Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going.........Going.......Gone !
Another city council dinosaur is riding off into into the sunset -- presumably on a bicycle.
After 19 years at the trough, Councillor Jacques Legendre is calling it quits. Despite having previously indicated his intention to run again, he announced his departure in his "annual report" to his constituents which was circulated in Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward last week.
While his constituents were digesting this piece of news, the councillor was swanning around Copenhagen -- ostensibly attending a cycling conference or studying how the Danes have managed to convince their citizenry that cycling is the only way to go.
Now there's something in that. Citizen Ellie was in Copenhagen herself some six years ago and she couldn't help but notice the thousands of bikes parked on lots adjacent to the train station when she arrived in the city in the evening. The following morning, the bikes were gone and the lots were empty, only to fill up again at the end of the work day. Citizen Ellie's budget-priced hotel was adjacent to the railway station so she was able to observe this phenomena first-hand.
According to Citizen Ellie's tour guide, no one steals bicycles in Copenhagen -- thus the sucess of their "bikes in the downtown core" program. Councillor Legendre probably could have elicited this information from the Danish Embassy right here in Ottawa, thus saving the taxpayers the cost of this junket. But what's a few thousand bucks .............
Councillor Legendre knew in May (when his "annual report" went to press) or even sooner, that he was not going to run again. At the New Edinburgh Community Alliance annual general meeting earlier this month, he advised those in attendance that he was not going to give a verbal report to the meeting as his annual report was on the way and we could read about his "accomplishments" for ourselves.
So that begs the question: why, if you're not going to seek re-election, would you go off on a fact-finding jaunt when you know you aren't going to be around to present those facts to council or champion the cycling cause at the council table during the next four years ? Was this his version of the "farewell tour ?" The Tivoli is particularly nice at this time of year.
Councillor Legendre will be back at City Hall tomorrow. Never let it be said that he missed an important vote. He already telegraphed his position at the aforementioned NECA meeting where he exorted the audience to join him in objecting to the Lansdowne Live project on the basis that "if they could do it to the Glebe, they could do it to you" implying that evil developers could convince some future city council to OK construction of a football stadium and a shopping mall in Stanley Park. Enthusiastic applause from his pal, Councillor Clive Doucet, who just happened to be in the audience, having ridden to the meeting on his bicycle.
In the meantime, Citizen Ellie waits with baited breath for the councillor's response to the e-mail she sent to him (at his request) on the morning following the NECA meeting. It's now 20-plus days and counting. It's interesting that after announcing the "Legendre Watch" in last Sunday's edition of The Pitchfork, Citizen Ellie received an e-mail from one of his staffers apologizing for the fact the councillor did not have time to reply prior to leaving the city. Didn't see storm sewers and resurfacing of The Mews Lane in the list of 2010 and 2011 works projects approved for Rideau-Rockcliffe which he included in his annual report. Didn't see anything about cycling or trips to Copenhagen either !
Financial Sustainability ? Not For These Dolts !
There's a certain arrogance evident when only two councillors show up for the financial sustainability summit which was held on June 22 -- especially since some 19 of them voted in favor of holding such a summit back in April.
Talk about thumbing their collective noses at the electorate, especially in an election year. They must all feel very secure in their positions. A big mistake if they thought taxpayers and the media didn't notice !
While some councillors may have had good reason to be absent, it's obvious that money management -- fiscal responsibility when it comes to spending your tax dollars -- isn't a priority for most of these people. Is it because they can't grasp the concept of money management ? Is it because they prefer not to think about the possibility of the well running dry, leaving them without the power to grant the wishes of every special interest group that knocks on the city hall doors ? Is it because they're afraid of having to take tough measures such as trimming the city's payroll ? What is it about "no new money" that they don't understand ? Questions you should ask when they come knocking on your door seeking your vote in October.
