Tag Archives: Mike Gutek

What I Want My Mayor To Be

Well that was fun.  My column this morning on the Mayor missing the first day of the Big City Mayor’s Conference got a lot of feedback.  When I say feedback, what I am really saying is that most people hope I move out of the city soon.

One friend asked me that if I was Atch’s chief of staff, what would I do to make him a better mayor in 2016.  I really don’t have a problem with Atch personally and I think some things can’t change but here would be my list for what I think any mayor should do.

  1. Represent us on the national stage well.  That means showing up for things like the Big City Mayor’s Caucus when the federal government changes.
  2. Engage the population well.  Nenshi, Tory, Ivison, and a lot of other mayors use Twitter to not only communicate but listen to citizens.   He needs a website.  My preference would be that we did mayor.saskatoon.ca but even mayorofsaskatoon.ca would work as his platform for which to inform the public.  A couple of years ago I visited Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral website.  I was blown away but the design and the content.  I could find essential services information, New York City research, and all of his initiatives.  Really, how much does that cost?  It’s all being prepared anyways, so why not make it available to the citizens.  Using social media, you can not only talk to people but listen and make them feel heard and connection to their mayor.  Some do it better than others but there are people who have ideas, problems, and issues with the city.  Give them a voice and help them be heard.
  3. Be transparent: That debate over Atch posting his schedule online (which he did exactly once) was insane.  All he has to do is post the special interests he meets with.   Nenshi does this on this website.  It lists community groups, consular visitors, business leaders, and the occasional celebrity.  It doesn’t give away secret negotiations (which the Mayor doesn’t often do, city managers do) or even his lunch plans.  It does let Calgarians know what their mayor is up to and what people are shaping his decisions.  Why can’t Saskatoon’s mayor do the same thing?  Why can’t the Mayor of Saskatoon have the same disclosure as councilors do over travel and other expenses? 
  4. Acknowledge all of the data that is out there instead of going, “Saskatoon is different”.  This isn’t just about complete streets, density, homelessness, suburban sprawl, bike lanes, or policing.  It is all of them.  Other cities have fought our battles, been confronted by our problems (and found solutions) and many have researched the results.  Yet that kind of thinking if rarely shown in Saskatoon.  It is the kind of thinking that should come from a Mayor’s chair.  They are the one that is there full time, has a staff, and sets the tone.  Can you imagine a data driven City Hall adopting best practices from across the continent?  No I can’t either.  Is it too late to recruit Michael Bloomberg into Saskatoon?
  5. Be able to articulate where you want the city to go and become.  I am not just saying “1 million people” but do you want it to be a car driven city that is all about freeways or a city based around public transit and alternative forms of transportation?  You can’t be for everything, have a vision and drive it.  Let the people decide what they want, if it isn’t that vision, well that is the cost of leadership.
  6. Be financially responsible but understand the need for good investments that will save the city money down the line.
  7. Hire the best managers in the country.  Get managers who will push council as much as they will be directed by them.  Calgary’s manager calling for investment in the city was great.  Jen Keesmat calling out John Tory’s plan for the Gardiner Expressway is how cities are supposed to work.  Strong leaders bring conflict but they also bring out great ideas because they are all working on making Saskatoon a world class city.  I loved to see Mike Gutek battle with City Council, not because I liked to watch the fireworks but because I honestly felt that we were making progress as a city during those questions and answers.  Hard questions were asked and hard answers were given back.  That is often where progress is made.   On the flip side, the transit debacle showed that competence is hard to come by in our own City Council and administration when they locked out the ATU once illegally and then tried to do it again.   If you are going to lock out the transit drivers and make your own citizens going through hardships, at least do it correctly.  Maybe it is time to look outside the city for top talent.
  8. Speak bluntly about the city’s issues.  I miss Ralph Klein but we all know what Calgary was going through when I lived there.  The same thing with Nenshi today.  We are going to face some challenges ahead and some of them are because of the federal and provincial governments.  Others are going to be from the business and non-profit communities.  Call a spade a spade.  The Mayor doesn’t need to be everyone’s best friend, they need to be the leader of the city with our interests at heart.
  9. Go the galas but attend the community barbecues as well.  There are a lot of people in this city that will never be able to afford a Mayor’s Cultural Gala or Swinging with the Stars but things like a community barbecue mean a lot to them.  Be at the events on both sides of the river and for all economic classes.  There is more to the westside then the Farmer’s Market.

