Posts Tagged: doug holyday

Apr 11

New expense rules: “Harmonious community” no more

Doug Holyday’s new guidelines for councillor expenses were revealed today as part of the agenda for the upcoming executive committee meeting, which means we got a lot of silly articles like this one, from the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Spend that office budget now if you’ve got it, councillors.

Deputy mayor Doug Holyday’s new rules aimed at tightening up city council office budgets were unveiled Wednesday and will go to executive committee next week.

If the rules were in effect last year, Councillor Raymond Cho wouldn’t have been able to buy a chainsaw, Councillor Joe Mihevc couldn’t have popped for a popcorn machine and several councillors wouldn’t have been allowed to rent bouncy castles for community events.

via Squeeze put on councillors’ office budgets | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

The worst part about this kind of reporting — and every media outlet is guilty of this — is that it reports the what and not the why. With few exceptions, councillors didn’t spend their office budget on random things just for the hell of it. Raymond Cho spent $60 on an electric chainsaw as part of a community clean-up day in his ward. Popcorn machines and bouncy castles were rented as contributions to community events.

If you want to ask questions about this kind of stuff, the question shouldn’t be “Was Joe Mihevc right to pay for a popcorn machine with his office budget?” but rather “Should councillors support community events with their office budget?” That’s the issue before us. The specific purchases are largely irrelevant. (But, sure, sometimes funny.)

For the most part, Holyday’s proposed changes seem to make sense. I don’t expect council to fight this too hard, though we’ll see a few amendments. The concern with any kind of reform like this is that it will handcuff councillors, removing all discretion. Not only does this risk stifling potentially innovative practices, it also means bad councillors have less rope to hang themselves with. Sometimes we need to let incumbents screw up so voters have good reason to vote them out of office.

Final note on this, as I think it’s slightly telling: the current policy lists five items under ‘purpose’ —  these are the major areas in which councillors are directed to spend their office budget — but in Holyday’s revised policy there are only four items. Removed from the list is a directive that councillors use these dollars to “enhance and promote a harmonious community in their wards.”

That kind of thing is, I guess, no longer part of the job description.

Attached to Holyday’s agenda item is a side-by-side comparison of the current policy versus the proposed new one.

Apr 11

Listening to people by shutting down citizen committees

At the mayor’s request, the city manager has compiled a list of eleven citizen advisory committees to be eliminated for this council term. This will be debated at the next executive committee meeting before it goes to council for approval.

This will save no money. The manager’s report is clear that there are “no financial implications” to the move . In an interview with the Toronto Star’s Amy Dempsey and Paul Moloney, Doug Holyday justified shutting down these groups by saying it will save staff time.

At Spacing, Dylan Reid, co-chair of the Toronto Pedestrian Committee — one of the groups pegged for elimination by the report — tells us why this is a bad idea:

Citizens spent a lot of time and effort getting these committees established in the first place, and have spent a ton of time and effort making them work. Many survived amalgamation and successive mayoral regimes. It is a huge waste to simply cast away that accumulated work without thought.

Toronto’s tradition of active citizenship is one of its key assets. It makes sense to harness that resource, not ignore it.

via City seeks to eliminate citizens’ advisory committees « Spacing Toronto.

This move simply does not gel with the mayor’s promise to be responsive and attentive to the needs of citizens. (Or, in his vernacular, ‘taxpayers.’) This administration continues to express a growing antipathy toward Toronto residents who are passionate enough about issues that they organize and involve themselves in the political process.

Apr 11

The budget knives come out for waterfront development

Natalie Alcoba and Peter Kuitenbrouwer, in what I have to imagine is a story being pushed by someone  at City Hall:

Frustration with the pace and pricey bureaucracy of redeveloping Toronto’s port lands has got Mayor Rob Ford’s administration wondering if the city can sell off some of its own parcels separate from the agency that has been guiding transformation on the lake shore.

The federal, Ontario and city governments created Waterfront Toronto in 2001 as the “master planner and lead developer” on 52 hectares of prime real estate that had historically been the domain of industry. Of that land, Toronto owns 56%, the Toronto Port Authority 24%, and 20% is in the hands of the private sector.

via Waterfront Toronto is moving too slowly: critics | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Selling off parcels of land — removing them from the purview of Waterfront Toronto — is an insane suggestion, likely driven by a need to find saleable assets that can help bring down next year’s budget gap. While progress on the waterfront is not visible to those who don’t, you know, visit the waterfront, those who have actually gone down to look at the progress have to acknowledge that significant headway has been made.

Simply selling off land to the private sector without following an integrated plan for development will lead to the same mistakes that were made with the central and western waterfront — soulless condo towers with no neighbourhood feel.

In an interview with the Globe & Mail’s Lisa Rochon this weekend, architect Moshe Safdie was asked about the mistakes Toronto made with its initial waterfront development. He said:  “Back in the 1980s, Toronto’s waterfront was developed intensely and generated extraordinary taxes but it wasn’t invested into infrastructure that could make a difference.”

