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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Oshawa---Prepare to be Amazed!

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
January 31, 2011

There are a couple of Oshawa City Hall topics receiving coverage and comment in the media and considerable criticism in the social media this week.

First is the appointment of a replacement local councillor for the disgraced Mike Nicholson who refused to be sworn to council after winning a seat in the election, an occurrence that undoubtedly could only happen in Oshawa, and in two elections in a row in Oshawa--- “Believe It Or Not!”

This is so bizarre, it could probably be featured in the Ripley column by the same name for those old enough to remember the syndicated newspaper cartoon panel which pictured items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims.

Anyway council deliberations for Nicholson’s replacement will take place at a February 3rd Special Council Meeting and should be great fun for all who want a good night of free entertainment and a night of democracy (or not) in action.

Council has decided to appoint rather than call an election to fill the vacancy so some favored son or daughter is going to be gifted almost four years of part time employment requiring approximately 10 hours a month at a salary of approximately $300 per hour (1/3 tax free).

The lucky recipient will also be placed in a “shoo-in” position for election in the regular municipal elections in 2014.

The idea of appointment, and the appointment process itself, has generated giant Facebook debate by the chattering classes on both the pro and anti appointment sides of the question.

Of grave concern to some is that the right to be a candidate is contingent upon being nominated and seconded by a council member. This has led some to observe that, while candidacy in a regular election is open to all, is non-political, and is automatic upon applying and posting a fee with the city clerk, the appointment process chosen by council is more akin to council opening up its arms to consider only “friends” into the club and is therefore seen as cronyism and nepotism.

In supporting his successful motion to consider any interested candidate nominated and seconded by a member of council, John Aker stated, ”Everyone (every politician, he meant!) will be able to bring forth a candidate. It satisfies democracy. No one (no politician, he meant!) is excluded.”

So democracy we learn is about giving politicians the power to select council members, not the people. Hell, you learn something new every day! There are rebellions occurring today in Tunisia and Egypt by citizens who oppose that view as well as civil unrest in many places in the world where the people are too repressed even to rebel.

The process of requiring all those considered for appointment to be nominated and seconded by a sitting council member makes politicians themselves the gatekeepers of who can be considered and this is a very dangerous precedent.

It is however, the distinctive mark of dictators and despots worldwide who bestow their blessings on the chosen thus insuring continuation in perpetuity of the beliefs and policies of those in charge. Hell, they'd never appoint someone with new ideas who brings new or contrary thinking to the club.

The other danger in City Council’s process is that the names of those interested in the position is secret and only the names of those nominated will be made public. While citizens will not get a chance to vote, they will not even know who expressed interest in the position, unless they are nominated, to speculate on reasons for council’s choice.

The politicians have turned down a by-election because of the cost. But hey! There is a cost to every election and so should we throw out the idea of democracy to save money? Maybe dictators are just efficient cost savers!

As astute Facebook writer, Tom Mitchell stated, “If Mayor John Henry really thinks that money is the issue in filling the vacant council seat, he should hold an auction. Get a grip your worship!” Mitchell continued, “Politics isn't the office furniture biz!”

In terms of appointing rather than electing politicians, I’ll never forget a young guy I met whose Chinese name translated into English as “Red Star Rising.” He had reported to Shijiazhuang, the Capital City of China’s Hebei Province where I worked, to have his Assignment as Mayor changed to another city. At the time, knowing a little bit about Democracy and the Electoral Process in the free world, I was a little surprised to see politicians being directly appointed by a government. But now I know you needn’t go all the way to China to witness this phenomenon. You can see it right here in Oshawa.

But anyway, make sure you skedaddle down to city council chambers for the special meeting on Thursday Feb. 3 if you want to see all the fun. As with other meetings this year that might generate considerable public interest, this decision will be made on a night when Rogers Cable does not televise the event....All in the interests of non-transparency and non-accountability of course!

The second event of interest this week is Mayor John Henry’s infantile publicity stunt to hightail it out of Oshawa in a jump seat astride a Mackie’s 24 wheeler Moving Truck to various Golden Horseshoe Mayor’s offices and council chambers seeking support for Oshawa’s opposition to the Provincial Plan to terminate construction of the expanded Highway 407 at Simcoe Street.

The 407 issue is one that John Henry didn’t mention on the campaign trail so it appears he is a Johnny-Henry-come-lately to the cause. All of the considerable public interest so far has been generated by the superb leadership of the issue by Columbus resident, Rosemary McConkey. She has organized bus protest groups to Queen’s Park, has organized extensive sign campaigns, has generated media coverage, and has brought in many prominent speakers and politicians, even MP’s and MPP’s and the Provincial Leader of the Opposition to focus attention and interest on the cause.

And while many issues simmer in this city with little apparent action, our mayor is now hopping on McConkey's 407 bandwagon and cavorting around in a giant moving truck with prominently displayed, “Mackie’s Moving,” emblazoned on the side to chat with Golden Horseshoe Mayors and Councils. They must be impressed!

