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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Santa Claus has come to town…Made a List and is Checking it Twice!

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
November 29, 2010

You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout. I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.

And Santa did just that last Saturday night accompanied by hundreds of volunteer citizens in the parade all of whom thrilled the thousands of children and their voter parents who watched the parade.

All was joyous with the bands, the lighted floats, the colourful costumes, and the many excited children and happy faces both participating in the parade and watching it.

While I didn’t see any tears, I did hear some complaints from many quarters that no city politicians outside of Mayor Elect John Henry were in the parade. Henry walked with Colin Carrie and Jerry Ouellette as part of the Local Conservative Entourage.

This is the first time in living memory that the parade has not been swarmed by city politicians. “A very sad and alarming concern for the well-being of Oshawa,” stated one citizen. Had this parade been just before the election, you can bet your booty that we’d have every one of the 70 candidates on the ballot participating in the parade.

According to one citizen, the entire new council should have been walking behind the Official Town Crier who could have announced their presence. As it was, the Town Crier walked alone in the parade with nothing to Cry About, except the disappointing lack of presence of those expected to be in the parade…but he certainly didn’t want to rain any tears on Santa’s joyous arrival in town.

But to be fair to all of our city politicians, every good little boy and girl knows that they have to be asleep for Santa’s arrival with his bag full of goodies, so maybe all of our politicians were asleep dreaming about the good fortune of their close to $1/2M windfall for Regional Councillors over their four year council term.

While Mayor Elect Henry has been silent on the many important issues facing this city, he has made one policy pronouncement.

He wants to run the city like a business and thus has stated that politicians should be on rotating “on call” shifts for the weekends, perhaps the first step in making city politics a 9-5 job.

So perhaps Henry’s pronouncement about weekend political work being scheduled “on-call” was the reason no other city politicians were in the parade. It was a Saturday Night and they weren’t scheduled to work. And besides, maybe Henry only scheduled himself in for this very auspicious Saturday night event.

It is interesting, despite Henry’s pronouncement about scheduled weekend work, that no politician besides Henry showed up at this very visible event so there must have been some planning, discussion or organization to this political truancy.

Anyway, Politicians, with the Mayor’s blessing and encouragement, can now consider themselves part of the city hourly work force. And maybe politicians boycotting the parade were “working to rule” since it didn’t pay “time and a half” for work on a Saturday night.

With all the important policy decisions waiting in the wings for clues as to incoming mayor John Henry’s leadership---his Regional Chair vote, the public health damaging incinerator being built on our doorstep, our high taxes, the expanded 407 highway terminating at Simcoe, the student housing issue, lakefront development challenged by the ethanol plant, the railway spur line and increased industrialization of our harbour area, downtown renewal, getting city debt under control, etc. John Henry’s first policy pronouncement was rotating weekend shifts for city politicians….amazing…but then a guy does have to set his priorities. .

It speaks volumes that the first priority of mayor was introducing reduced workload benefits to politicians rather than policy focuses for better city government and a better Oshawa future---not policy direction for the city but more “time-off” entitlements for politicians…and I thought we’d had enough of this.

Besides, with rotating weekend workloads, politicians can carve out schedules that meet their other commitments like pursuing educational studies (Amy England)…hopefully not at taxpayer expense, running a business (John Henry), driving a Toronto Transit Commission Bus (Mike Nicholson), working on the Hospital Foundation (Tito Dante Marimpietri), or selling Real Estate (Roger Bouma).

England, at $100,000 per year will be making twice as much as those professors instructing her on how to have more success with a degree.

Anyway, Santa’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who's naughty and nice!

And Santa is quite displeased that the newly elected politicians didn’t attend as visible “thanks” for the votes they garnered. As one citizen, a former city employee commented, “Participation in the parade was always seen as a team building exercise---city staff, city residents who participated in the parade, and the politicians and city merchants, businesses and volunteer organizations, etc., the many facets of this city that work together to mount the parade.”

Santa is also disturbed that those politicians on the public dole for many years, who weren’t returned didn’t show up as a vote of thanks to the citizens for the lucrative employment they’ve enjoyed over their terms on council.

Long time councillors, like Brian Nicholson, enjoyed a virtual lifetime career garnering close to $2M in earnings in his 20 years of employment. He might also have been there, along with all of the other defeated and retiring politicians to thank the taxpayer for their windfall severance allowance in all likelihood exceeding $100,000 for many of those not returning.

With Ontario’s largest council turnover reaching a lofty 64% of the past council, the retiring allowances to city politicians may cost city taxpayers in excess of $1M.

I have requested these retiring allowances for all defeated and retiring politicians but have been told by city hall that I will either have to file and pay for a freedom of information disclosure or wait for the figures to be released in February.

Politicians like April Cullen, dealt taxpayers a double whammy. She not only gets her windfall retiring allowance, she retired with her taxpayer funded MBA which qualified her for a job as an instructor at Durham College…quite a step up from the clerical work she did prior to election to city council, probably based on the well-known “Cullen” name in these parts although she is no relation to the well-known family.

Election, of course, even in these days would be a breeze if your name was Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, or Albert Einstein, even if your intellect bore no resemblance to these historic figures. The name George W. Bush would probably even get you elected to city council. It’s a political asset to have a name that is already “branded”….just like Campbell’s Soup. We all know that some of our less astute voters believe that Barack Obama is our head of government.

Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake!

As one City Voter said, “All I want for Christmas...Is our newly elected mayor and regional councilors to follow through on their election promises.”

Virtually all politicians campaigned for increased city hall transparency, openness, accountability, and getting a grip on escalating taxes, and for voters to have a larger voice in decision making. Mayor Elect Henry, in his campaign literature, phrased it as restoring respect for taxpayers and accountability at City Hall.

Santa will know if politicians are being bad or good in honouring their election pledges. Private meetings to organize block voting for retaining John Anderson as Regional Chair and organizing private meetings to trade off Regional Chair votes in return for support for Committee Chairs will just not cut it with Santa….so be good for goodness sakes. Santa is keeping a list and has noted some serious slipups already.

In a recent news article in the local press, Henry was quoted as stating, "Taking office on Dec. 6 will mark a new era of accountability and transparency in which “the blame stops here.”

We’ll see! We still do not know his positions on any of the important issues facing this city….but we do know that he supports putting his fellow city council members on a businesslike rotating “on call” weekend work schedule.

Santa will be watching and will simply leave a bag of coal four years hence to those elected who do not measure up to the “good” standard Santa expects from all the world’s little boys and girls.

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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