Biking In The Capital
If members of city council (Councillor Clive Doucet, mayor wannabe Councillor Alex Cullen et al) are serious about encouraging people to ride their bikes to work, they need to campaign to make bicycle theft a really serious offence with an appropriate penalty. Knuckle-rapping just doesn't cut it.
Citizen Ellie suspects that the reason Ottawans aren't emulating their Copenhagen counterparts is that there are no safe places to leave one's bike in this city. Even if it's stored in your backyard, let alone chained to a bike rack or lamp post, you're at the mercy of crackheads and other low lifes.
In Copenhagen, citizens living in the suburbs take the train in the morning to their jobs in Copenhagen. Then they go to the bike lot where they parked their bike
the night before. Lo and behold, it hasn't been stolen or vandalized or broken up for parts-- the norm in Ottawa. They ride their bikes to their places of work where bike storage is provided and after work it's back on the bike for the ride to the bike lot at the train station and then it's on to the train and home.
In order to achieve what's been achieved in Copenhagen, there has to be a change in Ottawa's culture. Bicycle theft has to become as unacceptable as honor killings. The cops have to charge these people and the courts have to punish them severely. Safe, secure bike lots and bike storage areas have to be provided. Until then, those who advocate bike traffic only in the downtown core are dreaming in technicolor.
New posts usually on Sundays.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Are You Contributing To Ottawa's Drug Problem ?

Yes, it's true. There are none so blind as those who cannot see -- as goes the old saying.
Maybe you're one of those who is blind ? Maybe you're an enabler ? Maybe you're a big part of the problem. Bet you didn't think of that the last time you forked over spare change to a panhandler.
Fact is, most of these panhandlers are crack cocaine addicts (tweakers) and your loonie is helping them towards their next "fix". Ottawa's got a big problem with crack cocaine and other street drugs and you're not helping matters any. When you give these people money, you make the situation worse.
Perhaps Citizen Ellie should be grateful to you. Your loonie likely has spared her from having her car broken into, with the thief stealing her sunglasses or something else which might be sold for a buck or two or traded for a "tab".
Many Ottawans believe that panhandlers are homeless and need money for food.
Please ! Rid yourself of this notion. More free meals are handed out in this town than there are eaters.
Why is the food bank seeing greater demand from suburban areas such as Barrhaven and Orleans ? Could it be because crack cocaine has now found its way into the suburbs and addicts are making choices about feeding their families or feeding their habit ?
A couple of years ago, not too long after he was elected, Mayor Larry got into hot water with the city's bleeding heart lefties and chardonnay socialists for suggesting Ottawans should "stop feeding the pigeons" when asked how he was planning to handle the growing panhandler problem in the By Ward Market and Rideau Centre areas. Apparently referring to panhandlers as "pigeons" wasn't politically correct in the minds of those who make a living from the poverty industry and the other self-appointed apologists for the so-called "weak and downtrodden" .
Last week, Ottawa's Police Chief Vern White addressed the issue when he appeared before a senior citizens' group. While he didn't mention "pigeons" in his talk, he didn't mince words about the city's growing drug problem and how those who dole out spare change to panhandlers are contributing to it. Stop giving them money, he said !
Chief White produced some eye-openers. There isn't a high school in this city that doesn't have its student drug dealers. There isn't a 15-year-old kid in this city who doesn't know where to get drugs at his/her school. Some kids as young as 10 are coming to school with prescription medications pinched from the parents' medicine chest -- which they sell to classmates. You'll be able to read plenty about this crisis in our midst in a major series by reporter Chris Cobb in The Citizen this coming week. If that doesn't open your eyes, Citizen Ellie doesn't know what will !
Crack cocaine and oxycontin are the scourge of our times. Perhaps you've noticed large signs in your local pharmacist's window advising that oxycontin and other narcotics are not kept in the store any more. Those with prescriptions for these meds must call in advance and the pharmacist will order the necessary amount from the secret pharmacy supply house. Why is this happening ? It's because there's been a rash of pharmacy hold-ups by tweakers looking for drugs. Hopefully the signs will discourage this activity and prevent something worse from happening to store staff and innocent shoppers during the course of these robberies.
