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Don Atchison

City to eliminate transit entirely

City to eliminate transit

Hilarious.

Contextless Thoughts

  • After the Saskatoon Transit lockout is done, I can’t see Ann Iwanchuk winning a second full term.  Especially with Mike San Miguel quietly running again.  Her campaign was largely financed by labour and with the city attacking the ATU like it did, her slim margin of victory, her constituents relying on Transit heavily, and a lack of a signature issue so far, it could be really tough to win re-election.
  • It could hurt Clark and Loewen with their base and could mobilize the non voting parts of Ward 2 to really hurt Lorje.  I am not saying councillors will lose their seats but rather could face much tougher re-election races than they would have.  The right opponents will capitalize on this.
  • Despite what people think, this won’t hurt the mayor at all.  That is what the attack ads are targeted to protect (at the expense of councillors).  In many ways he could come out of this the winner, especially if this weakens rivals and empowers his base which to be honest, never rides a bus.
  • Of course the city being the city, coincided the lockout with the Mayor’s Cultural Gala.  You had some city councillors tweeting pictures of the city’s elite having a fun time while lower class people were being kicked off buses and having to walk home.  
  • Why would the city run attack ads against the very union it needs to negotiate with on the first day.  Saskatoon already has laughable communications and that didn’t exactly make the city look good.  Of course the political nature of the ads was bizarre.  Several city councillors swore to me that they never had any foreknowledge of the ads until they ran but both city staff and some others on council say that council saw and approved the ads in an in-camera session of executive committee.  It’s not exactly breaking news that council members lie to me on issues.  
  • Speaking of executive committees, it would be a lot easier for them to lie to me if council and staff stopped leaking what happened in there.  If only they had a way to investigate the leaks…
  • I have had several discouraging conversations with people who are utterly dependent on the bus for work, to provide care for a spouse who is in a nursing home, to get to school.  In Saskatoon we call those people collateral damage.
  • It is weird to hear councillors go all out in defence of their real fiduciary duty but ignore their responsibility to those who rely on a public service.  Empathy for those who have been hurt by this strike has not been something that has been communicated well.
  • I don’t really miss the NFL.  You would think I would after watching it every week since 1987 but I haven’t.   I glance at some scores but other than that, I haven’t really missed it.  I still have some college football, the Huskies, and the CFL but I have never cared about them like the NFL.
  • Brady Hoke needs to be fired from the University of Michigan.  He sent back out a quarterback with a concussion back onto the field.  That should be a fireable offence in any league (including when the Calgary Stampeders did it a couple of years ago in a playoff game against the Riders).  You send out a player with a brain injury, you are fired or suspended, especially in the NCAA.
  • What could Stephen Harper be thinking?  $300,000 courtesy ride for a couple of European diplomats because he wanted to have them at a reception?  Does he just not care anymore?  That does not look like a move by a politician who is planning on re-election.  Not only that but there is still widespread opposition to the deal in Germany.
  • The NFL is talking with Texas head coach Charlie Strong who has taken some strong steps in dealing with player misconduct. “We can’t compromise and sometimes that means getting rid of the best player.”
  • If you are a big company and you want to associate your brand with a strong event, I’d talk to the people behind Nuit Blanche right now.  Over 5000 people were on 20th Street last night for the inaugural event and it was a big time success.  People were partying, shopping, and hanging out all over the place.  What a great event.  Someone needs to step up and get behind it in 2015 monetarily so it can get bigger.
  • After reading this piece by Cathal Kelly, you will realize that the Blue Jays will never get any better than they are now.  So yeah, that kind of sucks.

City of Saskatoon’s Response to the Transit Lockout

Let them eat cake

I can’t claim credit for this artwork or the quote but that is Saskatoon City Council’s response to the great Transit Lockout of 2014.  The mayor is hoping for increased car pooling.  

Well high school attendance is down.  In one high school it is down by 50% today.  Think about that.  Half of the kids can’t get to school and the only solution the mayor has is “We are hoping people will carpool more”.  That’s it. They aren’t even negotiating.  There is no plan b.  No way to even get high school kids to school, even those that are high risk.  Everyone is left to their own devices.

You can expect that in the event of the strike but it was a lockout.  The city gave advance notice, created radio ads, and distributed talking points.  All of the things to cover themselves politically but nothing to help at risk high school students to get to school or low wage earners to get to work.

Even in the emergency council meeting to ratify the changes for the city’s pension fund where councillors took all sorts of time to ask questions designed to provide political cover did the topic of “how do we help people get to work”.

You have your answer.  Maybe they can car pool.  City administration cares about the bottom line, city council cares about re-election.  No one cares that much about you.  Despite their promises to taxpayer.

What Saskatoon Council is Spending Your Money On (no you won’t believe it)

You aren’t going to believe what Saskatoon City Council is spending your money on now and with the incompetence they are doing it with.

Back when the city moved to their new governance model (the one they say is like all other cities but really isn’t), they created new committees as a part of that.  Committee memberships are done in one of two ways.  They are voted on or they are decided by seniority.  There are many examples of both but when I hear seniority, I tend to think of the U.S. Senate and Congressional committees which are decided exclusively by seniority (the longer you are around, the wiser you become, or at least that is the hope).  

