It All Depends On How You Define ‘Respect’

April 24, 2014

This isn’t about Rob Ford (although he’ll think this post is about him, about him). At least, not directly, it isn’t. dimmenIt’s about how we’ve slipped into his skin, donned his way of thinking, his attitude toward government.

Following along yesterday to the monthly proceedings of the Executive Committee, the committee the mayor no longer chairs but remains part of only out of legislative necessity – everyone elected to city council must serve on one standing committee – it all felt so petty and small-minded. Bereft of heft. Lacking in rigour. These are the tiny men of a big institution.

It’s no surprise, really. They all were picked to be there by the mayor before his tumble from the seat of power. Not one to challenge his own preconceptions or belief systems, unLincolnian in assembling a team of rivals, the mayor sought nothing more than to surround himself with fellow boobs and yes-men. The worst and the dimmest.

During the debate over somehow commemorating the 1915 Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio presented a muddled view of history where the Holocaust was fact but South African apartheid was still contested. Or something. badhistoryCouncillor Peter Leon referred to the Armenian genocide as an ‘unfortunate mishap’ which he later upgraded to a ‘horrible atrocity’.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti moaned about not being paid to have to deal with international issues like European history. He was elected to fill potholes and cut grass, he told the room. If only you would stick to that, Councillor Mammoliti. If only.

Councillor Anthony Perruzza mentioned prosciutto.

But where that item, tabled late in the afternoon when many members of the Executive Committee might’ve been passed their nap time, brought out the dumb, fizzleit was a couple matters earlier in the morning that really saw the collective sparkle fizzle.

A proposed council pay increase, council office budgets and city travel expenses, all the mayor’s bread and butter, led to not so much a healthy debate as regular opportunities to politically grandstand. Protestations of We Are Not Worthy (which is true for many in that room) mixed with talk of gravy and the need for more oversight and micromanaging. Apparently, our city councillors aren’t paid enough to sort out matters on an international scale but don’t make so much money that they can’t waste time looking through colour swatches to find just the right colour at the right price for their office walls.

Of course, there was no way this committee was going to push forward the 12.9% pay increase for council members recommended by the OCG Strategy and Organization Consulting company after surveying 16 Canadian municipalities. puntDespite the fact that, comparatively speaking, our mayor and city councillors are not in the upper echelon of renumeration in terms of their fellow municipal representatives, this is an election year. Nobody’s dumb enough or brazen enough to face the voting public after giving themselves a substantial pay hike.

OK. Maybe Giorgio Mammoliti is. And Frank Di Giorgio might push the wrong button when it came to casting his vote.

It would also be monumentally hypocritical for this group of men to give themselves a raise after nearly 4 years of preaching the gospel of austerity and penny-pinching. What’s good for the goose and all that. They kind of painted themselves into a fiscal corner on this one.

“We can all agree we are well compensated for the job we do,” declared the mayor, mindful I’m sure of his own financial situation as the scion of a wealthy family. In his case, it’s true. Given the job he does, the time he puts into it, I’d argue Mayor Rob Ford is amply compensated, as are many of his colleagues sitting on Executive Committee with him.

livinglargeHow much should the going rate be for bad representation at City Hall?

How much should the going rate be for good representation at City Hall?

I’ve seen how much work the diligent and dedicated city councillors put in on a daily basis. Forget your notions of any 40 hour work week. Double that. On call 7 days a week most weeks of the year. You break their 6 figure salaries down to an hourly rate and I think you’d find a much more modest pay rate.

But because we’ve assumed the anti-public sector stance that the mayor believes so passionately in, any amount is too much. It’s our taxes that pay their bills, we trumpet. Respect, we demand. Why should they be entitled to anything more that we are?miniscule

We’ve willing agreed to travel down the deceptive road of misconception, believing that somehow the taxes we pay at a local level don’t go toward paying for all the useful things we use on a daily basis. We hear that this councillor makes $100, 000 a year in salary, plus perks, and imagine, well, there goes all my money. Straight into the councillor’s already stuffed pocket, so they can jaunt off to some all-expenses trip to somewhere they have absolutely no need to be going to, somewhere I’ll never get to go.

