Thursday, January 30, 2014

And in the news today...

In Coldstream:
  • Mayor Enns of Organic Orchard has developed a new strain at the Women's Institute Hall.
  • Mayor Besso of Parkland and Riparian Weeds has purchased a railcar load of Monsanto's Roundup.
  • Mayor Dirk of Lavington was seen participating in the polar bear dip at the new Kiddie Pool.
  • Mayor Cochrane of Keys Point was seen, but not heard.
  • Mayor McClean of Orchard Valley was moving fence posts.
  • Mayor Kiss was busy installing a bio toilet in his yard.
  • Mayor Garlick of My District was off to Victoria with a bouquet of wilted flowers.
While in Vernon:

  • Mayor Cunningham of 30th Avenue was plugging quarters into numerous parking meters.
  • Mayor Lord of Green Ribbons was at Fisher's Hardware buying a mattock.
  • Mayor Spiers of Community Street was cafe hopping, talking to constituents.
  • Mayor Quiring of Habitat for Humanity was installing new windows at The Mission.
  • Mayor O'Keefe of Tourism was squiring dignitaries to the Lookout.
  • Mayor Sawatzky of Doctors Without Borders was hosting a luncheon for equipment suppliers.
From farther afield:

  •  Mayor Mcnabb of BX Streets was meeting next door with his remaining two constituents.
  •  Mayor Bob Fleming of Westside is cleaning up a cow/car incident with a wide shovel.
  •  Mayor Pearase of Few Payers has applied for a Care Card in Alberta.
  •  Mayor Foisy of Unclaimed Areas has bought a new 4x4 truck to search for opal.
  •  Mayor Acton of Lumby was ordering concrete for a dam on Duteau.
  •  Mayor Cyr of Enderby is fishing from the bridge.
  •  Mayor Fairbairn of Cougar Canyon is installing streetlights.
  •  Mayor Fowler of Farming Inc. is installing water meters.
  •  Mayor Brown of Property Tax Haven is planting potatoes.
  •  Mayor Pieper of Diplomacy Valley again declines, with thanks, to run provincially.
Elsewhere, silently:
  •  Mayor Trafford Hall is renovating for the third time, adding atmospheric control for MoU's.
  •  Mayor Trevor Seibel is purchasing a new office chair with a taller backrest.
  •  Mayor Will Pearce is ordering the same chair, retrofitted with whoopee cushion.
  •  Mayor Eric Foster of Partisan Ltd. is calibrating his Popularity Meter.
  •  Mayor Warwick-Sears of H2O has purchased 75-gallon watering cans with grant money.
  •  Mayor Reg Burgess of Stripes is consumed by paperwork.

democracy in the North Okanagan

"Yup, things could indeed be worse," Kia suggests.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pay Close Attention to What the Mayor Wants

"Being friends with the Mayor is a liability," advises a 74-page report conducted for prospective Chief Administrative Officers of local governments in B.C. 

It's apparently better to be friends after the mayor or councillor is no longer in office.
And that the alternative is "cumbersome and dangerous."

Since Mike Stamhuis' retirement from the District of Coldstream in Fall of 2013--and the subsequent move by Chief Financial Officer Trevor Seibel into that position--this primer for a new candidate to get up to snuff is likely unnecessary.  That is, if it were for another jurisdiction.

But this is Coldstream, so...

A few more (selected) tidbits:  (highlighting: blog author)