You always hear Saskatoon politicians speak of the “made in Saskatoon” solution.  Our solution was to draw names from a hat for one of City Council’s committees.  It was done in executive committee so it was supposed to be confidential but instead of deciding on a committee by seniority or by merit (as decided by colleagues), names were put into a hat and drawn out.  I first heard some rumours from other media and city sources soon after executive was done who didn’t think it was normal (it wasn’t).  After confirming the rumour with some people from council (who were less then impressed that I knew), I tweeted it.

That upset some on council who were frustrated that council went down that course of action and others found out about it.  As I said to more then one, “If you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns”.  From that the city solicitor was asked to draw up a memo/report to remind council that they were not supposed to be leaking confidential executive committee stuff.  I assume that the term, “acting like a bunch of clowns” was not used in the report.

A couple of weeks later, I was to appear on the regular Saskatoon Afternoon with David Kirton roundtable with David and Bronwyn Eyre.  Show topics are emailed to us by the producer Brittany Higgins.  I like Brittany as she does a good job of politely refusing topics that I suggest that would take David, Bronwyn, myself and a panel of foreign affairs experts a week to talk about and instead sticks to her 5 minute topics which are way better radio.  That day she sent us a link to Charles Hamilton’s article about the Mayor again mentioning that we should have a Twitter Wall in City Council.

I don’t know why the Mayor is always asking for a Twitter wall in City Council chambers.  First of all Twitter is public already.  All of the interesting posts can be found at #yxecc and can be read by anyone at anytime.  Thirdly and I mean no offense to the Councillors that tweet, it’s pretty boring stuff.  You will get the occasional link posted to a report or something but other than that, they may be reading comments but they aren’t making that many comments in council.  Whatever it is that the Mayor wants, is already there, all they need to do is turn on a projector and go to the #yxecc link.  I doubt very much I’ll get credit for this in Council Chambers.

So Bronwyn and I start talking about the Twitter wall and it wasn’t our best segment.  On a good segment there is a sense of flow and cadence and it wasn’t there.  I also called out some on the school board for tweeting during meetings which wasn’t expected and in the end I walked out of the CKOM studio and tweeted something like, “I wish the mayor would stop talking about this stupid Twitter wall”.  If there is a topic that I never want to talk about again, it is the Twitter wall.

(This is a media roundtable gone wrong.  You really haven’t had a fight on air until this or this happens)

Apparently at that exact time, the Mayor was in executive committee and was talking about the Twitter wall.  So the conclusion was made by our wise political leadership that someone had to be leaking to me the contents of executive meetings to me.   It never occurred to anyone to listen to David Kirton’s show or to read the mornings StarPhoenix or just ask me, “what’s up with that tweet?”

A simple subscription to Google News Alerts would have told city council the truth but they decided they needed a leak investigation to find out the source of the leaks.  Or they could have asked me who told me.  While my sources are confidential, I would have no problem telling them that the source for the Twitter wall leak was CHARLES HAMILTON, you know since we talked about it on air and it him that published the Mayor’s on the record comments made during an interview to The StarPhoenix.

Well council couldn’t let this stand and decided to hire a private investigator to investigate the leak.  After rejecting some local retired cops, they rejected this guy for having too high of travel costs.

They rejected these guys because they couldn’t tell them apart.

They also wanted this guy but an agreement couldn’t be worked out with STARS over helicopter parking.

They really wanted this group of guys but they couldn’t find them.

So they hired a retired RCMP officer with the ability to question councillors and examine phone, computer and email records to see if they have been the ones that have leaked The StarPhoenix to me. If they were serious (and I don’t think they are), they would have a conversation about the FOI requests that were filed in the lead up to the 2012 elections.  Those FOI’s filed by The StarPhoenix and other media outlets covered @saskatoon.ca emails and there was a lot of embarrassing things said in those emails.  Since then councillors rarely use @saskatoon.ca email for non constituent communications.  Therefore they fall out of scope of the investigation.  Also since there are some precedents of government provided phones being able to be FOI’d, some councillors use two phones or don’t have the city pay for their own phone.  Thirdly, there is a thing called a manilla envelope and it works really well.  Some are just left in my mailbox late at night or mailed to me with no return address.

I have heard the questions that have been asked, the good cop, bad cop routine, and even the follow up questions.  I recently found out that I wasn’t supposed to find out about the investigation because that would compromise it (doh!) but that was after councillors phoned up to ask me if they had sent me anything they might have forgotten about.  Quite the investigation.  The ones that are calling for the investigation then go out and immediately undermine it.

Saskatoon City Council can’t even do a leak investigation properly (someone needs to do a Tumblr for things Saskatoon City Council can’t do properly).

Why is council doing this when most already know the truth?  Here are the answers I have gotten so far.

