Saturday, December 29, 2007

City Hall's New Year's Gift
to Oshawa Taxpayers

At a time when city hall is struggling to get next year's tax increase below 9%, and you are struggling to make your property tax payments, City Council has delivered a New Year's Gift to you to "relieve" the pain.

At a "reported" cost of just $30,000, city hall has hired professional writers and other "creative" people to prepare Oshawa's entry documents to the Livable Communities Contest. They have also seen fit to send Mayor John Gray and a city delegation to London, England, to "present" our entry.

So what is the present? Why Council has presented us with a gold medal as one of the most desirable cities of 75,001 – 200,000 population in the universe in which to live.

Out of 9 competitors though, 3 got gold and all the others got silver. It's nice that ALL competitors can go home a winner, isn't it. This is a model that could be introduced into the Olympics or the NHL to make everyone a winner. When everyone is a winner, though, the contest becomes nothing more than "smoke and mirror" optics for the politicians to brandish to their devotees back home.

Myself...I find it hard to believe that Oshawa City Hall would want to spend our hard-earned tax dollars to communicate how great Oshawa is to the world when they repeatedly voted to refuse Oshawa citizens information about a truly important issue--the plebiscite question they asked about our city's voting system. They asked that question but repeatedly voted to deny giving citizens information about it.

I always understood that communication started at home. I can't understand why they would want to communicate to the world and yet deny information to the people here at home. I guess they just didn't want your informed opinion about the question they asked.

If they didn't want your informed opinion...why ask the question in the first place?

People might have benefitted from knowing important stuff about the plebiscite question like “What it meant”, “What the meanings of the terms used in the question were”, “What the consequences were of the various choices they could make”, and yes, the question could have been asked in a simple and straightforward way rather than the confusing and convoluted way it was.

But the Mayor said it was not the city's responsibility to inform the public about any of this if you could imagine.

I did see the Oshawa's LivCom visual presentation and while it highlighted the new arena, the new courthouse as an example of brownfields renewal, our creek valleys and bike paths, the second marsh, the lakefront, etc., they did not portray our embarrassing downtown, the pathetic South Simcoe Street main entrance to our city from the 401, the only Lake Ontario city not having a marina nor did they highlight the fact that city council has voted to make Oshawa the largest city in Canada and probably the world to have a general vote without the use of formal civic political parties which are at present prohibited in Ontario.

While the presentation did comment on some communication
"highlights", it failed to mention the fact that City Council continually voted to deny the public information they needed to make an informed and reasoned decision on the plebiscite question.

Oshawa's delegation's verbal presentation to the competition panel was extraordinarily ordinary at the same time as being extraordinarily deceitful in what it didn't mention. But the $30,000 citizen tax money was professionally creative in putting our best foot forward in the accompanying video...and provided the Mayor and staff delegation a well earned holiday in expensive London.

Oh what the Mayor will do to "serve" this city!

And we learned a lesson...the "secret" of success lies in what you don't say.

Now Oshawa...go and convince your friends and neighbours nation-wide that you live in one of the most livable communities in the world.

After all, Oshawa politicians and civic administration gloated far and wide in press releases to every conceivable publication and website about this event where it appears that everyone was a winner.

With all of the efforts at communicating this stuff nation-wide and preparing all of the documentation required for the event, it just makes you wonder how city council has civic administration staff spending their time. Perhaps our civic administration is overstaffed and needs these superfluous activities to keep itself busy!

The cruncher though...I think the $30,000 price tag for all of the time and effort, not to mention travel costs, is vastly understated and I intend to file a "Freedom of Information" request to expose the "real" costs of this folly including the cost of carbon offsets purchased by our delegation, they claimed to the judging panel, to offset environmental damage done by their air travel.

Initial investigations show that the conference was held at the Thistle Marble Arch Hotel in London where our delegation undoubtedly stayed. Rooms start at 139.23 pounds/night so a 7 day total for 3 rooms amounts to £2923.83 + any applicable taxes for a minimum cut into the $30,000 budget of $5,701.04 CAD. This is before competition entrance and delegate registration fees, air travel and meals for three, entertainment, tuxedo rentals, London city transportation, hospitality, tour costs (as a day was set aside for this!), etc...and all those professional writers, photographers, graphic designers, voice-over actors and printers who prepared all of the full colour documents, slideshows, and videos...and oh, almost forgot---those carbon offsets!

In the meantime Oshawa, have a wonderful holiday and a contented New Year as you contemplate your tax bills for the upcoming year. There may be more LivCom debacles and more travel junkets planned for the New Year.

My final assessment of this taxpayer expenditure? Indications were that there were few entrants, delegate presentations seemed to have been made privately to the judges with little public audience or other display of interest, that large cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, etc. did not enter, that potentially all entrants were shortlisted to the final--in short, the whole contest was about meaningless optics and possibly a "holiday abroad" at taxpayer expense for the delegations. I wonder whether a cost/benefit analysis was done on this extravagance?

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