I wonder whether Premier McGuinty would have sprung to attention in Peterborough recently if he’d seen Henry jump out of the moving truck to greet him?

Maybe use of the Moving Van was symbolic.

During the campaign, I spoke to a number of people in new housing subdivisions north of Taunton who reflected to me that if they’d known about the enormous taxes here, they’d have never come. And the high taxes have decreased their house values below their outstanding mortgages trapping them here. If they could afford to move, they would, I was told repeatedly.

So maybe Henry’s use of the Moving Van was symbolic of this widely-held sentiment...even Henry is grabbing a moving van out of town!

In one report, I read, in response to criticism of being “anti-green” in burning all the gas in the giant rig rather than driving in his car, Henry said, “The truck was going past St. Catharines anyway and so I just hitched a ride.” There was no report on how he was getting home---the bus, hitchhiking, or helping to unload the Mackie’s Truck and then catching a ride back in the empty rig.

While it is common for municipalities to get their ideas supported and sanctioned by other municipalities, and numbers of such requests appear on Oshawa City Council Agendas every council meeting, it is extremely unusual for busy mayors to have the time or interest to make personal representations at many out-of-town council meetings. Mayors who do this either have time to burn or get an image boost from such public appearances....and John Henry might need an image boost after spending 20 years driving around in a truck to pick up office equipment for repair!

Maybe with all these meetings from Cornwall to Windsor, Henry is hoping to bolster his image and buttress support for a run at some higher office. LOL! If so, nobody best see him scamper out of that 24 wheeler!

With this PR stunt, it is obvious we have a mayor more interested in PR than substance. As PM Harper's conservative plant in the city, he is following his leader well....no substance, no action or leadership here, but flying around the world playing the big shot while looking for photo ops. Henry is learning well at the hand of his master!

With this Mackie Truck antic, Henry is continuing as a mayor of image rather than substance.

Anyway this image of Mayor John Henry jumping on the Mackie’s Moving Truck has sure enough generated tons of publicity for Mackie’s.....and tons of ridicule for Oshawa!

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Giant Windfall Payday for the City's “Fired” Politicians

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
January 24, 2011

Mayor John Henry’s campaign literature stated the city needed new, principled leadership at city hall and that he’d promote new accountability, transparency, and economic growth for the city.

In terms of the principled leadership promised, I’ve heard on good authority that Henry has been dragging his feet on meeting with COSCO officials regarding expansion into Oshawa since COSCO’s cut-rate on-site pharmacies would steal business from his wife’s pharmacy.

If this is true, putting his family’s self interest first is inconsistent with his promise of restoring respect for the taxpayer and providing accountable leadership at city hall. It sounds more like Chicago politics under infamous Richard J. Daley’s iron fisted and corrupt administration.

Mayor John Henry’s leadership has not enjoyed the customary “Honeymoon Period” always afforded new office holders. In Henry’s case, it was a record short-lived honeymoon as even many of his former avid supporters are now his critics.

Council’s indecisiveness in replacing disgraced Mike Nicholson’s abandoned council seat speaks volumes about council productivity and the mayor’s leadership. Since the city wide vote is undemocratic which depends upon voter knowledge of candidates, I do support council appointment to fill the vacancy out of fear that, in an election, many unwary Oshawa voters would jump off the turnip truck and elect Brian Nicholson or Mary Anne Sholdra.

Appointment does, however, remove the possibility that city council could seek public opinion on the general vote election system that was highly criticized by the majority of city voters. Fixing the election system would be a first action by a council truly interested in democracy.

Accountability and transparency is still a major question with city council, as it is with all governments, despite the fact that all elected city politicians promised a more open and accountable council. Sadly, what we have has not changed in this regard.

A prime example of this lack of transparency has to do with the severance payments received by retiring and defeated politicians. While information on this has recently been released on city Report FA-11-14 published on the January 20, 2011, Finance and Administration Committee Meeting Agenda available on the city web page, the report only gives half of the story hiding the full payout amounts no doubt to mitigate citizen anger at the largesse politicians serve themselves at taxpayer expense.

Section 242(1) of the Municipal Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.M.45, provides that a municipality may pass by-laws for paying remuneration to the members of Council, and such remuneration may be determined in any manner that Council considers advisable.

Because of the breadth of remuneration permitted by this law (anything Council considers advisable!), the parting allowance itself does not tell the full story of compensations and benefits provided.

And getting a clear answer to the full benefits is virtually impossible to establish....whether severance allowances, like politician’s salaries, are 1/3 tax free, whether there are monthly pensions when age requirements are met, whether drug and other health benefits are provided, whether equipment like computers, cell phones, and other electronic equipment were inventoried and had to be returned....and these questions could go on ad infinitum. Answers require very specific questions with no information being voluntarily provided.

