If the Economic Development Corporation is wrapped up - what does that do to TechPlace and the hefty lease they signed?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

July 30th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

What started out as a comment made at the annual Chamber of Commerce State of the City address given by newly elected Mayor Marianne Meed Ward may become a rather impressive Trojan Horse.

Red tape red carpet

Was this initiative a brilliant Trojan Horse?

The Mayor made mention of a committee she was setting up – to be called the Red Tape – Red Carpet (RTRC) initiative during which she, along with her colleague ward 1 city Councillor Kelven Galbraith, were to listen to various groups in the city about their concerns with city hall and the help they needed to grow their businesses.

Lurking in the background was a consistent complaint on the part of the developers and a number of businesses that had found it was very difficult to get anything through city hall in a reasonable amount of time

The RTRC team met with

Rural Business Focus Group, Development and Real Estate Industry Focus Group, Large Business and Manufacturers Focus Group, City Staff and Partner Organization Focus Group, Small Business Focus Group and heard what expected – the departments don’t talk to each other- the agencies (Fire, Education, Region, Conservation) are brought into the picture one at a time.

While Meed Ward was meeting with the various groups – all of which were closed to media – a consistent trait we have noticed from a Mayor who touts her 22 years as a journalist with a high regard for the role the media plays, the Burlington Economic Development Corporation was in the process of looking for a new Executive Director. Anita Cassidy has been serving as the Acting Executive Director for more than a year.

Her predecessor, Frank McKeown, who was at one point Mayor Goldring’s Chief of Staff and went on to run the BEDC, fully understood what the job was – keep the business we have and find new ones – he was just never able to land a really big one.

McKeown thought he was going to be able to put together a partnership with a German consulting group that wanted to get into the North American market. McKeown had his eye on a partnership with McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering – it didn’t work out – the Germans chose Hamilton instead,

Frank McKeown and Mayor Meed Ward never broke bread together – they had strong differences of opinion on what economic development was all about.

Frank McKeough, former Chief of Staff to MAyor Rick Goldring asked about how politicians can handle complex issues when voters tend not to be informed and don't have the background needed to arrive at decisions.

Frank McKeown, asking about how politicians can handle complex issues when voters tend not to be informed and don’t have the background needed to arrive at decisions.

Some think that McKeown resigned as head of BEDC when he could see that Meed Ward was going to be the next Mayor. McKeown always did have a good eye for figuring out which was the wind was blowing and whose sails it was going to fill.

While he ran BEDC, McKeown created TechPlace – a location where small start-ups could move in for a period of time and find their footing and then move out of TechPlace and set up shop in Burlington and grow as a new business opportunity for the city.

During this mix of events Mayor Meed Ward got invited to take part in a “Tale of Two Cities” with Oakville Mayor Rob Burton who explained to a good audience at the Performing Arts Centre that economic development should be an in house operation.

There are dozens of business people with tonnes of experience in drawing new business to a municipality that will tell you it is nuts to put that kind of an operation in city hall. Views are clearly divided on that issue.

At roughly the same time Burlington learns that L3Wescam is going to move out of the space they are in on the North Service Road to a new site in Waterdown. The Mayor was caught off guard and had to scramble to put a decent spin on the news.

L3WEscam Burlington location

L3Wescam will be leaving these premises for a new purpose built location in Waterdown.

It isn’t clear if Hamilton had gotten to L3Wescam and found them a deal they couldn’t refuse; they did that with International Harvester who were all set to move their parts distribution operation from Burlington to Mississauga – then they got a great deal from Hamilton and a time frame that worked for them.

The new Mayor had ideas of her own – she had begun toying with the idea of creating an MDC – Municipal Development Corporation that would be an in-house operation. In the material she prepared she went so far as to describe the job the Chief Development Officer of such an organization would be doing.

“Establish a position at City Hall to act as our Chief of Business Development, serving as a primary outreach for attracting new businesses to Burlington, overseeing and expediting applications through the system and reporting progress and obstacles regularly to City Council and the City Manager

During the July 15th Council meeting- the last one until September the Mayor asked her colleagues to support her idea and move it forward – the support she needed wasn’t there – council deferred the matter to the September meeting when the consultant’s report on the future of BEDC was in hand.

Anita Cassidy

Anita Cassidy finds herself facing an uncertain future over decisions she didn’t make.

One wonders what Anita Cassidy was thinking as she watched this parade of events pass her by.

The city, which provides most of the BEDC budget is current having a study done on what their role should be. As Mayor, Meed Ward sits on the BEDC Board.

Economic Development is critical to the growth of a municipality – some do it very effectively – Welland Ontario is a great example. Others slip and slide around and lose opportunities that they didn’t even see.

The business of attracting a corporation to move to town is really a networking game – you need someone who knows the players, plays a decent game of golf and has a great story to tell.

Burlington has the elements of a great story – parts of which are buried because their value is not perceived.

What isn’t clear yet is whether or not Mayor Meed Ward has the capacity to listen and to surround herself with people who she trusts and will rely upon when it comes to the complex process of how decisions are made. The jury is out on that one – and when it does return it might well be a hung jury.

There is one final irritant – a fly in the soup if you will.

Tech Place has just under five years left on a lease that has a sliding scale of rent increases. In the final full year of the lease rent will be a combination of net rent and additional rent for a total of $301,877 in the 6th year. That is a big nut to crack in anyone’s language.

TechPlace is a program of the BEDC, it has a staff of 1.5 people and an average annual contribution from BEDC’s core budget of approximately $220,000 per year.

Gross rent over the 6-year contract varies from $24,000 in year 1 to an annual cost of $301,000 in the final year.
There is basically nothing in the way of a revenue stream and while there are some bright spots in the Tech Place story it isn’t enough to cover the rent or justify the expense.

In material from BEDC we learn that “TechPlace is a one-stop destination for new and growing technology companies. TechPlace was established to support Burlington’s Strategic Plan 2015 – 2040 that calls for “Innovative, entrepreneurial businesses have settled or developed in Burlington. The city has helped create the technological support, business supports, infrastructure and educational environment to attract start-ups and growing businesses” and to “Create and invest in a system that supports the start-up and growth of businesses, innovation hubs and entrepreneurship.

“Following best in class ecosystem research and stakeholder engagement conducted in 2017 a clear need to have a physical space to build a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem in Burlington was identified to create connectivity, vibrancy and tell our entrepreneurial story. Burlington Economic Development Corporation became the change champion and opened TechPlace to accomplish the City of Burlington Strategic Plan in a way that was aligned with community need and stakeholder input.”

Angelo B

Angelo Bentivegna wanted more information on that Tech Place lease.

This is the kind of language developers trot out when defending applications.  No one appears to have asked the hard question: How are we going to pay rent of $300,000 in the last year?  Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna kept asking questions about that lease – bless him for that – no one else was.

“TechPlace is focused on supporting the scale up and growth of high potential companies through its Launch Pad program and a host of wrap around services delivered through partners such as Haltech, Angel One, Mentorworks, Mohawk College, McMaster University and Halton Region Global Business Centre.

“In addition, BEDC has created a “Soft Landing” program to use as a unique business attraction tool that allows companies considering a location in the west GTA to establish a footprint in Burlington and begin operations while BEDC supports their long term business relocation to Burlington through its traditional business support services.”
There is some pretty fancy language in the BEDC material – the results, while interesting, are not going to do much in the way of changing the makeup of the commercial sector in the city.

Tech place logoSince TechPlace launched in 2017 it has hosted over 10,000 visitors, 200 events, attracted 13 LaunchPad companies, creating a strong business attraction brand and value proposition for Burlington. Results since inception are:

Total LaunchPads -13
Total LaunchPads from outside of Burlington – 10 of 13 Graduates – 7
Graduates that stayed in Burlington – 5 of 7

The BEDC material adds: “There have been a number of recent changes to the local start-up support ecosystem including the launch of Nuvo Network and the review of the Regional Innovation Centre model by the provincial government including Haltech.

“This creates opportunities for reviewing TechPlace’s operating model and determining whether BEDC delivering TechPlace activities directly or spinning off the activities to a partner can create the same benefits for Burlington with a different operating and financial model.”

“As part of the overall BEDC review, it is worth reviewing the efficiency, effectiveness and optimal structure and mandate of TechPlace to determine the pros and cons of retaining it as part of BEDC or spinning it off to an independent provider. The review would include a cost-benefit analysis of the current investment in TechPlace and what it produces in business attraction, versus other strategies for business attraction (e.g., dedicated staff) that don’t rely as heavily on physical space.”

This amounts to Corporate Spin on a situation that is unraveling quickly.

