Category Archives: Why am I running?

Statement to set out briefly why I am running.

Why am I running?

“If you don’t like the way the city is being run, run for city council.”
George Peary

I don’t like the way the city is being run and so I am running for Abbotsford City council to change the way the city is run, the way council behaves.

I believe that when an action council wants to take is against the Municipal Act council should obey the law – not ignore the law and/or find a way to circumvent the law. Particularly when the Municipal Act prohibits the action in order to protect municipal taxpayers from being saddled with multi-million dollars subsidies for the purchase of a professional hockey team. As the taxpayers of Abbotsford were when Abbotsford Council ignored the law and as the taxpayers of Chilliwack were NOT when Chilliwack council obeyed the law.

When a city council has such contempt for the Act that governs the way they manage the municipality that they feel it is their right to ignore or circumvent any law that interferes with what they want to do – what other laws, rules and regulations they have chosen to ignore or circumvent?

I believe that when a matter is before council that involves a person, company or organization that has made political contributions to the election of councillors those councillors must disclose this conflict and disqualify themselves from voting on any matter that affects a contributor to their election campaigns.

No councillor or mayor should sneak a matter that was voted down at one council meeting back before council at the next council meeting when one of the people who voted against the rezoning to permit the project is out of town; should they lack the integrity not to sneak the matter back before council, they should NOT be voting to approve the rezoning of a project proposed by a contributor to the mayor and councillor’s election campaign. Particularly when the other councillors vote against the project and it is only the two votes of those who were……contributed to by the developer that result in approval for the matter under consideration.

Council’s behaviour sets the tone for the behaviour of city staff. if council behaves in illegal and ethical ways……

I believe that a councillor must have a grasp of financial realities, an understanding of basic mathematics and an ability to step back in order to avoid getting so fixated on one aspect of the matter you make costly, millions of dollars costly, errors.

Abbotsford current council is so fixated on getting $61 million dollars of federal money for the water infrastructure upgrade they have not only poisoned the working relationship with Mission (buses, waste treatment, Norrish Creek water) but have spent $200,000 for a PR campaign to convince Abbotsford’s voters that paying an extra $127 million dollars in order to secure $61 million in federal grant money is a good idea.

Now if the mayor, council and staff each want to give me $127, I will be more than happy to give them $61 for that $127 because I will make $66 per person. What would you say if I offered to give you back $61 if you gave me $127? This is why the only choice for financially sensible taxpayers is to vote NO on November 19th’s P3 referendum.

I believe that an apology to the mayor, council and citizens of Mission for the boorish behaviour of Abbotsford’s mayor and council is due and that the most intelligent, fiscally responsible, course of action is to work with Mission as originally planned before Mayor Peary and councils temper tantrum at not getting their own way.

Under the original Mission/Abbotsford water infrastructure upgraded Abbotsford was to pay 2/3 of the cost and Mission 1/3.

Mayor Peary, council and staff are insisting that Abbotsford proceed alone to get federal funds to cover 21% of the project.

” I believe that a councillor must have …… an understanding of basic mathematics.” Anyone with an understanding of basic mathematics knows that 1/3 or 33% is larger than 21%. That working with Mission and having them pay 33% is a smarter financial choice than Abbotsford proceeding on its own in order to get a 21% federal grant.

Take into account the $1 million per year ($30 million over the 30 year planned operating period) extra it will cost to operate the water treatment under a P3 and going with the original partnership with Mission is a ‘No Brainer’. Except perhaps those who are mathematically challenged or , like the scarecrow in the wizard of Oz lack a….

I believe that council has a duty of care to manage the city’s business in a prudent, thoughtful and fiscally responsible manner that reflects the best interests of the City and its Citizens.

It is not council’s job to be looking for profits. Being prudent, thoughtful and fiscally responsible means council should not be chasing ‘profits’. Being prudent, thoughtful and fiscally responsible requires council to be aware that it is not savings when it costs you more to repair or finish a project.

I believe in behaving in a financially responsible manner, solid financial management and the need for leadership on finances.

Strict budgeting, financial discipline and squeezing as much bang from my bucks as possible are required in order to stretch a extremely limited income to pay my rent and cover my bills. I believe that council should behave as they would with their own money.