I first requested disclosure of the severance amounts from the city clerk’s office on November 8, 2010, and was told the info would be published in an annual report in the first quarter of 2011 and that I’d have to file a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to see it earlier, direction I received on two subsequent occasions, although they couldn`t tell me the cost to provide this information they had at hand, having already written the cheques for the huge amounts.

Finally on Jan 8, 2011, in response to a threat to finally file a FOI request and to a comment from me that the giant lack of transparency in a council purportedly operating on policies of openness, accountability, and transparency would be a huge revelation to the general public, Percy Luther, of the Clerk`s Department, informed me that he had looked into this further, as I had requested, and informed me of the disclosure report FA-11-14 mentioned earlier.

City policy calls for political severance allowances of one month`s salary for every year of council experience. City severance allowances thus generated were: John Gray, $110,821.33; J. Kolodzie, $57,042.00; L. Parkes, $45,950 + $34,759 unclaimed retroactive pay when she campaigned as Federal Liberal Candidate during the period Dec. 2004 to Nov. 2006; A. Cullen, $21,072.92 + an MBA; R. Lutczyk, $22,183.00; and B. Nicholson, $22,183.00. Mary Anne Sholdra did not serve on council long enough to qualify for any severance allowance.

These handsome figures are only part of the story and don`t include Regional severance allowances nor do they include tax-free pay provisions, or any health or pension benefits outlined earlier.

Durham Region figures have not been published and these figures are much more difficult to establish than city severance allowances.

My first request for the figures resulted in the Regional Clerks department sending me the first page only of the Severance Benefits By-law (Number 61-93) which gave a preamble but didn’t get to any details of the severance allowance. In the end, they turn out to be the same as Oshawa`s policy in providing one month’s salary for every year of regional council experience up to a maximum 18 month's salary.

So secretive are the Regional Political severance allowances that it’d probably be easier obtaining top secret classified military intelligence. Getting information is not helped by the general lack of co-operation by Regional bureaucrats who dragged their feet at every instance often neglecting my requests for information. Information finally provided was not compiled into a single place and required extrapolating info from a number of separate sources.

Regional officials couldn’t help by simply running me off a computerized list of severance cheques already printed and distributed. That would make it too easy and the public must be forced to dig for information. Transparency is only a word, not a practice!

The experience list provided me recorded 22 years of experience for Brian Nicholson qualifying him for the maximum 18 months of salary. They didn’t seem to remember that he had a break in service with his defeat in 2000 and presumably collected 15 month’s severance at that time. Since the maximum payout allowed by the policy is 18 months salary, he presumably would only be eligible for an additional 3 years with his October 25, 2010 defeat.

Because Nicholson’s defeat was overlooked in the figures given me, I surmise that he has double dipped for a giant overpayment, collecting 15 month’s severance in year 2000 and the maximum 18 months on his recent defeat.

A request to Durham Region Payroll Officer, Joanne Cermak, to confirm Nicholson`s payout, went unanswered. Nor did she answer my other queries whether the payouts are 1/3 tax free or if politicians can claim any other entitlements, compensations, or retirement benefits such as pensions payable at some defined age of eligibility, health benefits, etc., all in addition to the handsome cash severance packages they received.

Based on 2009 Regional Salaries (and not the 2010 salaries that would have been used) the minimum Regional payouts to retiring/defeated Regional reps from Oshawa are: John Gray (16 months credit+ committee Chair = $69807); Joe Kolodzie (max 18 months credit = $69533); Brian Nicholson (if only 3 months credit based on payout remaining after 2000 election defeat and break in service = $11589 or $69533 if break in service and 2000 payout forgotten about in which case there`s been an overpayment of $57944----but what the hell, it`s only taxpayer money!); Robt. Lutczyk (10 months credit = $38629); April Cullen (7 months credit + Committee Chair = $30540).

So combined Regional and City severance WINDFALL allowances for our retiring and defeated politicians are as follows: John Gray $180628, Joe Kolodzie $126575, Brian Nicholson $33762 (or $91786 if Region overlooked Nicholson’s 2000 defeat and collection of eligible severance at that time), Robert Lutczyk $60812, April Cullen $51613 + that MBA.

So the best estimate of taxpayer payout to fired and retired councillors is a minimum $453,000, almost half a million of your taxes, maybe money well spent to get rid of these politicians.

Remarkably, these total severance allowances are worth about the equivalent of $3/4 million to the politicians if the allowances are 1/3 tax free as is their regular salary.

And hey, all of these payouts were unbudgeted and so were paid for from “found money,” that fat, waste, and excess I’ve written about so often---the fat, waste and excess that I suggested cutting by 3% during the election campaign....and the fat, waste, and excess politicians will pad by whatever percentage tax increase they hit you with this year!

Don’t worry! Be Happy! But pay those taxes!