I don’t know if anyone running has those traits but the more they do, the better off the city will be.

So Toronto is going deeper into debt (and so is Saskatoon)

Does this sound at all like Saskatoon?  It was Toronto under Mel Lastman who felt he needed to freeze taxes.

Perks noted that Lastman froze property taxes during his first three years in office. During that time, the Toronto Transit Commission was rebuilding 18-year-old buses instead of buying new ones, and the backlog in road repairs was growing.

“We had a mountain of backlog. We were in a profound crisis. Between provincial downloading and Mel Lastman’s tax freeze, we had a giant hole. Now we’re catching up.”

This week’s flooding demonstrates the need for sturdy infrastructure, said Di Giorgio, who on Tuesday was visiting homeowners hit with flooded basements.

“When you talk to people, they’re very irate, and you can’t blame them. They’re really upset that this kind of thing would happen and they blame the city for not having proper infrastructure.”

Borrowing allows the city to do more capital projects each year, rather than put them off to future years, he said.

“To do things quicker, you have to go more into debt. I do think it’s okay to grow your debt a little bit at a time each year, because you do have to replace infrastructure.”

This is what Toronto’s debt is being spent on.

In 2011, on Ford’s insistence, the city froze property taxes. The next year he limited the increase to 2.5 per cent, in line with inflation.

About half of the borrowing was to pay for transit infrastructure, such as replacing worn-out vehicles. Other big-ticket infrastructure spending went to areas such as roads, parks and housing.

That is what happens when you put off infrastructure and transit spending.  Eventually it catches up to you and it’s exactly what we are doing here in Saskatoon and it will take a couple of terms to catch up which will mean more debt.

Holding the line on taxes is always popular but those costs don’t go away.  In Saskatoon it is our roads where we used to pay for but not longer do.  Doubt me?  Check out the 2012 Roads Report which gives funding options to city council.  It includes this line.

Although funding for paved roadways has, in general, increased over the past decade, from 2003 to 2008 the annual roadway budget only increased by 0.5% per year, while  the cost of treatments increased by 15.2% per year. This erosion of purchasing power, combined with the general ageing of the network, has resulted in a degradation of the roadway network since 2002.

The result? Check out this 2012 article in The StarPhoenix by David Hutton

Mike Gutek, the city’s infrastructure services manager, said old crumbling roads such as Koyl are a “victim of priority.” The road rates as “very poor” under the city’s ranking of which roads require resurfacing.

Roads are ranked based on condition and traffic volume. The city has 650,000 square feet of roads that are considered in “very poor” condition, but can treat 15,000 square feet per year under the current budget, Gutek said. Ten per cent of local roads in Saskatoon are rated as “very poor” and in danger of failing, according to the city’s latest assessment.

“(Koyl) has not failed. It’s in horrible shape, the asphalt is very old and it doesn’t drive that well,” Gutek said. “It’s really our worst condition (of road), but it hasn’t failed yet (and turned to gravel).”

Saskatoon has fallen way behind in road maintenance and repair as costs for fuel, asphalt and labour have skyrocketed.

Since 2003, the road repair budget has grown 31 per cent while the cost of fixing roads has jumped 216 per cent. But council declined last year to add a phased-in property tax increase over eight years to bring the annual roads budget up to the point where the city isn’t falling further behind annually. Instead, one-time funding was added for a number of individual projects.

City administration estimates $18.5 million per year is needed to maintain the current state of the roadway network. In 2012, roughly $9.5 million will be spent on roadway rehabilitation, including the discretionary funds.

Koyl is not in the city’s five-year road rebuilding plans and likely wouldn’t be fixed until the annual funding amount surpasses $18.5 million, city staff say.

Where does the money go?

The infrastructure department is tackling as priorities high-traffic roads that have completely failed or on the brink of turning to gravel, Gutek said. 

Council likes to pick on Mike Gutek but when they give him a fraction of what he needs each year, what are city staff supposed to do?  Year after year city council says that they hear that roads are our number one concern and instead hold the line on taxes and don’t add any more new money into roads.

So when does Saskatoon start to dig ourselves out this infrastructure hole that City Council has dug us into and how long will it take?  How much debt will we have to take on to pay for these years where council made a negative infrastructure investment.  As we have seen here and in Toronto, unpaid infrastructure bills come due with interest.