Properly used budgeting is a valuable management tool to control costs and understand where money is actually being spent. But this only applies where budgeting is treated as a serious exercise. However, with the fudge-a-budget Abbotsford’s staff and council currently produce, no benefits to management of the city’s operations and finances occur. Abbotsford’s budget process needs to be restructured so that the operational and financial management benefits of a well-managed budgeting process can be realized.

In a tight economy council should be showing leadership through such policies as no management salary raises, eliminating luxury budget items such as the mural recently painted on the walls at ARC and cutting actual budget items, not just items placed in the budget so council can be seen to be making budget cuts. If citizens have good ideas or suggestions then council should have no hesitation to make use or adopt these ideas or suggestions. If council is going to ask the public’s participation in the budget process they shouldn’t ignore or criticize the public suggestions and ideas simply because they are not what council wants to hear.

I believe in financial transparency; that taxpayers have the right to know how and where their money is being spent without the need to file FOI (freedom of information request) after FOI after FOI.

Council is there to serve the interests of all citizens, not just those who contribute to their election campaigns, have wealth or influence.

Facilities, fields, participation in sports and sports leagues should be accessible to all citizens. Membership at city facilities should not be the most expensive in the city. When it is significantly cheaper to be a member at a private gym than to be a member at a city facility, council’s priorities need to be realigned.

Houses in older residential areas of the city should not be torn down and replaced with monster homes. It is important to preserve the affordable housing that older neighbourhoods with smaller houses comprises.

Council should be providing leadership in the areas of affordable housing, homelessness, mental health and addiction services and support programs, poverty and hunger. Understand that leadership does not mean the city should be spending significant sums of money to address these issues. That is the responsibility of senior levels of government.

Abbotsford’s current mayor and council like to excuse themselves by pointing fingers at the provincial and federal governments. However, when the province makes available $11 million in capital funding to build affordable housing and an additional $650,000 per year for 25 years for support programs leadership requires that Council make use of those funds, no matter how politically uncomfortable showing that leadership may cause Council to be.

Abbotsford has many good people who want to help address these issues. What Abbotsford doesn’t have is the leadership that would give people, churches and other groups who want to be part of addressing these issues a focal point to come together, set priorities and work on accomplishing those priorities.

The first thing I did when I moved to Abbotsford 20 some odd years ago, was to get a library card. I consider the library or libraries in a community to be the most important public buildings; particularly in this day and age of rampant illiteracy, and functional illiteracy. A library is the crossroads of the community.

Over the years I’ve watched the demand for floor space at Clearbrook library make the library more and more crowded.

Clearbrook needs more study carousels, study rooms for students working on group projects and a space suitably large to house the children’s sub-library. The reason that the Clearbrook library building was built with a basement was to provide space for the library to expand into as Abbotsford grew and the demands on the library grew.

Unfortunately for the library, the librarians, patrons and the community the library isn’t a priority for mayor or counsel. Especially when there is money to feed councils spendthrift ways available by renting out the basement space to UFV.

Councils priorities should be the needs of the community. Not that needs the mayor and councillors.

One final point, I believe that the deal the mayor and counsel made to subsidize a professional hockey team – The Heat – is an illegal and therefore null and void. That the province must act on this violation of the Community Charter that governs municipalities in British Columbia.

Facts? Balance? Thoughtfulness?

Sadly, as the September 30, 2011 Global News Hour Final stories on the Abbotsford Heat and Abbotsford’s need for upgrading the city’s water system made clear, traditional broadcast media coverage all too often has little or nothing to do with facts, balance or thoughtfulness.

While the segment on the Heat did reference the $1.4 million subsidy paid directly to the Heat ownership for last year’s (2010/2011) season under the ten year revenue guarantee made by Abbotsford’s mayor and city council, it ignored or missed several important points.

Points such as: the indirect subsidies taxpayers pay for items such as the Heat banners adorning city lampposts or the advertising materials that adorn city facilities and buildings or the use of city staff to conduct business on behalf of the Heat.

Nor was there any mention of the yearly multi-million dollar operating subsidy to the Heat in the form of subsidizing the operations of the Sports Complex, the Heat’s home.

