Tag Archives: Stephen O’Brien

More on the senior staff’s sneak attacks on the public’s trust and purse

By Gerry Barker

Posted April 11, 2016

There were two events happening within three months following the 2014 civic election, all discussed in closed sessions. The first was the senior staff reorganization that converted five executive director jobs into three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers (DCAO), Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson and Al Horsman. This happened in November 2014, on the heels of the retirement of Janet Laird and Derek McCaughan.

It occurred during the final days of the Farbridge administration and before the new council was even sworn in.

Part of that reorganization came with a $6,361 pay increase for the remaining three senior managers taking Mark Amorosi’s annual salary to some $182,761. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, stood pat at $219,657.

At that point, the salary spread between the CAO and DCAO’s was $36,896. But then when the new salaries were awarded prior to the finalization of the 2015 budget, again in closed session far from the public eye, that spread grew to $47,619.

So the spread between the CAO’s salary and that of Mark Amorosi increased by $10,723. Amorosi said council based on Pappert’s performance, approved the 17.11 per cent increase for his boss. The DCAO went on to say: “There was a significant retro payment because in the past year of the last term there was no notification to human resources to process any increase.”

Hey! I can’t make this stuff up. Is Amorosi saying that the “retro” payment was made on the basis that Pappet did not ask for one in 2014? Regardless of that fatuous explanation, Pappert received a $37,591 increase two months later.

The dereliction of responsibility here, rests with those four executive managers who helped themselves to the public treasury, conned the majority of council to approve them in closed session, and buried the result for a year.

That self-serving manipulation ranks right up there with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour December 7, 1941, described by President Franklin Roosevelt, as a “Day in Infamy.”

This is a management team that uses your money mostly in closed meetings, to deflect criticism of their actions.

Two examples stick out. First, Public funds were used to discredit a candidate in the 2014 election. Farbridge supporter, Susan Watson, accused Glen Tolhurst for accepting a $400 donation from the citizen’s activist organization, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). The Election Compliance Committee, appointed by the previous administration, agreed to request an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election expenses report. The outside auditor hired by City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, stated that GRG had the right to donate money to candidates under the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

That frivolous complaint cost the taxpayers $11,400 and Watson did not pay for it. We did.

The second misuse of public funds occurred when a resident of the city complained to council about the walkout of five councillors from a closed meeting, forcing cancellation of the public council meeting for lack of a quorum.

The city clerk engaged the services of the Local Authority Services (LAS), a partner with the Frank Cowan Company, one of the largest risk management organizations in the country.

So, you may ask, why did the administration hire this firm to investigate and advise on the walkout of the five councillors, January 25? Whose risk was at stake here?

It could not have been done to support the citizen who complained. Certainly the city, (read that the clerk), wasn’t at risk or why would he have hired LAS in the first place? No, it was to mitigate the risk taken by the five councillors who walked out of a closed meeting.

So, more of your money is being used by the administration to protect five councillors. They walked away from a closed meeting on the grounds they were protecting the integrity of the corporation and the staff, according to Walker Coun. Phil Allt.

The report by LAS stated that the five councillors did not breach the closed session section of the OMA and there was no evidence to recommend action against them. Are you not surprised at this outcome? And. Mr. O’Brien, how much did this cost the taxpayers?

This is the same administration, led by CAO Ann Pappert that has made little attempt to curb costs. It’s the same leadership that has allowed negative variances in the annual financial report every year for the past three years.

The Municipal Act says a municipality cannot carry a budgetary loss but must have a balanced budget. So every year, they raid the reserves to balance the books.

Ms. Pappert heads an administration that is deceptive, arrogant, and careless and ducks responsibility managing our money.

Let me ask you; is the CAO deserving of a performance increase of $37,591 for 2015? Too late, she already got the money.

Indeed, hiding these large senior manager salaries for more than a year is our day in infamy. More to the point, not one person, staff or council, revealed those inceases approved in the March 25 closed session wrapping up the 2015 budget.

Only the people can change it. Now is a good time to start the process by letting your ward councillors know that there has to be a stop to this obstructionism to reform city operations.

We have already experienced administration failure.

Now it’s our turn to tell them to manage responsibly or leave.

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How Guelph council uses closed door meetings to manage your business

By Gerry Barker

March 8, 2016

On Wednesday, March 9, 2016, city council will move into closed session to discuss the performance objectives of the Chief Administration Officer, Ann Pappert.

The agenda contains the following stated for the record only and allows no information being available to the public.

