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Will perception become the reality?

In modern political life perception trumps reality. If a politician can get out of the gate quickly with a strongly presented position, it has a good chance of sticking. At the same time, if the position is not effectively developed, a negative perception will carry the day.
We have seen this over the last couple of weeks with the city hall construction fiasco. The city and the contractor have been battling in the courts ever since the city fired Urbacon in 2008. The judge ruled against the city, saying it was wrong to terminate the contract it signed with Urbacon in 2006. What he didn’t say was why it was wrong. No reasons were given for the decision. They’ll be released sooner or later.
Coun. Cam Guthrie, who wants to be mayor, was quick off the mark with a statement piling the blame onto Karen Farbridge, who wants to stay on as mayor. That’s the perception he wants to create. He hopes it will outlast the reality that neither Guthrie nor Farbridge had anything to do with hiring Urbacon in the first place.
Guthrie is still in his freshman term on council and hasn’t developed the political maturity to handle sensitive files like this one. He grabbed at the judge’s ruling and twisted it to serve his own campaign needs. We’ll soon see if the issue has strong enough legs to last until the October election.
Guthrie’s hasty response may have damaged the city’s ability to argue an appeal if it chooses to do so. At the same time, the official response from Carden Street hasn’t helped. I don’t know who is in charge of crafting communications strategies down there, but they have some learning to do.
They can resemble Stephen Leacock’s character, Lord Ronald, who flung himself on his horse and rode madly off in all directions.
Their initial press release said the judge “ruled the city did not have the right to terminate the contractor . . . despite the city having done so with the best interests of Guelph taxpayers in mind.”
I’m not the first commentator to point out that the judge said nothing about the city’s intentions. Now we are told it wasn’t the city that terminated the contract, it was the former chief administrative officer Hans Loewig. And we’re told he did it without getting council’s approval.
I only met the man a couple of times, and he seemed a rather domineering “alpha” CAO. But still. It beggars belief that he would implement such a whopping decision on the advice of outside lawyers but without the knowledge and approval of his political bosses. The chain of command is that councillors hire the CAO, who is accountable to them. The CAO hires the rest of the staff, and they are accountable to him or her. Him, in this case.
Loewig had his faults, but he never struck me as being inclined towards career suicide. That’s where this Urbacon business could have easily taken him. Last week, the city’s current CAO, Ann Pappert, said she wanted to provide “clarity” on the decision to terminate the contract. We don’t have it yet.
The minutes of the June 26, 2006, city council meeting show the decision to hire Urbacon was approved with a 10-3 vote, and then-mayor Kate Quarrie was instructed to sign the contract by the same 10-3 vote.
One question that needs to be answered in the interest of clarity is: Why would the CAO have cancelled a contract of this magnitude without the approval of city council and Mayor Karen Farbridge?

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