Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Few Odds and Ends

There was no Executive Committee meeting this week - I'm not sure why. We didn't get any notice that the meeting was cancelled, nor do I recall any discussion that a meeting wasn't necessary because last week's council meeting was held on Wednesday rather than Monday. Perhaps the decision was made months ago. Perhaps it's part of our summer hours. How meetings are set, and the process for changing them, is one of the things that an audit of our practices would help to clarify. I suppose that in the big picture this seems like a trivial matter, but more clarity and consistency might leave me feeling less out of the loop, for no reason.

There are a couple of items from last week's council meeting that I wanted to mention. One was the approval to build a new residential building higher than the original plans had indicated, which left me feeling that the residents in the area, who had clearly indicated that this was not something that they wanted, were the victims of an end-run approved by council.

To give a bit of history on the matter, several months ago a developer brought forward a proposal to build a six-storey condo building on a lot on River Street that was zoned for single family residential. This is in Ward 3, and residents of the area had made it quite clear to me in phone calls and meetings that they did not want this sort of development in their neighbourhood, largely because of the additional impact of more residents in a small area, without adequate parking. The motion to rezone was defeated, although one member of council tried to have it brought back for reconsideration during the same meeting, which is not allowed. A few months later, council was given a new proposal for the same site, for a two-storey low-rise development. Council then approved the rezoning to allow for this. At last week's council meeting the developer was back - now the building will be three storeys, without adequate parking, and they will have to encroach on city land. One could suspect that this was their plan all along, and who knows how many storeys it will end up being. In any event, council approved the change, even though there was no explanation why the change of plans was necessary. Understandably, residents of the area feel let down by council, although one woman who called me was kind enough to thank me for trying.

At last week's meeting I also asked if it would be possible, since the fund-raising project for the soccer centre was so wildly successful, raising far more than their target, if the city's contribution could then be reduced. We could redirect some of the money to a number of projects, including the repair work required for the Harry Jerome track, which is in such a state of disrepair that the city is now unable to host large track meets. And some of the money could be used to give tax-payers a bit of a break in their taxes in future years. I'm not particularly hopeful, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Finally, I wanted to discuss a bit more my upcoming motion for the city to undergo an audit of its practices. Such an audit would not only be valuable for council members, but also for city administration, which is the other half of the team that runs the city. In my almost eight years on council, we have had four city managers, as well as one acting manager for several months. Many of our department heads are new. We've undergone several reorganizations, some major, some minor. We've had the usual round of retirements and people leaving for other jobs. All of this change means that, inevitably, there's a loss of corporate knowledge. An audit would give everybody, both council and administration, a common understanding of roles, responsibilities, and processes. I don't see this, as the poll on the web-site of the local paper puts it, as a way of resolving our differences - a healthy council should have differences of opinion. I do see it as a way of helping us get to a point where our differences can be discussed respectfully and openly, in such a way that we come to the best possible solutions for the city. Some may think that it's too late - however, this council has to work together for another sixteen months, and I don't think that it's a poor investment for us to get some help to allow us to do that.

"Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress." - Mahatma Gandhi

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