Sunday, December 24, 2006

Shopping Day

I had to laugh when I saw this comic in Saturday's Windsor Star.

I first started shopping on Christmas Eve back in 1996. That time it was by necessity rather than choice. I was working a lot of hours and just never got around to getting all my shopping done.

That Christmas Eve I got to the mall around noon and had all my shopping done in about an hour and a half. Dropped everything off at the wrapping table and by 2pm I was done. I had a ball that day as most of the other people I met in the mall were other guys. Coworkers, friends from the Navy, and others I hadn't seen in a while. A bunch of us ended up having a few beers together to round out the day.

Ever since, Christmas Eve shopping has been my personal tradition each year. I wouldn't have it any other way.

See ya at the mall!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

YouTube helps in Hamilton Murder Investigation

While it's too soon to say what role YouTube played in the suspect turning himself in, kudos to the Hamilton PD for thinking of posting the video. Even if not directly responsible for the suspect turning himself in, it certainly helped turn up the heat.

The news report mentions 17,000 views when the suspect turned himself in. As of right now, the video has 30,000 views.

Suspect in YouTube video surrenders to police

Police uploaded the video clip to YouTube in early December, hoping it would draw out witnesses. Since the time it was uploaded, the video was reportedly viewed online about 17,000 times.

Posting security video online was considered a first for a Canadian police force. Hamilton police said it was the first time they had tried something like this during an active investigation.

Investigators believed the jumpy video of people at a concert would get wide exposure among the age group of people who attended the Nov. 16 show at Hamilton's Club Seventy Seven.

Link to the Hamilton Police YouTube Video

It should be interesting to see if other police forces in Canada begin emulating this. I don't see why they wouldn't. It's available 24 hours a day, easy to distribute/duplicate and best of all - it's free.

Cross-posted from BBS

Bingo Pt II

Roseann Danese weighs in on the recent Council decision to allow Hollywood Bingo to reopen under new owners.
B-I-N-G-O-nomics

Meanwhile rookie Coun. Drew Dilkens seemed to forget the industry is heavily regulated by two levels of government and relied on by charitable organizations, when he made the free-enterprise-at-all-costs speech. “This is really a case of economics -- it's supply and demand," Dilkens said. "When there's demand in the marketplace, suppliers open. When demand goes down, suppliers exit. I've never seen a situation where competition is bad for the overall marketplace."
Well, except maybe, in the case of the charitable bingo market.
I'll have to respectfully disagree with Roseann here and stand by Dilkens and the other councillors who voted in favour of this.

One of the biggest reasons is we don't know all the details of the previous owner's finances. They are restructuring in order to continue their business. While the downturn in the Bingo industry, 911, smoking bylaw and other issues played a factor in CBC's problems, I don't think they were the only cause. At some point management must accept some responsibility. They have closed locations and consolidated their operations.

The new owner of Hollywood Bingo has identified an opportunity in Windsor. He is an experienced bingo hall operator who is risking his own money. It's his choice.

Yes, the bingo industry was in trouble in Windsor, but CBC's hall closings took a significant amount of capacity out of the city. This owner is looking to fill some of that capacity.

The city will benefit from increased revenues. Local contractors will benefit from the renovations. Local suppliers have an opportunity for increased business. More charities now have an opportunity to fundraise and finally people will benefit from the job opportunities.

While this certainly isn't the hey-day of Windsor Bingo I don't think it's the death knell either.

I wish the new owners of Hollywood all the best.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Under the "B" for Business

Some good news out of Monday's Council Meeting:
East-End Bingo Hall Reopens
Hollywood Bingo Scheduled To Open in New Year
A closed bingo hall in east Windsor will soon be reopening its doors.

City Council has voted five-four in favour of allowing Hollywood Bingo on Wyandotte Street East to reopen under new ownership..

It was closed in September.

The new owner hopes to re-open it early in the new year.

Crent bingo owners and operators worry they'll lose business to the competition.

Fear of competition from current operators is not a legitimate reason to deny someone an opportunity to do business. If the company can provide a service/product that people like they will prosper. If the business isn't there, they will fold. It's not up to City Council to decide who in the area's bingo industry should be allowed to operate. The fact that other halls are functioning under bankruptcy protection is not council's concern.

Let me put it another way. If Ford and GM were operating under bankruptcy protection in Windsor and Chrysler wanted to open a new plant - would we deny Chrysler to protect Ford and GM?

