Friday, November 27, 2009

They Say It's Getting Better.....
The city's auditor-general, Alain Lalonde, released his annual report earlier this week. No one was surprised at the details of abuse, scamming and outright fraud perpetrated on the taxpayers by municipal employees who are supposed to be serving the ratepayers rather than picking their pockets.
What Citizen Ellie can't understand is the lack of concern expressed by various councillors. Bay Councillor (and mayor wannabe) Alex Cullen was quoted as saying "It's outrageous." Was this real outrage or was it of the nudge,nudge, wink, wink variety ? Other councillors expressed the view that sick leave abuse and other scams are to be expected, but "things are getting better" since the auditor-general was hired and most managers are now "buying in".
"Things are getting better" isn't good enough for this taxpayer and it probably isn't good enough for most of you who are reading these words at this moment.
Frankly, the rot starts at the top. With a couple of exceptions, the majority of current council members have been around since amalgamation, and a goodly number have been around prior to amalgamation. They are well beyond their "best by" date and hopefully many will be put out to pasture in 2010.
With few exceptions, these councillors have distinguished themselves with their laissez-faire, minimalist approach towards careful husbanding of taxpayers' money.
This laissez-faire, minimalist approach has also been allowed to creep into the bureaucracy at city hall. Lip service may be given to attendance management, but the facts set out in the auditor-general's report, detailing sick leave abuse, speak for themselves.
One wonders what the 174.6 staff in the city's human resources department are doing to earn their keep ? The auditor-general says much of the sick leave is of the Friday/Monday variety. This in itself should be a red flag to any supervisor or manager worth his/her salt. Seasoned HR people will tell you that someone who consistently displays a pattern of sickness on Fridays or Mondays or both has a problem with substance abuse. It likely means you have a boozer on your hands who takes a sick day on Friday to get a head start on the weekend's drinking and needs a sick day on Monday to recover from the hangover and probably is not a 100% performer when on the job.
Seasoned HR people will tell you that in addition to "assisting employees who have problems with sick leave", a good attendance management program should be set up in such a way as to help the employer constructively dismiss the employee who has breached the employment contract by constantly being absent.
Citizen Ellie never ceases to be amazed at the number of people working in the public sector -- a majority of whom are union members with gold-plated sick leave coverage enshrined in their collective agreements -- who see sick leave as an entitlement rather than wage insurance to cover absence from work when one is really and truly sick.
There was a point in time where employees in the federal service could accumulate sick leave which would be paid out at time of retirement. When this practice was abolished, Citizen Ellie's late husband, a federal public servant, had some 360 unused sick days in his bank. Did he lose out ? Those who regularly take their 1.4 sick days per month and use them to visit Aunt Miniie in Buckingham or for some other frivolous purpose would likely say he was a chump for not taking time off.
An attendance management program will never work unless how well/poorly a supervisor/manager is managing his/her employees' attendance becomes part of the supervisor/mnager's performance appraisal and the supervisor/manager's salary is based on how well he/she is performing the job.
It's not that hard to set up, presuming the city has a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) in place. (PeopleSoft is the one Citizen Ellie is most familiar with.) A good HRIS can be used to track absenteeism on a daily/monthly, annual basis. Monthly reports should be provided to the supervisor, the manager, the manager's manager, the city manager, the mayor and councillors. Reviewing absenteeism on a regular basis makes more sense than useless discussion of tanning parlors and whether Shannon Tweed needs a day in her honor. Errant employees should be tracked, sick leave documented, warnings issued and eventually enough evidence is gathered to justify a constructive dismissal.
The real problem at city hall is that no one gets fired. Apparently everyone who leaves gets a golden handshake. Severance is provided even when employees are "invited" to leave for failing to perfom their jobs. Take this example, uncovered by the auditor-general: an employee who spent 95% of her time on the internet texting family and friends and 5% of her time actually working at the job for which she was being paid is kissed goodbye with nine months' salary. What really galls is the fact this person was replaced. Why ? Obviously there wasn't enough work so why hire a replacement ?
HR department staff can't be overworked handling grievances and arbitrations involving employees who've been disciplined since it's apparent that no one -- even the most egregious offenders such as the nine who used sick leave and claimed overtime while moonlighting for their manager's little business on the side -- is ever disciplined. At city hall, the monkeys are running the zoo; the employees are in control; and the taxpayers just pay and pay and pay !
Does This Mean I'll Get An Answer ?
There's new blood in the city's communications department. A triumvirate of seasoned journalists has been hired to put the proper "spin" on doings at city hall.
Chris, Derek and Patrick have their work cut out for them. Making the current council look any better than the sow's ear that it is will be a task of Herculean proportions.
Citizen Ellie has one question: does this mean she will finally get a response to her e-mail query sent months ago to the communications department asking for the number of Ottawa seniors who are currently taking advantage of the city's property tax deferral program.