In actual fact, the operations of city council costs us collectively around $20 million a year. Throw in the mayor’s office along with the city clerk, and I’ll generously round it up to $30 million. $30 million, in a $10 billion operating budget. Do that math. .003 Every municipal tax dollar you submit, missthepoint.3% of that goes to our elected officials, and the general operations of their offices and meetings.

So, if you pay $5000 a year in property tax about $15 of that is used for your mayor and city councillor to do their respective jobs. Do that math. $1.25 a month. Less than a nickel a day.

So when the mayor goes on some outraged tirade about all that gravy, pointing to $150,000 in councillor travel expenses (.00000015 of the operating budget, I think) or the not quite $6 million in city staff travel expenses, reach into your pocket and pull out all the change. We no longer use the denomination small enough needed to pay for your portion of that. And then stop to think about how we’re paying someone $170+K a year to fussily focus on saving us that amount of next to nothing.

Then honestly tell me who exactly it is respecting the taxpayers?

generously submitted by Cityslikr


Rules Are For Others

April 23, 2014

Let’s suppose for a moment that the Toronto Community Housing Corporation is a big steaming pile of a mess. fierybuildingsThere is evidence to support such a supposition. Hundreds of millions of dollars in state of good repair needed. An impossibly long waiting list of prospective tenants. Tales of cockroaches, bed bugs and fire inducing hoarding.

Let’s also suppose that the fault for all this lies solely with TCHC management. The rot starts at the head, it is said. There is less evidence to support such an assumption but go with me on this for a bit. There were all those chocolates a few years ago. Spa retreats. Yaddie, yaddie.

Something stinks here. Something’s broken. All the king’s men and all the king’s horses…

So obviously, what the TCHC needs is a good shake-up. An ol’ fashion ass-kickin’. Names will be taken later but right now, all bets are off. These HR rules and regulations are what got us into this pickle in the first place, creating a cushy culture of complacency and cosy comfort. Time to bring the pain. Hello, culture of fear.

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!yosemitesam

Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Even if we’d arrived at such a situation, even if such measures of disregard for protocol and standard operating procedure that the Ombudsman uncovered under TCHC CEO Gene Jones were effective outside of the movies or a flagging sports franchise (and listening to the interview with Schulich School of Business professor Alan Middleton on Metro Morning, it seems highly dubious they are), even if you adhere to some variation of the ends justifying means, what exactly were the ends? Surely Mr. Jones and other members of the TCHC board had a plan, an and then what. We shake this shit up and then..?

If there was some kind of strategy, some method to the madness, to the culture of fear, it hasn’t seemed to have surfaced. The logical follow up to the untendered hirings and firings without cause has yet to make itself evident. shakeitupWe await the appearance of the omelette after the breaking of all those eggs.

Order needs to be restored. Otherwise this just seems like summary executions for the sake of giving the appearance of something being done. Filling the depleted ranks with loyalists and call it The New Team, Under New Management. Fine. So, now what?

Besides, if such a purge was necessary to get the TCHC house in order, as they say, why ignore the rules that were in place to do it? If you have to fire people without cause, maybe you should take a moment to think about it first. Just because is another way of saying without cause. Just because is a pretty flimsy foundation. It’s awfully close to just because I can.

Unless Gene Jones can stand up to public scrutiny and explain why he did what he did since taking over the TCHC, citybuildingand what exactly his plans are going forward because of the course of action he has taken, this simply smacks of petty tyrant shit. A man with no plan except to show up, terrorize the staff into submission, surround himself with loyalists he doesn’t even have the confidence in to subject them to normal hiring practices. Because… well, because… that’s what he was hired to do.

If Gene Jones has no plan other than to wreak havoc on the TCHC, it is simply the sad reflection of the man who remains in his corner, defiantly. Let’s face it. Mayor Rob Ford’s approach to governance is no more extensive or involved than just that. Wreak havoc. Instill a culture of fear and intimidation. Surround himself with friends, allies and toadies to help him out in his righteous indignation with government. The Ford way.

The mayor’s never made much pretense in his attitude toward social housing and City Hall’s involvement in it. Privatize. Sell it off. Vouchers for tenants to contend out there in the free market. Governtexaschainsawmassacrement shouldn’t be in the business of…

You’ve heard that song and dance before.