Voting for: Gignac, Halberstadt, Postma, Brister, Dilkens
Against: Jones, Valentinis, Lewenza, Hatfield
Conflict Declared: Marra

Monday, December 18, 2006

Health Research - an avenue for Windsor?

With an empty former Grace Hospital site, an expanding Medical School and a struggling auto-sector, Health Research presents an excellent opportunity for the long sought diversification of the Windsor region's economy.

Today's guest editorial in the Windsor Star highlights how little is currently being done in this field currently and the opportunities that exist.
No dollars, little cents


Dr. Ronald G. Worton, Special to The Windsor Star
Published: Monday, December 18, 2006

Research Canada: An Alliance for Health Discovery, launched the results of a national public opinion survey by Environics Research Group on health research in Canada. The Canada Speaks 2006 survey demonstrates that Canadians place a high value on health research. The survey revealed that 91 per cent of Canadians want the government to invest more money in health research -- an overwhelming mandate for any government.

Despite the profound importance of health research, less than one cent of every health dollar is invested in health research. When told that in the survey, 85 per cent of Canadians said that it's not enough. Further, a majority said that they were willing to pay out of their own pockets to fund new health research projects.

Canadians want Canada to be a global leader in health research and see a strong federal role in support of such research. Ninety-one per cent of Canadians want the federal government to invest more in basic science related to health, even if it brings them no immediate benefit. Canadians also recognize the important role industry plays in health research -- 83 per cent of Canadians say that the federal government should have tax policies and regulations that encourage private industries to conduct more health-related research.

This is certainly an area that Windsor could aggressively pursue. Don't stand in line begging for Federal/Provincial money. Find ways to encourage and grow Health Research in Windsor.

With a large number of immigrant medical professionals residing in this area, this could be a potential short to medium term employment option that would utilize their skills and knowledge.

Think outside the box. Lets not wait for someone else to lead the way.

RFI - Truck Marshalling Yard to Serve Windsor-Detroit Gateway

How about an integrated Weigh Station/Marshalling Yard/Service Centre? Such a large facility could also factor in local/regional disaster and emergency planning.
RFI - Truck Marshalling Yard to Serve Windsor-Detroit Gateway

Opportunity Notice


RFI #: OSS-073775
RFI Title: Truck Marshalling Yard to Serve Windsor-Detroit Gateway
Closing Date: January 31, 2007

A Request for Information (RFI) has been issued to assist MTO in obtaining information on a potential Truck Marshalling Yard initiative along the Highway 401 corridor, between Windsor and Chatham. The RFI is aimed at stakeholders and private sector partners who are interested in the design, construction, management, operation and maintenance of a Truck Marshalling Yard, with provincial government oversight.

The RFI has been issued for information gathering purposes only. The RFI is not a formal competitive bidding process nor is it intended to directly result in the award of a contract to any Respondent.

The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) is seeking private sector knowledge and expertise on a potential Truck Marshalling Yard initiative to serve the Windsor-Detroit Gateway. This facility could be private sector owned, designed, developed and or operated, with provincial government oversight. However, the level of public sector involvement would be further defined through a separate procurement process, should this project proceed beyond the RFI stage.

Through the RFI, MTO seeks to obtain sufficient information to determine:

1. What are the potential benefits and risks to the Province and to key stakeholders associated with this project?

2. Is there private sector interest in developing/operating a Truck Marshalling Yard along the Highway 401 corridor between Windsor and Chatham?

3. Are there other possible facilities which could provide a service to the general public and be of benefit to commercial vehicles travelling through the Windsor-Detroit Gateway?

If you are interested in providing a response, please obtain the complete RFI from MERX.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's up to you - Speak up!

Roseann Danese has more on the "secret" Windsor City Council strategy session that wasn't a meeting.

I guess we're all supposed to wait with bated breath for the Mayor's report on the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry (which was released in September of 2005).

Just what we need, a report on a report that we can table for further study and debate. At the rate things move in Windsor this should move to the head of the agenda sometime late in 2008, if we're lucky.

As I stated in yesterday's post, this is something that should not focus on the Mayor exclusively.

All it takes is six Councillors with a commitment to ending the culture of secrecy. Current contact information for Windsor Councillors can be found here.

Make sure your voice is heard.

