Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Wasted Money at the County of Simcoe

County of Simcoe New Solid Waste Management Strategy-
Stantec Hired to Develop 20-year Strategy for Waste Diversion and Disposal

I read with interest the above titled Oct 27 release from Rob McCullough and Allan Greenwood.
The County Environmental Services staff continue to amaze me. They appear to be a department out of control and not answerable to anyone. I also know that there are many other departments and staff that are quite dedicated and work hard.
In business from time to time you need specialized services from outside agencies and consultants as they are short term requirements and would not merit hiring a full time person. Examples would be architects, lawyers, auditors, mechanical engineers and so on.
It appears that when actual work needs to be done by the Environmental Services Department at the County, a consultant is engaged. The same appears to be the case with Communication Department at the county. That to me is a sign of one of two problems. Either the existing staff lacks competence or they are simply lazy. I am not sure which applies at the county.
If the Manager of Environmental Services is not capable of investigating new waste management technologies and their potential use for the county then I think we have a problem. It should be in his job description that this is his responsibility not that of Stantec. Site 41 and its fiasco exemplified the lack of competence in my estimation. Possibly he needs further education to increase his knowledge and ability or possibly the job has outgrown the individual and a higher level of skill is now required. That needs to be assessed by the CAO and council.
The amount of wasted money at the county level seems to go unchecked and no attempt appears to be made to reduce budgets as most companies have been forced to undertake in the past two years.
The Warden and Councillors are to be the stewards of our county and the resources that it manages.
I ask that you take that responsibility more seriously and hold your senior staff more accountable. Instead of rubber stamping reports without much thought or study, challenge them much more when they appear to be cavalier about engaging outside services that should be part of their job function.
Having experience with consultants, it is quite common that as much as half of the fee is spent on learning about the organization and its requirement, not actually assisting with the solutions or recommendations. That is why the decision to use outside services must be well thought out and analysed in a good old fashion “return on investment” basis. The other key question should always be, “Can we do it ourselves?”
In the case of alternate waste diversion solutions, the manager should be doing all the legwork including the research and investigative work. He should then make a recommendation for a course of action. Council should then approve a plan. If specialized services or consultants are then required to implement the agreed solutions, then so be it.
That’s how it works in the real world.

Keep informed and read the Spingwater News

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Elmvale-The Capital of Springwater