  • "assess staff morale and community views;
  • always clear the air and keep a professional distance;
  • honesty is the key ingredient.  There is no truer adage than 'speak truth to power'.  That means telling the mayor things he doesn't want to hear.
  • do not take yourself too seriously.  By nature, Mayors will tend to be quite full of themselves, especially when newly elected.  The CAO needs to be able to laugh at himself, and to keep matters in perspective, because the Mayor may not be able to.
  • the Mayor will likely have substantially less expertise than the CAO in day-to-day matters.  Additionally, the Mayor will make decisions through a political filter.
  • review success of projects and policies;
  • take feedback from the Mayor and the public;
  • ask some "what if" questions;
  • council has no real expertise; use a strategic planning exercise to tell them;
  • if council doesn't secure for itself the role of providing broad direction on how the community's future will unfold, there will be ample room for the CAO to step in and do it.  In many such situations, the CAO will be more influential in determining what course is taken than will the taxpayers' chosen representatives;
  • come to consensus on what your community's role definitions and responsibilities should look like, and then put it in writing;
  • use real examples for illustrating difficulties (from previous Council);
  • discuss during yearly review of strategic plan and when a role is stepped on; 
  • there are some statutory or mandatory roles and responsibilities that must be respected;
  • there are many examples of "best practices" that can be drawn on and customized for each use.  Identify a few "high achieving" communities of similar size and find out what has worked for them;
  • providing good advice to Council;
  • councillors' undermining behaviour includes not understanding the role of the various committees relative to council and pretending that because one is a councillor one is automatically a better city builder than the planner, a better designer than the engineer, a better accountant than the treasurer and a better administrator than the CAO;
  • do not allow council to put items on agenda without staff review/response;
  • reports don't need to be approved by the CAO, only reviewed by him and countersigned as being reviewed.  Occasionally the CAO may write a dissenting recommendation;
  • formal evaluations tend to be arbitrary and overrrated and mostly conducted by the unskilled.  You need to be very careful here;
  • allow for subordinates to confidentially evaluate superior (presumably, this can be construed to mean the CAO reviews the mayor too);
  • having a good labour/management committee that meets at least every other month;
  • in a unionized setting, the opportunity to tailor solutions to individual needs are relatively constrained, and can be very dysfunctional;
  • deception or duplicity can achieve short-term accord, but its effects will still linger 20 years later;
  • political meddling;
  • lack of trust #1 issue;
  • if the CAO is doing bargaining (with the union), do not include councillors unless they have a particular skill or personality that will allow them to negotiate effectively;
  • if Council or a councillor insists on becoming the bargaining agent for the municipality the CAO must insist on being a note taker only.  Go in, take notes and keep your mouth shut;
  • brainstorm solutions from many perspectives, perform a cost benefit analysis and make a choice;
  • circulate policies -- discuss with the community;
  • assess impact on budget, staffing, precedence, other government relationship of any new policy and include key players and public in process;
  • be sure that a full analysis of impact is done (and beware unintended consequences) that affected groups are consulted and that the 'objective' of the new policy is understood and agreed upon;
  • try to deal with the public one on one in a direct, conversational and inquisitive manner;
  • if it is a neighbour to neighbour dispute tell them to solve it themselves.  The CAO is not an intermediary for anyone;
  • recognize that engaging the public does not necessarily or always create a healthier happier community nor does it build a better City;
  • regularly spend time out in the community talking to a variety of people;
  • don’t let small groups control process;
  • ensure public information is public and avoid behind closed door discussions;
  • meet with public;
  • hold a Council open house for informal public discussion;
  • neighbourhood meetings;
  • the public are commentators and feed-backers, not approvers.  Don't set it up so that they are approvers or disapprovers of development projects;
  • topics which are too broad based don't work with the public, nor is asking for input in too restrictive a manner;
  • communicating through the media or not giving enough time (don't work with the public);
  • relying on media coverage of Council meetings--the media often get it wrong, and very few members of the community bother to watch or read;
  • sometimes a liaison relationship with neighborhood or community associations can work well but it is dangerous;
  • get to know people—beyond just what they do;
  • acknowledge they have frustrations and challenges they face in their perspectives;
  • try to understand other groups structure/culture and values and issues, and challenges they face in their perspectives;
  • have a relationship with the public that is not issue-specific; you'll be more effective when a particular situation arises;
  • some councils are better with an informal set of three year goals and objectives.  Others need a detailed corporate vision and strategic plan.  The latter is a lot of work and only works if the CAO and the mayor "live" the vision and the plan.  It can be exhausting and confusing;
  • strategic planning discourages micro-managing;
  • revisit your plans regularly and amend them as necessary;
  • CAO to take strategic position and Council must support;
  • impediments:  empire building, fear and political interference;
  • it is important to give every councillor equal time and attention in the way they wish to have it.  Not always easy or possible but it is something to strive for;
  • present all options and views and share information with all of Council;
  • having Councillors with a meaningful portfolio;
  • staff:  create a discussion format where they can challenge each other's ideas, without personalizing the debate;
  • listen and respect recommendations;
  • be a good listener and don't be judgmental;
  • careful budgeting prior to project commencement and ongoing monitoring;
  • keep an eye on staffing;
  • use brainstorming sessions and outside expertise;
  • describe taxpayers money as your own and challenge to find the best and fairest deals for taxpayers;
  • challenge staff and be prepared to change;
  • network and find solutions within the community;
  • cost effectiveness is balanced with all other strategic objectives in decision-making;
  • think about what you're doing and figure out how to do it better;
  • keep it simple, test, and be prepared to change;
  • seek a lot of input;
  • a procedure is good if it leads to the desired results, and bad if it does not;
  • refer procedures to staff/council/public involved;
  • have an internal audit mechanism;
  • all new activities (new service, new facility, new program) are preceded by the development of specific procedures for that activity;
  • talk about it ... if it is nonsense, change it;
  • treated fairly is not the same as treated equally;
  • it certainly can't be the most important thing in your life or your fundamental identity characteristic as a human being;
  • know your council well enough to know what their expectations are;
  • must be objective;
  • you can't close yourself off from the community, or you'll be faceless and ineffective;
  • proposed policies will be screened to assess their health impact on the community, including safety, environmental sustainability and economic impact."
Were those for Mayor?  or Chief Administrative Officer?
Could be either.
Or both.

Good luck, Trevor Seibel.

"And keep Stamhuis on speed dial," suggests Kia.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Metaphor for Failed Amalgamation Study

Poignant indeed, after the District of Coldstream refused to support a study into the pros/cons of amalgamation.

Look more closely:

"Or a sign of the 'quality' of workmanship that remains here?" offers Kia.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Democracy with Lower Case "d"

...or is it lower caste?