But the truly criminal aspect of Global’s story was the failure to address Abbotsford’s mayor and council signing an agreement to subsidize the Heat’s ownership that is illegal under the Community Charter that governs municipalities in BC.

No reference was made to Chilliwack’s mayor and council not entering into the same type of agreement to keep the Bruins (who moved to Victoria) in Chilliwack because as Chilliwack’s Mayor Sharon Gaetz stated “Under the province’s Community Charter, the city is not permitted to fund private business with taxpayers’ funds. This is deemed to be an assist to business and is strictly forbidden.”

Nor did Global say anything about Abbotsford’s mayor and council’s acknowledgement that the subsidy agreement with the Heat violates the Community Charter or their claims of having circumvented the law rather than obey it.

Global failed to question a mayor and council who, when a law forbids them from doing something they want to do, ignore/circumvent the law. Or ask just what else was circumvented or ignored behind the closed doors mayor and council prefer to operate from.

Later in the same broadcast Global’s story on Abbotsford’s need for a new water source left one wondering if some in Abbotsford were questioning the need to spend money on the City’s water infrastructure, while failing to address the true issue(s) of concern citizens have with Abbotsford’s mayor and council’s proposed upgrades to the water supply.

Contrary to the impression fostered by Global, nobody is disputing that Abbotsford needs to upgrade its water supply infrastructure. Indeed, many of those Mayor Peary labels as ‘naysayers’ – meaning they disagree with him – were calling on council to upgrade the water supply infrastructure before it built the ‘great white elephant’ AKA the Sports and Entertainment Complex.

There are major differences between the mayor and council’s intentions and the wishes/wants/best interests of the citizens of Abbotsford.

Council insists on using a P3 to upgrade the infrastructure, with Mayor Peary and council liking to talk about the $61 million grant they will get for going with a P3. Mayor Peary and council don’t like to talk about what prior ‘savings’ by mayor and council have cost the taxpayers (considerably more than the ‘savings’) or the fact that the increased costs associated with a P3 will be more (millions, tens of millions of dollars more) than the $61 million ‘savings’. Leaving Abbotsford taxpayers (once again) paying out of pocket for council chasing a mirage they call ‘savings’.

One significant cost the mayor and council like to overlook is that operating costs under a P3 would be at least a million dollars a year more expensive. Ironically this additional cost was included in the report commissioned by mayor and council to sell the project to the citizens of Abbotsford.

The mayor and council’s insistence on using a P3 ignores, as did the Global broadcast, the reality that around the world municipal governments are choosing not to use P3s on vital city resources such as water for a variety of good reasons, including keeping the control of vital resources such as water with the municipal governments.

Then there is the history and experience citizens have with the mayor and council’s promises as to what the total final cost of a project will be. The last time council told taxpayers the price was guaranteed by the contract with the builder (the last project council sold to the citizens) the cost of the project doubled. Costs that run over the cost promised by council by millions or tens of millions of dollars are simply normal operating procedure for mayor and council.

Keep in mind this is a mayor and council that built new Highway 1 interchanges where the roundabouts have signs telling drivers not to get in beside a truck because the design has trucks needing the entire roundabout to manoeuvre or where trucks tip over if they try to transit the roundabouts at or near the posted speed limits. A mayor and council that, with a short window for construction, a window that was open during the late fall/winter/early spring, thought hiring a firm that had never built a pool tank was a good idea.

Water is far too important a resource to go with a design build as the mayor and council want to. Yes, designing the system first in order to ensure it meets not just current but future needs, is robust enough for the years of service it will need to deliver and delivers the highest quality water requires far more of council than simply saying build me one of these – but council could always go back to meeting weekly to earn the salaries and perks they have voted themselves in recent years. More importantly, if the mayor and council are not willing to put in the time and effort required to ensure the needs and best interests of taxpayers are met – exactly why are they in office?

By its nature design build is a poor choice as the way to build a project, since the builder maximizes his profits by delivering the least he can, at the lowest cost he can, and meet the specifications of the contract. Design build is how you get roundabouts with signs warning cars not to enter beside trucks.

Abbotsford’s water infrastructure is too important to be built to the lowest standards and costs permitted by the contract.