So, folks ! Take off the blinders. You can be the solution instead of the problem. Keep your spare change in your pocket or purse. Don't feel sorry for them. They don't want your money for food. They want it for drugs ! Don't feed the pigeons.
Legendre Watch
It's now 13 business days since Citizen Ellie sent her councillor, Jacques Legendre, an e-mail containing three questions. Citizen Ellie had attended her local community association meeting on June 1, had spoken to the councillor and at his request, fired off the e-mail the following morning.
Citizen Ellie has sent previous e-mails to the councillor -- rarely has there been a response.
In the e-mail in question, Citizen Ellie asked:
1) Why has work ground to a halt on the apartment building at 245 Crichton Street and how long do neighbors have to put up with the current eyesore ?
2) What is happening with the sustainability summit proposed in a motion by Councillors Wilkinson and El-Chantiry in April -- which Council Legendre supported. When is the summit going forward and when will the public be advised?
3) When is the city going to install storm sewers and resurface The Mews Lane so that pedestrians do not have to wade through ankle-deep water during the spring melt and whenever there is a heavy rain ?
None of these are questions which require copious and lengthy research in order to provide answers. Three phone calls from the councillor's office by the councillor's highly-paid staff to the appropriate city departments (also staffed by highly-paid people) should have elicited answers forthwith.
Citizen Ellie thinks 13 days is surely enough time to provide a response. So she's going to keep track of exactly how long it takes. Watch this space. The "Legendre Watch" starts on Monday, June 21.
New posts usually on Sundays

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Increase our taxes....Please.....Please !!!!

Earlier this week, The Ottawa SUN trumpeted on its front page that the majority of Ottawans are quite prepared to pay more property taxes and user fees in order to maintain city services. According to the SUN's exclusive Leger poll, some 43 per cent of us don't mind being bled white by the bloated bureaucracy on Laurier Avenue.
Those of us who are familiar with polling techniques know that the responses depend on how the question is formed. In this case, the question was: Which of the following statements most accurately reflects your view on city taxes today ? a) The city must maintain its current level of city services, even if that means some increases in user fees or taxes; b) I would be willing to see a significant cut in services in order to hold the line on taxes; and c) Neither statement.
This question was put to some 600 adult Ottawans (over age 18) during the period between May 14 and May 21 and according to Leger, their polls are accurate to within +/- 4 per cent 19 times out of 20.
Forty three (43%) of those polled answered "yes" to (a); 28 per cent answered "yes" to (b);
27 per cent answered neither (a) nor (b) and two per cent said they didn't know. Wouldn't these figures indicate that rather than the majority of Ottawans being OK with a tax or user fee hike, the majority falls into the groups which are either not in favor or haven't made up their minds yet. Citizen Ellie suspects that those who haven't made up their minds yet are likely to be opposed to tax and user fee hikes when they finally do make up their minds. If these folk were hoo-haw happy with tax and user fee hikes, they would have answered (a) in the affirmative -- without stalling.
So before the tax-and-spend chardonnay socialists at city hall start dancing, rubbing their hands together and salivating with glee at the prospect of yet another automatic budget increase without having to undertake any measures which might bring relief to ratepayers, they should think again.
City politicians and bureaucrats have long used the spectre of cutting services to justify their laziness with the red pencil and their unwillingness to change the way they do business. Give the public a good scare -- we'll have to close your library; no indoor rinks will operate next winter; your house might burn down because there won't be enough firefighters -- and Joe and Jane Lunchpail will fall into line. Citizen Ellie has heard them all over the years she's been following municipal politics. And it never ceases to amaze her at the number of well-educated, thinking Ottawans who routinely fall for this guff. Could it be that because Ottawa is a civil service town and the bureaucratic mentality of never changing the operating methodology permeates every segment of life in this city ? Would things be different if the private sector dominated Ottawa's economy --like Windsor, for example ?