A compelling letter to the editor from Doug MacGregor:

"From media reports, it would appear that Coldstream council has invented a new meaning for the word democracy.

The media reported that 64 people attended a Coldstream ratepayers meeting in the local hall.

I would assume that a number of those attending were partners in ownership (husband and wife, etc.) of a Coldstream property.  Being generous, I would estimate this group would represent about 40 to 45 properties in Coldstream and Lavington.

It would appear that most in attendance were opposed to having a study done on the merits of amalgamation in the Greater Vernon area.  This study supposedly would be mostly funded by the provincial government.

Mayor Jim Garlick then asked for more feedback from other Coldstream residents.

It would appear council has so far turned a blind eye to those requesting the study.

The Greater Vernon Governance Society presented a petition to Vernon and Coldstream councils which contained 816 signatures of Coldstream residents who were asking for a study regarding the existing and future governance of the Greater Vernon area.  If the study indicated a better or more efficient means of governing the district was available through amalgamation, then a referendum should be held so the residents, not the politicians, would decide their future.

Using the same formula as used for the ratepayers meeting, this 816 signature would represent about 514 other property owners.  That would be 45 owners opposed and 514 owners in favour of a study.  Wow.

Is this an indication that council feels 816 residents, or 514 other property owners, have no say regarding a study and their request for a study doesn't count?

I thought an elected council was supposed to represent all of its residents in the municipal area.

I realize there are many more concerned citizens in Coldstream that have opinions on both sides of this issue, but those I have pointed out are the most vocal to date.

Will the minority, instead of the majority, be the driving force behind council's decision on this issue?

Is this the new meaning for democracy in Coldstream?  Only time will tell."
Doug MacGregor

"Rare proof indeed," offers Kia, "that Coldstream Council doesn't always go whichever way the wind blows."

Depends on the wind's direction, Kia. 

Oligarchy.  Fingers on the wrong row of keys, if trying to type Democracy.

Note:  Mayor Garlick deceived attendees at the Women's Institute Hall meeting by saying he did not "want to spend any money on a study", knowing full well that the provincial government pays for the study (despite my own acknowledgement that 'there's only one taxpayer').  Mayor Garlick--at the next meeting at the municipal hall--amended that comment somewhat by saying he did not "want to spend any money on a study/devote staff time".  I was present during both events.

At the Women's Institute Hall meeting, Mayor Garlick was preaching to the converted--as the colloquial saying suggests--as he and most of his Council have been--or still are--members of the Coldstream Ratepayers' Association, who initiated and moderated the meeting.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Are You Quite Sure You Didn't Want To Amalgamate?

Slathering bureaucratic desks these days is Coldstream's desire to send a letter to the City of Vernon asking whether the city wants to continue providing police services to North Okanagan member communities, or "customers", as we satellite populations are called.

This follows the acknowledgement that the City of Vernon's Safe Communities Agreement expires December 31, 2014.

Paying for the entire kit and caboodle are the District of Coldstream, Village of Lumby, Township of Spallumcheen, City of Enderby, City of Armstrong, and the City of Vernon (affectionately called the "service provider").

Presumably, policing is pretty high on the list of what communities desire.
Since all North Okanagan communities are included in the cost, you'd not be mistaken in believing the service provider would want to continue to provide policing to their own community.

And the other signatories too.
After all, it's an agreement, albeit with an expiry date.

So maybe Vernon's bureaucrats ought'a put some zest into a slow January day by replying "no".

Imagine the furor then, as Coldstream's council runs crying and again smears its nose on Victoria's apron.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," sighs Kia, adding "the ridiculousness continues".

A little levity among bureaucrats in late winter.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Plants are a Midwinter Reprieve

...Gloomy and dark with fog in the valleys.
It's still winter, although a mild-ish one.

A reprieve was in store as we stepped inside the old Vernon Lodge on 32nd Street in Vernon. 

View Larger Map

It's been years since I've had occasion to go there, and I had forgotten how lovely this plant conservatory was.  The aroma of blueberry pancakes and fresh coffee called us from the Lobby.

Even on a foggy day, the clerestory ceilings allowed light to bathe the interior's plants.

Some photos:

Breakfast (very yummy) finished, it was time to head into the fog and home again.

A plant surprise--an open blossom on the Cymbidium orchid, met me at home, too:

And, soon, this long stalk will be festooned with the orange and blue Bird of Paradise flower.

And winter-protected (with heat/incandescent lights) palms...yes...palms are looking forward to being out of their winter enclosures, but doing well.

From this in summer: 

And during flower: 

To its warm wrap for winter: 

The much sought after Brahea armata: 

Yucca rostrata "Sapphire Skies": 

And, the saying "not pretty, Colonel, but does it work?" could apply to this winter-protected collection of small palms.  Yes it works.

Here's a summer look at two Washingtonia filifera, and the Y.rostratas:

And about 100 more inside the clubhouse, safely stored for winter: 

Winter's end is a ways off.
It'll be good to see the sun again.

Thank God for plants to get us through winter.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tom, Dick and Harry FOR amalgamation; the other AGAINST.
And the third?  Well...