Is the BEDC signalling that Tech Place has not panned out the way they had hoped and that it is time to bail out?

Ward 1 Councillor Kelven Galbraith was taken on a tour of the McMaster Innovation Park and had this to say: “It was amazing to see the business success stories that have emerged from the park and the continued investment into their facilities and operations.

‘The City of Burlington and Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) looks forward to a great business relationship with the McMaster Innovation Park in the future”. That train may have already left the station.

Meed ward looking askance

Mayor Meed Ward has a strategy and a long term objective – don’t get in the way.

The Mayor wasn’t all that interested in waiting for the result of the BEDC review – she had a job description in her hand for the person who is going to bring some life to attracting new enterprises to the city – all she needed was three of the six votes from her colleagues – they weren’t forthcoming.

Tech Place was seen by former Mayor Rick Goldring as one of his success stories – he really wanted it to work.

Wanting just isn’t enough – is it? The city just might have to suck up that rent cost and look for someone who will take over the lease.

Sean Saulnier over at NUVO One isn’t likely to be the white horse the city needs.

The financial reckoning will take place and a new story line will be spun out of city hall. Burlington learned to leave well enough alone when the New Street Diet proved to be a dismal failure. Are we about to repeat that performance?

Don’t expect to see much in the way of transparency in what happens next – and give up on the idea of holding anyone accountable.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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Find a way to recruit the right people and then give them reasons to come to work with all their energy and creativity.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

July 25th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

My friend Vince Fiorito, one of the best environmental advocates Burlington has, taught me that there is nothing that comes before the environment – not jobs, not the bank rate, not even who we elect as Prime Minister – without an environment that meets our needs – nothing else matters.

And, he adds, that environment is something we play a very large part in creating;  given the climate changes we are going through now – it is clear that we have not done a very good job with some thinking that we are never going to be able to recover if we don’t do what has to be done before it is too late.  The planet will go through another stage of extinctions. We have had three so far – the planet survived the creatures on it didn’t.

This time WE are the creatures on this planet.

That lesson – that the environment comes before everything, taught me something – that in every situation, organization or endeavour there are things that have to come first.

After publishing a report on the risks Burlington faces with its labour force the Fiorito lesson struck me.

The only thing that matters at city hall are the people who enter the buildings every day to work for the people that pay them.

Unfortunately those people do not seem to be able to pull together very well. And we aren’t paying them what other municipalities are prepared to pay them.

Laura Boyd 2

Director of Human Resources Laura Boyd

In her report to city council Director of Human Resources Laura Boyd spoke of some of the feedback her department had received and added that:

“When the results were further analyzed, it became apparent that communication within the organization diminishes between hierarchical levels.

“Specifically, between the Burlington Leadership Team and the Supervisors/Manager level and then between the Supervisors/Managers level and their direct reports.”

No wonder we are in the mess we are in.

My question was: How long has Boyd known this? Did she send her message up the food chain to the city manager at the time? Did she alert the Mayor?

The Gazette has listened to Ms Boyd report to city council in the past – we never heard before what she had to say earlier this month.

Staff is what counts. It is their energy, their creativity and their willingness to put in that extra effort that makes a city work.

They aren’t putting in the energy apparently, partly because they are not being paid as well as their peers in other municipalities.

Have you ever seen a city staff member wearing a T shirt with the city logo?  Not much pride in working for the city of Burlington.

In the past few days we have seen comments from people who once worked for the city. Some comments could be sour grapes. We’ve noticed that many of the people we got to know are no longer with the city.

A major change in the culture of the city’s work force and the way they are recognized is needed. That falls on the desk of the city manager.

Laura Boyd

Laura Boyd – Has worked in one city department during her 29 year career.

If we have the numbers right Ms Boyd has been with the city for 29 years – which suggests getting close if not eligible for retirement. All her work experience is with the one department – Human Resources – that too might be part of the problem.

In her report to Council Ms Boyd reports that something close to 20% of the leadership positions will see retirements in the near future.

That gives the city manager some room to find the people that are needed to bring the ship of state around and find more favourable winds to move it forward.

Related news story.

Troops are not happy.
Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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Burlington let a good one get away - Guelph made him their top dog.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

July 23rd, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

In his 33 years of puddle jumping Scott Stewart went from Peel Region to Mississauga, to Brampton, then Hamilton,  then Burlington, and on to Guelph where they appointed him the Chief Administrative Officer – a job that eluded him for far too long in Burlington.

General Manager Scott Stewart with Deb Franke of AJ Braun and Craig Stevens discuss the welding of beams for the Pier. The progress schedule is top of mind for all three. One of the beams being welded is shown.

General Manager Scott Stewart with Deb Franke of AJ Braun and Craig Stevens discuss the welding of beams for the Pier. Stewart was the General Manager who pulled together the team that ensured the city got it right the second time around.

Scott was always a hands on leader. He would spot talent that others didn’t see and grow it, groom it and nurture that talent to the point where it could lead.

Burlington’s city council turned Scott Stewart down twice – he took the hint and went north to Guelph – a city he likes, partly because they own a railway line that Stewart had turned into a competitive advantage for the city.

Stewart Scott blue sweater - more face

Stewart will wear the sweater to the office the day the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup.

Leadership positions within the municipal sector are attained by moving from location to location – taking the experience gained at one and applying it at another. Burlington lost an opportunity when it chose James Ridge over Scott Stewart – look where that got us. Well, it did rid the city of an under-performing council.

As the Chief Administrative Officer Stewart just might have to move from Burlington, a city where he has deep roots.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

 

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Council adjourns after four days of hard work that produces major recommendations - public might like some time to review them before making it all final.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 12th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

At a few minutes before 4:00 pm yesterday afternoon Council adjourned and will meet again on the 15th to approve (or not approve) all the reports that were debated.

It has been a mammoth session for this crowd.

On Monday they went from 9:30 am to 10 pm
On Tuesday they went from 9:30 am to 10 pm
On Wednesday they went from 12:30 to 10 pm (the forenoon was spent at a Regional Council meeting
On Thursday they convened at 12:30 and adjourned at 4:00 pm

In June Council revised their working schedule and had Standing Committee meetings start at 9:30 am instead of the standard 1:00 pm start.

The work load and the amount of time to read, think about the reports, discuss them with constituents and then stay at a desk for those lengths of time is going above and beyond.

This is a determined bunch of people – Mayor Meed Ward is right in her element – she is just loving it. Others however, are wondering if this is the best way to run a municipal government.

Angelo B

Bentivegna – “Agenda just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna said that the agendas are “getting bigger and bigger and bigger” and keeping up is a challenge for both Bentivegna and several others.

We are seeing some quality work being done and we are also seeing some shifting as to where the decision making is actually being done.

City manager Tim Commisso has adopted a style that has him commenting on a matter rather than leading the discussion.

When council was in the process of determining what they needed in the way of a city manager the Gazette suggested someone with depth and experience who wasn’t necessarily going to be around for ten years or, someone younger who was ready for the kind of challenge Burlington is and could put in the time to rebuild the ranks and develop a different culture.

Commisso – doesn’t say much, tends to lean into his chair and listen. Doesn’t pick up his cell phone that often and rarely speaks at any length. The only time the Gazette saw him fussed at all was when it looked as if council was going to empty all the cookie jars (known as reserve funds) and leave him and the Treasurer to figure out what to do when there was a real crisis.

Commisso stare

The Commisso stare.

Our view of Commisso’ s approach is not intended to suggest he is slack or not paying attention. When he becomes aware that a staffer is not really answering the questions adequately they get what can only be called ‘the Commisso stare’. At one point he chose to lean forward and point to a document to direct the staffer – who we understand might be leaving the position he holds.

Commisso is fully engaged – but he is not immersed the way former city managers tended to behave. He is prudent – he will spend when he has to but he doesn’t reach for the wallet all that quickly.

Too early to tell, but he likes the people he is leading, and make no mistake, Commisso is leading. He serves at the will of council and this council is very happy to have him lead them – certainly at this stage of their political careers.

The round of Standing Committee meetings this council just completed some vitally important recommendations that will go to council Monday evening.

The downside to all this is that there is not much time for the public to be aware of what was done and then time to reflect and discuss with their neighbours what is being recommended.  The agenda itself is five pages long.

This approach is not what one would describe as “fully engaging the public”. Given the recommendations coming forward there is no obvious reason why the council meeting could not have been held on the 22nd or the 29th. We asked the Office of the Mayor for comment – our contact is away until Monday.

Are they that anxious to get started on their vacations? which by the way they deserve, but let’s complete the work and then start the vacations.

