always remain neutral.

* Involve the public when planning the budget.

* Streamline financial reports to allow the public to understand the documents.

* Ensure that Council receives a monthly financial statement of city operations.

* Restrict travel and membership expenses.

* The new CFO to have carte blanche to investigate all department budgets.

* The 2017 budget to emphasize updating the city infrastructure.

Governance

* Review procedural bylaws allowing councillors to participate without fear of        retaliation.

* Cancel the Integrity Commissioner’s contract.

* End the council’s closed sessions by only being used for the basic reasons such as union contract bargaining, real estate negotiations, and personnel discipline issues.

Open the city administration to open and transparency of doing the city’s business.

Communications

* Cancel the city advertising in the MercuryTribune with the exception of legal notices.

* Rebuild the city website to make it more accessible and organized to serve the public.

* Reorganize communications to integrate facilitation of the Internet and social media.

* Publish minutes of committee and council meetings within 24 hours on the city web site.

* Set up a graphics and video team to improve citizen comprehension.

* The mayor holds a monthly media conference to comment on city business.

Political

* Council committee to select members of a consultative Mayor’s Citizen roundtable.

* Reset the membership of committees and board memberships of councillors.

* Appoint June Hofland to permanent staff position to coordinate external meetings.

* Hold a ward three bye-election to replace Ms. Hofland.

* Conduct an off-premises council retreat without staff or advisors to resolve differences.

Operations

* Conduct a study of effective manpower use and overtime costs.

* Conduct overviews and cost reduction measures with Guelph Transit management.

* Survey all first responder services on improving efficiency and management.

* Review Service Guelph operations to improve service and citizen needs.

* Open city hall to the public and access to all departments.

With respect, a lot of this will take years not months, to accomplish. The cue is for council to focus on serving the needs of their constituents. This is accomplished by dropping the political baggage that had created a cultural of waste and mismanagement. Worse, it has created a dysfunctional council that the new senior management team will attempt to turn toads into frog’s legs.

We wish them Godspeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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