A fictional dialogue among three Coldstream neighbours on the proposal of a new governance model for the North Okanagan by the Greater Vernon Governance Society.

Dick:  We'd lose our voice in the unified new government, and I don't want to spend any money doing a study.  Vernon would again be top dog with the loudest bark.

Tom:  I'd like to see the information a new study would provide.  A lot has changed--including numbers of bureaucrats--since 1991's Sussex restructuring study, and the 2008 proposed restructure of rural areas into a district municipality. Our voice?  Protecting our say would be written into the Terms of Reference.  The provincial government has an entire department devoted to amalgamation, and funds that pay for the study they perform.  We wouldn't spend money until it's time for the Referendum when the voters can decide "yes" or "no".

Harry:  Change is never good.  Why do people come to Coldstream and then try to change things?

Tom:  The bureaucracy's grown so much.   Economies of scale are the way of the future in a unified new municipality.  The regional district offices have been renovated twice in 12 years; Vernon wants a new city hall, and Coldstream's muni hall is new.  Within a five-minute drive there's Coldstream's municipal hall, the Regional district offices, and Vernon City hall.  There's always been fighting and territorial skirmishes.  Today there remains considerable overlap in duties.  We've lost opportunities as business--and people--decided on Kelowna for their bases.

Dick:  Each area meets the needs and demands of their residents.  If you want streetlights and curbs, move to Vernon. 

Harry:  You were speeding.

Tom:  Eight hundred and sixteen Coldstream residents are interested in the results of a study.  They don't need a mini city with a Town Centre here; they reside in a beautiful rural area.  We freely admit doing all our shopping in Vernon.  Accept that we're part of a larger community, but we continue to have three administrative levels that are no longer efficient and productive.

Dick:  Over nine thousand don't agree.  If it ain't broke, it don't need fixin'.  We'd lose our voice in a larger area.  We've only just gotten it back; it took five years to be heard.

Harry:   Glad you included children.

Tom:  The entire Chamber of Commerce membership supports an amalgamation study.  They see a one-government model as streamlining, so that money exists for the demands made on government by the population.  Any businessman knows--to survive--wage costs can't exceed 10 per cent.  Our area's uber bureaucracy likely equates to more than 40 per cent.  It's unsustainable, and a study would definitively show that, as well as options that would result in our keeping residents and businesses. 

Dick:  Vernon has no rural land, it's all city and they're broke, with a growing infrastructure deficit that we'd have to help fund. Of course Vernon residents would be in favour of amalgamation!  Most businesses are located in Vernon.  Our taxes would increase. You want to punish Coldstream for trying to rezone rural lands to RU10/RU30?  Well, how'll you like it when the new Vernon rezones any part of Coldstream they want?

Harry:  Coldstream is a distinct society.

Tom:  Tax increases would be negated, at a minimum, by a lower bureaucratic burden and less waste.  Permitting delays would decrease, projects could be shovel-in-the-ground without waiting months for different committees to get together and decide.

Harry:  Business is all about greed.

Tom:  Politicians owe residents the best bang for their buck, not wagon circling.

Dick:  Amalgamation doesn't decrease bureaucracy, before you know it, the "reduced" positions that were deemed overlapping created too much work for the people who remained, so more were hired. Before you know it costs have gone up and we then discover no-one listens anymore because we've lost that.  And severence pay isn't cheap.

Tom:  A larger single community would open up all manner of new grants to which none of our fragmented areas now can apply.

Dick:  We get some grants now, and the provincial government would continue downloading roads, policing, fire protection.  Those increases would negate any of your benefits.

Harry:  Never see police out here now, that's just fine.

Tom:  Perhaps a study would show that arts and culture are not the purview of the government, but should remain private initiatives.  Many, many people would say it has merit.  Some of the most magnificent art venues all over the world were privately established.

Dick:  But they're working on arts and culture now, and economic development is next.

Harry:  Priorities, oops, only a bureaucrat would place arts and culture ahead of the economy.  Bureaucrats are the tails that wag the political dog.  It has ever been thus.  And the powers-that-be actually prefer it; less personal responsibility as an elected official.  Just point and shoot the consultant.  So to speak. 

Tom:  Greater Vernon committees at the Regional District prove a one-government model is the way to go, or you wouldn't have a Greater Vernon Advisory Committee.  Or finally, consensus on water.  The model is developing!  The regional district has completed a Growth Management Strategy to which other communities are signatories.  That's a form of one-government model.  Any Memorandum of Agreement, so common here, is a one-government model, albeit with a log of baggage still holding onto the apron.

Dick:  But our taxes are lower because we're not one government!  You can't have it both ways.

Harry:  Hey, has anybody read Vernon's 300-page How to Not Get a Parking Ticket document?  No?  Yeah, me neither.   

Tom:  The referendum question--after the study results are released--could be formulated to include a "no", not to amalgamate based on the study results.

Dick:  That'd be a tough referendum question if it has several "layers" you know how hard it is to reverse-engineer a referendum question to get the desired results?  And more than one question is really a problem, almost impossible.