An unrecognized Jewel in Springwater
At the EDHS meeting in Elmvale on Oct 15th, in my brief dissertation, I described Elmvale as the Capital of Springwater. On my way out, our mayor commented to me and said, “Bill, I am sorry that I forgot to mention that Elmvale was the capital of Springwater.” Being a skeptic, I don’t think he meant that as an honest oversight. For some reason he thinks that Nursery Road by the new administration building is main street Springwater and has basically stated that at council meetings.
I grew up on a farm on the fifth of Flos in the 50’s. Elmvale was the economic centre and a thriving village that supported the mainly rural farming community that surrounded it. I lived for two years in Elmvale on Lorne Street in the 70’s with a young family and enjoyed our strolls to the main street. The people were friendly; the shopkeepers knew most of their clientele. Based on the Provinces direction for municipalities to develop complete communities, Elmvale is the only urban centre that meets that criterion in the Township of Springwater. Just think of it, it has all the amenities that someone could enjoy, all in walking distance. I agree with the mayor, as we attempt to retain the crown jewel of our community, EDHS, that Elmvale is like a campus and everything is accessible. My question is why are we not supporting it more.
Since I have been at the planning and council meetings since Feb, I have noticed approvals for expenditures for added services to Springwater. Did you know that well over half a million dollars will be spent on baseball diamonds in the property close to the soccer fields and new administration centre? I have even heard the mayor refer to this as a campus. Possibly in his vision this is the continuation of development to make Nursery Road main street Springwater. Would it not have been a thought to possibly establish some of these baseball diamonds in Elmvale close to EDHS? Just think of the ball tournaments that could be attracted to the benefit of the struggling merchants on main street Elmvale. Since I teach business part time, I understand why the ball fields are in Midhurst. Based on GIS mapping it determined this is the central location if you take all homes in the township into consideration based on travel distant. That makes sense if Springwater was isolated in the middle of nowhere. However, since Midhurst is close to all the amenities of Barrie, the decision criteria should have included such things as the economic benefit to the township and the better servicing of the rural residents as considerations. That did not happen.
I have the same criticism about our new administration building. Just think of the benefit it would have brought to Elmvale if located there. With 50 people on staff, it would have meant a lot of local meals and shopping, a great benefit to the community and the township. I understand that the Township owned the land in Midhurst but a more visionary approach should have been taken by the council. The Township spent extra money to be a LEEDS rated facility. I believe the extra travel distance and the use of cars to get to the isolated location of the new admin centre more than offsets any greenhouse gas savings in the building. I am not sure that this takes Springwater in the direction of building complete communities. The township is attempting to minimize the impact by offering incentives for ride sharing and installing a wellness facility. In Elmvale neither would be necessary.
We can’t undo the past, but we can change the future, I ask this council to focus on what they can do for Elmvale and especially Elmvale District High School. There were many good ideas presented at the community meeting on Oct 15th with many local residents in attendance. In particular I would like to see any future consideration of added recreational facilities such as swimming pools, racquet sports or any other sports of that nature being developed in conjunction with the improvement of the school. I for one am opposed to any consideration of a multimillion dollar multiple use recreation facility (MURF) which would most likely be parked beside the administration building. I like the idea of medical services, cooperative education with some university like Guelph focused on education in agriculture, a real benefit to our rural community all being brought onto the EDHS campus. I would ask our warden to consider placing some of the county services in Elmvale. All these moves would assist in convincing some of the disconnected County School Board Trustees to realize the importance of the presence of EDHS in Elmvale. It is more than a school; it is part of the heart of the community. Without EDHS, Elmvale will decay and slowly die.
I beg our councilors to get away from thinking big city, which seems to be the approach of the planning of our township at the moment. Let’s dig deep into the roots and backbone of the Township of Springwater. If you are looking for identity please remember people know where you can find Elmvale, Anten Mills, Phelpston, Midhurst, Hillsdale, Orr Lake, Snow Valley, Minesing, Centre Vespra. Some even know Fergusonvale and Apto. Few know what Springwater is or where it is located and there is probably not enough money to brand it. Branding takes more than a new logo and a catch phrase.
Main Street Springwater is Queen Street Elmvale and I think we can build on that to the benefit of all citizens of Springwater.