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

A week after my unanswered request and days after my column deadline time, i received the following email which provides some, but not all, of the information previously requested that has been referred to in the body of the column above. These recently provided figures will allow readers to revise upwards the severance figures provided above....and they will also clear up the mystery of B. Nicholson's severance package and the questions raised by incorrect information provided me earlier by Regional Officials. The over-estimation of J. Kolodzie's allowance was due to overlooking the fact that he was an Oshawa Local City Councillor only for many years and not a Regional Councillor

Mr. Longworth, In regards to your inquiry about the severance pay entitlement of the 16 Regional Councillors who did not return for the 2010 to 2014 term, please see the information listed below. (You will see that only 15 have applied at this time.)

Individuals are entitled to this severance if they have more than three years of service, up to a maximum of 18 months remuneration.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Abernethy, Jim: $15,992.67
Crawford, Scott: $51,976.17
Cullen, April: $31,487.17
Emm, Gerald: $71,967.00
Grant, John: $15,992.67
Gray, John: $71,970.67
Johnson, Richard: $71,967.00
Kolodzie, Joseph: $27,987.17
Littley, Bonnie: $15,992.67
Lutczyk, Robert: $39,981.67
McMillen, Jim: $27,987.17
Nicholson, Brian: $27,987.17
Pearce, Marilyn: $44,981.67
Shepherd, Bob: $15,992.67
Trim, Charles: $44,981.67

Tania Laverty
Manager, Communications The Regional Municipality of Durham
P: 905-668-7711 ext. 3813
E: tania.laverty@durham.ca

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oshawa's Annual Turkey Strut
Tax Setting Mating Dance

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
January 17, 2011

Well it’s city budget time and the annual mating dance ritual, “The Strut of the Turkeys” between bureaucrats and politicians has begun.

It follows a predictable time worn pattern and the steps along the way are craftily designed to make you ecstatic in accepting your yearly tax increase.

Tax cuts, sold by the politicians, will usually come with some sleight of hand magic that will make you thankful for the city revenue cuts in some well publicized areas while taxes and user fees and service cuts are introduced in a myriad of other areas to more than make up for the well publicized cuts.

The real test of tax cuts is to see bottom line cuts in operating revenues of the city and real cuts to bottom line government expenditures. We must see a total reduction of monies taken in by city hall, not simply a rebalancing of tax sources with the net revenues remaining the same. We need governments to operate with more efficiency at less cost, the same goal as every profitable business worldwide.

I have written in past columns that when politicians approve incremental percentage tax increases, which is the usual case, the effect is to pad any past fat, waste, and inefficiencies that had crept into the administration over the years. The only way to cut such fat, waste, and inefficiencies is to incrementally cut departmental budgets.

The Annual “Strut of the Turkeys” budget process for governments at all levels is always the same and follows the following well defined processes.
1. Politicians call for a tax cut, hold, or small increase

2. Bureaucrats raise alarms about the disasters to occur as a result of anything less than the inflated X% increases they’ve requested and outline an exaggerated or inflated list of outrageous and alarming service cuts required to meet the demands of the politicians.

3. All of the cuts bureaucrats outline as required to meet political demands are those that have the highest public profile and political impact.

4. As a result, the politicians get cold feet at the alarms raised by the bureaucrats and they moderate their demands about the cuts, holds, or small increases, and give the bureaucrats the moderate increases they really wanted in the first place. In the process, bureaucrats make imperceptible adjustments to meet the reduced allocations with no discernable difference to the public. It’s like selling a used car---ask high so there’s room to negotiate down to the price you wanted in the first place.
In Oshawa, all those elected called for tax cuts or a tax freeze since this was the number one taxpayer concern.

Politician’s push for tax cuts is offset by a bureaucratic push for bigger budgets and all of the power is with the bureaucrats. If knowledge is power, bureaucrats have all the knowledge of their operations and by selectively providing or withholding information, mislead politicians about the true state of affairs. The combination of information denial and the provision of falsified information by bureaucrats underlie the annual cat and mouse budgeting process which defines bureaucrat’s reluctance to be dragged away from their gold plated lattés.

Part of the lies, of course, are the expensive expert "consultant's reports" written by consultants who agree to write what the city wants them to write in order to get politicians to "buy into" decisions favoured and already made by the bureaucrats.

All in all, politicians have no idea what is happening on the micro level in city hall and have to rely on senior officials for all information....and by selectively providing and withholding pertinent information, bureaucrats can effectively manage political decision making.

I recall a statement from a Director of Education who was asked to recount his frustrations at his Board of Trustees spending inordinate amounts of time discussing unimportant issues. "Frustrated? Hell no," he said, "If they waste all their time talking about those issues, they'll never get around to discussing the important stuff." What the Director implied with those words, of course, was his encouragement (and leadership) to keep non-vital issues in front of the Board so he was free to run the Education System without political interference. And of course Oshawa City Officials operate in the same way.

This is where we need strong political leadership to impose the council will despite the bureaucratic protests. Unfortunately, based on weak political leadership and inexperienced politicians, the present city council doesn’t seem to have the strength or will to grab control.

