Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pre-Budget Consultations - Town of Clarenville

On October 30, Clarenville Town Council invited interested parties and groups to present to them recommendations towards developing the 2013 Town of Clarenville Budget.  This is my submission:

My presentation has three major themes:

1) Clarenville needs to focus on its people:  We need the right people, with the right skills (working for the town and living in the town) to grow Clarenville.

2) Clarenville's growth needs to be managed.  Rules are important, but more importantly these rules need to be applied and monitored.

3) Clarenville's future success relies on NEW people coming to town.  Without the luxury of a baby boom, our future success will rely on attracting and retaining younger, better educated, community oriented people.  To be attracted and to stay these people require that the Town be an attractive place to live, professionally run and with the amenities that they want.  If we don't do this other towns will. (Greater St. John's, CBS, CBN is our immediate competition).

Naheed Nenshi - Mayor of Calgary

Naheed Nenshi is the Mayor of Calgary.  He’s young, just over 40, and he’s innovative.  Mayor Nenshi spoke at Memorial University last week and in St. John’s.  His hour long talk and question and answer session is a fascinating look on how we can renew municipal government and engage citizens in the process.  It’s well worth the watch – see it here

Key discussion themes that Mayor Nenshi raised in his discussion.  I reflect on them as LESSONS FOR CLARENVILLE:
  1. On Involvement - people will be involved in their community if they are asked to be involved.
  2. On being open as a country  - Nenshi noted that in order to continue our growth we are going to need imported talent.  We have to be more open.  Nobody should care where you are from - be concerned about what you can bring to the table
  3. On Transparency - People want honesty and transparency. Transparency breeds honesty and citizen engagement
  4. On the importance of Municipal Government - If the federal or provincial governments disappeared it would take a while to notice.  If municipal governments disappeared you would notice almost immediately - We underrate its importance and value.
  5. The Three Things for Calgary project - This is an engagement project launched in Calgary where citizens were asked to do three things to make their city a better place and then tell someone about it. http://www.3thingsforcalgary.ca/
  6. On taxes – If there is a clear link between services and the community and if people perceive value for what they are paying they will pay more gladly pay taxes.  A town's/city's job is to show vale for the taxes being collected.
  7. On Engagement:  Using a novel process, Calgary engaged 24,000 citizens in their  consultation process.  They used many techniques including social media.  This proved that it's not the people that's the problem (as we are told), it's the process used. 
  8. On the importance of Immigration -  Immigration is the promise of our community - embrace it.
  9. On why governments fear social media - Social media is hard to manage, and as a result politicians tend to fear it.  but the fear is the reason to embrace it.
  10. On Homelessness: Calgary has a successful anti-homelessness plan that we can learn from - http://calgaryhomeless.com/assets/research/Social-Policy-Frmwk-July2012.pdf

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Tender Issue

Last week you and I and the Town of Clarenville bought a new pickup truck.  It’s a pretty regular occurrence for the Town to purchase a piece of equipment to allow it to do the things that we, as citizens, expect to be done. 

In order to help ensure that our elected officials get the best value for our tax dollars, things of any significant value (>$500) need to be purchased through a tendering process.  This means that we get at least three quotes on a significant item before we buy and then we, through our elected council, select the best of the bids.

Multiple quotes ensure that our best interests are served.  Last week this did not happen and I’m not at all sure why.   According to the transcript of the meeting (reported on the PACKET website Oct 6 meeting @ 33 minute mark), only a single quote was received for a ¾ ton pickup to the value of $39,947 +HST.  This single quote was accepted without question by the Council.

There are many companies that sell this type of equipment and surely there could have been many more bidders – why weren't there more bids? and why weren't more bids sought before a $45,000 decision was made?  

By accepting the single quote, this effectively has rendered the purpose of the tendering process useless and certainly does not protect our best interests.  Even more disconcerting is that it sets a dangerous precedent for future purchases.

We elect Council’s to protect our interests and serve us – this is yet another example where I see our council not doing that.   Let's not let the decision makers count on citizen indifference as a way of allowing for poor decision making in Clarenville.    

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pre-Budget Consultation - Writers and Presenters Only Please

After carefully listening to Tuesday’s Council meeting I was taken aback by Council's approval and insistence for “in writing” only proposals and limited private meetings for the pre-budget consultation with the finance committee scheduled for October 30.

The formality of this approach will almost ensure that fewer people will seek a meeting and, because of the insistence on “in writing” comments, even fewer people will take part – especially those who are not competent speakers or writers – they will simply not bother to participate in the process.

What impact will this decision have on the retired senior, people who prefer to express themselves vocally rather than through the written word  or the young person who each might have some very insightful thoughts to share with the Council but who will be frozen out?

If you feel Clarenville needs more opportunity for citizen participation rather than less, please express your concerns to Mayor Fred Best  fred@clarenville.net  466.7937

You can listen to this issue discussed beginning at the 27 minute mark

Me thinks thou protest too much: In Praise of the MAA

Surely by now, if you own property, you have received your 2012 property assessment in the mail.   It’s been a jaw dropping experience for most people as we have seen the appraised values of our properties go up by 25% or more over the last assessment 3 years ago.   Because of this, the Municipal Assessment Agency, the provincial agency that calculates the values, has become a lightning rod for taxpayers and municipal governments alike. Tuesday night’s Council meeting was no exception.  The MAA received an impassioned bashing – but I’m not convinced.