Update: From Saturday's Windsor Star (subscribers only)
Council meeting's legality questioned
Windsor council probably broke the law by holding a five-hour, closed-door workshop to discuss city priorities over the next four years, a university professor said Friday.
Update 2: From Saturday's Windsor Star - Main Editorial
City council: What constitutes a 'meeting'

Windsor Star
Published: Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's crystal clear transparency isn't a strategic priority for Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis and the newly constituted council. Neither, it seems, is honouring campaign promises to conduct the public's business in public.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Insulting the citizens of Windsor

I guess those tasked with running our city just aren't getting the message. The Mayor, Councillors and chief bureaucrats continue to pat us on the head and say that there simply is nothing that they can do.
Council goals set in secret
Mayor defers to city's top bureaucrat -- 'Apparently I have no authority'

Skorobohacz said the open meeting rules in the municipal act didn't apply Thursday because the gathering of the mayor, city councillors and city administrators did not constitute a meeting in which city business was discussed. He described it as a "workshop."
Could someone help me wrap my little brain around this bender?

A Strategic Planning meeting to identify "strategic priorities" during council's four-year term, how their success will be measured and "what does the community say is important for the council to accomplish." - and this doesn't constitute a meeting in which city business was discussed?

If no city business was discussed, why was the meeting held and why are we as taxpayers paying for it?

Mayor Francis' dodge is simply that - a dodge. To imply that he has no authority in this situation is ridiculous, unless he was overruled by a majority of the councillors. Regardless of what CAO John Skorobohacz says, a simple vote by five councillors and the Mayor or by a majority of six councillors and the meeting would be required to be open to the public.

Who is running this city, the bureaucrats or the council?

One thing is certain. Should the Mayor and Councillors continue down this road they will most likely accomplish something that rarely happens in Windsor - a consensus. One that cuts across all party lines, ideologies and interests. The focus is simple and pointed. Stop the secrecy and open municipal government to the people that pay the taxes.

Citizens for Open Government (COG) sounds like a good working title to start with.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Santos elected Essex County Warden

A positive sign for Windsor, for a change
Nelson Santos Elected Essex County Warden
Youngest County Mayor Named To Post

The County of Essex has a new warden.

Nelson Santos, Mayor of Kingsville will hold the seat for the next four years.

He wants to strength the county's relationship with the City of Windsor.

Santos says the county's relationship with Windsor is crucial and it's the strongest its been in years, something he plans to build on saying, "we need to work with our partners, it's not about amalgamation, it's about bringing services together."

Santos' only challenger, Gary McNamara, Mayor of Tecumseh was gracious in defeat.

Had McNamara won, I don't think the prospects for cooperation between the City and County would have been very bright. Now that the City and County have finished picking their dance partners, it's time to start dancing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

All quiet

Nothing new here.

Move along, nothing new to see here either.

Finding a copy of the Tecumseh/Ice Track contract is about as easy as finding the elusive Sasquatch.

I suppose it's time for a FOI request.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Shades of grey

Of the various numbers and statistics mentioned in the Mayor's Inaugural Address last night, one got my attention:
Our University is such an important asset – one that many communities would love to have. And the time has come for the University of Windsor to achieve more, and to do more, when it comes to achieving excellence.

While Windsor stood 9th in private sector R&D investment, we ranked 20th in public sector research and development.

The University of Windsor has so much opportunity and potential. The time has come for it to join the ranks of the truly great universities in this province and in this country.

This, too, is largely beyond our City Council’s control.
I always wonder when I hear statistics thrown around without any citation or reference. I decided to go looking for the source.

The statistics mentioned in the Mayor's address come from Research Infosource's 2006 report.
icon Top 20 Research Communities List 2006.pdf (92 KB) Supplementary reports and statistics can be found on the Report Page of InfoSources

A couple things to place the report in context:
1. The data being reported is based on the 2001 Census;

2. When the report mentions Windsor - it's actually referring to the Census Metropolitan Area of Windsor which includes Windsor, Amherstburg, Lakeshore, LaSalle, and Tecumseh; and

3. If you look at Statistics Canada's website, (scroll down for list of CMA's) you can see that they track 27 total CMA's in Canada. This helps put the 9th and 20th place rankings in further context.
Take a look at the CMA who ranks number 17 in the report - Saguenay. Ring a bell? That's the region that has been fighting a back and forth battle with Windsor for the highest unemployment rates in the country for the last year.

Hands up everyone who thinks a Regional Economic Development Commission (that's still looking for a CEO and is probably a year away from actually doing anything) and a big-bucks marketing plan are going to be the answer to diversification in the Windsor area economy?

