Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, April 12, 2010

City Councillor claims things are rotten at Oshawa City Hall

“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
April 12, 2010

When Mayor John Gray was criticized for spending in excess of $40,000 of hard earned taxpayer monies to fund his personal birthday party, also dubbed the Stephen Colbert Day, he justified the expenditure by insisting that the value to the city of the publicity gained by the expenditure was incalculable.

I wonder whether he feels the same way about the widespread national attention given to his use of $46,000 of taxpayer funds for MBA’s for Councillor April Cullen and his Executive Assistant, James Anderson. For this, he and the city got widespread publicity bordering on the incredulous and laughable from editorialists right across the country and downright anger from those at home having to pick up the tab.

In an earlier column, I explained that I was kept up to date with John Gray’s funding of these MBA’s in a commuter newspaper in Vancouver where I was volunteering at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

And this week, we find that groups of ratepayers have to sue the city to have them uphold the city bylaws restricting housing around the university as residential rather than as student rental housing which the residents claim is destroying their neighbourhood through ongoing problems with noise, parking, parties, garbage, and vandalism.

All this, the residents claim, is threatening the safety and well being of homeowners in the area. The resident’s lawsuit is about reclaiming their neighbourhood through the enforcement of bylaws already on the city books.

Once again, this story was picked up by the Toronto Star and has hit the national media and was read by hundreds of thousands of Toronto Commuters on Monday April 5 as the front page headline of the freely distributed Metro Newspaper screamed, “Rowdy renters…Oshawa families suing city in bid to reclaim neighbourhood.” No doubt, similar headlines featured the same story in commuter newspapers distributed in all of Canada’s largest cities.

Residents near the university refer to their neighbourhood as ”The Streets of Broken Dreams,” and cite broken glass, beer bottles and condoms strewn around, front lawns torn up by cars, eggs thrown at houses and garbage piled up.

In one case, students retaliated against an older couple who complained about rowdy behaviour by placing pieces of glass in their backyard to cut their dog’s feet.

Oshawa is getting so much negative publicity that it seems as if the negative publicity value of their actions is a major determinant of what they do.

And now we learn that part of Mayor Gray’s renewal plan for the downtown is to do everything possible to facilitate movement of some of the university faculties downtown so that those disruptive problems experienced in the university neighbourhoods will also be experienced downtown.

I guess Mayor John Gray’s idea of renewal is flooding the downtown with students to discourage the adult population with their superior buying power to go there to support higher end restaurants and stores. This will surely prove to be another disastrous step by Gray’s inept administration.

Just as the city hall is complicit in creating this future downtown problem, they were complicit in creating the residential housing problems around the university.

Short-sighted thinking along with city planner’s approval of housing renovations to install up to seven and eight bedrooms in some houses to allow for student rental housing was a shirking of municipal responsibility to uphold the areas as residential in the first place.

Any politicians on the ball would have been calling for student residential housing from the initial stages and setting aside land tracts zoned as such from the very beginning. And now we are seeing the same short sightedness with student housing in the downtown.

Earlier, Oshawa made the National News in the Toronto Star, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and Macleans Magazine, when city hall bylaw officers with police and locksmiths in tow raided student housing around these same university neighbourhoods inspecting panty drawers of absent students to search for leasing documents.

This action hit the student newspapers of many of Canada’s universities informing many prospective Ontario students and their parents of Oshawa’s Neanderthal civic administration and, of course, discouraging their attendance and limiting the growth of our university here.

The proof is in the pudding! Oshawa city council has learned plenty of ways to get free national press. There was no need for Mayor Gray to personally spend the $45,000 on his birthday party to get that press that he called incalculably valuable.

And yet the city continues to spend countless numbers of our tax dollars to publish carriers for politician’s mug shots which are distributed at great cost to all front doors in Oshawa. Most of these end up unwanted and unread in the recycling bin. But where was the attempt to communicate when we really needed it---an explanation of the plebiscite question on our city council voting system which robbed our various Oshawa communities of their guaranteed representation on City Council.

With all of its press exposure, Oshawa is becoming one of the best known communities in this country. You can hardly pick up a newspaper anywhere without some reference to Oshawa. Unfortunately, most of the information is bad and a function of the political leadership of this city.

All of the national press has translated into making Oshawa a less desirable place to live, if housing demand indicated by housing sales figures released by the Toronto Real Estate Board is any indication. The first quarter sales figures for Single detached housing show an average Oshawa single family house price of $255,808 for the 194 sales that occurred in Oshawa for the lowest housing value over the entire GTA.

Late breaking news as I write this column is that Councillor Louise Parkes has announced her candidacy for Mayor of Oshawa in the upcoming October 25th, 2010 election.

In a Toronto Star article of April 7, 2010, Parkes stated that, “Leadership is a huge issue…Things are falling apart because of leadership style and a ‘systems failure’ at city hall…things are rotten,” she says, “and I aim to fix it.”

Parkes is right. Things are rotten at city hall and she is part of the problem…not part of the solution.

She was key cheerleader for the city’s purchase of the Cullen Gardens Miniatures and key critic of council’s decision not to proceed at great expense with the project.

She was asleep at the switch when she voted against providing citizen information about the ward/general vote plebiscite question and subsequently voted to rob communities of their guaranteed representation on city council; asleep at the switch while Mayor John Gray was approving the MBA funding; asleep at the switch while council was approving the costly and unnecessary demolition and reconstruction of council chambers and city hall “A” wing; asleep at the switch while the Mayor was funding his $40,000 birthday party; asleep at the switch while Council approved demolition of North Oshawa Arena, the Civic, and potentially Children’s Arena and Harmon Park Arena.

Indeed something is rotten at city hall. Louise Parkes was the councilor who pushed for bigger councilor office expense budgets and travel allowances…and pushed for failed Glyn Laverick to take over the Regent Theatre. After voting for high tax increases for Oshawa for years, she is now a convert for lower taxes. Yes…we need more of Louise Parkes at City Hall. Yeah! Right!

With Parkes now in the race, maybe Councillor John Henry will be encouraged to get into the race. Anti-council sentiment is at such a feverish pitch that I want to knock off as many sitting councillors as possible to give the people of Oshawa a new beginning in the governance of this city.

Because I am confident of becoming your new Oshawa Mayor, I want as many new council faces as possible. Oshawa needs a clean sweep of council!

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

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