Thursday, September 29, 2011

Civic Election 2011 Nanaimo Issue

Maybe Now We Can Get Some Answers
Why City Staff Gets A New Office
Instead of ZERO Tax Increases For 4 - 5 Years!

Since the details of this questionable deal remain hidden behind the cloak of secrecy known as 'in camera' and city council and city hall management are so reluctant to reveal the details, you have to wonder just what in blazes they are doing with our 16,000,000 tax dollars!

There is no logical reason for the process that led to this decision being kept from public scrutiny any longer, unless there is something to hide. Since I have not been able to get any of the details it leads me to the conclusion that this deal stinks and everyone involved hopes the public will just ignore it (which they have) and not hold anyone accountable come this next election.

But as Ricky Ricardo of I Love Lucy fame would say "they've got some splainin' to do".

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New City Annex Construction

$16,000,000 Annex Underway

Wasting no time getting shovels into the ground the company awarded the $12 million+ contract to build a new annex instead of upgrading the existing, has begun site preparation work.

This single project calls to question the rational and critical thinking of all members of council and senior city staff. Can you imagine awarding a $12,000,000.00 contract without ever having gone to public tender? However, that is exactly what this city council and city manager Mr, Kenning think is a demonstration of best practice and due diligence when it comes to spending your tax dollar.

At yesterdays FPCOW meeting council debated whether to award the contract for auditing city accounts to an out of town company who had submitted the lowest of four bids for the contract. There were four bids considered ranging from $38,000 - $46,000 and the criteria for accepting the out of town bid was the considerable saving of $8,000.00.


Compare putting to tender a contract of less than $120,000 so you are certain Nanaimo tax dollars are being well spent, while at the same time awarding a $12 million contract without having even one other tendered bid for the same building??

I have tried to get information about the process that saw Windley contracting being awarded this contract without going to tender, but the whole process including which councilors supported this decision is being firmly hidden from public scrutiny under the often abused in camera shroud. This is a tactic employed by elected and unelected officals when they don't want the public to know what they are doing.

Perhaps during the upcoming civic election, this will become an issue that candidates will have to explain if they expect to be re-elected. Remember leaving the current annex as it is would mean no tax increases for 5 years and renovating the exisiting annex would mean no tax increase for 4 years, but building this new annex means a tax increase of at least 21% over the next five years.

City Council Wage Increase

Two Councilors Opposed To Motion

After much debating city council agreed to adopt a new policy which will see their wages come in line at the median rate of twelve comparable communities, with the increase being phased in over the next three years (2012 - 2014).

Councilors Pattje and Sherry both voted in opposition with Councilor Sherry feeling the raise is unwarranted, and councilor Pattje while not being opposed to the fairness of the increase felt he would have trouble explaining it to Nanaimo taxpayers.

Councillor and the Mayor are certainly not underpaid if the number of hours they devote to the job is actually required to perform their duties. Someone else would have to decide if all the committee work councilors are asked to do is really necessary.

That said, it is my observation that most councilors put in the equivalent of full time hours doing what seems to be expected of them. If that is in fact the number of hours the job requires then the current rate of $26,414 is on the low side and even the median of $34,582 would not be considered being overpaid. Increasing the Mayors rate from the current $79,547 to the median of $89,839 is harder to justify.

If a councilor did put in 40 hours in a week for 50 weeks out of the year at the rate of $26,414 their effective rate of pay would be $13.20 per hour. An increase to $34,582 would increase that rate to $17.29 per hour. The Mayor on the other hand using the same number of hours worked is currently being paid $39.77 per hour and the increase would raise that rate to nearly $45.00 per hour.

While some may argue that city councilors should be doing the job solely out of a sense of civic duty the reality is that unless someone is being compensated fairly for their time these positions will likely only be filled by people in retired or semi-retired positions, as they are the only people in a position who can afford the time. You can argue the pros and cons of filling council with retired folk as they perhaps bring more experience to the table simply due to their age, however, observation would also prove that some fresh thinking could be beneficial. Observation would also conclude that age does not always bring sound critical thinking to the table either.

On the subject of hourly rates etc. it should be pointed out that there are about 160 people on city staff earning on average $100,000 per year which works out to $50.00 per hour, presuming they actually work 40 hours each week for 50 weeks. There are also several on city staff earning in excess of $75 per hour with the city manager topping the scales at over $100 per hour.

Back in the days when city councilors could get together for a few hours twice a month to discuss civic affairs overseeing budgets in the low millions (if that) then perhaps members of the community could be expected to donate their time simply out of a sense of civic duty.

However, today we have a city staff of over 700 (at least) who see how over $160 million is going to be spent (over $60 million goes to city payroll). In order to see that taxpayers are getting a good bang for the buck and to make sure that all contracts awarded by city hall are on the up and up, you need a new caliber of city councilor, who in essence are the board of directors of a substantial corporation.

A corporation, of which every single taxpayer in the city of Nanaimo is a shareholder. Perhaps our taxes would not have to be continually increasing is there were a better caliber of councilor overseeing our affairs. And as the old saying goes, 'if you are going to pay peanuts, you are only going to be able to hire monkeys'.

While no one is more in favour of holding the line on tax increases, this is one area where I think we get what we pay for and in the overall scheme of things if you increased every councilor's wage by $10,000 per year the increase would  mean another $80,000 per year which is the grander scheme of things should be money well spent.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nanaimo Civic Election 2011

Who Will The Candidates Be?
What Will The Issues Be?
Will More Than 30% Of Voters Care?