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-2016.14 CAO Performance Objectives

Section 239 (2) (b) personal matters about identifiable individuals

There is no doubt the clerk’s office has stated the authority to close this meeting. But there is one phrase that changes the rationale for holding such a meeting behind closed doors. It is “personal matters.”

Now if this meeting is to discuss the performance objectives of the CAO, why is this a subject of which the public has no right to hear, let alone understand?

On the other hand, is this a clever subterfuge to claim there will be “personal matters” to be brought up and discussed covered by Section 239 (2) (b)?

It appears that there is more to be discussed, behind closed doors, than just the CAO’s performance objectives.

What possible personal matters are part of this closed meeting? We’ll never know, perhaps because there are no such qualifying aspects of the closed meeting.

Can it be that council doesn’t want to discuss the CAO performance objectives in open council? As the most senior public servant in the city, does council seriously believe that such an issue is private and not for dissemination to the general public?

Here’s another example of the way our city has been managed for the past nine years, in secret, and without recourse. Five years ago, the Farbridge administration appointed an Integrity Commissioner chiefly to police leaks of council’s actions that it deemed not to be exposed to the citizens.

Despite this overt threat of reprisal, there were still leaks.

Ann Pappert’s responsibility is to the citizens of Guelph. Her history on the job leaves many people concerned about her statements and judgment.

Another example is the firing of Bruce Poole, the former Chief Building Inspector for doing his job. He is suing the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. His statement of claim says he protested that 50 city-building projects did not have building permits, as demanded by law.

Of course there are personal issues and contract negotiations that should be discussed in closed session. In Guelph, closed meetings are the rule not the exception.

In this case, it appears that excessive political correction is guiding the council to the detriment of the citizens.

I see no signs of reform in city management and that’s what the majority of people voted for because they saw the flaws and mistakes of the previous administration.

 

 

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Did City Clerk Stephen O’Brien get a call from Karen about her friend Susan Watson?

Posted September 2, 2015

It is a stunning pre-determination outcome of the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) meeting September 10. City clerk Stephen O’Brien has said he doesn’t believe that Susan Watson has to reimburse the city for the cost of her election complaint.

O’Brien did not reveal the total audit costs except that he said the auditor William Molson’s fee was fixed at $7,500. The fee that Mr. Molson contracted for was $7,500.plus $500 for each meeting. In addition the clerk did not include the fee paid to the “subject matter expert” Toronto lawyer, Jody Johnson, hired to advise the CAC members of their duties and responsibilities. Nor does he mention the staff costs spent on the CAC audit.

A rough estimate is the city so far has spent more than $10,000 on the Watson complaint brought on Glen Tolhurst for receiving a donation for $400 from GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc (GRG). As a candidate in the 2014 civic election, Mr. Tolhurst spent less than $2,900 on his ward six campaign in which he was not elected.

The Watson complaint was based on three elements:

* Tolhurst did not claim the value of GRG advertising in the Guelph Tribune of which he was one of 12 candidates suggested for consideration by voters.

Mr. Molson disagreed saying that the GRG advertising campaign was not and should not be considered a contribution to Tolhurst’s campaign.

* Susan Watson stated that GRG erroneously called itself a business when in fact it was a citizen’s group.

Mr. Molson disagreed. GRG is a non-profit incorporated organization under the Ontario Corporations Act and therefore entitled to make donations in municipal elections.

Tolhurst’s greatest sin: Clerical errors valued less than $10

The auditor noted that Tolhurst contravened the Ontario Municipal Elections Act (MEA) by failing to note in his official expenses report the cost of a city map ($5.50), checked off the wrong box on the form and under-reported an expense by $1.

It is ludicrous for O’Brien to suggest that Tolhurst contravened the MEA on that basis so therefore Watson does not have to repay the city. The auditor, in his report, said the reporting errors were not enough to be considered a contravention of the MEA

Why, before the committee has had a chance to consider the Molson report, is the city clerk claiming that Ms. Watson, the person who made the false allegations that caused the audit, is not responsible?

His comments, as a senior city official, are unworthy, unprofessional and slanted. The people have already determined that this complaint was vindictive and frivolous. And conducted at the public expense.

The clerk says the CAC could “commence legal action against Tolhurst if the auditor found that Tolhurst contravened the Act”.

Does the city of Guelph really want to go to court over election expense errors under $10? The CAC’s own auditor stated the errors were not significant to warrant such an action.

The committee “will probably weigh the perceived and severity of the contraventions,” the clerk added.

Clerk says we have to follow proper procedures

While the CAC is independent of Council, the clerk stated, “it is their job to ensure that the proper process is followed.”

Mr. O’Brien, are you suggesting that the proper process was not followed? Are you basing your statement that repayment of public funds by Susan Watson “is not going to happen?”