Tom:  Funny that you want "yes" or "no" now, but the municipal hall referendum didn't allow a "yes" or "no" question:  Shall we build it?  Nope, wasn't on there.  Rather its question focused on whether to borrow the money for it.  Even prior to that, at the Women's Institute Hall, residents were invited to fill in a working paper with their opinions on what a new municipal hall should look like.  It talked about rooflines and colours and style.  Nowhere did it say "don't build one".  The government ministry would help formulate the referendum question(s) anyway.

Dick:  With provincial government involved, do you really believe they're unbiased?  They'd love nothing more than to download entire systems in BC onto cities and towns.  So you're helping them with that, that's why they have a department to help.

Harry:  Victoria has socialists for everything.

Tom:  You state you're working on water, presumably Interior Health's demand for filtration.  But even before that, now we hear Duteau Creek shouldn't have been built where it was.  It's only with multiple governances that we got into that situation, and even that took years to screw up.  Last year councillor Kiss was even allowed to meet privately with the water consultants.  Where was he when everybody was screwing up the plans?  Even Mexico, of all places, only chlorinates water intended for consumption, not water for car washes and nurseries and golf courses, which is the American model.  But we chlorinate it all.
With all those committees and consultants, that idea was the cream of the crop?  That's frankly incredible.

Dick:  Likely quiet because it was consensus building.

Harry:  With our money.

Tom:  That water foible is your example of good governance?  It's your example for not doing a study on new governance?  I suggest that alone is reason for new governance, let alone a study.

Dick:  Give and take creates good government.  We're also protecting our history here, we're older than Vernon.

Harry:  I don't flush the toilet for a few days, saves money.

Tom:  History wouldn't be erased.  It's the future that needs work.  I'd like to see the entire area prosper but not by spending money that's unnecessary.  That produces the opposite effect.  Because there's something across the street, across the fence that we already use and duplication isn't needed.   But across the street, across the fence is Vernon so for that reason you want to build one over here?  It's territorial, totally unnecessary.  We would keep our history, no-one can edit that.  You just don't want the "current watch" to supposedly give the keys away.  Doors or walls, it's your choice.

Dick.  We now decide which are doors and walls; it's our decision.  We'd lose that.  We're not going to be the first to blink.

Harry:  Walls, with security.

Tom:  But the KPMG study--while saying it'll be no easy proposition--suggested amalgamation may be the answer.  Just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's not worth the try.

Dick:  It wasn't their first suggestion, and how could regional districts even be considered for this?  And they stepped on a few toes when they included Coldstream; sure wasn't their mandate to include us.

Harry:  The guy didn't even live in the area.  But maybe that's what it takes.  Forests and trees stuff.

Tom:  It'd likely never get to the nth degree.  But consider:  give Cherryville to Lumby, they can use the tax dollars.  Even the MLA chuckled and said that might not be a bad idea.  Enderby?  Salmon Arm or Armstrong.  Spallumcheen?  Have more in common with Armstrong, so off you go north.  And the roads in between?  Victoria's rules aren't written in stone, anything--yes anything--can be changed if enough will is behind it.  Silver Star Road goes to a provincial park, they cannot stop maintaining that road even if we did amalgamate.  It's smoke 'n mirrors and scare tactics that prevent people from working and thinking outside the traditional box.  Area B director complains his residents, one by one, are incessantly asking to be annexed into a larger area, and not always because they want sewer!
At what point does Area B fold, shrivel and die?  Area C says they don't want streetlights and curbs.  Good, they don't have to have them, can remain rural until the cows fall over.  "Hands off" rural areas with big-city requirements, it's just a phrase in an agreement that can be focused on.

Dick:  Wow, take Cheeryville away from the regional district?  And again.  

Harry:  Ideas hurt my head.

Looking up, the neighbours realize darkness has descended.
All three head off, each to the light that is theirs alone.

"Perhaps a store is needed in Coldstream," offers Kia, "to stock  aspirin."

Addendum notes:
Reference to Sussex Consulting's 22 year old study is found here on page 60 of 245.  On page 70, the statement from the consultants:  "Overall, residents living in the Okanagan Landing area do not appear to have been faced with extraordinary tax increases by virtue of their properties being annexed into the City of Vernon."

2008 study reference:  "moved by Director Halvorson, seconded by Director Foisy that the Electoral Area Advisory Committee recommend to the Regional Board that the results of the Electoral Area Residents Questionnaire be forwarded to the Minister of Community Development, and that, in light of the results of the questionnaire, the request for the development of terms of reference for a Restructure Study to examine the feasibility of  a District Municipality governance structure, and to apply for a provincial grant, be withdrawn at this time. CARRIED."  From page 14 (of 15) here.

The District of Coldstream last night voted on the Society's proposal.
The result was unanimous, all were against requesting the province to commence the study.

Victoria's "amalgamation department" rules gave this Council unnatural fears.
Interestingly, it was also those rules that only local government--not the public--can request an amalgamation study, from which Coldstream is today reprieved. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Handout from Ratepayer Meeting last night

Mayor Garlick handed out copies of "The Process to Amalgamate Victoria's Municipalities", from a Vancouver Island blog.