  • I need to be put in my place.  I am unsure how investigating each other is putting me in my place.  I have been accused (along with other media of making city councillors life more difficult before and apparently them attacking each other is supposed to change that.  While I am disappointed that they are wasting time doing this, I am unsure how this is putting me in my place.  I learn stuff and I write about it.  I am not sure how that changes.
  • This allows for frank discussions in Executive committee.  This is close to the truth.  Saskatoon City Council is the most secretive city council and city hall in Western Canada.  No one else comes close.  Executive Committee’s in camera proceedings are often used to hash out issues away from the public eye to avoid political backlash.  With confidentiality clauses, no one can voice the opposing decisions.  It’s also why media and people pack City Hall chambers from time to time to see a big issues passed without discussion.  John Gormley used to talk about the Gang of Five, now there is a Gang of Eleven.  By comparison, take a look at the Manning Foundation’s Council Tracker which looks at a much criticized Calgary City Council’s actions.  Saskatoon City Council is so secretive we can’t even track how secretive they are.
  • To weaken other councillors.  I have heard from a few councillors, “I know who your source is and they will pay”.  Umm, again… the source is the Mayor as told to Charles Hamilton?  Is this a power play against His Worship, Hamilton, Brittany Higgins, maybe even David Kirton.  I can’t keep track anymore.  In other words it is an investigation using taxpayer dollars for political games.  The truth js that some think that either Darren Hill, Zach Jeffries, or Pat Lorje are my sources.  If they are right (and they are not), then those councillors are weakened going up for re-election.  Pretty amazing work environment that they have going there. 
  • The weirdest explanation is that this will keep Darren Hill from running for the federal Liberals in Saskatoon West.  Apparently he had so muh fun running under Ignatieff and getting 11% he wants to do it again (I could be wrong but I think I was being flippant there).  Even with a 15% Liberal bump from Trudeau and the seat stays Conservative.

My favourite is the accusation that I am sort of a shadowy behind the scenes operative because I am never seen at political events.  This one makes me angry but I can understand it.  When you are a hammer, everything you see is a nail.  When you are a politician, everything is political.

First of all, I am non partisan.  I get attacked by liberals and conservatives (often at the same time).  I have a bias toward a lot of policies but the politics of council make me bored and sad for the city.  One of my most dearly held theological beliefs is best articulated by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens

When politics is brought to the attention of Jesus (Luke 20:20-26), the whole discussion is portrayed with such jocularity as to suggest that we are to take none of this with seriousness. When wanting to trap Jesus and hand him over to the police (Luke 20:20), they ask Jesus, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Note that was our question, not Jesus’.)

Jesus answers (Luke 20:24), “Who’s got a quarter?”

(Note that Jesus’ pockets are empty.)

When a coin is produced, Jesus asks, “Whose picture is on it?”

We answer, “George Washington.”

“Well, if he needs the stuff so badly as to put his picture on it, then give it to him, ” says Jesus. “But you be careful and don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God.”

Okay. We give up. Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?

From this we learn that a primary biblical way or treating politics is as a joke. Certainly, politicians can make much mischief, but it would be a liturgical and ethical mistake to take them too seriously. Idolatry is as big a problem for democracies as for non-democracies.

If you ask me what I think about politics, I don’t take it very seriously.  If someone, even a politician wants some advice, I give it to them.   I guess it’s why I enjoy commenting on it.   I love policy but the politics side is nothing more of a joke.  I also like most people and I hate the partisan process.  I like going out with people and sharing ideas.  It’s gets brutal when partisan lines are drawn and it interferes with friendships.

I want our city, province, and country to be a better place but at the end of the day, I’ll give that advice to their opponent or anyone who reads this blog, my columns, listens to me on air or a podcast.    Saskatoon is a weird place in that not only are we largely ignorant of best practices of other cities (even winter cities), when we find out about them, we reject them in favour of a “made in Saskatoon” solution.  In other words most of what I suggest is ignored which is fine, even if it does seem to cost us more money as a city.  The only piece of legislation I have ever tried to change was a flawed piece of affordable housing policy that myself and other housing providers opposed.  That’s it.  A public email sent to 10 councillors and the mayor.  10 of the replied.  The mayor did not but the motion failed.  That is what is important.

Provincially I once wrote a letter Premier Brad Wall about the problems of mental health and homeless.  One of his hacks replied with a letter about about hip replacements waiting lists.  I learned two things, writing the government is a HUGE waste of time and my lobbying powers aren’t exactly immense.  I have some sway with Cam Broten.  When I say “sway”, he doesn’t reply back with letters about hip replacement waiting lists.  My big piece of advice to him is that is to never by a Rider jersey without a number because they look stupid.  I also suggest going with a classic number like Ron Lancaster, George Reed, or Ray Elgaard so if the player you choose gets in trouble with the law, you don’t look like an idiot.  There you go.  That is my expertise in provincial politics.  I hate blank Rider jerseys.  That is my shadowy behind the scenes maneuvering.  Rider jerseys and homeless issues.