Let’s get this straight. The CAC May 6 ordered an audit of Glen Tolhurs’s election expenses. May 20, the CAC selected William Molson to perform the audit over the objections of one CAC member, who said an auditor with more experience in such cases should be selected. Molson’s bid was the lowest of three.

This appears to be following procedures.

Mr. Molson commenced the audit process in June. Nowhere during the audit investigation were there failures of procedures.

When Molson released the report, he found that the accusations made by Susan Watson failed to meet the test under which she claimed Tolhurst contravened the Act.

The CAC has little choice in this matter. It’s own auditor has basically said the complaint is unfounded. His judgment was based on law, the MEA and the Corporations Act. He said changing those laws was beyond the scope of the CAC.

The most egregious part of this is O’Brien’s blatant interference in the process is that Watson would not have to repay the public funds used to support her claims

Hello, Karen?

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Let the whining begin, what makes Susan Watson run?

Posted August 4, 2015

In Monday’s Globe and Mail, Susan Watson, Guelph’s doyen of the left, complained about the high cost of the 11-week federal election campaign. Her argument was directed at the Harper Tories, the ones with the most number of seats. She says the Tories will benefit more than the other parties from the election duration.

Now, those of us who live in Guelph recognize the name Susan Watson and are familiar with her pathological political hatred of all things conservative, the political party, supporters, poutine, the color blue and lust for power.

In her Globe letter, she complained about the Tories changing the Canada Elections Act means that the Conservatives will spend up to $50 million during the 11-week campaign. She does not mention that under the Electoral Expenses Reimbursement program, it will also benefit the opposition parties including her own NDP. It is based on the number of seats held when the Governor General dissolves Parliament.

Susan Watson is concerned that the campaign is too long. Now you can see why her beloved NDP possibly may not have the horses to last until the finish line next October. Well, we’ll see. She doesn’t have to look further than Guelph to see what happens to a tired and mistake-laden administration that was rejected by the people. Keep smiling Susan, lightning may strike and we’ll wind up with a pizza parliament with no party winning a majority.

She doesn’t like political donation tax benefits

Her second complaint was the tax break all Canadians receive, those that file tax returns, for donating money to official parties. She says taxpayers are “paying the price” for voluntarily donating money to their chosen party and receiving a tax benefit.

Susan, Susan, this is a voluntary program that encourages public participation and each party benefits.

Oh! Here’s the solution. Why not file a complaint with Elections Canada? You already have led a group of people asking for a reopening of the robocall investigations regarding the 2011 federal election.

Susan, you are becoming a pesky idealist who has no trouble spending the people’s money to gag a group of citizens who did not support your idol, Karen Farbridge.

Last April, Susan Watson brought a complaint about a defeated candidate in ward six receiving a donation from the citizen’s activist group GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association, Inc. (GRG). Watson is a personal friend of defeated mayor Karen Farbridge. In fact, Susan and her partner, Dr. Ian Digby, each donated $750 to the Farbridge campaign. Now that’s friendship!

The $400 donation to Glen Tolhurst, she claimed, was illegal as it was from a third party. As it later turned out there is nothing in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act that disallows donations from third parties. This is similar to the thousands spent on more than 13 candidates in the October 27 civic election by the Guelph and District Labour Council. But, we’ll never know that cost or the sources of money, will we?

One has the cannon and the rest of us are the fodder

But Susan Watson pressed on. The city clerk, Stephen O’Brien, advised her to apply to the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC), to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s official election expenses report.

Why was Mr. Tolhurst singled out? Susan Watson is chair of the NDP front group’s Guelph Chapter of Fair Vote Canada. She had the group research the official October election reports for information. Voila! Up popped the Tolhurst filing in which he spent less than $4,000. Fair Vote Canada supports proportional voting sponsored by the NDP and has established a nation-wide network to achieve it.

On May 6, the CAC, with only two of three members presiding, heard evidence from Ian Flett, Watson’s lawyer and her friend Denis Galon. Evidence was also heard from David Starr representing Mr. Tolhurst. GrassRoots Guelph was not asked or participated in this hearing.

The result was a unanimous decision to order an audit.

Who is going to pay for this frivolous attempt to embarrass?

So far the cost of this exercise is a gross representation of the facts and estimated to be more than $12,000. Here’s the breakdown: Hiring Toronto lawyer, Judy Johnson, to instruct the CAC members on how it should operate; the per diem costs to the three CAC members, Lyndsay Monk, Glen Greer and George Gorringe; William Molson, CA, the city appointed auditor with a base contract of $7,500 plus $500 per meeting and disbursements, and finally the unknown cost of city staff to conduct and process the audit.