Parr wearing T-shirtSalt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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Canada Day is an 'all hands on deck' day for members of City Council.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 28th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Monday morning, Canada Day, all seven members of city council are going to start their day at 8:30 am for what one member called a “full court press”. Everyone has something they are expected to cover said one member of Council.

Canadian flagAt this point this Council is working as a group. Several describe the Mayor as “very political” but they appear to be comfortable with her approach.

Five of the seven are still getting their footing. We are seeing the strengths in some and the difficulty others are having getting a grip on the job they have.

City council on innauguration Dec 3rd - 2018

It was the highlight of their lives – the challenge is for them to make a real difference.

They now have a city manager that they are all more than content with.

When you look at the comments they place on their Facebook pages – they are identical – word for word. Almost as if someone directed them what to say.

They are working quite well as a team but are still working out some of the plays. What we are not seeing is the rancour and the dismissiveness that was so prevalent in the previous council.

Time for a closer look at the individual council members and their performances. After the holidays.

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The dynamic around the Council table for Paul Sharman is a lot different today than it was for the previous eight years.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 18th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Things do change.

There was a time during the life of the 2014-2018 Council where Councillor Sharman would lean over frequently and whisper something into Councillor Lancaster’s ear.

She tended to need a lot of guidance.

The two got along well – Lancaster listened and responded appropriately.

Then an election took place. Lancaster was not re-elected – it was close, too close for Angelo Bentivegna’s comfort and he knows he has to hustle to build the support that Lancaster had.

Sharman won – not by a huge margin; he won with 34% of the vote – and only because there were four candidates splitting the vote. The second place candidate was just 500 votes behind.

Paul SHARMAN 2,840 –  33.99%
Wendy MORAGHAN 2,336 – 27.96%
Mary Alice ST. JAMES 1,471 – 17.61%
Daniel ROUKEMA 1,319 – 15.79%
Xin Yi ZHANG 389  – 4.66%

Sharman pointing LVP

This is not a relaxed man – the vote count in the election explains why.

Sharman puzzled LVP

Sweating out an election campaign.

Paul Sharman was a very frightened man during the election campaign. He was the only member of the old council that was returned. Meed Ward didn’t run as a Council member – she ran as Mayor and we all know how that went.

What the Gazette is observing is the dynamic Councillor Sharman lives with now. He used to have a compliant, attentive fellow council member who would listen to him.

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster - both first term members. Will they both be returned?

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster – both were returned in the 2014 election. Lancaster was not returned in 2018.

He now has a council member that has difficulty understanding the discussion and some difficulty with the concept of nuance in many of the matters before council

Council Sharman sits to his right – often fiddling with his fingers or sitting stiffly with his arms folded across his chest.

The Gazette has the advantage of watching the council meeting via the web cast where we can see the faces of those delegating and get a closer look at the faces and the body language of the Council members.

We do miss the opportunity to meet and mix with the citizens who are in the Council Chamber. We will expand on why we have chosen not to be in the Council Chamber – sometime after July 1st.

As for Bentivegna and Sharman – the picture is worth 1000 words.

Sharman - Bentevegna + Stolte

A picture is worth 1000 words.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette

 

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Where will the new city manager come from? And when will that person arrive?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 14th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

City council should be getting very close to having made a decision on who they want as a city manager. The original intention was to have someone in place in July – that might slide a bit.

Filling that critical job is one of the more than a handful of tasks this council has to face. Hiring at the city manager level is something few if any of the current council members are qualified to do. They are going to have to use whatever wisdom they have and hopefully not base their decision on an “I like the guy”.

There are only so many qualified people in the province that can serve as city manager. The choice is of course not limited to Ontario – but with the close to chaos that is coming out of Queen’s Park having someone who has contacts and connections in the province would be useful to say the least.

There are 28 large urban municipalities in Ontario. They are:
Ajax, Barrie, Brampton, Brantford, Cambridge, Chatham-Kent, Greater Sudbury, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Markham, Milton, Mississauga, Oakville, Oshawa, Ottawa, Pickering, Richmond Hill, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan, Waterloo, Whitby and Windsor.

We can take Hamilton, Guelph, London, Toronto and Milton off the list; they have either just hired new city managers or we have done business with them in the past and it didn’t go all that well.

The choice could well come from what is left.

Burlington wants either an experienced, proven administrator who is ready for a change and is up to the challenge of growing a new, young city council with a feisty Mayor – and prepared to put in the eight to ten years needed to create a truly creative team.

Or, a younger deputy city manager who feels he (or she) is ready for a step up and can convince Burlington’s city council that they have the growth potential to lead them to a better place.

One of the metrics is to look at the quality of the civic administration the candidate comes from. I want to use two examples to make the point: Welland and Thunder Bay.

A full page article on Welland in a recent issue of the Globe and Mail is the kind of news a city would go to some length to get.

Tunnel

Vehicles go under the Welland while ships sail past. A significant engineering feat.

Part of the content reads: “A unique convergence presents itself to truckers, engineers and helmsmen approaching the Townline Tunnel from the north, south, east or west of Welland Ontario. While it’s not a regular occurrence, big rigs and Canadian Pacific Railway trains have been known to simultaneously pass under the Welland Canal in Ontario’s Niagara Region at exactly the same time as lake freighters ply the waters directly overhead.

“That intersection is priceless,” says Welland Mayor Frank Campion. “Our industrial amenities and transportation infrastructure are attracting industry and the jobs associated with it, and align perfectly with the federal government’s plans for transporting goods on an international scale.”

“Combine this with bountiful incentives and a wealth of newly zoned land, and it’s no wonder commercial and industrial real estate development is growing at an unprecedented rate in the Rose City.

Welland’s building boom, which started about two years ago, owes much to the continuing divestment of some 1,600 hectares of federally-owned land along the working canal. “There are several plots we will be interested in purchasing as soon as they come up for sale,” Mr. Campion says. “Given our current levels of residential and industrial growth, we need to have enough land inventory for the future.”

welland-canal

The Welland canal is a huge plus for the city – and they have made the best of it. But the ships that float through the canal don’t put all that much money into the local economy.

A recent federal transport and infrastructure committee recommendation to use canal corridor lands to boost Niagara’s economy has only strengthened the city’s bid to build a dock and loading area on the working canal with financial support from Ottawa’s $2-billion National Trade Corridors Fund, which began a call for proposals in January.

The value of the 726 construction permits issued in Welland in 2017 – $164,548,600 – was more than double that of 2016, with the 802 permits issued in 2018 setting a new record.

Welland water pond

Welland made good use of what they had.

The original route of the fourth Welland Canal, which passes through the city centre, is lined with bike paths, parks, a 750-seat amphitheatre, and the 12-year-old Welland International Flatwater Centre, which hosted canoeing and rowing events during the 2015 Pan American Games.

“The proximity to the U.S. border and major highways, combined with the ability to apply for tax, duty and tariff exemptions, gives us a real advantage,” said Mayor Frank Campion.  “The City of Welland has a very proactive team, and that’s attracting skill sets to the region and bringing the younger generation back. It’s exciting to see all the momentum.”

Dan Degazio, the City of Welland’s director of economic development said: “Companies are paying $200,000 an acre for commercial-industrial property in the GTA. In Welland it’s $125,000 an acre – serviced, configured for drainage, and ready to go. You can be in the ground in eight weeks. In the GTA, I’m hearing stories of 30 months for a permit. We work to accommodate whatever needs to be done. When GE bought here in 2016, they needed to be operational in less than two years. We had them in the ground in eight weeks.”

Can you even imagine a developer in Burlington getting much beyond the application stage in eight weeks?

Mr. Degazio also credits the area’s relatively low wages and cost of living for enticing industry. “I’ve been in touch with a decent-sized GTA employer that’s looking at putting in a 200,000-square-foot building. The owner asks me, ‘Am I going to be able to hire anyone for $18 an hour?’ And I told him: ‘All day long.’ Here, your employees get twice the house for a third the cost.”

“In the last few years, city council has done what needed be done to create an environment that encourages growth,” he says. “Instead of just policing, the Welland Development Commission assists in expediting projects. One of our clients came to Welland last June to set up a 75,000-square-foot food production facility. By the end of September he had purchased the land and in October we were building. That’s unique. In most communities, it takes much longer to complete the process.”

In Burlington Mayor Meed Ward is doing her best to improve the way business gets done with a Red Tape Red Carpet initiative that has her listening to what people from different sectors have to say; there were some positive comments – but they were outweighed by the problems that were impacting every sector.

Now take a look at Thunder Bay where the Police service has been severally criticized by more than one investigation. Growth has stagnated and there is little in the way of hope, energy or enthusiasm to be shared.

Thunder Bay’s problems with its indigenous community have scarred the city. The racism is rampant and sucks the pride, the energy – the very lifeblood out of the community.