I imagine in Mayor Ford’s eyes, Gene Jones did absolutely nothing wrong. He’s a doer not a talker. He gets things done, shakes it up a little. And if there’s a mess left behind, it’s hardly the fault of Gene Jones. It’s just further proof that anything government gets involved in just turns to shit. That’s what governments do best. Gene Jones, not unlike the mayor, is simply another victim to the ruinous presence of government in our lives.

obligingly submitted by Cityslikr


Vaughan Gone

April 19, 2014

We should’ve known something was up when the eye glasses changed, became more bookish.

Aside from the news that Rob Ford had been elected mayor of Toronto, professorpeabodyhearing that Councillor Adam Vaughan was opting for a run at a federal seat comes a close second in terms of a bummer municipal politics turn of events. He provided much of the spark and lightness during this dark term at City Hall, sparing no opportunity to skewer and eviscerate the bumbling, destructive exploits of the Ford administration. Nothing could lift your spirits like an indignant broadside from Vaughan directed at the latest boneheaded malignancy the wrecking crew had cooked up.

He was the poster boy of anti-Fordism, held up as the example of everything that was wrong with the forces of downtown elitism at City Hall. Whippet smart, tart tongued, dismissive and derisive, his detractors, those preferring their politicians dumb and willfully ignorant, labelled Vaughan smug, pompous and arrogant. There’s certainly some truth to that. At times he came across as prickly, impatient with those not keeping up with him. catandmouseThe proverbial inability to suffer fools gladly.

But if his critics were truly honest with themselves they’d admit that what galls them most about Adam Vaughan is that he was right about this mayor and the administration he misruled. Incompetence above all else. How would you say that in Latin? Imperitiam, quod super omnia. The motto emblazoned on the Team Ford crest. Vaughan called them on it regularly and, many times, ill-manneredly.

Should he have been more temperate in his engagement? Maybe. Except, at this juncture, knowing all that we know now, given all that we’ve seen, what would that have accomplished? The Fords brooked no opposition, sought no compromise with anyone who disagreed with them or called them on their bullshit.

It seldom pays to concede to bullies and thugs. Next to incompetence, what the Fords did best was to play the thug card. Councillor Vaughan stood up to that, many times encouraged it, bringing it out into the open for everyone to see.clownthug

During one particularly heated debate, I forget exactly which one of the too many to commit to memory, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti leaning back in his chair and yapping down the aisle at Vaughan. I used to beat up guys like you in high school. Yes, we’re sure you did, Giorgio. We’re sure you did.

Over the past 3 years or so, I was fortunate enough to have some conversations with the councillor outside of the political arena, beyond the political melodrama, to talk about building a city. He knew his shit, and his enthusiasm for transforming streets, neighbourhoods and communities was infectious. It challenged me to try and better understand the nature of what makes cities successfully tick.

I imagine when Councillor Vaughan gets asked what he sees as his biggest accomplishment from his time at City Hall, he will point to the redevelopment of Alexandra Park that is just getting under way. Both in private and publicly, I heard him boast about the process and how it hinged on the input from the residents of the community. This was not going to be his redevelopment or the city’s, but theirs, those who lived there.

manoflamanchaWhich makes his jump to federal politics all the more puzzling.

I get the impetus. Any city councillor worth their salt is going to feel the limitations of municipal governance. There isn’t access to all the necessary tools, especially the fiscal ones, to get the job done on major issues like transit, child care and housing. t must be head-bangingly frustrating to care about these items and know there’s only so much you can do, to battle with colleagues who view such shortcomings as a way not to deal with them.

Councillor Vaughan says he wants to go to Ottawa to finally deliver a national strategy on housing for cities. I truly wish him good luck with that but, frankly, these days, Ottawa is where good intentions and direct, hands on democracy go to die. Olivia Chow, whose vacant federal seat Vaughan is seeking to fill, became an MP with similar purpose in mind, and Jack Layton before her. It’s been some time since the federal government paid much attention to the needs of this country’s cities. Maybe Adam Vaughan can turn that around. I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

I’m guessing the past four years have been a study in frustration for Vaughan. Time spent mostly trying to push against the reactionary, roll back impulses of the Fords and their ilk. He’s done his hitch. robfordbellicoseWhile I’d hoped he’d be around to help pick up the broken pieces of what gets left behind after this messy weather passes through town, he won’t. It’s going to be a pretty big hole that needs to be filled.

