By Gerry Barker
July 22, 2019P
Opinion based on facts
This Guelphspeaks seven-part series is copywrite 2019
The following is a seven-part series on how two city administrations have embarked on spending public money on projects that lost an estimated $320 million and have nothing to show for it.
Today, we begin with the outlines of the seven part series, plus the introduction that I call the pathology of 13 years of secrecy, mismanagement and cover-ups leading to a moral and financial disaster.
Alectra Utilities, the bidder on the merger with Guelph Hydro, targeted the gullible Guthrie administration with promises, public relations and guidance.
I know the price of public dissent and what lengths this council and the previous Farbridge administrations would do to prevent or muzzle any criticism or negative commentary.
The result has been dictatorial and managed usung a cloud of secrecy denying the public’s right to participate, adhere to accountability and transparency. You will read later of what and how they did it.
We all shared the responsibility of this 13-year journey, at the public expense, because we elected a council whose membership failed to understand complex issues and the relevant costs to the public.
Nothing has changed. The present council allowed projects to take place without proper planning or adopting ego-driven compulsion to be the greatest and most advanced city in the world. The concentration of political power included promises that were not fulfilled.
Council promised cheaper electric power, elimination of fossil fueled vehicles from city streets, forcing developers to stop building detached, single-family homes and meet net -zero carbon in new developments.
The series will track how public money and assets were spent or given away.
This series is about how the destruction of democracy, and its mandatory accountability, transparency and open government in our community. It was used to block our right of public participation in municipal governance.
Let’s get started:
Starting Thursday July 25, Guephpspeaks will publish the first part of the series in seven posts that changed city administrations that, in part, wasted public funds and assets costing, at latest countn more than $145,000,000.
But it gets worse. The following is a collection of money spent that is separated into two parts: Confirmed Project’s costs, and a list of estimated cost, based on information that needs a professional audit to determine. It is noted that council approved spending more than $300,000 last year giving money away under the guise of a policy known as Wellness. City councils, over the years, have donated money to social and cultural causes but not on this magnitude.
The confirmed loss List
Urbacon city hall excess cost over contract – $23 million – Gone
City equity in Guelph Municipal Holding’s liabilities loss – $66 million – Gone
Guelph Hydro merger deal, book value in 2016 – $228 million – Gone
The estimated loses require an audit
Infrastructure biccyle routes and trails $7 million
Advertising and promotion spread over 13 years – $$10 million
Investment in Guelph Innovation Development project – estimated $4 million
The Organic Waste Processing Facility – $34 million
This brief list totals $372 million since 2007 or an average of $28,613,000 each year. It is only a partial list that does not include legal and consultant costs.
Oddly, when deducting the Guelph Hydro loss it comes to $145,000,000.
It only makes the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Utilities the worse deal ever made by the city.
This list contains some items that are estimated, as the data is buried in multi-page Financial Information Reports (FIR) submitted by the city annually, as mandated by the province in the last 13 years. This multi-page document is not generally available to the public.
Another method used by the administration to deter details of financial information from the public. The FIR is the only financial record officially released by the city. Quarterly summary financial statements are not sent to citizens. Along with other information council deems should not be made public, include the closed-session meetings in which the minutes are never made public. In two years, 2015 and 2016, council held 84 closed-session meetings.
Missing this analysis is how the reserves were emasculated to balance the books due to overspending annual budgets. In 2009, city councillor, Leanne Piper, claimed the city had reserves of some $77 million.
In 2016, BMA Management Consultant warned the reserves were reduced to a point that warranted a “red flag” as a result of council’s decision, using reserve funds to shore up its financial picture. In 2014, three unrelated reserve funds were withdrawn to pay for the Urbacon lawsuit settlement.
Flash from the past
Here’s a Guelphspeaks post published July 2012. The observations are a harbinger of what was to come and how council conducted the public’s business in the previous five years. It points out the dangers of dictatorial power that had already occurred under the Farbridge council majority, a supporting cast of senior managers plus unelected advisors to the Mayor’s council, Ken Hamill, retired executive and former councillor, and Cathy Downer, a present member of city council.
How our city administration derails democracy
When the underlying issues of a civilized society are endangered by a dictatorial and secretive administration, democracy, as we know it, vanishes.
It’s a natural instinct for those in power to withhold information that may reflect on their actions and management of the public assets.