Friday, October 16, 2009

War of Words and Misinformation

Broadcast Versus Cable-My View
With the battle that is being waged on our TV stations in recent weeks between Cable and TV Broadcasters, I decided to write this article as we are witnessing a lot of misinformation rather than fact. I, like others, want to retain our local TV station, but at the same time I think both parties should be more honest with us.
First a little background. I grew up in the early part of the TV industry starting my working career in 1966 at CKVR in Barrie which was owned at the time by the Snelgrove family. It is said the VR stood for Valerie and Ralph. Here is how I view the currect dispute between the broadcasters and cable.
I want to first stress that I think the local market television stations are an important part of the media fabric in Canada. Aside from the CBC government sponsored broadcaster, these local TV stations, which were originally owned by entreprenueurs, developed the foundation of the TV industry in Canada providing a community need. What does bother me today is the rhetoric and misinformation that is being spewed by both parties as part of a fear mongering PR campaign. I believe most of the misinformation is coming from the Broadcasters.
Now a little history from my recollections. Before cable or satellite, we all received our TV signal on roof top or small tower antennae or in many cases set top “rabbit ears”. We were limited to VHF channels 2 to 13 in the beginning. You could receive 4 or 5 stations ranging from clear to snowy pictures even in the city and towns.
Then came cable. It connected homes in the built up communities to a broader range of stations including the major US networks. All these “over the air” broadcasters saw this new method of distribution as an advantage to them as it broadened their audience reach. They were no longer restricted by their broadcast signal area and the receiving antennae. I can recall that combined with its high power broadcast transmitter, and the advent of cable, CKVR reached well into Toronto making it an attractive media outlet for advertisers on a budget. It was a very profitable operation. All the broadcasters were quite willing and anxious to have their signals included on the limited number of channels available when cable first started. The Broadcasters are now saying in their TV spots that the base rate and basic cable or satellite fee was to pay them for those signals. That is blatantly false in my estimation. The basic fee paid for the cable distribution systems infrastructure and now the satellites that carry the signal. These companies were by no means profitable in the beginning. Just ask Phil Lind of Rogers who had to go a few times with hat in hand to extend bank lines in the formative years. The base rate was never intended to be revenue shared with the local Broadcaster. It was intended to cover costs and hopefully provide a profit which it now does to the benefit of their shareholders. We do still believe in a free enterprise economy, I think? There is some thought that in the early days of cable and limited channlels, the Broadcasters might have paid a fee to be carried by the cable companies, but the CRTC in its wisdom at the time set the basic business model with both parties. I could go on on how the CRTC developed cable substution at the request of the broadcasters, whereby the local station, if running a US originated program at the same time as its US counterpart, had its signal and commercial inserted in that channel's slot on cable and got credit for the audience. That is still the policy today. How is that fair? The CRTC has went out of its way to support the broadcasters in Canada.
Most of the founders of our TV broadcasters understood how the system should work. For over 30 years most did an honourable job of balancing service, profit and social responsibility. That concept disappeared slowly in the last number of years of private and public ownership and then was completely obliterated with the mass takeovers during the last decade. Our current major TV broadcasters simply don't understand the local markets, their social and ethical responsibility to the communities and viewed these local stations as a liability. If allowed by the CRTC they would discard them. Look at the A Channels. CTVglobe Media never wanted them when they purchased CHUM in the first place. They wanted the major market CITY stations and paid a significant price to get them. As we all know the CRTC did not permit the concentrated ownership monopoly of two major stations in a market, requiring CTV to divest the CITY properties and take the A Channels which was a reversal of their plans with Rogers at the time.
I believe the problem is much deeper. We all know that over the last three decades with the advent of home videos, the internet in the 80's, the continued growth of satellite communication and now the electronic entertainment devices the world is a different place to do business. The tuned hours for TV have diminished because of it. The large Broadcasters themselves diluted their business and revenue stream with the development of specialty channels that for the most part are specialty in name only. They took the huge profits of their conventional properties and tried to fill the available channel slots with the idea of protecting their existing advertising revenue stream. Even a first year business student would have suggested that the pie of advertising dollars, which was not getting bigger, was being sliced into smaller pieces. The recession of the last year took care of the rest. The Broadcasters must admit that they developed a bad business model that was doomed for failure. They also failed to keep some of the profits for a rainy day.
With that said and done I would ask both the Cable and Broadcasters to be the businessmen they are capable of being. It is called negotiation. I for one have no problem of paying a few extra dollars if it means we can retain my local station. If these stations want to be paid for the signal, I want to know what I will get in return. Will they provide a local morning show, local morning and noon news program in addition to 6 and 11? Will they do more than news features and provide local programs of interest to my community?
The CRTC could also invoke a National TV licence fee like the UK and share the revenue with the broadcasters based on some formula. The cable companies should not be the ones saddled with collecting the extra revenue to correct an economic problem that the broadcasters created and then be painted as the pariahs of the issue.
We have a good broadcasting system in Canada. I also know it much more complicated than my brief letter. It is unfortunate that there are no founding fathers left to straighten out the mess. They would have certainly resolved the problem before it got to be a battle of egos and wills. We need both strong cable companies and broadcasters and I ask both to work toward that common goal.
And please! It is a great tune and music video that the Local TV Matters are running, but you know and I know the content is at best false and more likely a bold face lie!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Not Quite Business as Usual