Reprinted here in its entirety:

"Amalgamation has been in the local news of late and I have heard too many people say the government could just impose amalgamation or that the Minister could just impose a referendum to create a new amalgamated Greater Victoria municipality.  This is not the process in B.C.  I am writing this posting so that people understand the process of what it would take to get amalgamation in Victoria.

B.C. has a long history no forced amalgamations of local governments.  The last time a forced amalgamation happened in B.C. was in 1974 by the NDP in the case of Kamloops and Kelowna.  The current government has gone as far as to make it clear in the Community Charter that amalgamations cannot be forced by the province.  One result of voluntary amalgamations in B.C. has been that when amalgamations have happened they have been community supported positive successes, as opposed to the experience in Ontario, Quebec or Nova Scotia.

Here is the rundown of the process as it is outlined in the Local Government Restructure Program:

1.  Local governments express an interest in the idea and tells the provincial government they want to consider amalgamation.

2.  Local governments create a committee to prepare an amalgamation study.  The committee oversees the preparation of the amalgamation study and conducts public consultation.

3.  Amalgamation study is done -- B.C. government provides all the funding for the study as well as ministry staff to help.

4.  Committee recommends to the Minister if a vote is to go forward on amalgamation or not.  Minister provides offer of funds for the newly amalgamated local government.

5.  The vote is held, if it is voted in favour of by a majority in each municipality the province creates the new amalgamated municipality.

What is most important understand here is that there is no formal way for the public or the province to start the process.  Legally in B.C. it is entirely an issue for local government to start the road to an amalgamated local government.

It is also important to understand the fifth step.
The formal vote creating the new municipality has to pass in each of the existing municipalities.  If Saanich, Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt and View Royal were all to be a new proposed municipality the vote would have to pass in all five.  If the vote was 90% in favour in the first four but 51% against in View Royal, the whole thing fails.

Could the province force step five immediately?  
In theory, they have the power to force a vote on a new municipality that would encompass two or more existing municipalities, but this is unrealistic for a number of reasons:

  • The vote would have to be for a defined new municipality.  This would have been developed by the province without the cooperation of the existing local governments.  The new municipality would have too little buy in to have any chance of success in a vote.
  • Local governments are elected and not including them in a major decision on change to their structure is undemocratic and arrogant.
  • It goes against existing government policy of not forcing amalgamations.
  • No government or Minister of the Crown is going to burn all their political capital on an approach to the issue that is more or less guaranteed to be a political shit storm.
  • Many MLAs are former municipal councillors so they are unlikely to go out of their way to antagonize their former colleagues.  Municipal councils are also the farm team leagues for provincial politics.  Any party that forced a vote on amalgamation could ruin the chances of them getting a new crop of candidates for future elections.
The government could in theory remove the restriction in the Community Charter that stops the province from forcing amalgamations and not have any vote at all but the reasons above would apply even more so if this were done.

It is also important to remember that local governments are creatures of the provincial Crown  and not fully self-governing.  Local governments need formal approval of the provincial government to make any change to their structure and this formal role of the Minister leads people to think that the Minister has the right to mess with local governments.  Policy, tradition and precedence make it clear that the Minister is restricted in how far they can interfere with local governments."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Downtown Vernon Merchants Slapped

The City of Quesnel's parking meters were removed.
Kelowna's downtown parking rate is 25 cents for 30 minutes.
Vernon's downtown rate?  It's 25 cents for 15 minutes.

"You are driving us away and you are driving our customers away."  Lily Kerr

View Larger Map
Pre-revitalization, downtown Vernon

Lily Kerr is a business owner in downtown Vernon.
She--and other businesspeople downtown--are outraged, and for good reason.
No-one's likely to read the 30-page bylaw on parking enforcement, but you can bet that she did. 

"I think most people would be appalled to find out we have five full-time and eight part-time bylaw personnel who earn $28.97 an hour plus benefits."

Lily's letter follows:

"After putting up with parking meter rate increases and fine increases, I felt I needed to write a letter.  As a business owner, I am disgusted with current mayor and council.  You voted for this increase.  After fixing up the remainder of main street at building owners' expense for the sidewalk portions, you double the rates and fines.  What a slap in the face.

You want to revitalize downtown, fine job you are doing.  You are driving us away and you are driving our customers away.  Have you counted how many empty storefronts there are downtown?

I have talked to dozens of business owners and they all tell me the same thing, how customers rush out of the stores because they don't want to get a ticket.

I called Kelowna city hall.  Their rates are half of ours downtown.  Twenty five cents for half an hour.  Vernon does not have the economic and financial stability Kelowna has but our parking rates are double.

Who does council think lives in this town, millionaires?

Without prejudice and no offence intended to anyone, we all do not make doctor or architect wages, etc.  We are a town full of people struggling to make ends meet and living on minimum wages.

After talking to human resources for the City of Vernon, I found out how much bylaw enforcement makes an hour.  I think most people would be appalled to find out we have five full-time and eight part-time bylaw personnel who earn $28.97 an hour plus benefits.  It's more than many health care providers make.