As policy setters, strong politicians can set policy for bureaucrats to implement and insure that it is followed. In terms of budgets and the resultant taxation levels, politicians can only approve tax cuts or increases and major expenditures. As a “show,” some politicians will suggest some cuts to simply show they are on top of the issue.

I’d like to point out examples of the “Strut of the Turkeys” budget deliberations by our present council to point out how the four principles of the Turkey Strut works in Oshawa but this is an impossible task, since nothing has been happening here on anything.

Hell, City Politicians haven't even figured out yet how to replace the disgraced Mike Nicholson who reneged on accepting his council seat after wnning the election because he found out he couldn't hold any elected office as a TTC bus driver. Good thing he isn't getting a chance to help run the "sometime complicated" issues confronting city business if he didn't know and understand that.

Because of the devoid of Oshawa City Council activity, I will have to look to Toronto examples which exist under the strong leadership of Mayor Rob Ford, who, in contrast to our new Oshawa Mayor, actually defined a platform during the election that people voted to accept. Winning on a defined platform, of course, gives the Toronto Mayor legitimacy in taking action to implement his platform. John Henry, in not having an election platform except for a few platitudes like “restoring trust,” “improving transparency and accountability,” and, “respect for the people” has had no real plan of action endorsed by the people.

In Step one of Toronto’s Annual ”Turkey Strut”, Mayor Ford called for funding cuts of 5% for all Toronto City departments and asked that all Departmental Budgets be produced reflecting that cut.

In Step two of the Toronto’s ”Turkey Strut”, Police Chief Bill Blair blared, “That’s impossible! We’ll have to cut 1200 police jobs!” he announced to a citizenry already concerned with crime and public safety even though Toronto crime rates have been decreasing for the last decade according to statistics. The poker faced chief knows he has to bluff when he only has a pair of deuces in his hand.

In response to questions of studies of required staffing numbers, he confirmed there’d been no staffing studies, and further that Toronto’s policing levels shouldn’t be compared to other Canadian Municipalities which don’t have Toronto’s problems but rather with similar sized Chicago which has twice the officers per capita and where every citizen has a constitutional right to carry a revolver in their pocket or purse.

Sure chief, Toronto, with its 59 homicides last year, should be compared to Chicago with its 458 in 2009. Right on Chief! Brilliant!

And by the way Chief, Canada is one of the safest countries in the world and Toronto is the safest city in North America---but hey Chief, in the turkey trot, you're expected to gobble up as much tax cash as you can to grow your department....whether you need the staff or not. It's the bureaucratic way!

In any case, Blair came out of a meeting with the Mayor beaming about a 2% increase to his budget during these times with a 12 month inflation rate of 1.9965%.

I guess the chief will not have to cut any fat, waste, or inefficiencies out of his department!

Toronto’s Library Board also defied the Mayor’s call for a 5% cut by asking for a 2.6% increase stating Ford’s cuts would mean reducing book purchases by 18,400 books and the closing of the City Hall Library Branch. Cutting books from the library’s $171M budget and closing the downtown city hall branch hits as close to the heart as possible without rendering the library system clinically dead and implies they are running a remarkably skimpy "no fat" system.

The Toronto Civic Administration also avoided a last minute 10¢ TTC fare increase by coming up with a magical $16M and the transit commission with another $8M to make up the $24M the fare increase would have raised. Now I wonder whether this magically found $16M came out of the fat and waste that was built into the city budget through the use of incremental tax increases which pad all built up fat and waste yearly by the incremental increase applying to every aspect of the budget including fat and waste. Even city officials have not been able to report where the extra $16 mill came from....Guess it's tough for them to say, "It's just part of the fat!" It is clear though that the $8M the TTC is expected to save does come from their padded fat and waste.

In any case, Politicians neither have the time, education, expertise, or knowledge of the many specialized functions within city hall to micromanage. The only effective thing they can do is cut funding which the city manager in turn would direct all his subordinate managers to do.

It’s only the Department Managers, who know where the fat and wastage is within their departments, but heretofore Public service bureaucrats have only been interested in growing the size of their departments since bottom line profitability or efficiency never enters the equation.

That is an aspect of government budget setting that has to change as we drag the bureaucrats kicking and screaming from their gold plated latté cups.

Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford, campaigned on the theme, "Stop the Gravy Train." With the points made above, Ford’s idea is meaningless unless he can demonstrate that he is extracting reduced revenues from the public and reducing the costs of government.

Announcing major tax cuts like the $60M auto registration tax is meaningless if the equivalent $60M is then extracted from the public by increasing user fees or saving the money through reducing staff and services.

The only way for Ford to stop the gravy train is to cut departmental budgets with the directive that there are no service cuts and no user fee increases.

Cutting costs by cutting service and staffing is easy and is what made then famous "Chainsaw" Jack Welch, former GE CEO a darling of the investment world. He forgot about improving profitability by increasing efficiencies, productivity, customer service, and new products and markets. Those keys to profitability are worshipped by the best CEO's just as improving efficiency and service should be hallmarks of excellent public administration.