Those are the major points of disagreement on upgrading the water infrastructure in Abbotsford. The disagreement is not whether we should upgrade, but about taxpayers wanting to ensure the upgrading is done correctly, managed well and has appropriate financial controls and frugality. As opposed to council’s take the easiest way out by going with a P3 and paying whatever the cost comes to.

All levels of government in Canada (municipal, provincial and federal) have a need to deal with a number of serious, complex issues at the same time they are constrained by the need to get their financial houses in order.

Unfortunately politics today are about politicians holding onto their power, perks and overly generous salaries by getting re-elected and has nothing to do with providing good governance and taking care of the people’s business.

Just as unfortunate is that traditional media is not about facts, balance or thoughtfulness. It is about the bottom line and best interests of whichever conglomerate the media in question is part of.

More unfortunate is that with the traditional media having become conglomerate owned and controlled, there is no media outlet for disseminating and discussing differing ideas, points of view and thoughts on what our priorities should be, the issues we need to address and how we should approach those priorities and issues. At least until such time as newer, open internet media such as The Tyee or Abbotsford Today are more well established and the public has an awareness of the new, emerging, information driven media world online.

I say more unfortunate because without information, knowledge and at least basic understanding you cannot make good choices and the functionality of democracy will continue to deteriorate.

With politicians focused on re-election and their own best interests and the public residing in wilful denial, media’s failure or refusal (or inability to recognize or understand?) to raise important issues, challenges and differing points of view in the public forum makes media partners with politicians and citizens clinging to wilful denial in our current sad state of affairs and the inauspiciousness of our future.

Media’s ‘news’ should, at the very least, resemble a broadcast containing facts, balance and thought, rather than having every appearance of being a promotional video for, in this case, Abbotsford’s mayor and council members seeking re-election in November.

Taxpayer Terror

Experience has made ” making profits” and ” saving taxpayers money” words and concepts that strike terror into the hearts of Abbotsford’s taxpayers when spoken by members of Abbotsford City Council.

Paying to cover the losses of Council’s ‘profitable’ get rich quick schemes or the costs of repairing, completing, redoing or living with the consequences of Council’s ‘saving taxpayers money’ has (and continues to) impoverish the taxpayers and citizens of Abbotsford, not just monetarily but also in terms of City services, infrastructure, amenities, the cost to use facilities etc.

One would have Hoped (Prayed) Council would have learned, after all their costly squandering of taxpayer dollars, to consider possible consequences of their actions instead of simply doing the math to arrive at the dollars that would be earned or saved IF and ONLY IF everything went absolutely perfectly.

What makes council’s recent announcement of their latest plan to reap big profits from electronic billboards notably worrisome is not the fact that once again council has, behind closed doors, created a fantasy world of imagined big profits that has little or nothing to do with the real world that rules existence outside the confines of City Hall. Nor is it that council still refuses to hear or consider any questions or objections raised by those who don’t share council’s fantasies.

No, what raises dread about council’s latest get rich quick ‘sit back and let the $millions$ roll in’ scheme is that, apparently unable to find any new financial disaster to pursue, council has RETURNED to the electronic billboards business.

Remember, council had to have a big, multicoloured, all the bells and whistles billboard for ARC because council could then simply ‘sit back and let the $dollars$ roll into city coffers’?

Since its installation no advertising dollars have materialized – none, zero, zip, nada. The ARC billboard has only been used, until recently at least, to deliver information about ARC’s programs and events that a smaller, simpler, far less expensive billboard would have sufficed to deliver at a substantial savings to taxpayers pocketbooks.

Yet in spite of the fact that none, zero, zip, nada of the advertising revenue promised by council ever materialized, council has returned to electronic billboards as a source of ‘profits’.

[Recently the billboard has been used to increase the dollar value/cost of council’s hidden subsidies for the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports complex by advertising upcoming events at the AESC.]

In light of Mayor Peary’s statements concerning the City’s agreement with the Pattison Sign Group one has to wonder if it is the ability to use the billboards to provide new, major advertising subsidization for the AESC and the Heat that led to the agreement?