To date there is neither smoke nor fire on the local civic election scene, with only Mayor Ruttan announcing his plan to seek re-election. The other councilors are being non-committal at this point but if you watched the last council meeting you can start to hear the tones of election campaign speak, which sounds different from the usual dialogue (or lack there of) that accompanies most council meetings.

If I were a betting man I would say that Councilors Pattje, Johnstone, Kipp, Greves and Bestwick will definitely be in the upcoming race, as would I suspect Councilor Sherry. It would not surprise me if Councilors Holdom and Unger chose not to run, nor would it surprise me if they chose to run. I would also expect some familiar faces to throw their hats in the ring again and those would include Gord Fuller, Darcy Olsen, Brian Filmore, Ian Gartshore, Bill McKay, Ron Bolin and maybe Fred Taylor.

Transparency: this is an issue that some candidates promised during the last election, but this council clearly prefers to make major decisions out of the glare of public scrutiny. For example there was the $500,000 golden handshake given to Mr. Berry, simply because he wanted to retire early. The reasons offered by the Mayor, are an insult to intelligence.
The decision surrounding the 'Bestwick Conflict' case to this day is shrouded in secrecy. The $16 million annex which sees a $12 million contract awarded without going to public tender is still hidden behind the in camera cloak, even though there are no reasons for not releasing all the details now. What is being hidden?? The Mayor said if we had the luxury of time, we might have done it differently. What exactly did he mean? Perhaps he can explain in the upcoming campaign.

Core Review: The only valid reason for not conducting a core review is fearing the results of independent oversight of how our city is being managed. This city hall staff for the most part are pretty much 'home grown' and could benefit from some fresh eyes and suggestions on how to improve efficiencies. All corporations, public and private have a tendency over time to fall into the rut of familiarity and it can be very beneficial to get some fresh ideas on how to do things.

Zero Based Budgeting: This is something municipalities everywhere need to adopt if we are ever going to reduce the amount of bloat that is built into the current budgeting process. For example, where did the $12 million cash come from to build the annex?? It never appeared in the draft budget plan presented earlier this year, yet the money has been collected and socked away, likely for years. What clearly amounts to over taxation needs to be addressed, and zero based budgeting deals is a good place to start.

Low Barrier Housing: This will likely be the most loudly protested issue during the upcoming election as now the residents in the north end will have an issue that galvanizes them with residents in the Quarterway School area.

These are not the only issues that could make for an interesting election campaign, however civic campaigns are usually pretty dull with no forums being available for any meaningful public debate. The all candidates meetings are pretty much pointless as the questions are usually pretty soft, and there is not time for back and forth debate among candidates.

Perhaps some of the local media can get together and organize a forum where the public can hear candidates deal with Nanaimo issues in real detail.

Does Anyone Care?

Perhaps the most challenging question to be answered during the next civic election is whether or not anymore than 30% of the Nanaimo population cares what goes on at city hall. The current sitting councilors have anywhere from 12% to 17% of the total eligible vote, which is a pretty dismal showing considering civic elections is one are where the citizens can actually make a difference if they get involved.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Alternate Approval Process
One More Nail In Democracy's Coffin
Recently the people of Nanaimo were asked to approve the borrowing of $22.5 million to fund the new water treatment plant. Originally council had voted to take the matter to a referendum in conjunction with the civic election this fall, they reversed that decision in favour of what could be called a phoney referendum.

At the end of the thirty day process only three Nanaimo residents had cast a 'ballot' expressing their disapproval of the borrowing question. Sounds like a resounding approval doesn't it? Well, that might be the case if Nanaimo residents were aware of the process. The attendance of less than 40 people at the open house speaks to the lack of knowledge or interest the general public had in the whole matter.

But that is exactly the result Councillors and city hall management wanted to achieve, which is why the phoney referendum was conducted at the height of the summer when people are actually paying less attention than usual.

The advertisement run in the local papers looked like the small print on the back of a sales agreement which most of us can't be bothered reading, so poor turn out is not surprising.

It is unclear why this process is considered to be equal to a proper referendum but the opportunity exists for elected and non elected officials to simply use the Alternate Approval Process to keep the public from participating in matters where their opinion is not wanted.

This seems like just another well crafted tool which can be employed to demonstrate the contempt elected and non elected officials hold for the voting public.

Another recent example of this contempt was the approval of a $16 million new office for city staff instead of spending $4 million to upgrade their existing offices. Not only didn't they ask the public if they thought it was a wise use of tax dollars, they decided the whole matter in secret and to this day won't say if all Councillors approved of the decision. The Mayor was quoted as saying if they had the luxury of time, they might have done it differently.

I wonder what would have happened if they had asked the public if it was OK to borrow the $16 million for the new office, and use the surplus to fund the water treatment plant instead?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Phoney Referendum Results

No Surprises No One Paying Attention

The phoney referendum also known as the alternate approval process got the desired  results, giving the city authority to borrow $22.5 million to build a new water treatment plant.

There were only 3 people who cast their ballot saying they were opposed to the question meaning of course that almost no one was even aware of the issue. Which once again speaks to the total lack of voter involvement and interest in civic matters.

Not that it would likely have made any difference but the whole issue got a half page ad in the Bulletin and a brief news release about the open house. I personally attended the open house and stayed from open to close, and did not count 40 people in attendance.

It is little wonder the general public have pretty much given up on the whole democratic process as elected officials at all levels will just continue to do exactly as they please, and if they fear the public may not agree with them, rather than having a legitimate referendum, they can just fall back on the alternate approval process.

Don't expect to hear any opposition to this little charade from the local press, after all, it is the summertime and they weren't paying attention either.