Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dumber than a sack of hammers

No nicer way to describe Monday's Council meeting.

Bill Marra tried right to the end with the suggestion that a 1 week deferral would be reasonable before passing the Interim Control By-law (actually 5 days). I'm surprised that no one bothered to ask the Bridge Company if they would commit to not undertake any actions in that week in return for the deferral (ie. applying for further demolition permits).

Alan Halberstadt hit the nail on the head when he stated that as the City's fourth largest taxpayer that the Bridge Company was due at least some respect. Why are we using such a "blunt" instrument as an Interim Control By-Law? We all know how well it worked for the downtown. Anyone count the number of empty storefronts lately? I think I'll take some time today and do just that. I'll post the info later this evening.

It's interesting that in today's Windsor Star Councillor Jones and Mayor Francis are citing the need to protect heritage properties as the reason for the interim control bylaw. If that is the case, why are these properties not being designated as "Heritage Properties" and afforded the appropriate protections? City Council have already demonstrated they are not shy about using this power when they voted to protect the former convent on Riverside Drive.

The City might want to take a lesson from the University of Windsor. Since beginning a cooperative relationship with the Bridge Company they have benefited immensely. In addition to their unique agreement with the U of W to operate the Bridge's Duty Free Store this story shows the University expressing their appreciation to the Moroun family for their donation of $2 million dollars toward the new stadium.

If the City would actually engage with the Bridge company instead of beating it with the biggest stick they can find, the results could be surprising. I'm willing to bet that the Bridge company would be open to funding most if not all of the redevelopment of Sandwich if relations with the City were different. How about a nice Cruise Ship terminal in the Mill/Brock riverfront area to bring tourists to a revitalized Sandwich area? Streetscaping? The Windsor Jail will need extensive renovations once it becomes available.

I hope City Council is allowing for a hefty litigation fund in this years budget. History would suggest they're going to need it. Or have they forgot that the Bridge company spent close to 25 10 years litigating with the Government of Canada - and won.

it was the State of Michigan the Bridge Company fought for 25 years. The Canadian case was ONLY 10 years.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Til Tomorrow

It usually doesn't pay to do anything while you're angry, and that holds true with blogging. After watching last night's Council meeting, I may even have to wait two days.

I'll be back tomorrow with comments on Monday's meeting.

Monday, January 29, 2007

OK, Now that's funny!

From a Windsor Star article on the Ward 2 Community meeting:
Coun. Joanne Gignac and Coun. Dave Brister attended all the meetings and they say there were a number of common priorities.

“Community policing was something they wanted to see more of,” said Gignac, who was surprised a community museum was not a “burning priority.”
I'm a history buff and love museums but, "burning priority"?

On the other hand, the Chimczuk fund is getting to a hefty size ($2.75 million if this source can be believed). It must be looking pretty attractive to a lot of groups. Wouldn't a new civic museum look just dandy in the new Sandwich Heritage area council is about to create?

On the other hand the Capitol Theatre must be gazing at that particular nest egg with a wishful glint in their eye.

Speaking of the Capitol - I wonder if the Son of Capitol (the old Salvation Army building at University and Victoria) will come up as part of Monday's Council decision? It's now obvious that the Capitol won't be needing the building anytime soon. The City should be looking at ways of recouping even a small portion of what we've lost over the years. (The City swapped a revenue generating parking lot for the building. So now not only do we not receive any taxes from the building, we lost the parking revenue - Brilliant!)

Never a dull moment in Windsor.

Friday, January 26, 2007

How many City Managers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Oops - I meant run a City. Apparently in Windsor, according to the Windsor Star, it's 442. A new union drive would make 414 of these managers union positions. The rationale for unionizing?
"Micelli said salary cuts, reduction in overtime and increased hours in the work week were the biggest points of contention that led managers to want union representation. At the end of the day middle managers feel they've been treated without respect and dignity. "
Hands up every manager/supervisor in the private sector who hasn't faced one or all of the above in their career? How many have worked contract positions with no benefits for at least a year or longer before being hired by a company? Ever walked into work one day and had a Security Guard ready to assist you in packing your office prior to leaving?

