Civics assignment

July 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, johnson street bridge, victoria | 1 Comment

Ok, if you live in Victoria BC, or if you live in any city anywhere and have chafed at scandals related to your political leaders and how your bureaucratic staffers are handling civic and fiscal issues, here’s your assignment: hie yourself over to FOCUS Magazine and read Sam Williams’s latest article, Victoria City Hall: well paid but confused (just published – and now live online, too!).

I’ve been made so angry by this whole issue – which started for me in April 2009 with the decision to replace the Johnson Street Bridge: a decision made within 20 minutes of council chit-chat on the basis of a skewed, very skewed Power Point presentation by the City’s Engineering Department; a decision that represents the biggest expenditure in the City’s history but that was made with NO public input; a decision about a project that wasn’t even on the radar prior to 2009 (so I’d just like to say “stfu” to all those idiots who say “let the leaders lead, we elected them” – and besides, speak for yourself, I voted for none of the ones leading the replacement charge) – so angry that my whole attitude about Victoria has shifted. For the worse.

I’m not sure whether voting the bad-asses out in 2011 will change things for the better. Read Sam Williams’s article and you’ll understand that there’s an entrenched bureaucratic culture – one of piggy-ness and entitlement – and that this culture unfortunately is incredibly hard to shift since it can’t be voted out because these staffers have contracts that would cost the city millions to break. So what is to be done?

Some excerpts from Victoria City Hall: well paid but confused:

…the number of City Hall staffers making more than $100,000 a year jumped from 15 in 2008 to 50 in 2009. According to Statistics Canada (2006) only 4 percent of Canadians have annual income greater than $100,000.

City Manager Gail Stephens topped the list with remuneration of $186,418.09 and expenses of $168,443.94. The City’s Director of Communications, Katie Josephson ($115,369.52) said Stephen’s high expenses “included transition costs for moving to Victoria [from Calgary] that included losses on [her] house sale” as well as “moving expenses, travel and professional dues.”

Dear reader: who has ever heard of an employee (hired at the start of the current recessionary mess) getting a six-figure bonus to compensate for “losses” on a property in the city the employee is leaving? Huh? Did someone force Gail Stephens to sell her property in Calgary so she could buy one here? Oh wait, she didn’t buy a property in the City of Victoria – no, she bought in Saanich, which means she doesn’t even pay property taxes to the City of Victoria. (This might explain why she’s willing to cripple the city with borrowing debt for a new bridge: her property taxes won’t go up because of it.)

The pay increases for top management are obscene. Mike Lai’s and Peter Sparanese’s “remuneration increased by roughly 20 percent in 2009.” In words: Twenty percent. Meanwhile, the regular union folk employees at City Hall are being told to toe the line at 2%. And in another meanwhile, the regular rank and file at the Provincial level of government have been told to expect 0%. But our municipal princes (and princesses) of upper-level bureaucracy are making out like Wall Street fat cats, with 20% pay increases and six-figure expense accounts.

It’s a good thing I have low blood pressure because even so it feels like I’m blowing a head gasket.

It gets worse, of course. The salary scandal is just the frame around the fetid mess of crap that city staff and politicians have made of the whole Johnson Street Bridge issue. Read on in Williams’s piece to see how they’ve even managed to misrepresent earthquake risk – all, in their deluded quest to foist strips of new roads in our downtown (roads that will suburbanize Old Town). Oh, right: and into the bargain deal with a tiny short little bridge that’s being used as the excuse and catalyst for god knows what.

Go read the article and think about change.

1 Comment

  1. With two communications people specifically for the bridge, I’m disappointed the city didn’t manage to manufacture a more convincing crisis than the earthquake risk to the bridge. As you point out, it wasn’t even an issue before 2009 and just this week it has become such an issue that the bridge may need to be closed by 2012? Are all of the city owned or operated buildings able to withstand an 8.5 earthquake?

    It’s sad and frustrating how politicized all the communications from the city are (the “By The Numbers “fact” sheet, the recent mail-in survey, Gail Stephen’s threats of closure if we don’t vote for borrowing, the cost of refurbishment being higher than the cost of replacement, the continual increase in cost estimates, the fact that any “public engagement” has not tried to truly engage the people of Victoria).

    The fact that the city has been so political and is so determined to replace the bridge seems to indicate that there is a personal agenda driving this — and the prospect of a $80 million construction contract is pretty juicy!

    Comment by Daniel — July 28, 2010 #

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