When this term is up, Adam Vaughan will have served at City Hall for nearly 8 years. Rob Ford’s time in office there? 14 years. If you are ever trying to figure out why Toronto faces the problems it does, engages in the kind of politics it does, that’s as a good a place to start as any. Fixing that sort of discrepancy will go a long way to sorting our problems out.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


Celebrity Mayor

April 14, 2014

Is it possible Rob Ford has always been a celebrity candidate? Even back in 2010 when he was a little known councillor from Etobicoke deciding to take a run at the mayor’s office, celebritybobblehead2it was all about his personality, that everyman in an ill-fitting suit, looking out for the little guy. He wasn’t a politician. He was a brand.

Everywhere he goes, Rob Ford is treated like a rock star, at least according to his councillor-brother-campaign manager, Doug. Wherever he goes everybody wants to get their picture taken with the mayor. Look, guys! It’s me and the mayor! The mayor who’s been on a late night talk show! The mayor who’s admitted to smoking crack!

It’s not necessarily a recent phenomenon, in the wake of his increased notoriety over the last 18 months or so. People always seemed to want to get their pictures taken with him. At the first Ford Fest after he was elected mayor, there was a steady stream of attendees waiting to pose with Mayor Ford. He has always been a larger-than-life figure. His politics ride shotgun with his persona.

So the direction his re-election campaign is taking cannot come as much of surprise to those who’ve been following along for the last 4 years. It is a full on embrace of his celebrity status. Anyone – and they mean anyone – abelincolnbobbleheadswith any sort of name recognition, good or bad, is welcomed aboard Team Ford. Ben Johnson. That guy from the Trailer Park Boys. No, not that one. Not that guy either. The one in that episode where—Does it matter? The Trailer Park Boys!

And as with any sort of celebrity campaign, whether electoral or some product promotional tour, you can never forgot the merchandise. Some swag. With Rob Ford, it’s all about the bobbleheads. Sports stars. Dead presidents. Anybody who’s anybody (or anybody who was anybody) gets their own bobbleheads.

There’s an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star about the tactical approach of these bobbleheads in helping not only with donations but in compiling voters and volunteers lists. Buy one, give us your data in return. “Rob Ford and his brother…are either the smartest people in the room or the dumbest and I don’t know,” says Ralph Lean, celebritybobbleheada long time political bagmen who knows a thing or two about raising money.

I do know that the Fords are smart in using the mayor’s celebrity as the focus for eliciting donations and names for the campaign. Smart, or it’s just the result of a basic process of elimination. It’d be hard to run on his record of accomplishments (spotty) or his time in office (horrific, if you’re not a big fan of your mayor smoking crack in drunken stupors, etc., etc.) So, it’s full on celebrity mayor. Do you like a mayor who puts Toronto on the map of late night American talk shows and international news wires? Re-elect Mayor Rob Ford in 2014!

It’s little wonder then that the latest installment of Ford Nation on YouTube is dedicated solely to bobbleheads and Jimmy Kimmel. Looks, folks. Your celebrity mayor hobknobs with actual, real life celebrities. No talk of policy issues the city the mayor wants to continue to lead faces. Who’s got time to discuss transit? It’s Jimmy Kimmel, folks! A celebrity. Endorsing the mayor. Sort of. He said he might come to town in November for a “fun-raiser” and to celebrate brother Doug’s birthday.

Jimmy Kimmel, folks!

The question now is, have the Fords so degraded public discourse in this city that there’s a big enough audience – and that’s how they view their base of support, as an audience of taxpayers not engaged citizens – to secure them a second term in office? Will boasting that the likes of Jimmy Kimmel had never even heard of Toronto before Rob Ford became mayor activate another winning Ford Nation who see something ‘world class’ about that? It’s a risky road to take, even in the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but the reality is, Team Ford has no other alternative.

star struckly submitted by Cityslikr


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