Why is it that the public sector continually operates under different rules than the rest of us?

With 442 total managers, just how many employees does the City of Windsor actually have? I'm almost afraid to ask. With the City currently undergoing it's budget process, now might be a good time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Just a guess, mind you

Why do I get the feeling that the City of Windsor is in for a tax hike this year? A few things are leading me down this path. Several days ago I posted about the Modified Zero Based Budget (MZBB) process being abandoned by City Council. I missed the January 8th Council meeting but I have had several people confirm for me since then that the budget report presented was the last gasp of MZBB in Windsor.

Launched with great fanfare three years ago, the MZBB was touted as one of the answers to Windsor's budget woes. Judging by the press releases and interviews given after each of the last two years budgets, it would seem to have been highly successful. If it was, why are we abandoning it? If it wasn't, were we just having the wool pulled over our eyes?

The process was to have been phased in over three years, with this year being the final year. Some of the biggest budget departments were to join the process this year. Was this a deciding factor in abandoning it? Was this a Council directive or the administration tail wagging the dog again?

There are a lot of buzzwords in the air these days surrounding the new budget process. "People-based Community Strategic Plan", "Four Pillars" , "People Based City Plan" are just some of the examples. I looked at numerous city documents but one phrase I couldn't find anywhere was "Dog and Pony show".

My guess is that the remainder of the budget process is going to go something like this:

1. After the Ward consultation meetings are completed and the results compiled the preliminary budget will be revised to reflect the "peoples priorities". In reality, these budgets have been prepared for a while and various items will be re-named and recatagorized to reflect the peoples priorities.

2. Several options will be presented to council in terms of possible budgets. Let's say increases of 0%, 3%, 6% and 9%. After numerous meetings and much hand-wringing the final budget will be approved with a 4.5% tax hike. The justification will be that in order to meet the "people's priorities" that the City MUST have a tax hike. (Keep an eye out for the Sewer Surcharges and other little details like rebuilding the City Reserves that we've been raiding like a bottomless cookie jar).

The entire package will be presented as the best possible scenario in order to meet the "people's priorities". Remember, you decided and Council is simply delivering on your wishes. Frankly, I think we're going to hear so much about "the people" that we're simply going to forget about the administration's role in the budget process.

On second thought, forget about the "Dog and Pony Show", I think it's just a dog.

Chris Schnurr has a few thoughts on city finances as well.

That just my guess, mind you.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Striking Gold

As a blogger who posts under their own name and with a public email address, one of the first things you have to be prepared for is nasty anonymous emails. It just comes with the territory, depending on the topic you're posting on.

After yesterday's post on the disappearing Modified Zero Based Budget, I seem to have set a new level of local anonymous outrage.

The interesting thing about it is, that while the emails are always fun for me to read through, the more I receive, the more I tend to think I'm on the right track.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Modified Zero Based Budget Abandoned in Windsor?

I'm generally not a conspiracy theorist, but when things start disappearing, it makes you wonder.

I visited the City of Windsor Budget page last night to download a report that previously had been posted there (2007 Budget Process Presentation made to City Council on June 20, 2006). Last week I had grabbed a copy of the 2007 Budget Process Timeline to review and I now wanted to read the report.

It's gone.

Then I noticed something else. All links and any mention of the Modified Zero Based Budget (MZBB) have been removed from the City website. I searched around, thinking that it had possibly been moved to another section. No luck. Thankfully, Google does such a wonderful job at caching content.