Springwater Township Council – Oct 5
“The Peasants are revolting; They certainly are!” I always loved that line from Harvey Korman in the satirical movie History of the World. I am sure that was Mayor Guergis feelings toward Deputy Mayor Hope and some councillors at the Monday Oct 5th Council meeting. As I was staring at the protruding screws in the ceiling of our multi million dollar administration centre and listening to the drone of the normal orchestrated dealing with township matters, I was jolted out of my daze when I heard Deputy Mayor Hope table a motion seconded by Councillor Cowan that the rules of procedure be suspended to deal with a number of matters. I knew something was up. I assumed the reason for the motion was to prevent the Mayor from exercising his authority as chair to stop discussions on matters that he may not want to hear, as has happened a number times since February. The Deputy Mayor outlined a number of concerns that he wanted discussed. First was the Mayor's removal of Ms. Kearney's correspondence regarding Site 41 from the correspondence section of the Sept 21st Council meeting agenda. Secondly Hope questioned why the correspondence from Tiny Township including a copy of their motion requesting the stopping of all development of Site 41, was not on the same agenda. The next two items were not totally clear but it appeared to be a concern that the credibility of the entire Springwater Council was being brought into question because of the Mayor's stand on Site 41 which was contrary to the wishes of Council and more importantly the citizens the Council represents. There was also some further concern about some rant the mayor had with the councilors outside of the public forum and comments made by people about their lack of confidence in the mayor.
The mayor undoubtedly surprised at the list of concerns would have been best to remain silent until all the issues had been tabled. But in his typical fashion he first of all tried to deflect the discussion with such words and phrases as, “I am shocked”, “I must apologize for the behaviour you are seeing here tonight”, “Is this the way we are going to communicate for the next 14 months”, “how is this bringing our community together” and so on. Once he realized this rhetoric was not working, the answers started coming. The Mayor's response to the first item regarding the Kearney correspondence was interesting. He stated that the Mayor and Clerk have the authority to include or remove items that may or may not be relevant to the business of the township. He admitted he had asked that the Kearney correspondence not be included on the agenda. As a point of order, it is the Clerk not the Mayor that has the authority to decide the items on the agenda, as it is the Clerk's job to ensure that politically motivated agendas of the elected officials are avoided. If you go through the past minutes you will find many pieces of correspondence that have no bearing on the business of Council and are simply received. A number of months ago for example, the Town of Innisfil made a deputation and Council supported a resolution opposing Barrie's annexation bid. That is no business of Springwater. Even on the agenda for Oct 5th there was correspondence and a requested resolution from Clearview that was received as correspondence. The fact that the Kearney letter which dealt with Site 41 was left off the agenda is certainly suspect. I can only assume the Mayor, attempting to avoid a three ring circus at the council meeting, did not want a resolution passed at the Springwater Council the day prior to the County Council voting on ceasing all development at site 41. After hearing about the pick and choose approach, Councilor Collins expressed a great concern about how items for the agenda may be selected and questioned whether there may have been other matters that had been deleted in the past. The clerk commented that issues that are distant from Springwater would not be included. On the second point regarding the omission of the Tiny correspondence and resolution on the Sept 21st agenda, I must accept the explanation of the Clerk, as I have found her to be quite forthright on matters, even when I have not agreed with her position. She stated she was on vacation when it was received and it accidentally got lost in the shuffle. I know it sounds suspicious but based on the Clerk's comments, the Mayor should not be accused of influencing this item and I can accept that he did not remove it from the agenda. We of course will never know what he might have done if the correspondence had not been misplaced. I will give him the benefit of doubt on that one. On the final items of Deputy Mayor Hope, I feel that these items would have been better vetted behind closed doors as the Mayor was caught off guard and not properly prepared which was not fair in my estimation. I understand the frustration and flack that some councillors have received and can agree that the councillors have been tarred with the same brush because of the Mayor's outspoke support of Site 41. As far as the mayor's rants, challenges and confrontations with certain councillors on various matters and their positions outside of the public forum, I would have preferred to see more specific information as I did not fully understand the purpose of that part of the discussion. I do think the Deputy Mayor's last two items were possibly inappropriate as they attacked more the person of the Mayor rather than the position he holds.
The interesting anecdote is that none of this discussion should have occurred until the Council past the resolution to suspend the procedural bylaw. No wonder Councillor Clement was confused and asked for clarification when it came time to vote on it after the fact.
Most people in business realize that there is an acceptable or functional level of conflict that is healthy as it leads to constructive and productive debate and results in progress. It is a delicate balance however. Dysfunctional conflict at one extreme is when there is no conflict and everyone nods their head to avoid a scene. Some refer to it as group think. I believe we saw a lot of that in this term of council as most councillors did not want to get into a conflict or confrontation with the mayor and simply agreed with him on many items. I think the Mayor compounded the frenzy at this meeting by his sarcasm, intimidation, condescension and threatening remarks. Councillor Caldwell correctly remarked that there was no need for the Mayor to use sarcasm in his comments. However, I can understand the Mayor's surprise at the attacks and he most likely reacted as many people do by providing a defence. Unfortunately in his position, the sarcasm becomes unacceptable.
The only way that the councillors themselves can escape the damage that has been done by the Mayor's outspoken Site 41 stance is to talk to their constituents and make them aware that they are there for the best interests of the citizens of Springwater and that they deal with many matters, not just Site 41. If this had been done over the last six months, I am not sure that the Mayor's actions would have had the same impact on their credibility. If I were on council I would conduct town hall meetings in my ward every three months and update the constituents on what is happening and try to ascertain their needs rather than supporting someone else's agenda..
Here is another suggestion to alleviate the lack of confidence of the electorate. Possibly the council meetings once a month could be changed by adding a ten minute open forum to the agenda allowing anyone to speak on matters before council or any other matter that has not been addressed, without the necessity of requesting a delegation before council. Giving people 2 minutes each to speak is a great way of being transparent and gaining insight into what people want. I don't think Council would be swamped by requests as there is typically me and maybe four others at the meetings unless something specifically impacting area residents is on the agenda. This open forum would somewhat negate the opinion that this council is highly secretive and always does things behind closed doors.
I found in my many years of dealing with people, that trust and credibility is a two way street. Dictating and demanding blind trust of your peers, subordinates or constituents is not possible. Trust, credibility and honesty must come from the inner self and then radiate outwards before those characteristics will be recognized by anyone else. I have no doubt the mayor has the potential to be an effective leader. Unfortunately the high expectations and potential of many people go unrealized. I for one assisted Mayor Guergis in getting elected and was confident in what he said during the election campaign. I was looking forward to a new open and transparent council. Based on the last 34 months performance, none of those promises have been forthcoming and things are worse than ever.
After everything is said and done, and council is still concerned about the mayor's behaviour, they should table and pass a resolution and have the Mayor's conduct investigated by a special investigator appointed by the province as permitted in the Municipal Act. That is what Barrie did with their mayor two years ago. The other possibility is for everyone on this Council to get behind closed doors and vent all their concerns and frustrations and develop a new approach to how the council conducts its business. Without that, it will be business as usual and nothing will be accomplished by the debate and lost tempers at the meeting. On a brighter note, I did see the start of something positive if some of the councillors are willing to take a stand and focus on the business of the township. In some situations on council it is as simple as saying, “I don't agree with that because....”. I think the mayor must also realize this is not a party system and he cannot demand that the councillors toe the party line and stay in step.
Our mayor continues to confuse me with this statement, “We don't seem to be getting the message out”. My advice to the mayor and the rest of council is that you first must decide what is the message and then talk to people one on one, not undertake an expensive PR campaign such as we have witnessed at the County level.
The business of the township is important to all of us. It is our tax dollars that are being spent. We elect and pay the politicians to be the stewards of our township. I encourage readers to get involved and come to the Planning and Council meetings as the decisions made at these two key meetings impact the way we live and enjoy our fine Township. To stay current with local news read the Springwater News.