Your money is paying for this and is being used to press a vexatious and frivolous complaint that has no basis of fact.

Now the question is, who pays for all this?

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Is Farbridge friend, Susan Watson, a bully or just a sore loser?

Posted May 19, 2015

The cost to the public treasure of the Susan Watson charade that attacked an innocent candidate because he accepted money from GrassRoots Guelph is mounting daily.

Ms. Watson denies her target is defeated candidate Glen Tolhurst but is to achieve “clarity” of the role of third parties in civic elections. So she chooses to use public money to assert that belief, using Glen Tolhurst as the conduit. Her complaint was supported by the following players:

* A council appointed Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) consisting of three citizens, two of whom are not lawyers or accountants. The newly elected chair, Lyndsay Monk, is a Chartered Accountant but did not participate in the May 6 meeting when her colleagues voted to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial report.

* On April 23, City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien retained Toronto lawyer Jody Johnson to inform the CAC of its responsibilities. She is described as a “subject matter expert”. Indeed, she may be having delivered a presentation in November 2014 to the fall meeting of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario. Was Mr. O’Brien at that meeting?

Her subject was “Dealing with frivolous and vexatious complaints.”

The next question is, what did she advise the CAC on April 23? There is no record in the minutes of that meeting to reveal what this expert said or advised. It is important to note that Watson supporter, Dennis Galon, was at that meeting and was described by O’Brien as a member of the public. So he heard what Ms. Johnson told the CAC.

* Galon was the only “member of the public” at this meeting ostensibly held to elect a chairman of CAC. Lyndsay Monk was elected but didn’t turn up for the May 6 meeting when the audit was ordered. Did the other two members of the CAC know April 23, that the chairman would not attend the May 6 meeting?

Already Watson’s complaint is resonating with citizens who are wondering about her real motives. Meanwhile the bill for this complaint is being run up and the citizens are paying for it.

On May 6, the CAC heard presentations from Watson’s lawyer, Ian Flett, Dennis Galon and a former candidate supporter of defeated mayor Karen Farbridge. Why did one registered delegate, a defeated council candidate, receive a donation from the ETFO union and failed to appear? Representing Mr. Tolhurst was Guelph lawyer, David Starr.

Glen Greer, George Gorringe of the CAC presided over the meeting and it took them just ten minutes  after the arguments to order an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s financial elections report. It was significantly unusual to have one CAC member move a motion to order an audit and the other seconding the motion.

All in favour? Carried.

It was initially reported that the audit could cost between $25,000 and $30,000. That changed May 18 when the city retained William Molson, a chartered accountant from Toronto, to conduct the audit. This is to be ratified at the May 20 meeting of the CAC.

Why Mr. Molson, you may ask. His was the lowest bid of four for the audit that ranged in price from Molson’s bid of $7,500 plus $500 per meeting, to Deloitte LLP bidding $19,750 plus $2,000 a meeting. What were the specifications of that tender? Did mr. O’Brien know Mr. Molson before the the tendering process?

It appears that with lightning speed the city followed the tendering process in less than two weeks. It has to be a world record considering the history of opaque tendering for city work by the previous administration.

Mr. Molson, according to research, has conducted one election campaign audit. It involved the Town of Pickering and was conducted in 2011.

Here we have a rush to judgment, orchestrated by the city clerk. It is based on much hearsay evidence, administered and considered by non-elected officials and experts.

It is a travesty that according to the rules any citizen can complain about election finances to satisfy a personal vendetta toward any group of activist citizens who are opposed to what the target stands for.

Watson’s actions will have the effect, win or lose, of deterring citizens to participate in elections and, more important, discouraging good people to run for office. The fear of reprisal for the most specious of reasons can turn this great city into a municipal conspiratorial quagmire. That is, if it hasn’t already.

This case will be turned over to an accountant who is not empowered to solve Watson’s Don Quixote quest to “clarify” the so-called third party issue as it pertains to the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

By the time the audit result is announced, this is going to be a very expensive personal vanity exercise and the costs should be borne by the complainant. Only council can order Watson to pay the costs if it is found there is no merit to her complaint. It will be interesting to see how her council friends will vote if that decision must be made.

Perhaps Mr. Tolhurst should consider legal action for intentional infliction of suffering by Watson. There is no doubt he is the victim here. He acted with honesty and regardless, he was defeated.

So the Watson solution is to use public money, estimated to eventually cost more than $10,000, to pay for an audit of Mr. Tolhurst’s election finances of less than $4,000.

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