I am not afraid of speaking up.  Just because you have a title in front of your name doesn't mean you'll make a better mayor or councillor.  We need people on council who will truly reflect what this town wants and needs.  Not more money spending for things that serve a select amount of people.

We need common sense individuals on this council.

Elections are coming up in 2014.  Remember this when you cast your ballot.  We need people who know how to balance budgets, not always spending and raising tax rates."   Lily Kerr, downtown merchant.

"Vernon's mayor and council are oblivious to the 'Wal-Mart factor'," intones Kia, "they offer free parking."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Smart Meters Will Destroy Your Wallet...

I have to admit I paid little attention to the Hydro smart meter furor prior to their installation here.

There were submissions to councils and provincial governments by groups opposed because of health concerns caused by radio frequency transmission, others warned of burgeoning electricity invoices.  B.C. Hydro pooh-poohed both as I recall.

In both Canada and the USA, many cities have had smart meters for some time.  Early on, there were reports that electrical invoices had almost doubled.
In retrospect, I wish they had only doubled.

As hydro bills arrived for our two meters, it was high time to compare pre-and post-smart meter invoices and usage.

The property has two meters:  one for the clubhouse (whose meter had two-way capability for the wind turbine production to access the hydro grid, both pre-and post-smart meters, but the pre smart meter was the old, mechanical meter), and one for the residence.  For ease of comparison, only electrical inflow is referenced.

Clubhouse:  (note that Step 2 thresholds do not apply to Commercial rates).

Mechanical meter Oct.21/11-Dec.19/11 (60 days):
1,975 kWh @ $.08810/kWh = $174.00

Mechanical meter Oct. 29/12-Dec.19/12 (62 days):
1,559 kWh @ $.09150/kWh = $142.65

Smart meter Oct.22/13-Dec.19/13 (59 days):
3,000 kWh @ $.09280/kWh = $278.40 = 95 per cent increase.
Note that the kiloWatt usage* is almost doubled, too, despite no usage of the building (explained later...hint...heating?)

Another example:    


Mechanical meter Oct.21/11-Dec.19/11 (60 days):
Step 1:  1,332 kWh @ $.06670/kWh = $88.84
Step 2:     118 kWh @ $.09620/kWh = $11.35     Grand total $100.19

Mechanical meter Oct.19/12-Dec.19/12 (62 days):
Step 1:  1,137 kWh @ $.068/kWh = $77.32
Step 2:  zero kW

Smart meter Oct.22/13-Dec.19/13 (59 days):
Step 1:  3,000 kWh @ $.09280/kWh = $90.32
Step 2:     343 kWh @ $.10340/kWh =  $35.47   Grand total $125.79
Note that the kiloWatt usage* is only 505 kWh more (explained

The 2013 rate per kiloWatt hour increased by 27 per cent over 2012.
The $125.79 was an increase of 62.7 per cent over 2012, despite the rate increasing by "only" 27%.

So what's responsible for the disparity (other than the hints provided?)

It's called magnetic principles and it definitely leads to higher invoices.
Sure there were magnets in the old mechanical meters but their aluminum "disc" didn't magnetize...
It's all about "start-up", the high energy "surge" needed to get a motor or incandescent bulb to start from a dead/cold stop.

Simply stated:  "...high starting current motors often draw very high currents only for a fraction of a second. Due to inertia, older mechanical disk electric meters cannot respond quick enough to register large motor starting current. But smart meters have no problem registering the brief, high power consumption from electric motors as these meters have no moving parts."

A more detailed explanation from the same source:

 "it's related to what appliances you have...has to do with electric motors. With furnace fans and compressors used in refrigeration, there is a very high starting current. With a small window or table top electric fan, starting current is relatively insignificant. For refrigeration appliances, window air conditioners, furnace blowers or central air conditioning starting current is quite high, ­ often several times higher than the running current listed on the nameplate or label.
What can be the reason for higher starting current than running current? In refrigeration appliances, motors must overcome the refrigerant already in the compressor to start rotation. In the case of a forced-air furnace fan or central air-conditioning fan, blower wheels act like large flywheels which must be brought up to speed.
In washing machines, starting current is highest when the spin cycle starts after the wash cycle. It takes many seconds to get the heavy basket with about 30 gallons of water and heavy laundry up to full speed before current consumption drops down to what machine's nameplate shows. A fully loaded basket with water and clothes weighs in well excess of 100lbs. The washer motor is stalled whenever the washer's timer starts it, causing the motor to draw almost 20 amps of power.
Only after any motor reaches full speed will current consumption reduce to the values listed on the nameplate or label.
National electrical codes require high starting-current appliances like washing machines, dryers, furnaces etc... to be connected to their own circuit breaker. This is to insure full power is available for high starting currents. In engineering terms this is called "in-rush current."
Heating elements in electric ranges, water heaters, clothes dryers and baseboard electric heaters all draw heavy current when first turned on."  (T.Twietmeyer)
"Holy moly," says Kia, "time to dry clothes on the line again, just like the old days." 
We already do that, Kia!
On this section of Buchanan Road, no natural gas is available.
So for 36 years, everything's been electric.
That's why we heat our home with wood.
Another thought:  Anyone holding off on replacing old appliances should take the plunge.  Newer appliances with "Energy Star" ratings have lower start up wattages, making them more efficient.  Natural Resources Canada even tells you which appliances are the best to purchase.
A little-seen comprehensive list of energy savers all over your home is here.
Even after you've done all you can to purchase Energy Star appliances, unplug phantom power items, etc., rates will continue to increase.
And then we British Columbians will be subjected to Time-of-Use billing, already in use in Ontario.
"We can hang our laundry on the line at 7 a.m., versus turning into Night Owls like folks in Ontario," suggests Kia.