The black hole that AESC is for taxpayer’s dollars – multi-million dollar subsidies to the Heat ownership group, multi-million dollar operating subsidies so the Heat have an arena to play in and the growing cost of council’s hidden (from taxpayer’s) subsidies – would seem about to consume millions more taxpayer dollars thanks to city council’s agreement with the Pattison Sign Group.

What makes me say that? Two things.

First is that councils big fancy digital billboard at ARC failed to attract advertising; that the only non-event  advertising on the Tradex electronic billboard is City advertising; that the display on the Automall’s very large, easily seen from Highway 1 electronic billboard is……..the time and temperature.

If there is no market for your product, in this case advertising on large electronic billboards, you are going to find yourself stuck holding said unsellable product.

Second, whatever else people have to say about Jimmy Pattison, they acknowledge that he is a sharp businessman.

The Pattison Sign Group is about to spend millions of dollars erecting 3 large electronic billboards in Abbotsford, were the lack of advertising dollars being spent on existing electronic billboards suggests there is a strong possibility that the Pattison Sign Group’s billboards will fail to generate sufficient revenue to break even on the billboards and their multi-million dollar cost.

Given council’s demonstrated willingness to provide revenue guaranties (a la the Heat) and the sharpness of Jimmy Pattison as a businessman – I want to know just how much Abbotsford’s taxpayers are potentially on the hook for when the billboards, which will operate in the real world and not council’s fantasy worlds, fail to generate enough revenue to cover their costs?

Unfortunately, what this agreement can cost Abbotsford’s taxpayers to pay for council’s latest get rich quick scheme’s ‘profits’ is undoubtedly something council considers taxpayers ‘don’t need to know’ and since it involves a private business they can (and will undoubtedly) refuse to disclose this information to taxpayers (as they do with the Heat).

Sigh.

I wonder how long it will be before council decides the problem with the AESC, as it would appear they did with ARC’s billboard, is that it is too small and that building a three or four times larger complex will have umpteen tens of $millions$ rolling in?

It is well past time that, if council wants to gamble on get rich quick schemes, they use their own money.

And if they cannot, as the BC lottery ads put it, learn their limits and play within them……

Because councillors are elected to take care of the City’s business and taxpayer’s best interests, not to be impoverishing taxpayers pursuing nonexistent business ‘profits’.

Aesthetically Pleasing?

Just how does one make a 10 X 20 foot electronic sign that is designed to be obtrusive and get your attention ‘aesthetically pleasing’?

And given that electronic signs have two sides would it not be more accurate to say Abbotsford is getting six signs? Or at least getting the visual pollution of six signs?

“stems the proliferation”?

To stem is ‘to stop, check or restrain’. I am not aware of the city being inundated with this type of visual pollution or of any proposals to visually pollute our cityscape with eye assaulting electronic billboards?

Council’s actions would seem to encourage others to consider the money to be made from this visual pollution; encouraging, not stemming the proliferation of visual pollution around our cityscape.

The attempt to use Amber alert as a justification is facetious since there are already signs on Highway One and around Abbotsford capable of giving an Amber alert.

No, what this is about is Council’s desperate search for sources of revenue so they can continue their spendthrift ways.

Business as usual for Council were it is all about Council’s wants and needs and ‘who cares about’ the wants or needs of Abbotsford’s citizens.

Council is suppose to focus on managing Abbotsford in the best interests of citizens, not on commercial business ventures.

The question that should have been asked is not how much money the city can make, but whether we want this type of visual pollution sprouting up like weeds around  Abbotsford.

While other cities in BC fight to protect their citizens from this type of visual pollution Abbotsford council, with dollar signs glowing in their eyes, happily sell Abbotsford’s citizens out; opening the door to visual pollution the extent of which only time will reveal.

Abbotsford, where the cityscape is littered with brightly glaring Signs of Council’s mismanagement and blatant disregard for the needs and best interests of Abbotsford citizens.

More ad hominem mayor Peary?

I see mayor Peary has changed the negative label he applies to any who dare disagree with him.

‘Naysayers’ have now become ‘critics’. Perhaps because the use of ‘naysayers’ reminds citizens that the predictions of the naysayers about the outcome and consequences of building the AESC have proven fairly accurate. Especially in contrast to the wildly inaccurate ‘everything will be wonderful’ predictions, claims and promises made by city staff and council.