And Citizen Ellie has this supplementary question: will Chris, Derek and Patrick spend any time educating councillors on just how important it is to answer e-mails from their constituents -- and can Citizen Ellie soon expect a response from Councillor Jacques Legendre re his positions on the city's censorship of the Ottawa Taxpayer Advisory Group's bus ads and a proposed sustainability summit ?
New posts usually on Fridays

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boo Hoo.............
It's been reported that Councillor Clive Doucet was in tears last night as the Lansdowne Live vote came in. He fought hard against the proposal, misguided or not, but he had the courtesy to apologize to those he may ( may ?) have offended during the campaign and the subsequent grilling of Roger Greenberg during yesterday morning's council session. No such apology forthcoming from that other councillor (and mayor wannabe) whose attacks on the Lansdowne Live proponents were also offensive, to say the least -- but more of that for another day when we examine that individual's fitness to be mayor.
Councillor Doucet had this to say in his final remarks:
"If I have any hard feelings, it's towards the succession of governments that have allowed it (Lansdowne Park) to decay so badly that the public says even a mall is better. It's been misused and abused, but still has wonderful potential."
Councillor Doucet was first elected in 1997 and has warmed a seat at the council table to this day. So doesn't that make him a member of the "sucession of governments " who allowed Lansdowne Park to decay and become a blot on the city ?
It's pretty hard to sympathize with a guy who was part of the problem.
Those who've had the opportunity to get inside the now vacant baseball stadium at the corner of the Vanier Parkway and Innes Road say it's being allowed to go the same route as Lansdowne Park. Decay and disrepair.
If that is true, the current members of city council are allowing it. Will we, at some future time, when there's a debate over what to do with a derelict Lynx Stadium, witness the councillor for the ward in which it sits cry crocodile tears because a "succession of governments" sat back and let it rot ?
New postings usually on Fridays

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dirty Words....?
Citizen Ellie never knew there were so many dirty words beginning with a "p" until
the Lansdowne Live proposal came down the pike.
Words like "public", "private" and "partnership", especially when combined together. And nothing beats "profit" on the scatology scale according to the jumped- up, "it's all about me", johnny-come-lately's from the Glebe, egged on by their poet-councillor, who've been mouthing off at the two-day "public consultation" sessions at city hall and on the city's website where opinion on the future of Lansdowne Park has been solicited. Some of the comments are not only outrageous, they're flatly untrue.
Opponents of the Lansdowne Live proposal have subjected the four Ottawa community leaders who brought forward to proposal (on their own dime) to character assassination of the worst sort. It's one thing to object to the process -- if sole-sourcing sticks in your craw, say so. But to paint Roger Greenberg, Bill Shenkman, John Ruddy and Jeff Hunt as bad boys who are out to screw the taxpayer is beyond the pale. Personal attacks are the weapon chosen by those who know they can't win their case because their case lacks merit and/or credence.
Wonder if "philanthropy" is one of the dirty "p" words in the Clive Doucet army's lexicon ?
The Greenberg and Shenkman families have contributed more to this city than Doucet and his army ever will in their lifetimes. The amount of philanthropic dollars these two families have poured into Ottawa -- into health care, the arts, sports, culture etc .-- boggles the mind. John Ruddy and Jeff Hunt are no slouches either in the philanthropy business.
We wonder why the best and brightest from Ottawa's business community or from the ranks of the senior public service prefer to give back to the community by serving on the boards of hospitals, United Way etc. rather than seeking election to city council. The excoriation of Roger Greenberg, Bill Shenkman, John Ruddy and Jeff Hunt -- just because they want to do something good for the city -- should answer that question.
Strength In Brotherhood ?
They're not singing "Solidarity Forever" down at the Amalgamated Transit Union hall these days.
Rumor has it that a significant portion of the membership wants Brother Andre Corneillier and his executive removed from office. They also want a forensic audit of the local's finances. And a petition to the International Union is being circulated.
Citizen Ellie spotted trouble ahead after union election results were announced in June. Usually, when union members are satisfied with the work of their executive, said executive is returned to office without opposition. This didn't happen. Brother Andre was opposed in his bid to retain the presidency, and while he did, his opponent got almost as many votes -- the local was clearly split down the middle.
This is not a good sign and if any members of city council think the next round of contract talks with this union will be a cakewalk, they'd better think again. As for the bus-riding public -- prepare to find other means of transportation sometime during 2011 !
Censorship Is Alive and Well in Ottawa
The Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (Ottawa TAG) has run into a roadblock regarding its proposed bus adverts which were slated to appear this month. Officialdom has imposed censorship -- dictating to the group that unless it changes the content of its ads there won't be any ads. Why aren't the major media and all those "rights" groups picking up on this ? Why is it that ratepayers in this city are being denied their rights ? Is a ratepayers' organization no less a special interest group than a powerful city hall union ?