A series of external investigations, including a 2015 Ontario coroner’s inquest into the deaths of seven young First Nations people in the city; an Ontario independent police review, released last December, which found the Thunder Bay police force to be racist at an “institutional level”; and a report, released two days after that, by Senator Murray Sinclair, in which he pilloried the city’s police board for failing Indigenous people who are the targets of hate crime.

The problems Thunder Bay faces today are the result of the bad roots that were put down decades ago and allowed to grow out of control and kill what was good in the community. Thunder Bay is a classic example of what hate can do to a city.

According to Statistics Canada’s police-reported crime statistics for 2017, the homicide rate in Thunder Bay was 5.8 per 100,000 population making the city the murder capital of Canada.

News coming out of Thunder Bay is so relevant to the problems Canada has with its indigenous community that the Globe and Mail opened a Thunder Bay bureau.

How does a city get to this point?

Thunder BAy Skyline

A bleak looking skyline of a city with a bleak looking future until it cleans up the social rot that civic leaders allowed to exist and destroy the social fibre.

There are other cities with large indigenous communities; Winnipeg and Saskatoon are examples. Historically Canada has not served its indigenous people very well. There are still hundreds of indigenous communities with Boil Water advisories. Burlington MP Karina Gould spoke with some pride that the federal government has erased 85 Boil Water advisories last year. We should be ashamed that we have even one community where the residents have to boil the water they use.

In a recent article the Gazette published on the two Special Advisers appointed by the provincial government to do a review of the governance of nine Ontario Regions; Ken Seiling, a now retired politician who served as Regional Chair for 30 years,  talked about the values that are needed to serve at the municipal and provincial levels.

“There are things that leaders do not let happen” – that leadership was missing in Thunder Bay for decades.

Burlington is now looking for the administrative leadership it needs as it stares at 30 + development proposals that need to be responded to; a change in the required level of growth in the city and a keen desire to see the right kind of growth in the right place take place.

The citizens made it plain that they wanted a different form of leadership at city hall and elected basically a brand new council and bumped one of the old Councillors up to Mayor – who believes she has a mandate to bring about change. The day after she was sworn in she ended the contract with the existing city manager.

The significant seven who sit in the new (but drab) council chamber are now going through the interviews to determine who they want to hire as the city manager who will re-shape what is currently in place.

Full council

The budget is a big deal, the revision of the Official Plan is a BIG deal – the hiring of a new city manager is the biggest deal these seven people will complete this term of office.

Hopefully they will take a hard look at where the candidate came from – hopefully a Welland type where the attitude is progressive, the people are keen and the municipality is just roaring. That is perhaps why the Burlington Herd, the amateur baseball club in the Inter County Baseball League left Burlington for Welland.

What Burlington wants to avoid is choosing someone from a Thunder Bay situation where the problems are deep and will require years to reverse.

It is all about leadership and past experience is one of the best indicators on what to expect from the person hired.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette

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The Not for Profit sector is hurting - leadership at one Regional agency is stressed and staff are uncertain about their futures.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 13th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

There is an agency in the Region that has served for several decades that is going through significant turmoil as it comes to terms with change.

We are not going to name the agency, nor will we name any of the individuals involved.

The agency is in the non-profit sector; it is suffering from the loss of funding at the provincial level and to some degree from the federal level.

social-services-and-communities-emblemSocial services at this point in time are, for the most part, a Regional responsibility.  The provincial government downloaded a lot of this responsibility to the municipalities who do not have the financial resources to deliver. The 2014-18 Burlington city council made little effort to take up any of the slack that resulted in funding changes at the Regional level.

The agency of concern has not managed to keep up with the way information is gathered and distributed – infographics for which the the city and the Board of Education have staff in place to create, is not a luxury this agency has – thus they are quite a bit behind in the quality of the information they can send out.

The dollars they get from their funders are put into creating policy papers and developing courses that other small non-profits can use to improve their operations and running programs to meet different needs in the Region.

The Trillium fund in the past was a significant source of funding for the agency we are focused on. That source has dried up.

Staff and Executive leadership at the agency are going through some deep re-thinking as they struggle to determine their direction and the validity of the mission.

Change is painful, the pressure on the Board of Directors is immense – finding people with the experience, depth and time needed to handle complex issues is difficult.

Leadership at the operational level is impacted by the quality of leadership at the policy level. Every leader has to take what former Prime Minister called “a walk in the snow” to think through if this is the time to make way for new leadership.

Everyone likes to leave on a high note – what if the high note’s time has passed?

Reputations and a life’s work should not just be trashed by a report that was not as well researched as it could have been.

The not for profit sector is hurting – this is the case in Ontario and across the country. The struggle to find new leadership and put them in place so that those who have been in place for decades can move on to new opportunities, requires judgement, wisdom and tact on the part of the Boards of Directors.

Salt with Pepper is the opinions, reflections,musings and observations of the Gazette Publisher

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Give your council member a hug!

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 12th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

They are under incredible pressure.

The work load is daunting.

The learning curve is just beginning to level out for five of them – it has been incredibly steep.

Some nod off during meetings.

The city council elected last October is sweating it out and for the most part they are doing a really good job and changing the way the city gets its work done.

Staff is still getting its measure as to just who the five new members are.

Both staff and council are badly in need of the kind of leadership a new city manager will bring.

When you see a council member – give them a hug.

Yesterday they put in a 12 hour day – with meal breaks as short as 20 minutes.

They approved a recommendation that Standing Committee meetings begin at 9:30 am instead of the past start time of 1:00 pm.

Staff is struggling to keep up with the work load and setting out deadlines that are going to be very hard to meet.

The challenge for both council and staff is to turn the good ship Burlington around as they set a new course realizing that the charts they had expected to use have been changed.

They need your support – be generous.

City council on innauguration Dec 3rd - 2018

The 2018 city council on the day they were sworn in.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette.

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Politics does make for strange bed fellows.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 12, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The dynamic was delicious.

Lisa Kearns

Ward 2 Councilor Lisa Kearns

There was the candidate, Lisa Kearns, who won the ward 2 seat; there was the candidate, Roland Tanner, who lost to the current Councillor and then there was the Chair of the meeting, Paul Sharman, who was hearing people speak at a Statutory meeting about a project that no one spoke favourably about, other than the developers’ consultants.

The chair, Paul Sharman, was a member of the Shape Burlington committee. Roland Tanner, who did not win the ward 2 seat, was also a member of the Shape Burlington committee.  The two men didn’t get along at the Shape Burlington committee meetings and they didn’t get along Tuesday evening either.  At one point Sharman did his best to shut Tanner down.

Tanner was also a member of ECoB – Engaged Citizens of Burlington, the organization that held election debates in every ward of the city, including ward 5 where Paul Sharman sought and won re-election.

Sharman seat at ward 5

Paul Sharman’s seat at the ward 5 ECoB debate.

Sharman did not take part in the ward 5 debate sponsored by ECoB. What he did do was trash the organization as illegitimate and misguided.

Roland Tanner June 11-

Roland Tanner

While Sharman didn’t take part in the ward 5 debate he did have some of his people on hand passing out literature.

Tuesday evening, Roland Tanner was delegating, answering some very direct questions from the ward 2 Councillor, Lisa Kearns and dealing with interruptions from the chair.

Politics does have the strangest of bed fellows.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette.

Related opinion piece: The delegation the chair wanted to cut short.

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Public service is noble work. People might scoff at the use of that word. If a person doesn’t see the job as a noble calling – they are perhaps not in the right industry.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

May 27th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

There has been a lot of material published in the Gazette on the Red Carpet Red Tape initiative that Mayor Marianne Meed Ward brought to city hall.

The Small Business Sector, the Large Manufacturers, the Developer and Real Estate and the Rural Sector all had strong points to make and serious concerns that they wanted addressed.

In the midst of all this is a full time staff that comes to work each day

Moral at city hall cannot be very high. Staff have seen four city managers in a six year period and are now directed by an interim who had some prior experience with city hall; the planning department has seen huge changes, engineering had to deal with The Pier fiasco.

City hall - older pic

Is it the building or the people who work in it that are the problem? Something isn’t right.

Roy Male, a former Executive Director of Human Resources was an active advocate of the municipal sector as a great place to work.

But there are not that many people who will rave about the service they get from city hall. Some of the decisions are just plain stupid.

The Gazette has worked with people in a number of departments and we can say that there are some very good people toiling away on behalf of the public. We have watched a number of those people grow in their jobs, become more skilled and more mature. There are some who are not going to make the grade and there are some who found the environment was just not for them and moved on.