Ford knows this, and it is only with reduced Toronto city overall expenditures without service cuts that Ford can demonstrate that he is bringing increased efficiency and productivity to civic administration by cutting out fat and waste.

The tax revolt in underway everywhere in North America and the people are demanding nothing less.

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

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hey! What are we getting for our tax money?

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
January 10, 2011

City taxpayers gambled on a new council, and so far it looks like we’ve elected duds. Even though we haven’t seen any leadership come from Mayor John Henry, we haven’t seen any initiatives come from any of the other council members either. It appears as if everyone so far is just sitting back waiting for something to happen. It's follow the leader without a leader!

Hell, we haven’t even had any disagreements or arguments or putdowns on council yet to lead to a little excitement. At least with the last council, we could expect frequent dissention at every meeting to provide for a little newsworthy comment.

So far, our Regional Councillors have each earned about $20,000 of our tax money and it is appropriate that taxpayers now have some kind of accounting of what we’ve gotten for this expenditure.

In the first ten weeks of this new council, the situation has to be classified as a zero-sum game----total political salaries and expenses = $176,925 (approximate), taxpayer’s benefit = 0. In zero sum parlance, this means that city politicians have so far in the 10 weeks of this new term cost city taxpayers approximately $176,925 and have not yet received a penny of value for these tax dollar expenditures.

Oh, Mayor John Henry has received his new Equinox, paid for out of his personal money as we’ve been told, and if this is so, he is to be congratulated. That is, of course, unless he simply pays for the car out of his weekly $100 minimum car allowance that he will arrange to at least give him the perk enjoyed by his fellow council members. Perhaps as mayor, he will have this car allowance ballooned to some higher level commensurate with his increased responsibility.

His Equinox, though, is a neat sleight of hand. He gets to business expense 30% annual depreciation on the car, write off any car loan interest, receives a 100% credit for the HST, receives a tax writeoff of 100% of all auto expenses, and an inflated tax free weekly gas allowance to pay for the car. Neat! He gets to play a hero looking after our tax dollars with the same net benefit to him----a free car!

He, along with his fellow council members will undoubtedly get their tanks topped up free at the city gas pumps that service all city vehicles. This would, of course, be in addition to the auto allowance that is supposed to fuel their vehicles. It would be an eye opener to see an accounting of all those who are able to use this fuel depot.

Saying as how Henry bought his own Equinox (yeah?), I guess he is entitled to decorate it however he wishes. I have heard a report that he has had a red maple leaf plaque with a blue “O” (for Oshawa) emblazoned on the red leaf. On a quick glance, I’m told that the crest looks surprisingly like the Federal Conservative Logo which is a blue “C” on a red leaf.

If this “crest story” is true, and I’d love to hear confirmation from someone who has seen the car, it does make sense for Henry to give credit to the Federal Conservatives and to the efforts of Oshawa Federal Conservative MP, Colin Carrie, whose campaign team, sign locations, and election machinery got John Henry elected.

Colin Carrie’s unprecedented level of meddling in Oshawa Municipal Elections was extremely unusual as politicians at one level do not typically meddle in the affairs of another level of government.

Carrie’s meddling in city politics is not a new revelation and has been reported in past “Eye on City Hall” columns.

But we are now learning amazing revelations that John Henry’s campaign manager, Mark Sheriff, has been appointed the Mayor’s Executive Assistant. Nothing surprising in that...except that Sherriff has just resigned as president of Colin Carrie’s Conservative Riding Association to take on Henry's Exec. Asst. job.

We now have all of the powers of the Oshawa Conservative Party installed in the Mayor’s Office willing and eager to have their chains yanked by Ottawa.

I had speculated in a past column that John Henry was personally recruited to run as a Mayoral Candidate by Colin Carrie and of Carrie’s strong connection with the Henry Campaign by his attendance at Henry’s side on election night as votes were being counted and his attendance at Henry’s private victory celebration at Downtown’s Thirsty Monk Restaurant following the victory. Now we know that the Henry Campaign was completely orchestrated by the Carrie election machinery and that Carrie was intimately involved right from the beginning. Carrie is Henry.....and Henry is Carrie...our Federal MP and our Mayor are one and the same. Dangerous!

With such an intimate connection between Carrie and Henry, there is sure to be no Federal/City disputes....that whatever Ottawa wants for Oshawa, it gets. Henry will endorse anything the Feds want for Oshawa, for example, the Federal / City Harbour Agreement to guarantee more industrial development at our lakefront. It doesn’t matter what the people want. It’s all part of a plan by Carrie to have Ottawa dictate city politics and policy for us.

None of this Conservative takeover is co-incidental but a well-organized plan. We know also that Carrie had a role in the election of Tito Dante Marimpietri and John Neal. A worthwhile question remains, which others of our new council members got the support of Carrie’s election machinery?....and why?