Someone in the mayor’s office must have only read as far as “extraordinary taxes” before stopping.

Damn near the entire cast of characters is quoted in the Post article. Peter Milczyn posits that selling off city-owned land will help to “accelerate” the project. Through magic. Denzil Minnan-Wong rages about “squandered money on consultants” and “sole-sourced” arrangements and projects. Which seems like a hell of an accusation to make unless you’ve got evidence to back it up.

Doug Holyday, meanwhile, is mad because too many of the planners who work on the project make more than $100,000 per year. Because if there’s one place you want to cheap out on talent, it’s the planning and execution of billion-dollar waterfront redevelopment. Just hire a bunch of students to do it!

Even the mayor’s press secretary, Adrienne Batra, piles on, showing just how big a target they’ve made these projects. “I think there is certainly a good opportunity for development in the area, and absolutely we want to see the private sector involved,” she says, presumably ignoring that private sector companies are already involved at many levels, including planning, architecture and construction.

The article notes that despite asking to retain a seat on the Waterfront Toronto board, Ford has skipped every meeting. During the election, Ford told the Post editorial board that the city could not afford to spend any money on Waterfront development.

This reads like the first shot in a concentrated attempt to vilify an organization before gutting their support and funding. Disgusting and sad.


Apr 11

Solving all our problems through councillor expense reforms

Surprising no one and keeping to the idea that you can solve most of the city’s budget problems by improving public perception, Doug Holyday will propose some new restriction on councillors’ office budgets at the next Executive Committee meeting. They’ll then go to Council in May.

According to the Star’s Daniel Dale, the new restrictions will prohibit spending public money on personal improvement services, parties, costumes, donations to community groups and sponsorships of sports teams. I hope there’s not an explicit restriction on “costumes” because that seems like something future historians will find hilarious.

Dale also reports on some of Holyday’s other proposed reforms:

The proposal would require councillors to have their newsletters produced by the city’s printing operation, Holyday said, unless they prove they’ve found a cheaper alternative. It would force them to use website developers from a city-approved short list. And to the chagrin of critics of Mayor Rob Ford, it would grant committee chairs sole authority to decide which councillors could take trips to conferences.

via New rules proposed for controversial council expenses – (Emphasis added.)

That last point is interesting, as it feels like an attempt to further centralize powers within the Executive Committee. With the way things work these days, that would essentially mean that council expenditures related to travel would be entirely at the whim of the mayor’s office.

Mar 11

A ploy named sue: Lawsuits over lawsuits over lawsuits

This story of lawsuits over lawsuits over lawsuits gets complicated fast. Let’s start with Daniel Dale at the Toronto Star:

Deputy mayor Doug Holyday personally sued the city to challenge a controversial 2008 council decision to use taxpayer money to cover two councillors’ campaign-related legal fees. He said he was willing to take a financial hit to stand up for an important principle.

He won. But now, more than a year after he filed the lawsuit, he is asking council to use taxpayer money to cover most of his own legal fees.

via Holyday wants city aid to pay for lawsuit against city –

Here’s what I can gather: Current councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and former councillor Adrian Heaps successfully defended themselves against allegations related to their campaigns following the 2006 election. (Heaps was actually sued for libel by Michelle Berardinetti, who went on to defeat him in the 2010 election.) City Council, ignoring the advice of the City Solicitor, voted to pay for these legal costs. Doug Holyday got mad about this and brought his own lawsuit against the city, alleging that it was improper for the city to pay for legal costs related to things that happened when Heaps and Mammoliti were acting as candidates, not councillors. He won.

Now Holyday is asking that the city reimburse him for his legal bills. The bills he racked up suing the city over his belief that they had wrongly paid legal bills.

It gets weirder: The Toronto Party, a weird right-wing organization that ran a slate of candidates in the fall (none of whom did very well), in response to Holyday’s request, is now threatening to sue the city if they pay Holyday’s legal bills.

The Toronto Party, which has used its website as a platform to rail against this kind of thing repeatedly, also released a newsletter in February asking for donations to cover its own legal costs. (Left column.) So you can help pay their legal bills, if you want to contribute to this twisted Hall of Mirrors.

In short: a political organization is threatening to sue a councillor if he persuades the city to reimburse him for money he spent suing the city over their reimbursement of legal expenses for councillors. Someone should probably diagram all of this.

Mar 11

Bless this mess

Earlier this week, OpenFile did the thing that media outlets do where you spend some time going through the public expense records of councillors trying to find things that look like wasteful spending. (I did it too.) They hit upon a good one with Councillor Michael Thompson, reporting that he spent $300 to have his office blessed Pastor Dr. Tai Adeboboye, who in addition to doing office blessings also owns a spectacularly great suit.

Anyway, a lot of shock and horror and reaction about this supposedly improper use of funds followed. It all led to this, as reported by David Rider:

Councillor Michael Thompson is refunding taxpayers the $300 he charged to his office budget to have his office blessed by a Baptist pastor.

