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Council member gets to see the wider municipal picture; doesn’t like what he sees and thinks it’s out of focus.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON July 4, 2011 – There are politicians and there are policy wonks. No one has to tell you what a politician is – a policy wonk is the kind of person who immerses themselves in documents that only a monk could really enjoy – but policy wonks are the exception to that rule. It is when you have a politician who is also a policy wonk – now that is a specimen and Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman is most certainly a policy wonk and is working at becoming a politician.

Every year the Federation of Canadian Municipalities gathers together somewhere in Canada early in the summer to trade notes, complain collectively and pronounce on the state of municipalities in Canada. The statements don’t differ all that much from year to year. The majority of the municipalities send a delegate to this event and, in true policy wonk fashion Sharman was the delegate for Burlington this year to the FCM conference in Halifax.

Paul Sharman Ward 5 Councillor works well with people who have a business background and the discipline exercised in the private sector.  Here he discusses an issue with Frank McKeown, the Mayors right hand man.

Paul Sharman Ward 5 Councillor works well with people who have a business background and the discipline exercised in the private sector. Here he discusses an issue with Frank McKeown, the Mayors right hand man.

Sharman, who has attended thousands of conferences more often than note as a speaker presenting a paper with a point of view – for those of you who know Paul Sharman – he has a point of view and is not in the least bit shy about letting you know what that point of view is.

But in talking about his trip to Halifax as a delegate to the FCM conference Sharman says he went in with an open mind – with no idea what was going to take place other than what he head on the agenda. Sharman is a management consultant by profession with a proclivity for numbers – he counts without using his fingers and if there is an error, he will spot it faster than Jack Dennison, who is usually seen as the “numbers” man on Council.

Sharman came away from the FCM conference “flabbergasted”. “Did you know”, he declares, “that municipalities get just 8% of the taxes collected yet have to deliver most of the services people expect from their government?”

When asked what he thought eh municipal tax take was – Sharman said he thought it was “somewhere in the 20% range”. That municipalities have to deliver such a wide range of services to their taxpayers and do so on so little was not just disturbing to Sharman but to thinking clearly a major problem to be addressed. We can expect comments at Council on this situation from Sharman

He didn’t have any answers and didn’t suggest how additional funds could be made available to municipal governments. It does have to be said that the province and to some degree the federal governments have in the past made substantial grants to the municipal sector. The federal Stimulus funds made available to municipalities during the 2008 recession that began to take hold in 2009 and to some degree is still with us today, helped Burlington get through the financial crisis – but one wonders if the funds given were put to the best possible uses. Municipalities had to move very quickly to come up with projects that were “shovel ready” in order to get the grants. Burlington was given a significant sum to rehabilitate the Freeman railway station but never managed to spend the money on that project because they could not decide on where the building should actually be located.

Paul Sharman can be very blunt and direct when he hears what he believes to be sloppy thinking.  More often than not he knows and understands the numbers behind an issue and demands that people understand the outcome they expect from the decisions they make.

Paul Sharman can be very blunt and direct when he hears what he believes to be sloppy thinking. More often than not he knows and understands the numbers behind an issue and demands that people understand the outcome they expect from the decisions they make.

For Sharman THE pressing issue in Burlington is transit and figuring out how the city can get the best possible value for the dollars it spends on the transit service. “We have too many busses going up and down streets with nowhere near enough people on the bus to make it pay,” Sharman will tell you. And he doesn’t believe the formula the city administration and the transit people are using to analyze the data they have is correct and that therefore the figures are all skewed and “out of whack”.

The city has entered into a Transit Master Plan agreement that will see some significant new ideas being brought to the table

Also on Sharman’s list of issues is the Strategic Plan and the way Burlington is going to develop it’s economy which he sees as two issues joined at the hip. Sharman is doing his usual “shake em up” routine at the Strategic Planning sessions that are close to having a document that can be taken to the public for comment.

Council has just begun to address what appears to be a surplus of employment lands and the need for additional land that can be used for housing developments. That debate will take place within the context of the Strategic Plan but the developers have already begun to line up with applications to redesignate land that is set aside for employment use and use it to build housing.

Sharman can be quite charming and gracious when he chooses to be – you just have to know what you’re talking about and have come to a meeting fully prepared.  If you  don’t – Sharman will be at you.

Sharman can be quite charming and gracious when he chooses to be – you just have to know what you’re talking about and have come to a meeting fully prepared. If you don’t – Sharman will be at you.

As Sharman sees it Burlington is in the enviable position of having more than enough land for employment purposes at a time when the amount of space industry will need it lessening and says “we are in a community where there can and will be significant population growth that will allow us to develop new high tech jobs and attract those intelligent young men and woman needed for those jobs.”

Sharman believes there is a magnificent opportunity for Burlington to create jobs that rely on intellectual property and he believes the health field is one of the opportunity areas for Burlington.

Sharman appears to be having the time of his life. Not bad for a guy who moves to Burlington, decides to run for Mayor with absolutely no political experience, realizes that he probably can’t win the Mayor’s job and so decides to run as Councillor in Ward 5 and beats a field of five candidates. Then goes on to become one of the most disruptive (in a positive sense) people on Council and send shivers throughout the administration.

Brash, direct, and exceptionally kind when he chooses to be Sharman tends to know what he is talking about. We have a less than 1% tax increase for 2011 because Paul Sharman made it happen.

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