Some councillors -- Eli El-Chantiry, Marianne Wilkinson and Rick Chiarelli -- are not averse to looking at new ways. Councillors El-Chantiry and Wilkinson moved the motion back in April supporting a " financial sustainability summit" proposed by the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (Ottawa TAG) and slated for June 22. This motion, to gather input from the public pending review of the Long Range Financial Plan and future budget process, was supported by Councillors Legendre, Feltmate, Deans, Hunter, Wilkinson, McRae, Desroches, El-Chantiry, Bloess, Monette, Bellemare, Bedard, Jellett, Leadman, Quadri, Cullen, Doucet, Hume and Chiarelli. Nays were Councillors Harder ( a surprise) and Holmes (no surprise).
Ottawa TAG has prepared a series of questions for the summit, questions which examine departmental costs with a vew to maintaining services while at the same time implementing a two-year budget freeze -- i.e. "no new money" -- which is what the federal government has done in its budget process.
There are those who say this is impossible -- including the SUN's city hall columnist Susan Sherring -- on the basis that the city's unionized employees won't accept pay cuts or wage freezes. Non-acceptance of taxpayers' financial realities on the part of unionized city workers is a given. but that doesn't mean throwing up one's hands in defeat ! A wage freeze is one potential tool, but there is no need to be concerned about job losses. If staff reductions are necessary, they can be achieved by attrition or staff can be absorbed by a service which needs to grow. Under a "no new money" program, funding for wage increases would have to be found from within a department's existing budget. That's what the feds have told their employees, and Citizen Ellie would not be surprised if something similar occurred at the provincial level. It would mean department heads would have to work harder to eliminate waste and featherbedding. And there's no reason why non-union, management and executive wages can't be frozen. There are too many on the "sunshine list" anyway !
In order to move away from the generic response that a two-year budget freeze would mean taking fire, police and snow plows off the streets, an Ottawa TAG member who holds a Master's degree in Business Administration, has spent a month conducting a line-by-line review of the city's budget. A herculean task and a volume of information has been amassed. Fifty core services, non-core services and administration costs were identified and each of these was broken down into 20 subgroups. There are efficiencies to be had by taking a serious look at spending on promotional items, performance measurement, communications, planning, billing, processing expense claims, office stationery and furniture, procurement, record-keeping etc. Non-core service items. And there's the all too familiar technique of continuing to carry unfilled positions on departmental personnel rosters in order to bolster departmental funds.
Ottawa TAG has determined that $243 million can be found by implementing a 10 per cent reduction in these areas: executive/board/management; non-service administrative excluding Hydro); non-departmental costs (excluding Hydro); administrative costs for core and non-core services; outsourced legal and consulting services (excluding Hydro); some capital costs; some core services (five per cent cut); and non-core services.
Ottawa TAG also believes the city should look at innovative ways of providing services by putting some of these services out by tender to the private sector. Ottawa contracted out its garbage services long ago. And Windsor is currently looking at outsourcing its parking enforcement branch.
One of Ottawa TAG's suggestions which caught Citizen Ellie's eye was using cheaper civilian employees to conduct police reference checks rather than have highly paid police officers do this job. Citizen Ellie knows of at least one jurisdiction in North America where volunteers are used for this purpose -- Yavapai County in Arizona, where the sherriff's department makes good use of volunteers in a number of capacities, including police reference checks.
Financial sustainability is not something to be sneered at, nor should its proponents be summarily written off as a bunch of kooks who know not of which they speak. Citizen Ellie just sent the city her second property tax payment -- total this year was $7,261.20. In return, she gets the bare minimum of snow removal in the winter. In the spring, summer and fall, when snow melts or it rains, her street is ankle-deep in water as there are no storm sewers. Citizen Ellie supports Ottawa TAG's efforts to force serious public discussion of the city's financial sustainability prospects. It would be better for the city to act in a studied fashion now than react in a panic at some later date when the well truly does run dry.
New posts usually on Sundays