As a side note, I have it on good authority that the Woodstock Council had a significant turnover and that all members of that Council are now Federal Conservative Party Members.

Perhaps it is not too stretching to theorize, that Stephen Harper is making attempts to extend his electoral control across the country right down to the municipal level. After all, that would be consistent with his practise of exercising iron fisted control over Cabinet Members and his Conservative Caucus.

Perhaps Carrie’s meddling in Oshawa Affairs, and the apparent meddling in Woodstock’s Municipal Election, foretells a Harper Conservative Agenda to grab a tiller on all political affairs across the country. That would be dangerous for democracy, dissent, and an alternative voice. That could lead to G20 type policing fiascos across the country. It’s only in dictatorships where one guy pulls all the power.

In America, political organization by the Republican and Democratic Parties extends right down to the precinct (neighourhood level) and all political candidates for all offices at all levels run on the Republican or Democratic (or Independent) ticket with voters being largely identified at the neighbourhood level as registered Democrats or Republicans.

Is the Federal Conservative Party participation in Oshawa’s Municipal Election, orchestrated by Colin Carrie, part of Harper’s Grand scheme for the nation...to Americanize Canada politically and grab unfettered control by organizing Conservative Control right down to the city and neighbourhood level with local political offices being held by candidates chosen by the national party? With his strong arm control he’d be the “President” (or dictator) of our country.

We already know that Harper would like to Americanize our nation by cutting out Canada Pensions (which has recently been floated as a trial balloon), cutting out transfer payments for health care and higher education, and reducing the power of the Federal Government vis-a-vis the Provinces. As President, with neighbourhood control, he might have far greater control in reaching these objectives.

I have regularly reported politics as a game of pay-offs and deal-making for votes and of course personal ambition is never far from the surface.

The chattering classes in Oshawa have upped their volume in questioning John Henry’s honesty, transparency, and integrity in honouring his election pledges, particularly in respecting city voters which was a major campaign pledge.

They were particularly disappointed in Henry for nominating and voting for Roger Anderson as Regional Chair as Anderson was the chief proponent of the garbage incinerator being built on the city borders.

I have heard from an inside and reliable source that discussions will take place shortly to “re-balance” representation on Regional Council by the various member municipalities. This is a “given” as growing populations in Ajax, Pickering, and Whitby are under-represented relative to the slower growing Oshawa. Despite the imbalance, city representatives in the past have successfully resisted and staved off any reduction in Oshawa Regional Representation.

I have now been told by insiders that John Henry agreed to a “secret” deal to not oppose any reduction to Oshawa Regional Council representation as a trade-off for the overwhelming support he received for his prestigious $6000-$7000 seat on the Durham Police Commission. We’ll have to keep an eye on how this plays out.

Personal ambition in politics often trumps the public good. Stay tuned!

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

Monday, January 3, 2011

The City Budget---The first significant order of business

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
reprinted from Oshawa Central Newspaper

Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
January 3, 2011

On this first column of 2011, while city politicians are still in a “Resolution Mood” for the New Year, I hope, along with the vast majority of city residents, that Council resolves to cut taxes at their upcoming budget deliberations in February.

High residential taxation was the number one concern of voters during the election campaign, and everyone elected promised in one way or another to hold the line on taxation levels.

The budget meetings will be a good start to assess the sacred trust city voters placed in the newly elected to honour their campaign pledges. Not one politician got elected based on a promise to raise taxes. All got elected on promises to cut or freeze taxes.

So the February budgetary process will be the first major item on the city council agenda and the first real indication of whether politicians will honour the commitments they made to city taxpayers in the October 25 Municipal Elections.

Early indications are that Mayor John Henry will not be honouring his pledge to put a hold on taxes. At a recent Regional Council Meeting, he led the charge in arguing for an 8% increase in the water/sewer rates.

Henry admonished fellow councillors who did not support the bureaucratic recommendation by rhetorically asking if anyone knew of a service more important than water and further if anyone had heard of the Walkerton E-Coli Tragedy.

As if increased expenditures would have avoided the Walkerton issue in which criminal convictions were issued against the two supervisors charged with irresponsibly carrying out their duties to insure water quality in Walkerton.

In terms of Henry’s first question...”Is there anything more important than water?” it appears that Henry is mistakenly convinced that money is the cure to all evils and that more money would have resulted in better supervision by those charged with insuring water quality. How naive!

Henry has also demonstrated by his reasoning that the key component in pricing a commodity value is how important it is to humanity. Using the same reasoning, he would place a great economic value on the air we breathe and thus, if he could find a way, want to tax it at a high rate.

His support for the incinerator on Oshawa’s border as demonstrated by his nomination and vote for Roger Anderson as Regional Chairman, the chief proponent of the incinerator, seems diametrically opposed to his concern for clean water and human health. Anderson’s incinerator will spew health damaging pollutants into the atmosphere and into the lungs of our children.