If you look at your assessment, I am sure that you will agree that it is a truer reflection of the actual value of your property.  Ask yourself honestly – could I get at least this much for my house if I sold it?  I am sure you will agree that it’s a more realistic value.   Because this assessed value is more realistic, banks will more readily acknowledge the value of your assets – making loans easier and cheaper to get. As well, investors in our town will have a more realistic assessment of the stock of property in the town – a healthier/wealthier town is a more attractive investment opportunity.

The impact of the assessment on your tax bill is totally in control of the Town council.  The “mil” rate sets taxes based on the assessed value of your property – and the Town controls the mil rate.   So lowering the rate would effectively allow the town to keep your tax bill the same.

The likelihood is that your taxes will go up.   This assessment side show effectively allows towns to raise tax revenues (by creatively adjusting the mil rate) while at the same time saying that they are lowering tax rates. This is a dream come true for politicians – as long as property values continue to grow.  

So the Municipal Assessment Agency lightning rod is a great way to deflect the political fallout from an effective tax increase by towns – a boon to politicians that they say they hate.  (As long as I get value for my tax dollar I am agreeable to a reasonable tax increase.)

The real issue of the inequity in tax load between people in incorporated towns who are highly taxed and those in unincorporated regions who are not as taxed ( but avail of the services) is being ignored.  This is the issue that should be the focus of the debate. Unfortunately that debate is not as politically beneficial to politicians at both the provincial and municipal levels.        

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Legislative Puffery - "NO" SMOKING wink wink

I was at the hockey game this past weekend, where you?  If you were, did you work your way through the smoke outside the entrance?

I remember when I sat on Council, we passed a progressive piece of legislation that outlawed smoking on all town owned property – including the stadium and stadium grounds.  At around the same time, several other  government departments and agencies, as well as some privately owned shopping malls, also adopted policies outlawing smoking on their properties.  It seemed like the thing to do.

Since that time I have seen this rule made a mockery of time and time again – not just at the stadium but virtually everywhere that adopted the policy.

Like many of the rules that are made, I wonder if they are made more to “look’ like some organization is being progressive rather than actually being progressive.   Old habits die hard, both for the organizations that make the rules and for those who choose to ignore the rules.

Now I'm not out to make criminals out of smokers, but if we make the no-smoking rule we have to be prepared to educate on it and enforce it.  The upshot of it all is that we either have to stop wasting our time with such “legislative puffery” that we have neither intention nor capacity to enforce, or we back up our intentions with continuous education and enforcement.   

In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to pass smokers having a relaxing puff just outside of stadium, and the playgrounds, and at work, and the mall.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Random Thoughts...: A New Piece of the Rotary Trail

Random Thoughts...: A New Piece of the Rotary Trail: Clarenville has a new trail to enjoy. Part of the Rotary Trail, it starts at the Dog Park and meets up with the original Rotary Trail. L...

On Potential

Making the Town better - Here’s a laundry list of ideas that I will file under the heading  “People Potential”

Ice Cap Opportunity

The Clarenville Events Centre in all its splendor as Danny Williams, CEO of the Ice Caps, presents a cheque for $5000 to Clarenville Minor Hockey.
On Sunday the AHL's St. John's Ice Caps and Syracuse Crunch played a preseason exhibition game in front of 1100 hockey fans.  This event proved to be a great opportunity to showcase the Clarenville Events Centre and the Town to the league.  With the potential to hold the Allan Cup in 2015 and the upcoming 2014 NL Winter games, this was an incredible opportunity to showcase our capabilities. Based on the positive comments from the league and the media covering the league, they were impressed. Kudos to the organizers!

The Highway Lookout

Where's Clarenville: The TCH lookout at Naked Man is getting grown in

For anyone who has traveled the TCH towards Clarenville in the dark, as you round the turn at Naked Man the lights of our town are pretty darn impressive – and getting more impressive each year.   The lookout on the highway there is a great showcase area for Clarenville.  But notice that it is growing in.  The view is being obscured and the neglect is showing.   If we are going to harness the maximum potential of that lookout to allow people to capture the impressive view, work needs to be done there to trim the trees and clean the area up.   Some signage that describes Clarenville and invites  people in would certainly be a progressive move as well – Now there’s a challenge for the Economic Development committee of Council.

The Age Friendly Park – an Opportunity Community sliding hill

The new Age Friendly park would be a great spot for a small family friendly sliding hill 

One of the things Clarenville does not have in the town is a community sliding hill (there is however, a great sliding hill at White Hills, just above the Lee Churchill Chalet).  The gentle (safe) slope that falls from the School Ball field to the new Age Friendly park would make a great sliding spot is some of the trees were removed in time for winter – it’s another opportunity to build community. 

Duck House – Safer for Ducks and for People

A Duck house like this one in the inner harbour would attract ducks and help take them out of harms way

This past year, Council has spent a lot of time talking about the duck problem on the Shoal harbour Causeway.  There has been lots of talk but nothing in terms of tangible action.  With the new benches that have been installed on the trail, it may be an idea to build a floating Duck House in the inner harbour that would attract the ducks, keep them away from the main road and provide people with an opportunity and a reason to sit on the new benches to feed the ducks.


As you may have seen or read, we were in Washington, DC last week at the SIFE World Cup.  9 of us went from Clarenville Campus, but we were not the only ones there from Clarenville.   At least a couple of the Memorial SIFE team were from the greater Clarenville area.   We were there to cheer them on as they had the job of representing Canada at this 38 country competition in which each student team presents on business projects that they completed that focused on the so-called “triple” bottom line – People – Profit – Planet.   It was an opportunity to measure ourselves against the world and we were among the very best! Thanks Garry Gosse for all those Canadian Flags! See: http://www.clarenvillecampus.blogspot.ca/ for details