Building permits are a fact of life for citizens and contractors in Guelph, and working without them risks fines or charges, or even being ordered to tear down whatever work you’ve done. That is, unless you work for the City of Guelph, apparently.
That’s one revelation coming out of the unexplained firing of Bruce Poole, the city’s former chief building inspector and the man responsible for enforcing the city’s municipal building code.
Poole, who had worked for the City of Guelph for more than 30 years, was abruptly let go in August. No explanation was given by the city.
The firing of a public employee in and of itself isn’t always newsworthy, but his dismissal has inadvertently revealed some puzzling questions around the way city hall seemingly enforces its own rules internally.
The only reason the curtain was pulled back on some of the behind-the-scenes politics of city hall is thanks to a freedom of information request by this newspaper. That probe revealed testy email messaging between Poole and fellow staffers in other departments.
Poole appeared frustrated that the city was ignoring its own municipal building rules that it requires everyone else to abide by. In other words, the city was working outside the law.
In an email from June 2014, he raised concerns that the city had some 50 construction projects on the go, “without the required building permits.” Poole went on to suggest the city ought to charge itself under the Ontario Building Code or else risk “public embarrassment.”
He alleged there “is a serious issue surrounding an unprofessional and unaccountable culture several individuals believe they can live and operate under.”
Mario Petricevic, general manager of planning and facilities management, complained in another email that Poole’s office was “overreacting,” and it was “not the first time.”
What exactly was going on inside city hall?
After his dismissal, the city’s chief administrative officer, Anne Pappert, downplayed the emails, saying the City of Guelph holds its facilities to “rigorous standards” and said any construction outside the Ontario Building Code would be a “serious ethical breach,” according to a Nov. 7 story in the Mercury.
But how are we to know? We’ve got a former senior staffer saying one thing, and the city’s current top manager saying the opposite. The public, meanwhile, is left scratching their heads. Is this a widespread problem? Or was Poole overreacting?
Now Poole, contemplating legal action against his former employer, says his lawyer is telling him not to talk about what went on. So no one with inside knowledge is willing to shed any light on this.
There may be a perfectly understandable explanation as to why Poole, a former Sunshine Lister who earned almost $138,000 in 2014, according to city records, was let go. But the city’s silence on the matter only prompts more questions.
After he was fired, the municipality issued a public statement thanking Poole for his years of service. He had done a good job for decades, they said. And then suddenly he needed to go? Had he become too much of a stickler for the rules? We may never know.
The city’s response has been to say there’s “nothing to see here,” and then promptly hid behind privacy legislation. But the questions being raised by Poole’s dismissal are reasonable ones, and the onus is on the city to start answering them.
Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. He can reached at email@example.com and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @MercerRecord.