The issue ? Ottawa TAG wanted to advertise total compensation growth in the city since amalgamation. The city wants the group to advertise salary growth only. What rot !
How can one make sense of municipal spending if total compensation ( benefits, pensions, sick leave, statutory holidays, maternity leave, long-term disability and the like) is not included in the calculation ?
One can only conclude that officialdom doesn't want Ottawa ratepayers to know the truth about what amalgamation has really cost.
And what about the fact that city staff who earn 15% more than private sector employees (and way, way more than pensioners on fixed incomes) are setting tax levels for the rest of us. How many of these tax setters live within the city's boundaries ? Is it fair that people who don't live in the city set tax levels for the rest of us ?
New posts usually on Fridays

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nail In The Coffin ?
Bad enough that we're forced to separate paper and cardboard, bottles and cans, chicken bones and cabbage leaves. Now they want us to pay for the privilege.
News this week that our esteemed city council plans to impose a "user fee" -- tax by any other name -- had Citizen Ellie looking at her personal budget to see what could be cut in order to cover the $195 extra the city will be charging her to dispose of her trash. Funny ! Citizen Ellie thought garbage collection was a mandated item under the terms of the Municipal Act and thus a service included in what the ratepayer gets in return for his/her property tax dollars.
In order to meet the costs of last year's property tax increase, Citizen Ellie gave up her Ottawa 67s season tickets. Given the latest predictions re next year's city budget , looks like the United Way contribution will now have to go, contributions to her church will be slashed by 50% , and she will have to forego the glass of wine with Sunday dinner in order to ante up the wherewithall to meet the demands of the Laurier Avenue graspers.
News about the new garbage "user fee" came along at the same time as news about the OC Transpo pension shortfall which alone will add another 2.1% to the property tax bill. (The money-losing transit service is seeking a 12.7% increase in its budget, and despite this increase it will still require taxpayer subsidy of 50% of its operating costs.) Just about every other city department is seeking an increase in its budget. And we haven't heard from the really costly ones yet -- social services, fire and police.
Speaking of police, are we getting value for money ? Property owners find themselves responsible for their own security -- installing expensive alarm systems, burglar bars, and stockade fencing with padlocked gates to protect their homes; installing expensive alarm systems, "the club" and other security devices to protect their vehicles -- while at the same time empire building goes on apace at the cop shop.
With regard to the OC Transpo budget, Councillor Alex Cullen (and mayor wannabe) had this to say: "It's a reasonable budget and reflects costs we can't avoid."
Why is it, in Ottawa, that excessive requests for budget increases by city departments are always "costs we can't avoid" ?
Why can't our elected representatives demonstrate they have the balls to start avoiding these costs by emulating their Toronto counterparts who have instructed all departments and agencies in that city to get out their red pencils and start cutting.
Toronto aims to slash $343 million from its operating costs in what's being termed a "big hurt" budget. From the early figures, it would appear that city officials are planning "big hurt" budget in Ottawa too -- but in this city it's big hurt for the taxpayers -- just the opposite of what's going on in Toronto.
Apparently elected officials in that city are not afraid of immediate spending controls, reductions in services, a prolonged hiring freeze, possible layoffs and no new initiatives. The ultimate goal is to shrink their 2010 budget by 5 % compared with this year, with another 5% drop in 2011.
Citizen Ellie would not object to paying $195 extra to cover garbage removal if she believed this additional revenue was really necessary to keep the city going. Citizen Ellie would be a prime candidate to purchase swampland in Florida if that's what she believed.
Fact is that the current council hasn't been taking care of business. Taxpayers' dollars have been frittered away because money management hasn't been their number one priority. What's been their number one priority ? Useless debate over stupidities such as Shannon Tweed Day, pothole inspectors, tanning parlors, Ottawans' consumption of salt, farmer signage requirements, street furniture, city donations to political parties, and such "significant" by-laws covering tree cutting, locking pools, and settling neighborhood squabbles. No talk of line-by-line budget analysis or wage freezes or reduction in services or spending controls of any sort.
This new "user fee" for garbage collection may very well be the final nail in this council's coffin. Judging from letters to the editor in local newspapers this week, plus comment from citizens on local radio talk shows, this one isn't sitting well with taxpayers. It's probably scotched Councillor Peter Hume's chances at the mayor's chair as people tend to blame the messenger who brings the bad news. Unlike Lansdowne Live or the LRT where the figures boggle the mind, this is one cost Joe and Jane Lunchpail understand and they don't like it. At least Ottawa's rural residents have been spared -- chalk one up for the Carleton County Landowners' Association.
New posts usually on Fridays.