While I'm generally not in favour of growing government subsidies we can and must be more innovative in our approaches. In November I threw out an idea - The voices are out there.
For the Windsor area to get ahead - we need to do the things other municipalities are NOT doing. These are the types of discussions that all residents need to be having.

Unfortunately, we just missed our biggest opportunity to have one such discussion - the Municipal Election. For such a grand plan laid out by the Mayor, he was strangely silent during the election.

With continuing references to the upcoming council strategic planning sessions and all the surprise issues (400 City Hall Square, Corporate Communications, Windsor Police restructuring, Windsdor Airport...), I certainly don't want to see a series of " fait accomplis" presented to the people of Windsor as the concensus of council, not unless they're going to hold the strategic planning sessions in public.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Quick notes on first council meeting

I was a little late arriving so I missed all the initial fanfare and about the first five minutes of the Mayor's speech.

There were numerous copies of the speech available after the event was over and I just noticed that it's posted on City's website.

It strikes me as rather ironic that any good news in Windsor (ie. the Mayor's speech) is easy to obtain and distributed far and wide while anything else requires a trip to the dentist to pull a few dozen teeth.

icon 2006 Mayor Inaugural Address.pdf (80 KB)

1. I must say I was surprised at the turnout. I'm not sure what the total capacity of the Chrysler Theatre is, but the main floor was pretty much full.

2. Not sure if they were expecting a riot or anything, but I thought it strange to see 6 police officers strategically placed throughout the theatre.

3. Funniest line of the night:
" Until then, my plan is to start an e-newsletter, from the Mayor to the people of Windsor. It is the fireside chat of the twenty-first century."
I hate to burst the Mayor's bubble, but at best an email newsletter might be considered late 20th century but certainly not 'twenty-first century". Blogs, YouTube, MySpace page, Podcasting, RSS - that's a little more in line with 21st century.

Push versus Pull. Email is a push technology that most of us are seeking to reduce, not increase.

Councillor Halberstadt has the right idea. His blog and accompanying feed are just two examples of pull technologies available today. If the Mayor really wants some 21st century communication to start happening, he should consult with his youth council and ask them to help craft a communication strategy. Most of them could do it in their sleep.

I'll have more to say on the Mayor's speech later on, once I've had a chance to re-read it and check on a few things.

Wow, is it just me...

or is it getting hot in the (Windsor) kitchen.
Open the closed doors (subscription only)

Don McArthur, Windsor Star
Published: Monday, December 04, 2006

The pledge by Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis to stop using confidentiality clauses when the city inks deals with the private sector is a welcome step, but he should go further to ensure taxpayers aren't being unnecessarily kept in the dark.

Francis should embrace the concept of non-confidentiality clauses -- a paragraph clearly articulating the importance and necessity of open and transparent government that can be inserted into every contract the city signs with the private sector.
The voices are getting louder and the excuses weaker.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Inaugural City Council Meeting

This should be interesting for political watchers. I always enjoy a dog and pony show myself:

The public and media are invited to attend the Inaugural Meeting of Windsor City Council to be held on Monday, December 4, 2006 at 7:00 p.m. at the Chrysler Theatre, Cleary International Centre. Sign language interpreters will be present to assist with communicating with our entire community.

A reception will follow in the lobby areas of the theatre. Cogeco Cable 11 will broadcast the ceremony on a tape-delayed basis that same evening at 9:00 p.m. and again at 11:00 p.m.

Date: December 4, 2006.
Location: Cleary International Centre, Chrysler Theatre
Time: 7:00 p.m.

For further information please contact:

Patricia Dolan Lewis
Corporate Communications
(519) 253-2300 x. 6877

Friday, December 01, 2006

Winds of change...

or a westward shift from the Lou Romano treatment facility? Only time will tell.
End secrecy, Francis says - Mayor urges city to abandon confidentiality clauses (subscription only)
But Francis said disclosing that information could put the municipality at risk of legal action.

"You have tenants that have come forward and said 'we're prepared to lease space, but we don't want our business to be public,'" Francis said. "The arguments the tenants made were based on the fact that, 'if we're going to do business with the city and we're leasing space, we don't want the competition to know what our expenses are.'"