As for why I am never seen, this is a bit more personal.  Wendy has long struggled with depression and it is getting worse.  She wrote about it here and this has been by far the most difficult year we have ever had as a family.  Not only is her depression worse but it affects Mark in more significant ways as he grows older.  There are many times that we have plans and either Wendy can’t go out in public or Mark has asked if I wanted to hang out with him and Oliver.  The are other times when I come home after just cleaning the house and it is a disaster again.  When there is chaos in Wendy’s mind, there is chaos in my world and it hard to keep up.  So yeah, it means that I don’t go out a lot because I am trying to keep the family together. (why do you think I write about mental health issues as much as I do.  It is largely over how hard it has been to get Wendy good help). It is this and Hauerwas’ writings (which is actually rooted in John Howard Yoder’s writings) that I will never run for political office.  That and Mike Duffy has killed many options for fat bald guys from the media.  (Full disclosure, I was a long time member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan  growing up and ran in 1995 for the Tories in Saskatoon.  I was 21.  My views, hairline, pant size, and opinions on politics have changed since then).

So after I help Wendy deal with her day, help the kids with their world, I sit down on a chair and I read, write, and research.  No shadowy meetings.  No late night phone calls.  Nothing.  Most of it is spent trying to figure out who we get through tomorrow and hoping it isn’t as bad as today was. I don’t drink.  Urban planning, systems theory, and photography are my escape.  The photography gets me out of the house and the books and looking at things through a different lens and experiencing the city in a whole new way.

Considering that I have said in many columns that politicians are psychopaths, plotting world takeovers with them isn’t really high on my to-do list.  

Yes, politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this… That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow — but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one.

As an aside, if any world dominating villain offers me the Denver Broncos, I will accept them with more grace than Homer Simpson did. 

I care about homeless issues, affordable housing, and challenging growing inequality in cities.  The stuff I write about is what I care about.   I don’t care if someone from the right or the left carries that stuff out, as long as it is done.

Maybe that is why I am so disgusted about this freaking leak investigation that isn’t a leak.  It’s cheap political games that are a pain to deal with, cost us as the City of Saskatoon citizens, and is a sham right from the start.  Plus by the fact that I know about it and councillors are actively undermining it, a city solicitor who doesn’t know realize this a game, and an investigator who doesn’t realize how the game is played, it is a massive waste of time and money at a time when the city has much more pressing concerns than finding out that I read The StarPhoenix (and apparently they don’t read Saskatoon’s paper of record).  As I have written and said before, I don’t think we are hiring (or electing) the best and brightest at City Hall.  Amateur hour shows it.

Leaks happen all of the time in Saskatoon, Regina, and Ottawa.  By the time I have heard something, I know The StarPhoenix has heard it, Rawlco has heard it, and CBC has heard it.  Even the television stations with constantly changing reporters hear the gossip because it goes right from counsellors to reporters.  It always has, it always will.  To stop all of us from finding out about what Council is up to, they have decided to do leak investigation.

My answer is the same as it always has been, if you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns. We deserve more from our City Council than a bunch of silly political games but this is what passes for leadership in Saskatoon.

So in summary

  • I follow a confirmed a leak about Saskatoon City Council behaving ridiculously and that embarrassed them.
  • Saskatoon City Council is full of a bunch of gossips.
  • I read The StarPhoenix and discuss it on the air.  
  • Sometimes Bronwyn Eyre wins those debates (okay many times) and I tweet about it.
  • In summary, it would be cheaper for councillors to sign up for Google News Alerts then hiring private investigators.  It would also be helpful to somewhat aware of what you say to reporters of The StarPhoenix.
  • If council is going to authorize a sham investigation, telling me about it immediately undermines it.

Oh yeah, I emailed Mark Rhogstad at the City of Saskatoon to ask how much the leak investigation was costing us.  He didn’t return my email.

Is the new governance model in Saskatoon for it’s citizens or for the councillors

The StarPhoenix asks some hard questions about the new City of Saskatoon governance model that seems to more about the lifestyle of the councillors than it is about being good for the city.

When city council holds its next meeting a week from today, it will be the first such meeting in nearly two months after city hall adopted a new governance model that has cut council meetings in half to once a month.

Only a couple of voices on council expressed skepticism over the new system, while most heralded the change as making council’s activities more accessible.
However, there’s reason for Saskatoon residents to doubt whether the new system will improve how the city is run and increase people’s access to decisions and those who make them.

The StarPhoenix examined governance formats in seven other western Canadian cities and found little similarity to Saskatoon’s new model.

Few other municipalities hold council meetings just once a month and, of those that do, appearances can be deceiving.

Regina, for example, generally holds council meetings once a month, but held 23 meetings in 2013 and has held 10 so far this year.

Will Saskatoon’s new approach be flexible and allow for special meetings to be called to address urgent issues?

None of the other councils studied held all the major committee meetings on a single day of the week the way Saskatoon city hall plans to on Mondays (or Tuesdays after a long weekend).

Supporters say the new system will allow people greater access to committee meetings, which will now be held in council chambers and broadcast on the city’s website.

Why hold all the committees on the same day, though? That would seem to limit accessibility – particularly for those who happen to be busy on Mondays.

Is the real motivation access for residents, or convenience for councillors and administrators?

City officials cited Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton as the inspiration for the new system, but Saskatoon’s new approach bears little resemblance to the latter two Alberta cities. Both Edmonton and Calgary hold multiple council meetings each month, making one wonder if Saskatoon is really making an effective transition to becoming a big city.