“I will provide the city with a cheque for the $300 and at the same time ask the integrity commissioner to take a look at this and rule on it,” Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre) said in an interview Friday.

via Councillor Thompson refunds Baptist blessing expense –

This was a giant waste of everyone’s time.

The angle from the left is that Thompson is a hypocrite, supporting Ford’s stop-the-gravy-train message while at the same time dealing “gravy” himself in the form of office blessings for $300. The angle from the right is the same as it always is: the ideal councillor would work in a cave and never do anything that costs money. Respect for taxpayers.

Joe Mihevc actually did a nice job coming to Thompson’s defense in the original Star article. He said that this was “an ‘interesting and creative and dynamic’ way of making a community donation.”

If we want to debate anything about this, it should be that last part: should councillors be allowed to make donations to community groups like churches, charities, youth programs and neighbourhood associations out of their office budget? Some, like Doug Holyday, would like to see councillors banned from making community donations. He says they should pay those bills themselves. Which seems like a great way to encourage residents to vote for millionaire candidates who, if elected, will donate to the local sports team.

Some clarification on this is probably a good idea (particularly with regard to whether councillors should be able to publicize the donation), but it would be a shame to eliminate the practice altogether. Sometimes a couple of hundred bucks given to a group so they can hold a barbecue can have a significant impact on a community.

Mostly, though, I think people just need to stop losing their heads over this stuff.

Mar 11

Deputy Mayor: “Seizing control” of library board would be “great”

Let’s not bury the lede on this one. Here’s’s David Nickle, writing about proposed changes to the structure of the Library Board:

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he wasn’t aware of any attempt to seize control of the library board away from Toronto Council’s left.

“If we did seize control from the left it’d be great, but I don’t know anything about it,” said Holyday. “But I think we’re going to have some serious choices next year and if there’s a bunch of people not willing to make serious choices, then they should step aside.”

via InsideToronto Article: Council to restructure boards.

Emphasis added.

Lots of buzzing over the weekend about this item, set to hit Executive Committee at the next meeting. Agenda Item EX4.7 is a report from the City Manager that calls for numerous moves that would change the composition of the city’s boards.

Some councillors and city-watchers have seized on this as an attempt by Team Ford to exert greater control over these boards, in response to what I guess would be called “subversive” moves by boards (notably the Library Board, but also Public Health and the Police Services Board, among others) who voted against the mayor’s cut-everything request during the 2011 budget process.

Specifically, the Manager’s report calls for a reduction in the size of the Library and five other boards. It also calls for a change in the way board members are recruited. (Here’s a quick glance at the proposed changes to council representation on these boards.)

I’m willing to give the mayor’s office the benefit of the doubt on this one — I doubt this is part of a coordinated attempt to tighten control of these boards. That feels too sneaky and megalomaniacally evil, even for this bunch.  This report was commissioned by the David Miller council, and it includes a bunch of positive changes, notably a recommendation that boards seek a more “youthful perspective” by recruiting members between eighteen and thirty, and a new restriction on former councillors sitting on specific boards.

That doesn’t mean this report won’t ultimately be taken and twisted as a way to wrangle control of these boards, however, and it’s certainly something that has to be watched closely. Especially in light of Holyday’s comments.

Mar 11

Doug Holyday & Bill Blair suggest police are the answer to homelessness

Joe Warmington in today’s edition of Pizzaville Presents The Toronto Sun:

“It is true we have spent all of these resources and the homeless are still there,” Holyday said. “I met with Police Chief Bill Blair last week and asked him what could we do and he said we need tougher laws to deal with them.”

But [Toronto Shelter, Support & Housing spokesperson Patricia] Anderson, who says there are incalculable savings in emergency room costs and the like, said Streets to Homes has helped 3,000 people to move from outside into homes and that there has been a “51% reduction in outdoor homelessness since 2006.”

Are we sure?

via Streets to Homes program needs citys scrutiny | Joe Warmington | Columnists | News | Toronto Sun.

First of all: crappy article. The subtle narrative throughout seems to be that, despite some initial issues, the city’s Streets to Homes program has improved a lot and been successful in helping members of the city’s homeless population find permanent housing. Statistics back this up, and aren’t rendered irrelevant because the writer asks “Are we sure?”

Are there inefficiencies and improvements that could be made? Almost definitely. But instead we get stuff like this:

In fact, while it may have found a way to bring some people in from the street, it appears to anybody living downtown that every street corner is still filled with just as many vagrants as ever.

“They will tell you it’s creating improvement but I see just as many homeless as I did 10 years ago when I got into politics,” said Mayor Rob Ford.

Screw statistics. We have a gut feeling that the homeless problem is as bad as ever!

Also: apparently five years is more than enough time to completely eliminate homelessness and the fact that this program hasn’t means it’s a total failure.

Back to Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s statement: could we see this administration move to remove funding for support organizations like Street to Homes and instead give the police more funds and powers to ‘deal’ with the homeless population?