Call me crazy, but I don't exactly get a warm fuzzy feeling when I read this. The City of Windsor cited this same arguement in trying to refuse releasing the city's deal with the Keg restaurant. In a Machiavellian twist one could only find in Windsor, the Information Commissioner revealed that the confidentiality clause was at the city's behest and not the Keg's.

the affected party stated that:
…the commercial agreement was negotiated in confidence at the request of the City. The City has not to this day consented to the disclosure of any parking related information.
Agreements aside, another issue that seems to be re-occuring relates to matters discussed/decided at In-Camera meetings. There is no doubt that a body such as Windsor Council requires in-camera meeting to discuss numerous issues (personnel, legal, financial etc), but at some point, the requirement for secrecy ends for many of these matters. The problem is that we never seem to hear about such items unless a Councillor asks specific questions or local media manages to find out details.

Several examples off the top of my head:

1. Yesterday's revelation that the City purchased land in the east end for $1 million dollars. The decision to purchase was made at an in-camera meeting on the 24th of July. The article states that the land was "recently" purchased. A proactive City, committed to open and accountable government, would have released these details on the day of closure. Instead we're left wondering. Did this deal close just before the recent election or just after?

2. The City settled a lawsuit in April with an employee in former Mayor Mike Hurst's office. While the actual details of the settlement are most likely confidential, the fact that it was settled is not. Again, instead of a proactive release of information, we have to wait for the news to trickle out months later

3. From Councillor Alan Halberstadt's blog:

Last November 14th, Council passed my "sunshine bylaw" resolution directing the City Clerk to provide quarterly reports of these basic statistics. After a good deal of badgering on my part, the report finally appeared on the Communications Agenda last night (Oct. 23).
The report was not based on quarterly data, as directed, but summarized the period January to September 28, 2006. Twenty-nine (29) in camera meeting have taken place in that time with 137 items being considered during a total of 47 hours and 48 minutes. By comparison, thirty-four (34) open meetings were held with 430 items being considered during a total of 91 minutes and 25 minutes.
Almost a year to produce a report at Council's direction, and even then, the report produced was not what was required. Another item in the same blog:
Meanwhile, I am still waiting for a public report, which I originally requested, on an in camera meeting Council had with border lawyer David Estrin last month. Council was given a legal opinion by City Solicitor George Wilkki that this matter should remain largely confidential under solicitor-client privilege, since it could compromise the city in its ongoing border disputes with third parties.

Council has authorized a sizable amount of money to be spent on legal fees in this latest response to the enemies. You might remember that I have pushed for the public to be informed of the border legal and consulting costs in a timely fashion, and administration has committed to do so.

Mayor Francis has asked the legal department to put together a report for the public agenda on this matter, restricting the report to information that is not deemed to be compromising to the city's case. It will be interesting to see if this report finds its way onto the public agenda before the Nov. 13th election. It should
Did this report see the light of day before the election? Yes and no. No the report wasn't released prior to the election, but the information was released due to the persistent efforts of Alan.
During question period Monday, I was able to coax from the mayor the admission that declaring the amount of money authorized by Council in camera on Oct. 10th would not compromise the city. Da!<br>
I therefore felt comfortable releasing the $400,000 figure to the media after the meeting. Since a written report from administration and Estrin will not be forthcoming until after Monday's election, I also feel compelled to share with ratepayers some overview information on what this money is intended to be spent on.
Once again, the city's stance seems to be resistance instead of proactive.

I admit that there is a fine balance between the public's right to know and the secrecy required to conduct the city's affairs. The problem in Windsor is that there doesn't seem to be any balancing going on at all, simply secrecy. While this may only be perception instead of actual reality, it is a dangerous perception to have associated with the city.

The risk of embarrassment or criticism should not be the justification for secrecy of Municipal affairs. By the same token, critics such as myself must also acknowledge and encourage Municipal government when they are being open, regardless of the political cost. If we do not, then the urge to remain silent will continue to pervade our city's business.

In a case of coincidental timing I came across this report today via another blog:
Restoring Citizen Trust – The Heart of Accountability – establishing a political culture that reconnects with politicians and the public.(pdf)

Existing accountability mechanisms in Canada are out of date. For one thing, they assume that public involvement is limited to election times. But numerous studies show that citizens are “no longer content to go to the polls every four years or so and then give government a free hand” (Savoie, page 9). Part of having more trust is having more say.

Improved accountability won’t happen without improved transparency. It goes well beyond simply posting more information on government Web sites and publishing more reports. Transparency means the public has easily accessible, understandable and meaningful information that makes clear what is being achieved for society with public funds and where the gaps are. It also involves governments giving the public a role in determining what constitutes meaningful information and facilitating its use of that information to influence the policy process.