I agree with questions that The StarPhoenix is asking.  From the start I have said that this is about the convenience of City Councillors who want to streamline their work load, make themselves less accountable, and make it far harder for the lowly public to participate or communicate with their elected officials.  Saskatoon City Council took this new arrangement so seriously that they actually drew names from a hat to fulfill one of the committee memberships.  You can’t do that and tell anyone that you take governance seriously.

I’ll give The StarPhoenix the last word.

No one can credibly argue these changes came about due to public pressure or through extensive consultation with voters.

It’s now up to the new model’s supporters to communicate how and why the new system is working and to be candid and admit when it’s failing the citizens who are paying for it.

Otherwise, Saskatoon residents will quite correctly feel they’ve been bamboozled and watched democracy get eroded by those who should be defending it.

Saskatoon Afternoon Show 5:15 Rountable

We had a good discussion today on the Saskatoon Afternoon Roundtable about hockey fights and the Mayor’s lack of leadership on active transportation and cutting congestion on Saskatoon City Streets.  I may have called him “clueless”.  If I would have brought my “A” game, I would have called him the “Gary Bettman of Mayors” and bridged the segments.  Next time (we talk municipal politics and hockey in the same segment).

Listen.

What is regressive taxation?

We have a great exchange here between the Mayor and city finance administration on why a flat tax is more regressive then an increase in property taxes.  The mayor is kind of arguing anecdotally that people who live in expensive homes, aren’t making the most amount of money.  It is true in some situations; Warren Buffet lives modestly in Omaha and the CEO of Costco lives in a simple bi-level house but statistically, people live in the biggest home they can afford. 

The boat and RV argument is a weird one for me because once you do there, you can’t really go stop at just boats and RVs.  Do you start to take into consideration the value of cars, golf clubs, baseball card collections or books.  I spend a lot of money on books and technology so should I pay more city taxes?

Our Mayor lives at the Willows which will pay more under a property tax increase than those living in Westview will.  Undoubtably he is hearing about it from his neighbours and his largely suburban electoral base who wants to pay less for roads.  It’s either that or he just doesn’t understand the concepts around basic taxation.  Take your pick.

Of course al valorem taxes are regressive because it isn’t based on income but it’s less regressive than a base tax which targets everyone equally regardless of income.  In Saskatoon’s case, it means that 85% of households would pay more under a flat tax and the wealthiest 15% would pay less.

Ad Volarem Debate

This portion on the September 9th Saskatoon City Council debate on the flat tax is disturbing on so many levels. As you can see in the video clip above, the Mayor is talking about how he doesn’t see the City having a role in wealth redistribution and then goes on to mention affordable home ownership; which is a city run wealth distribution program as money is raised by the Land Bank selling lots at market value and then funnelled into affordable housing and attainable home ownership programs.

Then he launches into the city not using ad volarem for super pipes and doesn’t quite realize that it is only a $2 fee.  Recycling mean while is a fee for service (which is only $4.66 a month).  Finally he gets into the part when he says the people he care the most about are the seniors.  I know what he is saying but there are a lot of people on the west side of the city (that don’t vote for him) that have not benefitted from the economic expansion in Saskatoon and they would be badly hurt by a base tax as well.  So by somehow wanting to keep them in their homes, he plans on taxing them more.  

If you listen to the end, you will hear Coun. Darren Hill challenge the mayor on his suggestions that those who are in favour of Ad Volarem taxes are forcing seniors out of their homes (which is wrong on multiple levels, especially since most low income seniors would pay less taxes under Ad Volarem than under a base tax) and the Mayor denying and demanding an apology.

Here is how Gerry Klein saw the debate

Yet it seemed to have some council members unduly flummoxed, particularly Mayor Don Atchison whose convoluted argument in support of the base tax included insisting that it’s not up to the city to redistribute wealth and claiming that increasing the property tax threatens to throw widows out on the street.

The first part of that argument is clear: The city is responsible for providing services such as maintaining the streets. If charging a ratepayer whose property is assessed to be worth $50,000 the same $170 that is charged to someone whose property is assessed at $1.8 million, well, that’s just fair.

But the second argument appeared to be a non sequitur that contradicts the first. It strayed into wondering why more lowincome seniors haven’t taken advantage of a city program that would allow them to defer payment of tax increases and allow that money to eat into the value of their homes.

The mayor’s argument was so convoluted that it devolved into a painful-towatch war of words with Coun. Darren Hill, who insisted that his rejection of the proposed base tax wasn’t meant to deprive widows of their homes.

“That’s not what I said and I demand an apology,” Atchison replied.

Well, I apologize because, like Hill, that’s what I heard.

Attaching a flat tax that would require 85 per cent of civic ratepayers to pay more in relation to the value of their homes so the remaining 15 per cent – including commercial properties valued in the millions – won’t have to face increases clearly would have a detrimental impact not only on hardpressed seniors on fixed incomes but also on the vast majority of citizens.

In case you are wondering, I downloaded the MP4 of the entire council meeting (40 minutes), imported all four hours of video into iMovie (45 minutes), watched it (kill me now), and then edited some interesting clips and uploaded them to the OurYXE YouTube Channel.  I keep hearing from people who are interested in Council stuff but have no desire to watch hours of it.  Hopefully this will make some of the debates easier to get into.  Of course it almost makes it a lot easier to blog about.