Bill French

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Barrie - School Yard Bully

I saw an article in the Barrie Examiner reporting on council's desire to impose a buffer zone around the City and have the surrounding municipalities enforce a no hunting zone.
I live in Grenfel and we are bombarded with the noise from shotguns 365 days a year because of the Barrie Gun Club on Pinegrove Road. Guess what. There are probably not 10 members from our Springwater Township. There are many members that live in Barrie and as far away as Toronto. It was Barrie that had them close down the Miller Drive location of the Barrie Revolver club and move it out of the City some decades ago. How is it fair that Barrie can dump its unwanted nuisance problems on their municipal neighbors?
If Barrie wants a buffer, it should follow the example of former Springwater mayor Helen Coutts and establish a non-development buffer zone. Ms. Coutts established a no non-farm development buffer around the City of Barrie and the Town of Wasaga Beach, the only two major urban settlement areas that border on the township. It is found in section 3.29 in the township's official plan. This was implemented to avoid the problems that the City of Barrie are now concerned about. It is my further understanding that this was discussed with the then Barrie mayor Laking as it was understood that both would establish buffers to avoid land use conflicts. Barrie's oversight is now catching up with them.
As the Barrie Gun Club community liaison told me when I suggested that they mitigate the negative noise impact, "Sue the real estate firm for not letting me know of the gun range being less than a kilometre away". I guess those Barrie residents that are now concerned about the noise from hunters in the new subdivisions should sue the developer or realty firm for not informing them of the potential conflict of Hunters in the local forests.
Does Barrie think it can bully its way through everything they want?
I for one would not support our township spending one dime on signage or enforcement that is a result of Barrie's ongoing lack of planning and foresight.