We talked recently to a staffer who moved from a department in city hall to a city service that had operations elsewhere.  He was a happier man and loving the job he was doing.

We talked to one planner who moved into the private sector after saying “the Mayor threw me under the bus”.

Municipalities are where we live, the quality of day to day life is determined to a large degree by the people who work for the city.

We need to be proud of them and they need to give us reason to be proud.

These are good jobs, with good pay scales and great benefits. People who work for a municipality are in place to serve the public. These are not just ordinary jobs – public service is noble work. People might scoff at the use of that word. If a person doesn’t see the job as a noble calling – they are perhaps not in the right industry.

One resident with a high profile and some valuable city hall experience gave serious thought to running for Mayor and decided the place was just too toxic and not likely to change.

Jeff Fielding did his best while he was city manager to create a different ethic and attitude.  When he got an opportunity to work for the city of Calgary which has a great civic administration and one of the best mayors in the country he couldn’t pack fast enough.  He loved the city, returns frequently to play golf with friends – he just might decide to retire in Burlington.

The most recent full time city manager once wrote staff a memo saying that he “had their backs” referring to comments made by the public during the October election.  The role of a city manager is to ensure that the people working under his direction are always accountable to the public.

The objective is to get to the point where a city hall staff member asks: What can I do for you today?

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette.

Related article:

What has been learned so far from the Red Carpet initiative?

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'I can't talk to you' said the Council member - 'I've been told not to' Really?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

May 10th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Media and members of city council have an odd relationship.

We first get to see the people elected to council during the election phase.

Some ask for help – we are generous and tell them as much as we can about the job they are seeking.

We get to know some of them very well. And every time we tell them – “we are not your friends. We are delighted you are running for office and we wish you well.”

The moment we become their friends our usefulness ends and our integrity dies.

The Gazette has always had a strong interest in encouraging candidates for public office that share our view of what public service means – and that is – An informed public can make informed decisions. We are consistent and persistent in digging out information politicians decide they don’t want to share.

Once the candidate is elected the rules of the game change – we are now one of the organizations that works at ensuring the council member is accountable and transparent.

media smartsSomething happens to people when they are elected. They begin to see whatever they say as important. They expect every word of their media releases to be published just the way they gave it to us.

We point out that they have confused reporting with public relations. The only person who really cares about what a young member of council has to say is their parents.

I was recently covering a photo-op event in the east end of the city – most of the Council members were on hand and the two members of Parliament who represent Burlington.

There was one council member in particular I wanted to talk to. Up until the meeting last week I thought there was a good working relationship but had begun to notice that this particular council member tended to want the conversations to be off the record.

On this occasion, as I approached the council member he said: “I can’t talk to you”. “What” I asked – “what do you mean you can’t talk to me. Why not?”

“Can this be off the record” was the response. “No” was my response. “Then I don’t want to talk to you” and the council member walked away.

I tend to be persistent – and pressed the issue. “Who said you can’t talk to me.”

That’s when the first shoe hit the floor. “I have been advised not to talk to you until your situation with the city is cleared up.”

Where did that advice to the newly elected council member come from?

This was an individual who looked to me for advice, comment and direction while running for office.

This was the individual who asked if we would publish comment and opinion pieces and help him create a stronger profile in the city.

What I found astounding is that an elected member of council decides to heed the advice of an unnamed person (we are pretty sure we know where the advice came from) without questioning the source.

It is a little late in the game for a council member to decide that they don’t want to talk to media.

Anyone who asks what the issue is with city hall has only to read the Gazette. We have been brutally honest – and written at length about just what the issue is.

The details can be read by anyone.

In one of the documents we received from the city the word “vexatious” was used. We had to pull out our Oxford English Dictionary to be sure we fully understood the word.

Vexatious – causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration, or worry.

synonyms: annoying, vexing, irritating, irksome, displeasing, infuriating, maddening, exasperating, provoking, galling, rankling, grating, jarring, harassing, harrying, bothersome, tiresome, troublesome, niggling.

That would describe me; something I am proud of.

The council member has less than a year under his belt – perhaps he will learn over time. I’m not betting on it.

We are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette

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Who knew? Phillip has known for years and the people who have property backing onto Tuck Creek south of Spruce might want to know as well.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

April 26, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The Gazette has run a comments section since the day we started up.

There are some people who abuse the privilege – there are some who think writing comments in the Gazette is a God given right.

There are a number of people, far too many if I do say so myself, who see the comments as irresponsible and not really serving any purpose.

There are others who comment frequently and add significantly to the body of information we use to make decisions.

We got a comment from Phillip Wooster this morning that we want to share.

He was responding to a comment made by another reader who had commented on the decision city council made to declare a Climate Emergency.

Let Phillip tell you what he learned.

I can attest about your comment about building in a flood plain. In 1979, while I was considering buying a house backing onto Tuck Creek, I had a choice between one north of Spruce on Regal Road and another south of Spruce. I happened to have a chance meeting with a farmer who had owned property at Lakeshore and Pine Cove in the 1950’s. He told me to buy south of Spruce–when I asked why, he told me that north of Spruce was a flood plain. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel turned the area into a lake; he said if there was another such weather event, the same thing would happen. And in 2014, guess where the flooding occurred. WHO KNEW????

Flooding Tuck_Creek_1

Tuck Creek

There are few real estate agents in town who will tell you what Phillip has known for years.

Thank you Phillip.

Salt with Pepper is the opinions, reflections,musings and observations of the Gazette Publisher

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Critical decisions to be made by council this week.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

April 23, 2109

BURLINGTON, ON

 

This evening council will meet to put the rubber stamp and the required signatures on the documents that rule the way we live in this city.

The Interim Control bylaw that halts all development in the Urban Growth centre of the city will be made law. It is a brutal piece of legislation that will cause significant financial stress for at least one developer and dash the hopes of another for the immediate term.

The Paradigm development on Fairview between Brant and Guelph next to the GO station which has three of the five towers in place needed a site plan approval before they could begin construction on the final two towers. The ICBL prevents that site plan from being approved.

Paradigm -3 from front

Phases 1,2 and 3 of the five tower development. Phases 4 and 5 are being delayed due to the ICBL council will approve this evening.

The Paradigm was the type of development that created the kind of housing the city needed to reach the residential targets set for the city by the province.

Due to a complicated set of agreements that were part of the purchase of the land the Paradigm is being built on the registration of the condominiums is impacted.

The Amica proposal for a large retirement home development on North Shore Blvd never did have much traction with this council. Their representative will be at council this evening pleading for an exemption to the ICBL – short of a total reversal of their position that plea is likely to fall on deaf ears.

However politics being what it is – one never knows what will get decided.

There is a Special meeting of city council the day after – it will be closed to the public so that council members can discuss freely what they have in mind in the way of a new city manager.

Special council meetingThe job is critical – if they get this right – there is a better than even chance that the mandate this council was given is one they can deliver on.

There are many who knew the city manager had to be replaced; others who think that a wholesale clean out is needed – from the City Solicitor; the Clerk, the Deputy city manager and at least one of the Directors – perhaps two of them.

Finding a City Manager that understands what council wants and what they believe they need is going to be the challenge.

Meed ward election night 1

The second step of the Meed Ward political ladder: Mayor of Burlington

Hiring talent that can lead and understand is not easy – expecting a team made up of people who have no experience doing this is asking for more than they can deliver.
Will this council choose and be able to find someone who can advise and direct them?

Franks Towes made a comment during his recent delegation on the Lakeshore Village Plaza development. “You are the gatekeepers” he said. Indeed they are – what they bring through those gates is what will determine what kind of a Burlington we have going forward.

It will determine as well just what kind of a politician Marianne Meed Ward will be – serving as Mayor is just part of the ladder she will climb.

Salt with Pepper is the opinions, reflections,musings and observations of the Gazette Publisher

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Finding the new city manager - not as easy as some think; keeping the interim is not the solution

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

April 12th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

UPDATE: The Gazette asked the Mayor for some comment yesterday – her media specialist got back to us two hours after the story was first published with: The City of Burlington will be releasing information to the media regarding the city manager recruitment shortly.

When the city announced just before Christmas that Tim Commisso would serve as the Interim City Manager for a six month period while the search for a new city manager was found, determining just what the city needed in the way of a new city manager should have become one of the top three priorities.

The Gazette learned from a reliable source in the municipal sector that the Commisso contract had provision for an additional three months.

We are now into the fourth month of that interim position. A number of weeks ago the Gazette noticed that the title Commisso was using changed from Interim to Acting. Shortly after it reverted to interim.

Word the Gazette is picking up is that there is a movement among some members of Council to make that short term job into a long term job.