Why are Saskatoon Roads So Bad

I keep being asked why Saskatoon roads are so bad and the answer can be found in this chart which comes from a 2011 report on roads

NewImage

As you can see, from 2000 to 2003 we used to fix hundreds of thousands of metres of local roadways.  Then when Don Atchison was elected in 2003, you will notice a (downward trend) until we pretty much stopped doing any road repair on our local roads.  You can only do this for some many years and eventually our roads look like they do now.

Dave Hutton blogged this back in 2011.

The paved street network in Saskatoon has an estimated replacement value of $1 billion. The City of Edmonton, in their 2010 Infrastructure Report, stated that funding for paved streets should be at least 2 per cent of the replacement value each year. For Saskatoon’s network this would be $20 million per year. The City of Edmonton has a roadway network that is almost four times the size of Saskatoon’s. Their 2011 budget for roadway and sidewalk preservation is approximately $235 million. Edmonton plans to replace all the roads and sidewalks (five to seven neighbourhoods per year) over the next three years. Some of this work is funded through a tax levy which is 1.5 per cent of the replacement value of their road network, or approximately $50 million annually. The City of Regina’s roadway network is approximately 15 per cent smaller than Saskatoon’s. Their 2011 budget for roadway and sidewalk preservation is approximately $18 million. Regina has an extensive sidewalk replacement program, and many of the walks are replaced when the roadway is replaced. Regina funds all walk replacements with local improvements that generate over $3-million of their $18-million budget annually. The current roadway and sidewalk preservation budget for the City of Saskatoon is $7-million the budget would have to be increased by over $21-million. To meet the same funding level per square metre as Edmonton, the budget would have to be increased by approximately $80 million.

The decision to focus on the primary roadways was all of councils but it has been apparent that it is a failed strategy for the last couple of years and yet the city does nothing about it, that is where the frustration comes in for me.  I have heard almost every city councillor say, “we keep hearing about road on the doorstep and yet when it came budget time, almost no new money was spent on roads because the tax rate increase had to stay under 5%.  Governance by tax rates rarely turns out well, especially when your road costs rise by 15% every year.

Atchison calls for a new road strategy in Saskatoon

The Mayor is calling for a new road strategy in Saskatoon

The shoddy state of some of Saskatoon’s roads has convinced Mayor Don Atchison that a new approach to road repair is necessary.

“We can’t keep on going down and keep repairing them,” Atchison said Monday in an interview. “We need to come up with a better strategy.”

Improving roads and reducing potholes are among the few services residents have said they would be willing to pay higher taxes in order to achieve, he said.

However, Atchison said simply repairing damaged roads is not an effective approach since “significant work” needs to be done. Every road in the city should be resurfaced every 40 to 50 years, while high-stress roads may need resurfacing every 15 years or so, he said.

While Atchison would not specify a time frame or a monetary goal, he said he expects the next round of budget talks to focus on a new strategy for roads – and ways to pay for it.

Earlier this year, city council established a road reserve fund and dedicated a 1.25 per cent levy to specifically pay for road repair and infrastructure. The goal is to have the fund reach $25 million so the city can spend that amount each year on roads. About $11 million will be available from the fund for 2013.

Atchison said “tough decisions” will have to be made in order to get enough money to maintain Saskatoon’s roads, but that taxpayers have made it clear that it’s a priority.

“We’re hearing them loud and clear,” he said.

The mayor was a strong supporter of dedicating a levy to road repair to deal with an estimated $16-million shortfall in funds heading into 2013.

Oh wait, I am pretty sure the Mayor said he had a plan back during the election.

I am also pretty sure a strategy has already been written and submitted to Saskatoon City Council prior to the last budget where members of City Council and the Mayor essentially ignored it and voted against the needed increase to our road budget.

Of course Atchison talks about the resurfacing that has been done and he’s right.  What is omitted is that it is about half of what used to be done in the city and that is why our roads continue to get worse every single year.   We don’t need a new strategy, we need one that is funded and that remains elusive under the last three city councils, much to the detriment of our city and it’s infrastructure.

An Open Letter to Saskatoon City Council

Dear Councillors,

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen three minor accidents along the northbound lane on Idylwyld South.  All three have been minor and have “exchanged paint” to use the old NASCAR phrase.  They have been caused by someone trying to brake or avoid a massive pothole around a manhole cover which had been created but not repaired by a City of Saskatoon crew.

Today while caught in traffic along there, Wendy and I watched a man who was going no faster than 20 kph hit the pothole, blow his tire and bend his rim on a pothole that had been there for weeks.

Whenever I talk to any of you about potholes, I get told, “report it on the website”.  When a pothole in on one of the major thoroughfares in this city, driven by police, fire, city crews and even you as councillors, one should not have to report a pothole to the city, it should be fixed like it would be in any other city in Canada.  Especially when the pothole was created as part of a sewer upgrade*.

I have heard many stories this summer of Saskatoonians travelling to other cities and hearing apologies for the state of their roads while those same people are going, “this is so much better than the roads we have have in Saskatoon”.  Some of the ways people have described our roads are “war torn”, “goat trails,” and most of all “unsafe”.

