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Mayor Cam Guthrie blows a gasket

“How dare someone accuse me of this?” says Mayor following criticism from councilor

Mayor Cam Guthrie lost his cool in Guelph City Council Chambers Monday night.

The mayor was outraged by comments made by councilor Karl Wettstein about what he felt was the mayor’s role in the mess that is the city’s district energy initiative — a failed shared energy initiative that has cost the city $14 million to date.

Wettstein said he and the mayor deserved part of the blame because they were on the board that governed district energy for two years.

“I am so angry right now. So angry,” said a clearly agitated mayor when it came time to respond to Wettstein’s remarks.

“How dare someone accuse me of this?” he said. “To be accused tonight that I operationally made a decision to have a $14 million loss to this city is absolutely ridiculous.”

While often passionate, it was a rare sight to see Guthrie point fingers and raise his voice the way he did.

Guthrie called Wettstein’s remarks “the most inaccurate thing I’ve heard in the last two years.”

“I walked into a mess, an absolute mess. I could not believe what was going on,” said Guthrie, who joined the board that oversaw district energy when he became mayor.

“I tried over and over to bring the issues to the citizens,” he said.

“This has eaten me alive.”

Wettstein was in the eye of the storm on a couple of occasions Monday night, earlier calling comments made by councilor Christine Billings “crap.”

Council was meeting to pass a motion that would indefinitely shelf Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., (GMHI) the separate corporation it set up years ago to manage its energy assets, primarily Guelph Hydro and the district energy initiative.

The city is the sole shareholder of GMHI.

It voted 10-2 in favour of the motion, which puts oversight of Guelph Hydro, district energy and any other energy assets fully in the hands of council instead of a GMHI board.

Councilors Mike Salisbury and James Gordon were the dissenting votes. Councilor Andy Van Hellemond was absent.

Council voted to “cease operations” of GMHI and “put it to the side” until council decides where it wants to go with its energy assets.

Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. now exists really only in a legal sense. It will have no real function and its board of directors has been dissolved.

City CAO Derrick Thomson is now the sole board member of the neutered GMHI.

A new committee has been formed to provide direction on where to go next.

“It’s time to shut her down, call it a day and stop the shenanigans,” said councilor Christine Billings in supporting the move to shut down GMHI.

That was the comment Wettstein called “crap.”

Wettstein supported the recommendation but said that he hoped the city would recognize that there were benefits to “broader asset management” down the road if it was done correctly. The longtime councilor said district energy "hijacked" GMHI.

Salisbury said the move was “short sighted.”

Salisbury said the city went to “great expense, time, energy and money” to go down the GMHI road, and is now “backing out” when that first foray didn’t go as hoped.

“We must also be losing something here … there has to be a benefit to setting up a holding company,” Salisbury asked. “What is it we’re losing with this move?”

Councilor Dan Gibson later threw a barb Salisbury’s way, saying that “you were on the design team” and that Salisbury’s questions “seemed to puzzle me … because you were the best person to answer them.”

Salisbury later responded that his questions were rhetorical and were meant to highlight issues he had with council’s move.

“You don’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” Salisbury said.

“It’s about the need to clarify our needs and responsibilities at a crucial time,” said city CAO Derrick Thomson, who is now also the lone board member of GMHI until the city decides its fate.

Thomson said the move was about “streamlining the process” and communication between Guelph Hydro and council.

“I think we are doing the right thing here,” said Guelph Hydro CEO Pankaj Sardana.

Councilor June Hofland wanted to clarify that Guelph Hydro answers to all of council and that it would be council that decided what would be done with the profits generated by Guelph Hydro.

Thomson assured her it would on both accounts.