A number of Councillors see Commisso as their ”mentor”; someone they can take their troubles and concerns to.

When Roman Martiuk was city manager he would frequently use the phrase: “I serve at the will of council”; a phrase that the five new members of council might want to get comfortable with.

It is no secret that Marianne Meed Ward did not have a good working relationship with former city manager James Ridge. The first thing she did once she was sworn in was to call a Council meeting and dismiss Ridge; he left city hall the same day.

Shortly after Commisso was hired to serve as an interim city manager.

MaryLou Tanner Cogeco 2018 direct

Deputy city manager Mary Lou Tanner

The city does have a Deputy City Manager – there was little doubt in the minds of those who pay attention to what happens at city hall that Mary Lou Tanner would not be given the keys to the city manager’s office.

There are people in this city working diligently to have her removed from the position she holds.

There was concern in the minds of many that this council did not have the experience or depth in business to hire someone for a job that managed a staff of about 1000 and a budget of $123 million on the operating side.

The only member of council with any real experience in hiring at a corporate level is Paul Sharman. That experience didn’t include hiring someone for the top job.

The others have never run anything with more than three people.

Sharman

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman

Determining just what is needed in the way of a corporate leader is not a simple matter. The municipal sector is a relatively small community – a couple of hundred people lead the major municipalities – that in essence is the talent pool that can be drawn from.

We know what the majority of the members of city council voted for.

We have some idea as to what their values are but we don’t yet know what they individually and collectively want in the way of a city manager.

Will there be a council workshop that will allow delegations at which this council sets out what they want in the way of a city manager and what they want that person to do?

If this mayor, Marianne Meed Ward, and this council are full supporters of an open and fully engaged municipal government then let the process of choosing the next city manager be open and the public fully engaged.

Once the want has been fully explored publicly, members of council will have heard what the public wants and the public will know what the members of council think they need in the way of a city manager to run the administrative side of the city – then the process of hiring a human resources recruiting firm can begin.

Because all this is public, you can be certain the Gazette will publish everything that is said. Anyone interested in the job will know what they are walking into and just how big the opportunity is.

We believe there are municipal administrators that want to run a city that is open for business and ready to listen to the wishes of the people who pay the taxes.

Search firms are usually engaged to beat the bushes and see who is looking and who might be interviewed. Any city manager worth the title keeps in touch with at least one head hunter to see what there is in the way of opportunities out there.

Ridge and Chris Murray - city managers

Former Hamilton city manager Chris Murray found a new home in Toronto; we do not know yet where James Ridge is going to land.

Hamilton had a great city manager in Chris Murray. When Toronto needed a new city manager they hired him and Hamilton did what Mayor Meed Ward would love to do – hire a female city manager. Meed Ward will be quick to remind us that she wants the best person available for the job – but if that person happens to female … well.

The change in city manager in Hamilton brought to the surface staff people in Hamilton city hall who were bucking for promotion. There might be someone worth looking at in the list of people who didn’t make the grade.

Determining who should be the next city manager is a critically important task for Burlington. Filling that part of their mandate is not going to be easy but these are, for the most part, people of good will. They can be taught the fundamentals of hiring people, as long as they are not led by people who have their own agendas.

Burlington’s Director of Human Resources does not appear to have anything in the way of a professional designation.

When the Gazette asked if there was a designation we were asked why we wanted to know. We responded that that was not a fair question. Our contact followed up with:

The recognized professional association for Human Resources Professionals in Ontario is the HRPA. The requirements are listed on their website. There are three levels of certification: CHRP (i.e. Certified Human Resources Professional; Certified Human Resources Leader; Certified Human Resources Executive).

The full answer we had every right to expect from the city was either a yes or a no, and if a yes – where does the designation come from?

Kwab Ako-AdjeiSenior Manager, Government Relations & Strategic Communications asked us: “And what is the context that you’re looking for this info?”

Ako-Adjei works out of the City Manager’s Office.  They are keeping a tight grip on the information we requested.

We have concluded that the Director of Human Resources does not have a designation and the city doesn’t want that information to be public.

City council on innauguration Dec 3rd - 2018

This team is what the public wanted – now they have to hire the best person they can find to run city hall. That isn’t a job any of them are qualified to do.

The team that sits around the council table now does not have the experience or the competence to hire for the position of city manager. This is not a reflection on their skills, it is a comment on the experience they bring to the table and the resources available to them.

The first step should be for this council is to determine individually what they want to see in the way of a city manager. They need to be led through a disciplined approach to determining what they want and why.

Tim Commisso 2 smile

The intention was to bring Tim Commisso in until council had a chance in prepare and interview for their choice for a city manager. They should stick to that intention.

What this council should not be doing is deciding they like the guy in place and will choose him as their city manager.  Council has a responsibility to do their job and ensure that the job is advertised and that diligent efforts are made to ensure that the best person available is hired.

Will there be a council workshop that allow delegations at which this council sets out what they want in the way of a city manager and what they want that person to do?

When the city finds that person he or she can build the team that will make Burlington a truly great place to live.

The provincial government may decide that there should be just one level of government and rename Halton – but they aren’t going to rename Burlington and they aren’t going to change the values of the people of Burlington.

There is a lot of work to get done – and not a lot of time.

Commisso alone

Tim Commisso, Burlington’s Interim city manager.

Tim Commisso was brought in to serve in an interim capacity for a six-month period. Let’s not find ourselves asking him to stay longer keeping him from a well-earned retirement.

Salt with Pepper are the views, opinions and observations of the Gazette publisher.

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Completion of the five tower Paradigm development on Fairview impacted by Interim Control bylaw.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

April 4th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

They are sometimes referred to as “unintended consequences” and that appears to be the kind of hole that the very successful Molinaro development on Fairview next to the Burlington GO station has fallen into.

Paradigm from the west Nov 2017

Towers 1 and 2 when they were under construction.

The development is going to be a five story project with building 1, 2 and 3 clearly visible on the city’s skyline.

The structures are bold and have been selling very well.

The development was planned as one that would be completed in phases.
The company is now ready to begin the final phase – the last two building that will front on Fairview.

When the Interim control bylaw was dropped on the development community with no notice everyone assumed the Molinaro project would not be included. They were well past the site plan approval stage which was the cut off stage.

Ed Fothergill, the planning consultant who spoke for the firm on Tuesday, explained that complex projects that are approved in principle go through several site plan approvals – partly because as a project is built some things change – mostly minor in nature but the kind of thing for which approvals are required.

paradigm layout

Layout of the five tower Paradigm project on Fairview.

The size, nature and scope of the Paradigm project meant there would be several site plan approvals. One would like to believe that the intention was not to shut down everything that moved on a construction site in the Urban Growth Centre while the city figured out just what it wanted to see done with the land within those boundaries.

The Paradigm has been described as the largest residential property development the city has ever done and may well be the largest for a some time.

When it was first taken to the public the Molinaro’s met with the area residents; they listened carefully and went back to the drawing boards and made some significant changes.

As developers they have set the standard for listening to the public.

Because of the way the development was structured the approval of the site plan for the last two buildings was on hold – there weren’t any problems with the development – it was always understood that there were to be five towers and that the site plan approval for the final two towers would get taken care of when the company was ready to begin construction.

paradigm crash wall

A massive concrete barrier had to be built between the development and the GO train tracks.

Much of the infrastructure for the final two towers is already in place – that work was done when the three towers on the north side was being done.

But – the Interim Control bylaw is clear – if the site plan of a project has not been approved the project cannot go forward.

The ICBL was put in place for very good reasons – no one fully understood what this would do to the Molinaro’s.

Mayor Meed Ward didn’t have all that much to say about the implications on the Molinaro’s at the Standing Committee meeting yesterday afternoon and there wasn’t a word from Lisa Kearns, the ward council member.

Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith made it very clear that he understood what was happening and that he would do everything he could to correct the situation.

The Molinaro’s are getting ready to put together the marketing plan for the last two towers and expected to be able to begin work on those two towers next year.

paradigm marketing piece

Marketing campaigns don’t get written on the back of an envelope over a weekend.

Marketing plans don’t get put together on a weekend. They are carefully crafted using the most recent data to ensure that the product they are going to market meets the needs of those buying condominium units.

There are additional issues. The actual registration of the condominium units gets held up as well.

City planner Heather MacDonald didn’t appear to be all that sympathetic to the problem.

The new city council had very solid reasons for putting a pause on the rate at which developments were flooding into city hall.

The Councillor for ward 2 said she has had conversations with people who are thinking in terms of towers that are in the 50 storey range – and along the GO station mobility hub this kind of intensification might make sense.