They are unsafe to our tires, our rims, and our suspensions.  They are also unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians.  It’s embarrassing that you as a group has allowed our streets to get to this point.

It’s not like you don’t know this would happen.  The 2012 Roads Reports and reports before that ask for more money and tell you each year that unless we have more money, this is going to happen.  You kept telling people how you heard about their concerns regarding roads on the doorsteps.  Instead you gave a small increase and congratulated yourselves on the back despite knowing it wasn’t enough.  Road repair costs rise about 15% each year but Council decides to give about .5% of an increase each year leading to a very big and unsafe gap in services.  You hope to have enough money budgeted to bring hold the status quo by 2020.  By that time there may not be any roads left and the yearly amount needed to fix our roads will be much, much higher.  

Maybe city crews can’t find the potholes because street cleaning in this city takes months.  On Friday I was in City Park and they were finally cleaning it.  It was July 12!  Two months citizens of City Park have had to deal with gravel strewn and dirty streets because again, the City of Saskatoon won’t pay for the equipment needed to clean our streets.  We have such a short summer, you would think this would be a priority but it isn’t.  An email from another ward councillor today showed that much of that ward hadn’t been cleaned yet so don’t feel back City Park.  The quality of street sweeping is poor to say the least.  Talking to councillors in others wards I hear the same thing.  Locally I heard the sweepers but to be honest, our roads are marginally cleaner.

Sure we have the lowest taxes of any city our size in Canada but at the end of the day there is a reason for that, no city can maintain it’s infrastructure at the current rate of funding.  We may as well have Prosperity Saskatoon but we have roads that failing and a bridge that is a laughing stock of the country.  Instead of fixing what we have, all you can talk about is how we need to build more stuff (that needs to be maintained) so we can grow to a city of 1 million people.

While we are talking about growing to a city of a million people; here is a little bit of information you might find useful,  cities can’t grow themselves.  It’s the national and provincial economies that decide that.  It took Calgary 45 years to grow from 250,000 to a million people yet for some reason, we need to start building today.  Hence the $30 million extra for addition lanes on the north commuter bridge that your own city administration recommended against.  Then again, who am I to question policy made out of a campaign promise?

Our provincial economy is far different than Alberta’s oil based economy.  The amount of head office oversight that a potash mine takes compared to thousands of oil wells all over the province is miniscule.  We may be overjoyed by BHP Billiton moving it’s Canadian head office to Saskatoon but look at the result, a couple of stories of downtown office space.  It’s not a reflection of Saskatoon, it’s a reflection of the economy of the province we live in.

Combine that with a city council that just can’t get that quality of life matter in a city and you have a place where companies won’t be able to attract talent to and if they can, they won’t be able to keep it.  Most of the cities that are growing in Canada have higher taxes because a) growth costs b) you need to have great public amenities to have a city that top talent wants to live in.  

Eventually we are going to have to make a decision as a city.  If we keep on this path with crumbling roads and infrastructure many will just choose to leave.  For those that are left, we are going to have to borrow heavily to pay for the stuff that should have been paid for al along just like Toronto has had to do.  You can’t run old buses, garbage trucks, and city vehicles forever.  Eventually something is going to have to give and then you have to start paying for bills of broken equipment, water pipes, and roads.  When those bills come due, it’s over whelming.

Council needs to stop playing politics and start doing their fiduciary responsibility for the citizens of Saskatoon and start taking proper care of our infrastructure and city.  If they don’t, the only good news is that they won’t need to spend so much time worrying about it because we will find another group of public servants that will.

* I shouldn’t be that surprised by a city crew not repairing a pothole.  I had to personally intervene several years ago while a city run backhoe hit a car and was about to drive off.  The utility cut took a couple of years to get fixed.  I also listened to Saskatoon Light & Power crews lie about a pole failure while I was working downtown where they went home for the weekend and left a power pole in a hole without any supports.  The weather warmed up and it fell over.  We aren’t hiring the best and the brightest.

L.A. Mayor.org

I live this website for Los Angeles’ new mayor, Eric Garcetti.  I have proposed before that Saskatoon’s mayor Don Atchison has the same kind of setup, a place where you can get updates from the Mayor’s office as well a place for him to sell the city and programs.

If I was the city, I would purchase a domain like that or just use mayor.saskatoon.ca and keep it for use of whoever the mayor is, that way no matter who is in office, the place to go for information remains the same.  Now if you really want to be a historical nerd, you could also archive each mayor’s website for future generations.

Traffic congestion on Mt. Everest is getting worse

Congestion on Mt. Everest has people looking for unique solutions

The world’s highest peak is so crowded with climbers that some are seriously considering installing a ladder on the famed Hillary Step to ease congestion. While the ladder is intended for use for those descending from the peak, the proposal still casts Mt. Everest’s long-running overcrowding issue into stark relief. 

Here is more on Mt. Everest’s traffic problems

Traffic jams, rush hour–yes these concerns not only apply to the upcoming holiday weekend, but also to the highest mountain in the world. The only difference being that on Mount Everest, those inconveniences could totally kill you. Four climbers have died on Everest in the past week, not because of the treacherous mountain, but because there were too many people on it at once creating a “traffic jam.”