In supporting huge water/sewer rate increases, besides breaking his election pledges, John Henry is clearly falling into the trap of politicians who fall hook, line, and sinker into the slick bureaucratic sleight of hand that works to justify greater budgets every subsequent year. This is a stunt that the bureaucratic stunt meisters can pull off when politicians are not too bright!

In his campaign for Mayor, John Henry, pledged to justify all budget items on a line-by-line zero based budgeting process whereby every budget item had to be justified from the ground up.

This care in the budgeting process that he promised is certainly not evident in his unquestioning and unhesitating support of the bureaucratic appeals for the extra water/sewer cash.

In the first budget and taxing question he faced, John Henry abandoned his pledge for the line-by-line zero based process he promised.

Henry’s system would be time consuming but would replace the traditionally used incremental system where current allocations are based on a percentage increase over the totals of the past year. Only the percentage increase over the last year then becomes debatable under this system.

In abandoning the zero based budgeting system he pledged, and accepting the incremental system, he guarantees us a tax increase every year.

Henry calls himself a businessman who wanted to run the city like a business and yet he abandoned the most basic idea of business...that is of looking for increased efficiencies rather than simply throwing more money at a problem. Indeed the system Henry has now adopted continues to reward or pad all existing, present, and past inefficiencies with an agreed percentage increase. This acts to compound all tax excess problems that have accrued over the years. The excessive capital pools generated will, of course, be eaten up by unnecessary discretionary city hall spending.

Guaranteed percentage increases in budgetary items removes all incentive to cut out the city hall fat, waste, redundancies, and inefficiencies and continues to reward all those things that are an anathema to business practice that Henry pledged to stamp out.

If any internal efficiencies result in cost savings to produce a surplus in government accounts at the end of the year, there is a bureaucratic “rush” to spend the surplus to avoid any money being left in the till at year end.

Surplus monies left in an account is catastrophic to bureaucrats as it announces to politicians that too much money had been allocated in the past year and signals a need to cut allocations. This is to be avoided at all costs according to the bureaucratic mind-set.

As a public service administrator in my past life, I often received emergency “directives” from budget supervisors near year end to spend money....send requisitions for any furniture/equipment you want (not need) and we will cover the costs.

These supervisors wanted to break the bank in the current year with unneeded purchases to insure budgetary increases in the following year. After all, you can’t “require” increases next year if you’ve left money in the till this year.

This is a game all bureaucrats play which is quite in contrast to the private sector where wasteful expenditures cut “bottom line” profitability. In government service, there is no bottom line as bureaucrats are confident that politicians will always approve digging deeper into the taxpayer pocket to replenish empty public tills to fuel more out-of-control spending.

In business, with the business mind-set, there is incentive to cut waste, cut inefficiencies, and cut fat to improve profitability. In the public service, the mind-set is to do whatever it takes to increase costs and spending to insure a bigger budget in subsequent years, even if that means wasteful spending, decreasing efficiencies, and duplicate and redundant operations and procedures, and increasing bureaucracy.

A classic example of this wastefulness in Oshawa is the unnecessary creation of a heavily staffed and space-rich “Information Oshawa” department where you will see handsomely paid workers huddling in unproductive “chatting groups” on any city hall visit. There is one worker sitting at the front counter to handle simple public inquiries and otherwise to direct technical inquiries upstairs to departmental specialists.

For example, I stopped by one day, and as a political columnist for the Central Newspaper, asked for the Agenda Materials for the evening’s Council Meeting. I was told I’d have to go upstairs to the Clerk’s Department for that.

Similarly, any developer wanting more than mundane elementary information would be referred “upstairs” to the planning department. Such a generalist department as Information Oshawa may have blank forms to dispense but no detailed or expert advice or opinion...but a taxpayer cost of millions of dollars per year and an unnecessary waste endemic to public service but an anathema to private business.

Another wasteful expenditure, of course, was the $20M redevelopment of city hall. While a number of rationales for this wasteful expenditure were foisted on the public by the last council, none stuck and so politician’s settled on pegging the huge cost to the need to house this unneeded Information Oshawa.

Smart! A rationale for a wasteful $20 M city hall expenditure is tied to an unneeded and wasteful city department.

In short, the only way to guarantee a hold on city hall spending is to provide incentives for increasing efficiencies. This is only done by mandating small cuts to departmental budgets and then having departmental managers look for cost savings within their departments.

During the election campaign, I suggested all city hall departmental budgets should be cut by 3% to allow for a 3% residential tax cut. Every 1% tax cut would reduce city tax coffers by about $1M. A 3% tax cut would reduce the city’s $115M residential tax "take" by about $3.5M. This would be similar to taking $3.50 from you if you had $115 in your pocket.

That’s a cut you, I, and the city could live with. We’d do it by cutting out unnecessary and frivolous spending...just as the city would!

We need some demanding political leaders, though, as these cuts would only come as the city bureaucrats were dragged kicking and screaming from their gold plated latté cups.

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