Here's how the "Starting at Zero" budget page used to look:

(Google Cache of "Starting at Zero Budget Page)

(click on image for full size)

Here's how the 2007 Budget Process Timeline page used to look:

(Google Cache of 2007 Budget Process Timeline page)

(click on image for full size)

I can understand the 2007 Budget Process Timeline document being removed if an updated document is being prepared, but why remove the presentation to City Council on the 20th of June?

If you look at the new City Budget page you'll notice that there no longer is a link to "Starting at Zero". This year was to be the final one in a three year phase in of the Modified Zero Based Budget. The old page states that "remaining 9 areas will be examined in the 2007 budget process". From the 2006 budget documents I found the listing of the 9 departments that were supposed to be the final ones in this process:
* Huron Lodge

* Finance

* Licensing & Enforcement

* Parks Recreation

* Hospitality & Corporate Facility Planning

* Public Works Operations

* Social Support Services

* Housing & Children’s Services

* Windsor Police Services
Have we abandoned the Modified Zero Based Budget? Was there an announcement of this that I missed?

The January 8th Council Minutes mention a budget update report that is unfortunately no longer available online. Further on in the minutes I found the details of a Council Resolution:
That City Council RECEIVE the 2007 Budget Process Update report dated December 19, 2006;

That Council APPROVE the funding of agencies in 2007 up to a maximum of 50% of the 2006 approved grant amounts as outlined in this report;

That Council APPROVE a hiring freeze that requires CAO/GM approval for the filling of all vacant positions until Council approves the 2007 budget;

That Council APPROVE that service levels in the 1st quarter of 2007 remain at status quo levels as approved in the 2006 budget and that no new initiatives be undertaken until Council approves the 2007 budget;

That Council APPROVE that a full Committee of Council with the Mayor as Chair review and deliberate the 2007 Budget.

Carried, Councillor Brister voting nay.
Again, no mention of the Modified Zero Based Budget. If anyone has a copy saved of the 2007 Budget Process Report Update, I would appreciate them emailing me a copy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Windsor Leads the Province!

Unfortunately, much like our Canada wide lead in unemployment, this statistic is nothing to celebrate - the worst air quality in the province. As with many other things the government doesn't want people to notice, the report was quietly released in late December, when peoples minds are otherwise occupied with the Christmas season.

I've isolated two of the charts on the report to demonstrate where Windsor stands. Although the report doesn't mention it, I would hazard a guess that Windsor would also rate as the worst in the country. The first chart shows that in a comparison of 39 cities worldwide for 2005, Windsor was tied for 7th worst with Athens, Greece.

icon 2005 Air Quality Report (.pdf) (2.45 MB)

(click on image for full size)

(click on image for full size)

I'm certainly no expert on this issue, but this report highlights the seriousness of this issue for the people of Windsor.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Council Committees

Here's your chance to get more involved in City affairs.

From the City of Windsor website:

Your City NeedsYOU!
Are you someone who wants to make a difference in the community?
Do you have the time, talent and enthusiasm the City is looking for?
Do you believe in open and accountable government?

If you answered 'YES' to any of the above then we have an opportunity for you!

Applications are now being accepted for the various City agencies, boards, committees and commissions to which the City is entitled to appoint membership.

Come and find out more by attending an Open House:

Date: Thursday, January 18, 2007
Time: 2:00 o'clock p.m. to 7:00 o'clock p.m.
Place: Main Lobby of City Hall, 350 City Hall Square

Check out the opportunities!

Please note: Current Members must reapply. If you are applying for more than one Board, Committee or Commission, you must complete one application per request.

Applications can be dropped off at Customer Care Centres or at the Clerk's Office, 2nd Floor, 350 City Hall Square.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Windsor's other ballet wins court battle

I don't remember seeing this one in the Star this week. Should be an interesting issue for the Mayor and Council.

From reading the article, I don't think it's so much the overall bylaw that got struck down, but how it was applied. The issue seems to revolve around the fact that clothed bartenders didn't require a license but partially clothed ones did. I'm assuming this is because they classed the partially clothed bartenders/waitresses as strippers. I'm going to see if I can find the actual decision.
Windsor strippers' license fee discriminatory, court rules

WINDSOR, Ontario -- A city bylaw requiring exotic dancers to pay a special license fee is discriminatory and excessive, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday.