That jam will only get worse this weekend as guides are once again expecting the peak to be overrun with around 120 climbers, reports The Associated Press’ Binaj Gurubacharya. “This is the last chance for climbers to attempt to reach the summit. If they can’t, then there is not going to be another opportunity this season,” an Everest official said.

No word on if Mayor Atchison thinks more bridges on Mount Everest will make the traffic congestion go away as he does in Saskatoon and Vancouver.

Who pays for SREDA?

The mayor is off on a trade mission to China.  SREDA points out that they are paying for the mayor’s portion of the trip which is true. 

SREDA and the Mayor’s press release fail to point out that the major portion of SREDA’s funding comes from…. wait for it… the City of Saskatoon.  It includes three members of city council on its board of directors as a result.

To be honest, I don’t care of the city pays for Mayor Atchison’s trip to China or not.  He’s a good salesperson and networker and will do a good job in representing the City of Saskatoon and it’s business interests but it bugs me that we play these games instead of coming out and just saying what is going on.  Taxpayers are paying for part of the trip.

Of course in the process of answering Jennifer Quesnel’s questions about the trip, SREDA CEO said this.  Someone needs to let SREDA know that as a partially taxpayer funded organization, people are going to care how that money is spent.

2012 Municipal Election Roundup

So after spending last night at City Hall waiting for the election results to be made public, here are my thoughts.

  • It was fun doing a quick segment with David Kirton and CKOM on the election.  I have always been a fan of Kirton and my only regret was not seeing more traction on food trucks (Twitter joke).
  • I was shocked to see Troy Davies win in Ward 4.  I had picked Sean Shaw and all of the metrics that myself and others have used to determine campaign victories showed Shaw winning. Apparently I need new metrics.  Either that or I need to start putting polls in the field.  Congrats to Troy Davies for winning and earning the right to be Ward 4 councillor.  Sean is a good friend and I am sure he will be back politically but it’s hard to see friends lose races.
  • I was also surprised to see Ann Iwanchuk win as after 10/11 polls reporting, Mike San Miguel had a sizeable lead but as the old saying goes, “it’s not over until it’s over” and all of a sudden I was looking at a result that I couldn’t believe and that is that Iwanchuk won by 28 votes.  When I talked to her and Andy last night, they kind of had the same reaction. Congrats to her on a well run race.
  • If I am Mike San Miguel, I have to questioning my decision to go negative late in the race with a pamphlet that attacked Iwanchuk and an attacking robo-call that attacked her NDP background.  If anything it probably motivated people to turn out for Iwanchuk.  It was a great campaign to watch that came down to under 100 votes.
  • Zach Jeffries not only becomes the youngest member on council ever but knocked off three term incumbent Bev Dubois.
  • So Tom Wolf came within a hair of defeating a long term incumbent after getting in the race in September.  Impressive campaign by Wolf and they had by far the best campaign t-shirts.
  • Pat Lorje won again in Ward 2 which is what I predicted. 
  • Since this will be long forgotten by 2016, I am planning to do a series of push polls, probably just to candidate homes that go something like, “Would you prefer crazed socialist (or robber baron) [insert councillor's name here] or well respected columnist Jordon Cooper to represent your riding?” just to feed on their paranoia.  I have no intention of running but it would be fun to do.
  • I had a fun conversation with Andy Iwanchuk which is the first time we have ever met. When you think of it, the Iwanchuk family has been in campaign mode for a long time with Ann’s election a year ago, Andy’s provincial campaign and now her re-election campaign which makes for a hectic year.  No truth to the rumour that both of them are getting away for a vacation by working on someone else’s campaign.
  • After following the council pretty closely, I found the entire election disillusioning.  Part of it is the sausage philosophy where you don’t really want to know how it is made.  At the last of the last term, it was a very politically divided council.  That division came across during some of the FOI requests that dropped and also it showed that more than one councillor/candidate had lied to me about some issue or another.  Hopefully with some new councillors on council those bridges can be rebuilt but I am not hopeful that the partisanship will change.
  • I want to thank each of you last night that aggressively shook my hand.  If you noticed tears in my eyes, it wasn’t because I moved talking to you or about your victory, it is because I HAVE A TORN ROTATOR CUFF and it really HURT ME every time we shook hands.  I was ready to be put down by about 8:45 p.m.  It hurt that much.
  • The election day someone put up an anonymous Twitter account bashing Darren Hill to the media and anyone who would listen.  Sadly it was done by someone that knows Wendy and I and lives in Mayfair.  I have a pretty good idea of who it was but it’s still sad.  To be honest, if I was going to attack Hill I would stand behind them.  An anonymous account doesn’t do anything other than provide something to laugh at.
  • Got to hang out with Alex MacPherson and Liam Richards for the first time last night.  I always enjoy MacPherson’s writing in Verb and I have long been a fan of Richard’s photography (which always envying his gear). 
  • So this will be it until the next federal and provincial election when some councillors decide to run.  If they win, we get by-elections and the process starts all over again.