Burlington was seen as the place to make a killing in development; firms with cash and the kind of in-house expertise needed to put projects together quickly couldn’t get to the city fast enough.

The Molinaro’s aren’t a Toronto based operation – they built most of what we have on Lakeshore Road and have plans in the works for developments on Brant street north of Prospect where many felt high rise construction should take place.

There is a solution to the Paradigm predicament – the brain power in the Planning can find it. It may include an exemption.

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Freeze on development for one year in the downtown core is now in place.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

March 6th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

At a Special meeting of Council, on March 5, 2019, Burlington City Council voted in favour (on a 5-1 vote with Councillor Sharman absent) for a staff report recommending an Interim Control Bylaw (ICBL). The ICBL temporarily restricts the development of lands within a study area for a period of one year, with a possible extension of a second year.

The lands in the study area include the Downtown Urban Growth Centre (UGC) and lands in proximity to the Burlington GO Station.

During the one-year “freeze” on development in the study area, the City will complete a land-use study to:
• Assess the role and function of the downtown bus terminal and the Burlington GO station on Fairview Street as Major Transit Station Areas
• Examine the planning structure, land use mix and intensity for the lands identified in the study area
• Update the Official Plan and Zoning bylaw regulations as needed for the lands identified in the study area.

ICB lands tighter

Northern portion of the lands subject to the Interim Control Bylaw

ICB lands tighter #2

Southern portion of the lands subject to the Interim Control bylaw.

The recommendation to implement an ICBL was brought forward by City staff in response to two primary concerns:

1. Growth pressures that continue to emerge for the lands in the study area
City staff are aware of multiple pending developments in the application review stage where the proposed intensities are significantly higher than those anticipated by the Official Plan. In addition, there are many other expressions of development interest and land assemblies taking place in the downtown Urban Growth Centre and in proximity to the Burlington GO station where the intensities being considered are substantially larger than what is proposed in the current Official Plan or the 2018 adopted Official Plan which is currently under review.

2. The role and function of the John Street Bus Terminal as a Major Transit Station Area (MTSA)
The John Street Bus Terminal is identified as a MTSA in the Province’s 2017 Growth Plan. Its designation as a MTSA was relied upon by the Ontario Municipal Board in its decision to allow a 26-storey development at 374 Martha St, citing that as a MTSA, the terminal could support intensities well in excess of those contained in the Official Plan. The terminal’s capacity to absorb the transit impacts of significant growth plays a critical role in shaping the mix of land uses and transit development within the downtown UGC.
That’s the official line from the city. It was quite a bit more complex than that.

What isn’t at all clear yet is – where did the initiative for this move come from? Things like this don’t just fall off the back of a truck. Someone at some point a number of months ago came up with the idea of a freeze on development.

Telier + MacDonald

Director of City Building Heather MacDonald with Jamie Tellier who served as Acting Director while MacDonald was on a leave of absence. MacDonald did all the heavy lifting during the Standing Committee.

Heather MacDonald, the Director of City Building, the Chief Planner, has been away on a pre-planned leave of absence of about two weeks.

The city retained Gowlings, a top line legal firm to provide them with legal counsel on the decision.

The interim city manager has been in place for a couple of months.

Who did the deep thinking? Who thought through the ramifications? Who took a long look at the possible unintended consequences?

And why did the Mayor ask: “What’s the rush”.

Let’s look at those unintended consequences. For anyone, that includes the owner of a single dwelling who might want to build a deck at the back of their property: nyat – nada – nope. You won’t be able to do that.
You can ask for an exemption – it wasn’t clear during the Standing Committee that you will actually be able to get one.

Amica development rendering

Amica had its plans for this massive development put on hold for at least a year. There will be some grief for a number of people involved in this development.

Amica, the retirement home operator who have plans for a major development before the city to build a mammoth development on North Shore Blvd at the ramp to the 403, learned that they are within the boundary and that they are not exempt. They have a deal in place with the individual owners of a large co-op, to buy all the units. That sale may not get completed. The delegation from Amica chose to be a little tight lipped when it came to details.

As for the study itself – there are going to be two of them – both running parallel. One – the ‘land study’ which starts tomorrow, if it hasn’t already started, the other is the work leading up to the next version of the Official Plan that the City Building department is working one. One is said to be “informing” the other; a new phrase we are going to hear often.

The Standing Committee heard that there are several “first steps” that will get underway on Wednesday. The terms of reference have to be set out and the possible sole source consultants that will be brought in to do much of the work for the city. This will be a large contract – $100,000 appears to be the starting number.

There are only so many consulting firms that can take on a job of this magnitude – there are a number of firms the city might want to steer clear of – no hint at this point on who might be chosen.

The interim city manager, the deputy city manager and the Director of City Building would be the people who would make the decision – they may have already decided who they want to go with.

No mention was made of any request for a proposal.

Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna asked what impact the freeze would have on Committee of Adjustment decisions. That committee won’t be able to make any decisions – a freeze will be in place.

The rules that govern Interim Control Bylaws allow the city to lift the freeze at any time. It also limits the freeze to a one year period with a possible extension of a second year and a possible extension for a third year.

MacDonald said that exemptions could be made but that would have to come before Council. She added that she did not recommend changing the boundaries of the study. Once the word was out everyone appeared to want the boundary changed.

What became clear was that the OMB decision made on the ADI development on Lakeshore at Martha was what prompted the decision to go the Interim Control Bylaw route. The city lost that argument before the OMB, in part because ADI’s lawyers argued that the existence of a Downtown mobility hub allowed for the height they were asking for.

Transit terminal - John Street

The center of the Downtown Mobility hub.

That hub gets referred to as a terminal isn’t much more than a place where you can buy tickets and keep out of the cold. It has taken on an almost mythical force that a developer turned into a winning argument before the OMB.

The Planning department was blind-sided by the developer and the city is paying a price for the failure to be fully prepared.

That decision sent a signal to the development community that Burlington was more than open for business. The development proposals were coming in at an alarming pace – far more than the City Building department could handle. (They should have stayed with the former department title: Planning department.)

Thus the decision to put a freeze in place.

An oddity that came to the surface was that the city still has to accept development proposals. They still have to hold pre-consult meetings with developers and give them the list of the reports they will have to provide. A development application, even with the freeze in place, can go as far as the Statutory Public Meeting phase – the Planning Act requires that.

There was a concern expressed that the clock will still be ticking and that the city will get dinged by developer and taken to the LPAT (Local Planning Act Tribunal) for not meeting the 210 time frame within which to make a decision on a development application.

Heather MacDonald said that it was the view of the Planning department, supported by a legal opinion, that LPAT would dismiss any such application.

A large part of the pause the city wants to take with the freeze in place is to determine just what the future of the terminal on John Street is. At one point the Transit people wanted to shut it down and move ticket sales into city hall. That idea got squelched.

Bridgewater from the west - higher elevation

Bridgewater as seen from the lake.

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kerns said she would support the Staff Recommendation because it was clear that the City Building department was overwhelmed and had lost control of the planning process. She said that at one point the Bridgewater development was the city’s legacy project – at 22 stories it is being dwarfed by some of the newer development proposals.

The question as to what happens to the development fees that have been paid wasn’t really answered. Nor was there any clear direction on what happens to those developments that were past the Statutory meeting point. It would appear that they are frozen at whatever point they happen to be at.

The value that has been placed on properties adjacent to large proposed developments has shot sky high. Councillor Kearns said some residents are seeing tax bills that have doubled.

Kelvin Angelo MMW

Councillor Galbraith didn’t like the look of the ICBL, voted no – Councillor Bentivegna and the Mayor voted for it.

It all came down to a 5-1 vote for the Staff recommendation with Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith voting against and Councillor Sharman absent for the second day in a row.

With the vote at the Standing Committee in place; they adjourned, turned themselves into a city council meeting and voted for the freeze then passed the necessary bylaw.  It was a recorded vote with each Councillor having to stand and declare their vote – something new to the five newbies.  Meed Ward told Galbraith to get used to being the lone dissenter – she had to do it for years.

Zap – everything was frozen.

Now we watch for the unintended consequences. This is a draconian bylaw that seemed to be necessary. Let’s get it right in as short a time frame as possible.

Will Burlington, this time next year, be “one of Canada’s best and most livable cities, a place where people, nature and business thrive”. Stay tuned.

Related links:

Is the Downtown Mobility hub the result of a clerical error

Scobie on that Downtown Mobility hub

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Mayor has her finger prints all over the 2019 budget - she will deliver on the promise.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

February 27th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

As city council works its way through the 2019 budget, determined, it would appear, to come in with a tax increase of not more than2.99% over what they dinged the public for last year, a number of things become evident.

The Mayor is front and center on this budget.