Then-and-now Bennetts:
"The goal of the 10-year-plan is to keep rates predictable," B.C. Energy Minister, Bill Bennett said recently.

"There'll be cheap power for the residents of British Columbia," B.C. Premier (the late) W.A.C. Bennett said, too long ago.

The promise sure has changed over the years...

ADDENDUM:  Many, many links on smart meters here, some of which may keep one up at night!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bad News Bears

An interesting take on who issues bad or good news in a community.

Garry Haas' letter to the editor, published today, made the point:

" managers are always giving interviews."
Garry Haas

"...past and present mayors and council members give interviews when they have good news and if it is bad (they) have the managers do's time for the mayor and council to get a backbone and take over all interviews regarding the city, good or bad news."

So, bad news is released by unelected people who work for our politicians.

Good news is discharged by politicians.

And so is good corporate news, referring to Coldstream mayor Garlick's gushing of Tolko's proposed pellet plant in Lavington.
The jobs will be good news.
So will the eventual tax bill from mayor Garlick after the tax-holiday called revitalization.

Then there's org-based (biased) news, if it can be called news.
On fracking--the widely used term for hydraulic fracturing--a Sierra Club member of their Halifax chapter announced "...fracking has caused a 62-per-cent increase in sexually transmitted infections in rural communities linked with unconventional resource development."

When there's no news from politicians or their managers, organizations fill the void.

"Sixty-two percent increase," questions Kia, wondering about urban numbers."

As reported in the last paragraph here, "...the best thing the Government could do is acknowledge all of the very serious concerns engaging the public, learn from them and make discernible changes in the current style of governance. Bad news has a longer shelf life than good news and all the airtime (or press) in the world, commandeered or not, will never change that."

It's all spin.

With taxpayers being spun.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Perennial Mismanagement at Canada Post

It's long been said that with e-mail and other forms of electronic communication, the art of letter-writing--and sending--correspondence via the mail system has gone the way of the dinosaurs, without the asteroid.

Was it the literal term "Snail Mail"--coined back in 1942--that finally placed the last nail into Canada Post's coffin?
Yes, and no.

As is increasingly occurring at all levels of government bureaucracy, Canada Post's abject mismanagement continues to defy description.
When a duly-stamped lettermail envelope takes four days from Vernon to Kelowna, 35 miles to the south, no wonder people get fed up.

Early in December, the Crown corporation reported yet another loss; this time $129 million, and it was reported that transaction mail was down by 184 million pieces over the first three quarters, a decrease of 7.3 per cent.  But parcel delivery--thanks to the burgeoning online market--rose by 2 million pieces over the same period.

Anybody mailed a parcel through Canada Post lately?
Parcel costs are exorbitant, yet Canada Post loses money.
Quarter after quarter.
Year after year.

I recently sent a small bubble-wrap envelope to an acquaintance in the United States, postage was almost  $15.00.  Ridiculous costs considering it took nearly two weeks to arrive.

Several weeks later, Canada Post's mismanagement team had completed a Five-Point Action Plan.
They had held five months of consultations with the public in 46 Canadian communities.

And the five-point plan is the result of their pricey dog-n-pony roadtrip.

They made a video to explain it.
Look at all these smiling Canadian faces.
Must be their unionized employees, because it's nobody called Mr. or Mrs. Public.
Advertising agency actors.
Pricey advertising agency.

But the last straw came while watching television last night.
There it was.  A 32-second Canada Post commercial, beautifully produced by the pricey advertising agency, nine--yes--nine days after Christmas that showed Canada Post delivering a parcel, obtained in an empty mall, for the gift-giving season that ended nine days ago.

Late, as always.

You'd think their management--mismanagement--team would've told the Ad Agency to NOT run the commercial after the traditional gift-giving season.

"Maybe they got a deal," suggests Kia, "to have the ad run in January."

Maybe a two-for-one.
Canada Post's mismanagement team is thrilled to promote in a second advertisement how wonderful it is to go to the Post Office to pick up one's own parcel--and in 2015 coming to communities all across Canada--your own mail.

(a sincere apology for the obscenity that follows...certainly does denote Canada Post's theme).

In reply to a senior's complaint about walking a long distance to the community mailbox at the corner, a postal official was quoted saying:  "There are considerable health benefits to walking."

Late with the empathy too.

Article (and video from D.Chopra, the boss) on Canada Post executive compensation is here.
The public trough.