Lawyer Myron Shulgan, who represented seven Windsor strip clubs, said the court struck down the bylaw because it treats employees in the same job class differently, based on attire.

"A female bartender who is partially nude is required to be licensed, but a female bartender working alongside the former who's fully clothed is not required to be licensed," Shulgan said.

The court said that discriminates between the two employees of the same class.

The decision echoes one made by the Superior Court in September, which the city located across the Detroit River from Detroit had appealed.

Adult entertainment club employees who worked in the nude or partially nude _ and were classified as dancers by the city _ were required to buy a license at an annual cost of about $400 once the bylaw took effect Jan. 1, 2005.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Phog Phree/Phair Trade Night

An interesting concept. Rather than collecting dust in your basement or cluttering up your closet, take those unwanted gifts and unused items that are cluttering your space and trade them for something else.
Phree/Phair Trade Night
If you have items left over from Christmas, or if you are like everyone else, and you have too much stuff, this night is for you. We invite all of our crowd in to trade their stuff, their unwanted items for other people's items that are more attractive to the trader.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Secrecy Club

It seems that Windsor isn't the only municipality that has issues with secrecy.
City hall under fire for secrecy
Despite Miller's promise for openness, officials mum on sale of street-light poles


The City of Toronto is still keeping secret many of the details around the controversial sale of its thousands of street-light poles, a move derided by critics as a creative accounting trick used to plug a hole in its budget two years ago.

After months of talks, the city finally concluded the deal to sell the poles to a subsidiary of Toronto Hydro Corp. -- a city-owned utility -- for $60-million in December of 2005, 10 months after council approved the last-ditch move.

More than a year later, despite repeated promises from Mayor David Miller to make city hall more open and transparent, city officials are refusing to release various documents around the deal, including the contract.

The province's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, in an interim order issued late last month, scolded city officials for being "somewhat disingenuous" in their response to a request for the information, and demanded the city widen its search for the documents.
In some ways this is a good thing for taxpayers, in the long run. The more incidents like this that happen and are publicized, the greater chance that momentum will build for Provincial Open Government legislation.

Politicians truly are their own worst enemy.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Watch for the fireworks next Monday

No, not City Council, although a sparkler or two there couldn't hurt.

Looks like the Detroit Auto Show is going to start with a bang from Windsor
Riverfront Trail Closed for Fireworks
On Monday, January 8 from 6 pm – 8 pm, sections of the Riverfront Trail will be closed for a pyrotechnic special event honouring the 100th Anniversary of the Auto Industry.

The Parks and Recreation Riverfront Trail from the Civic Terrace and Parking Lot 16 at CN Park will be closed.

K&H Distributing has been contracted by the Wall Street Journal in New York City to provide a pyrotechnic event for viewing from Detroit’s Cobo Hall. The guests of the Wall Street Journal will enjoy the view and music provided by Band Ayd Systems of Windsor from their event location in Detroit. The pyrotechnic display is planned for 7-7:30 pm on Monday, January 8 from Windsor’s riverfront park.

For more information, call:

Mike Taylor, Parks and Recreation
City of Windsor
519.253.2300 ext. 6716
519.791.8823 cell

Or Patricia Dolan Lewis
City of Windsor
519-253-2300 ext. 6877

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Blogging Afghanistan

Doug Schmidt is the latest Windsor Star reporter to head off to Afghanistan to report for Canwest. While he will be filing the normal news reports, he'll also be blogging for the Windsor Star.

" Outside the Wire " is the name of Doug's blog. Permalinks are available for the blog but there are no comments or RSS. Questions, comments and opinions can be emailed to Doug at

Cross-posted to the Torch and BBS