Reserves are not just money that is kept for a rainy day

And a new expense doesn’t just get added to the base budget where Mayor Marianne Meed Ward believes it gets forgotten.

Mayor Meed Ward

No doubt about who is steering the direction the 2019 budget is going in – Mayor Med Ward is very hands on.

Mayor Meed Ward is all over this budget; she speaks on every item, listens carefully to staff and will adjust her thinking when she hears a good argument.

She is keeping staff on their toes – and letting the Finance department know that she, the Mayor, doesn’t see those reserves as sacrosanct.

Municipalities are not allowed to show a deficit. They rely on reserves when income doesn’t match expenses.

When it looks as if there isn’t going to be enough revenue the municipality will borrow. Debt for Burlington is set at not more than 15% of revenue which is defined as what can be collected through property taxes.

In the municipal world they never know what is going to hit them next: a flood, an ice storm or a winter when snowfall exceeds what was expected – and with climate change the word “expected” isn’t something that makes sense anymore.

During the current budget discussions Meed Ward made it clear that asking her to go along with the addition of staff isn’t a given.

The Joseph Brant Museum people made a request for staff needed to operate the museum expansion expected to open around July of this year.

Any new people were going to be needed on an ongoing basis going forward – it would make sense to add those costs to the base budget – no?

Meed Ward didn’t see it quite that way. She was prepared to go along with new staff costs on a one time basis and have the museum staff return the following year and let council know how they had done in terms of revenue. She wanted the museum people to know that she expected the museum to earn at least a part of their keep.

It would be a little on the harsh side to say that the Mayor was being hard nosed – but she is certainly not being a push over. If Burlington’s bureaucrats want public money for their operations – they are going to have to show this council that they are going to put the funds to good use and bring back as much as they can as a return.

House view west

Joseph Brant Museum – undergoing a rebuild – scheduled to open in July, will look a lot different.

There was a staff Direction included for the Executive Director of the Museum that set out what was expected of her – Barb Teatero had left the meeting before that document got read into the record.

The Mayor is working with five people who are new to the world of municipal finance. One would hope that much of this new approach to financing city operations rubs off on these new Councillors – Meed Ward isn’t going to be Mayor for life. Our guess – two terms and she will be off for bigger things.

Shawna looking lost

Councillor Stolte on the right with Councillor Nisan during budget discussions.

When determining who the Standing Committee Chairs would be, Meed Ward didn’t have much to pick from. Ward 4 Councillor Stolte struggles at times with the numbers side of things, Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna doesn’t always fully grasp what the issue is, Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan seems to want to align himself with ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman but also wants to go out on his own – he just isn’t sure quite where that is.

Angelo + Kelvin

Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith explaining a point to ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna.

Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith certainly understands the numbers – at times he seems positively amazed at what goes on in the world of municipal finance.

Kearns - office art

Ward 2 Councillor with art by a local painter in her office that has a lot of non issue furniture as well.

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns has a sound understanding of what she has to do and has surprised many with the way she handles herself. She has the most developed sense of humour on this council and doesn’t let anything on the numbers side get past her –at least not so far.

As for Councillor Sharman, ward 5, he appears to suffer some indigestion when he sees the way Mayor Meed Ward drains funds from the surplus accounts.

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City staff at Seniors' Centre continue to make life difficult for the membership.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

February 22nd, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The Gazette keeps hearing about problems at the Seniors’ Centre on New Street. For the most part they are small niggling little issues but when collected together they suggest there is a deeper issue.

Seniors sign

Seniors’ Centre staff showing their concern for the comfort and safety of people who use the facility.

Do the staff really care about the people they are supposed to be serving?

These are seniors; the people who have paid their dues and have the right to quality time and more than just a measure of dignity.

The week was registration week – the Gazette published a news report on some of the problems that were being experienced with the registration process and the impact a change in the way programs are paid for was having on some people.

Earlier today we were sent a photograph of a sign that had been set up outside the entrance door advising: For your comfort and safety please do not line up outdoors.

The doors should be opened as early as possible so that the seniors can be both safe and comfortable.

There is a care taker in the building – he could unlock the doors and people could wait in the auditorium.

People get to the Centre as early as possible so they can obtain a number and be in the registration line based on the number they hold.  These people want to take courses – many of them that are exercise classes.  They want to remain healthy and active – but the staff seem to want them to stand out in the cold.

Burlington is a city that talks about the way it cares for its citizens but refuses to open the doors to a public building so that older people can get inside and stay out of the chilly if not downright cold weather.

What is wrong with these people?

Related news story:

Empathy appears to be in short supply as Seniors’ Centre

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This city council has an opportunity to bring about the changes that are really needed at city hall.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

February 11th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

MMW-arms-out-thank-you-2-300x198

With power in her hands – Mayor Meed Ward has an opportunity to really lead.

When newly elected Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward had the Chain of Office placed around her neck on December 3rd, she told the audience that she had some news she would release the following day.

The next day city hall announced the dismissal of city manager James Ridge.

Commisso alone

Interim city manager Tim Commisso.

While there was a Deputy City Manager, this new city council wanted an experienced city manager in place and entered into a short term agreement with Tim Commisso to serve as an Interim City Manager for a period of six months and announced that council would begin the process of finding the next full time city manager

Burlington has gone through four city managers in an eight year time frame.

Former Mayor Rick Goldring dismissed Roman Martiuk. The city then hired Jeff Fielding who left the city of London to come to Burlington.

City manager Jeff Fielding is about to significantly reorganize the senior levels at city hall. will Council let him do it?

Former City manager Jeff Fielding did his best to significantly reorganize the senior levels at city hall. When a better offer came along he left.

City staff needed time to get used to the energy and drive that Fielding brought to the city. After less than two years a head-hunter discovered Fielding and introduced him to Naheed Nenshi,  Mayor of Calgary – those two were a match made in heaven.

Fielding resigned and the city was once again looking for a city manager. They brought in Pat Moyle, who was a retired CAO for the Region of Halton to Burlington.

Moyle saw the city through the August 2014 flood and kept the city on track while the search for the next city manager took place.

Council settled on James Ridge who came to Burlington from British Columbia. Ridge was a good fit for the Goldring council; – he wasn’t a fit for then ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward.

Ridge 4

City manager |James Ridge defined his job as protecting his staff rather than holding them accountable. In one memorable memo he told staff that he “had their backs”.

Ridge is reported to have told a person he knew well at city hall that if Meed Ward won he would not be the city manager for long. That proved to be true.

There has been no word yet on if there have been any meetings on what the process of looking for a new city manager will be.

In a detailed book on the Premiership of John Robarts, who was Premier from 1961 to 1971, Steve Paikin reports that in 1968 Robarts “created one of the most important advisory bodies in his entire premiership.”

John Robarts - one of the best Premiers the province ever had: knew how to balance a budget.

John Robarts – one of the best Premiers the province ever had.

Robarts had been convinced that the province had grown to the point where it needed more qualified people in its senior ranks and created a Commission on Government Productivity that helped set the framework for an administration that has served the province exceptionally well.

The Commission wrote ten reports and lasted well beyond Robarts’ years as Premier. It submitted ten reports.

The Gazette is not suggesting that Meed Ward and her council create a commission that takes a decade and writes ten reports but she might want to give serious consideration to looking for outside advice on what the structure of a municipal government should – could look like in these changing times.

The last time any advice was given to Burlington’s city hall it didn’t get much in the way of a professional reception.

Shape Burlington logoThe Shape Burlington report set out what was wrong with city hall and what was needed in the way of change. Written by John Boich and former Mayor Walter Mulkewich who were served by a board of advisors, Senior city hall staff at the time didn’t want the report published – that wish wasn’t granted – they then wanted some changes in the wording.

Jogn Boich - co-chair of the Shape Burlington Committee died in 2011

John Boich – co-chair of the Shape Burlington Committee died in 2011

Asking the late John Boich to revise strongly held views was not a wise response. In terms of culture and the way city hall has chosen to serve the public that pays them – here hasn’t been much of a change. City managers have taken the view that their role is to protect their staff rather than consistently hold them accountable for the quality of the work they do.

It should be possible to find a consulting firm (not the one that foisted that 25 year Strategic Plan on the city), to do a comprehensive report in three months and then meet with council to expand on their views and recommendations.

city hall with flag poles

There is an opportunity to change the way city hall is currently organized – too many silos as well as significantly change the culture. Shape Burlington was the start.

If the city is  ever going to get to be run properly they might as well take the time to do it right. There are structural issues that need attention and there are cultural issues that need to be worked on.

Let us not make this a missed opportunity.

Salt with Pepper are the views,musings and opinions of the Gazette Publisher.

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