When did critical review and evaluation of expenditures that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars become a bad thing?

Without the feedback provided by critical review and evaluation companies, countries, provinces and municipalities can easily end up wasting millions upon millions of dollars on projects that become white elephants and money pits. At least companies, countries, provinces and municipalities lacking papal infallibility.

Admittedly one needs solid self esteem to accept and examine the feedback provided by critical review, acknowledging oversights or mistakes and making changes as needed.

Personally, I must acknowledge that in my analysis and evaluation of the proposal to build the AESC I did not foresee that council would saddle taxpayers with a $75 million dollar liability for the Heat (of which $60 million remains for the 8 years the revenue guarantee has left).

Fortunately (or should that be unfortunately?) taxpayers are only out $5 – $6 – $7 million rather than the maximum possible $15 million for the first two years of the revenue guarantee.

I admit I failed entirely to anticipate that council would ignore the law – flout the law -break the law – and put taxpayers at risk for $75 million dollars by signing an illegal revenue guarantee with the Heat ownership.

As to Mayor Peary’s latest derogatory term for those who disagree with him:

Labelling me a critic or naysayer does not change what I am.

A person of common sense with an appreciation of financial reality and the need to act in a financially responsible manner.

A person who believes council should be acting in the best interest of and to address the needs of the city and its citizens and not council’s ego.

A person of ethics who believes that when subsidizing a hockey team is against the law council should respect the law rather than, as this council chose,  ignoring or finding ways to circumvent the law.

A person who feels that if the only benefit (or beneficiaries) of an economic impact report is the re-election campaign(s) of elected officials, payment for the report should come out of the pockets of those seeking re-election and not out of the pockets of taxpayers.

Insult to Insult to Injury

Over the years many people have compliment me on my willpower for my dedication in swimming 5 – 6 days a week. The truth is that it is not so much willpower or dedication as it is being highly motivated. 

As the years have accumulated all the contact sports, injuries etc have come home to roost with a vengeance. To maximize, to maintain, mobility and minimize pain I need to swim those 5 -6 days a week.

Which is why the sizable surcharge imposed on the users of the Abbotsford Recreation Centre (and the City’s other facilities) to pay the multi-million dollar subsidy for a professional hockey team and a multi-million dollar subsidy to the well connected members of the Heat ownership group is so painful both as a citizen of Abbotsford and physically.

The surcharges have pushed the cost of a pass for ARC from affordable (with planning and frugality) to out of reach for the best part of Abbotsford’s citizens – as well as propelling the cost of using public facilities well past the cost of using private facilities. Only in Abbotsford would you end up with the public facilities affordable only for the well-to-do and the private facilities affordable to the general public.

The reason I have not followed so many others to the private recreation facilities is that I am a length swimmer and it is only the public facilities that permit 25 metre lengths.

The limitations on swimming imposed by being able to afford to swim only during toonie swim times means that since pool fees moved into the stratosphere my mobility has been decreasing and my pain levels have been increasing.

Struggling stiffly, slowly and painfully up to start the day serves as a daily reminder of city council’s practice of serving the needs of council’s egos rather than the needs of the taxpayers – with the notable exception of well connected taxpayers.

Adding insult to the injury of the usurious surcharge is the decision to abuse perfectly fine walls with paint to caricature a mural – as opposed to using the money frittered away on the mural to keep the cost of admission less extortionate.

A mural that seems to have a great deal in common with a Rorschach inkblot adds yet another layer of insult. Filling balloons with paint and having patrons throw them at the walls would have gotten much the same look, at a negligible cost.

Council, in typical council fashion, painted murals in a building where the cost of painting the murals pushes the admission cost up leaving people unable to afford to use the facility and see the murals.

The purpose of public facilities is not to fritter away money on murals or to provide funds to provide multi-million dollar subsidies to/for a facility for a professional hockey team or to provide multi-million dollar subsidies for an ownership group to buy themselves (themselves – not the city that is paying the subsidies) a professional hockey team.

The purpose of public recreation facilities is to provide amenities that all citizens can afford to access.