Once in power, the tendency is to surround your self with friends and supporters who blindly follow.
One of the first tenants of political power is to control the message and give the appearance of serving the public stakeholders. Those controlling the agenda ignore disagreement and rejection of the controlling political organization’s policies.
This leads to anger and disillusionment on the part of the stakeholder, you and me.
So, thanks to a report by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star, here are three lessons to emphasize the theory of democracy discarded by those empowered.
Lesson One: Those with power – politicians, police and bureaucrats – don’t believe they should have to share that power. Basically, they dismiss the rights of citizens to share that power and don’t believe they have any role to play in their sphere of influence.
Lesson Two: Governments frequently slap pejorative labels on those who oppose and complain. Such methods are to use surrogates to attack those objectors labeling them as ignorant, dangerous, violent and out of touch.
Lesson Three: Citizens have to use the tools they have to keep democracy alive. These include solidarity, willingness to stand up to authorities and to reach beyond their own ranks.
How does that menu rank with what has been going on in Guelph for the past six years?
First, we have been governed by a civic dictatorship composed of a majority of councillors who, 99 per cent of the time, votes their own agenda. The opposition – in the first four years consisted of just two councillors. Since 2010, the opposition has grown to five councillors who have voiced concerns about the operation of the city government but are defeated most times when votes are held.
There is growing evidence that Mayor Karen Farbridge, the architect of Guelph’s public policy, along with a close-knit group of unelected advisors, has created a growing unrest among voters.
Democracy is no longer operative in this council.
The administration works in two parts. The mayor to carry out her agenda has handpicked the senior bureaucrats. Policy rests with the mayor and her advisors including former councillors Ken Hamill and Cathy Downer.
The Mayor is beholden and influenced by the Guelph Civic League although since the 10 Carden Street organization came into being that influence has diminished. Instead, 10 Carden Street is the stepchild of the Guelph Civic League. It received a $135,000 Trillium Foundation grant from the provincial government to provide “community services.”
This is a thinly disguised political action group dedicated to support the present Farbridge political organization.
The artful part is how the Farbridge crew has influenced and received support from a number of community and neighbourhood groups supplying public funding, support in planning and social issues.
The offshoot of all this is the vast silent majority of voters who are not united, knowledgeable nor organized to question or oppose policies advanced by the Farbridge political organization.
This has resulted in participatory democracy failing to acknowledge its majority rule.
For almost six years, the rule is by a tight-knit group of individuals who operate under the mantra of: “ it’s our way or the highway.”
Today nothing has changed, as you will read in future series posts. Still not convinced?
The ambition of this group has cost taxpayers millions in personal pet projects, dumb planning, excessive legal expenses and fiscal mismanagement aided and abetted by unqualified or absent individuals. Those elected people responsible for protecting the public interest and having sworn to maintain fiduciary responsibility. That means providing the checks and balances during their term of office
* * * *
Ego is not a new breakfast dishost of the severe loss of capital and assets was due to ego-driven projects, poor planning, incredibly sloppy maintenance of city owned property and assets. Accountability and transparency disappeared.
This became a recipe for financial disaster. The turmoil at the top of the professional staff contributed to the waste of public money. The firing of Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., general contractor of the new city hall, cost an additional $23 million over the original budget of $42 million. The case took six years to settle the lawsuits and disruption of operations.
This series will present the litany of losses and impact on the municipality over 13 years. There is evidence that rules were bent to accommodate projects in which the public could not participate. Frequently, the news media rarely questioned the motives of the administration when the public business was conducted in closed sessions.
It is the intention of Guelphspeaks to send copies of this series to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Attorney General and Ombudsman.
Here are the seven parts of the exclusive series only available on guelphspeaks.ca. As usual, your comments are welcome
Part One Where well-meaning people of community stature got it all wrong
Part Two How the 2007 Community Energy Initiative plan steered Guelph down the financial rabbit hole
Part Three An irreparable spite increased the cost of the new city hall by $23 million
Part Four – Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. covers-up losses of $68.3 million
Part five The city gave Guelph Hydro away ignoring questions about the deal
Part Six City councillors were targeted to give away the $228 million Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities
Part Seven Why the downtown Library and South End Recreation Complex are endangered projects
The series starts this Thursday July 25.