Right, Wrong, and Our Families

My mother spent her final days in this world at the Ottawa Hospital, suffering from dementia and landing in the hospital after a series of mini-strokes. It was of course a terrible time – for her and for the family who loved this sweet and loving mom with all of our hearts.

On a visit one day, I entered her room to hear a male orderly yelling at her in the washroom, berating her for something she had no control over but was causing him more work.

My mom was a tiny woman physically, but in her glory days exuded incredible strength. That day, as she was being constantly berated by a man twice her size, I could hear her tiny voice and there was fear. “Do you see what you did?” he asked over and over again. Over and over and over again. Quietly, she said yes.

I was horrified and terrified at the same time. And shamefully, my fear of this man won out over calling him out. I was so afraid if I lashed out at him or reported him, my mother could well become the victim of further abuse.

I live with that shame of allowing fear for my mother’s safety to result in silence. I know if it happened today I’d have the strength and conviction of my efficacy to do better by my mom.

I have thought often of that day recently as I read and watch some of what has been happening at the city-run nursing homes. As painful as it is for me to recall my mother’s story, it’s near impossible to watch the videos of the senseless violence against good people.

What possesses people to behave like monsters? Mean, horrible monsters that use the power they have to inflict pain and suffering on the people they should be protecting. Words just don’t suffice.

And given the horror of what has been taking place at the city-run nursing homes, it’s incredibly distasteful to witness the city’s attempts to put a positive spin on the story.

I know for a fact, most of these councillors are parents themselves, all of course with parents of their own. Do they not see what has happened to other children’s parents? Yet they met this week and put on an happy face

“I know this has been a difficult few months for you,” Coun. Diane Deans told the senior staffers at a committee meeting. “I think what you have done today is give this committee great confidence that you have taken this with the seriousness we expect (and) that you are making monumental efforts to improve care for our most vulnerable residents.”

Hard on city staff? Please.

It’s been unbelievably brutal for the seniors and for their families fearing for their lives. That should be the city’s focus.

This isn’t a situation to be managed by the city’s high-paid communications department. And frankly, to turn this into a call for more money from the province? Incredibly distasteful.

How will increased funding prevent a mad man from beating on a senior? Isn’t that really the issue? And does a happy face help us deal with the truth?

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

When it comes to cost saving measures in the city’s snow clearing budget, apparently transportation committee chair Keith Egli has no trouble talking out of both sides of his mouth, depending of course on who he’s talking to!

You may recall that Egli – as transportation chair – led the charge last summer in calling for cost-saving measures for snow clearing that would have seen the city reduce its standards on when to implement snow clearing.

There’s little doubt that Mayor Jim Watson is desperate to find cost savings within the city’s budget to continue with his promise of a 2% tax increase.

Was Egli simply doing the mayor’s bidding? Or did he really believe cutting the standard was the right thing to do? That’s pretty hard to believe.

Impossible to believe actually when you look at more than 200 hundred of pages of e-mails Egli and his staff sent calling on city employees to clear up roads and sidewalks within his ward in the months proceeding the tabling of the report.

The e-mails obtained by On the City, From the Burbs reveal that while Egli was chair of the transportation committee and ultimately in charge of the report on snow clearing standards, he had no qualms directing staff to respond to his demands to take care of his residents’ desires, even when his residents were receiving the level of service the city’s standards dictated. But to make countless demands on city staff to pick up the level of service in his ward – and then stick handle a report calling for reduced service, well – that seems incredibly disingenuous. And politically opportunistic.

Here’s what he said to the media when discussing the issue of cost savings. “We wanted to maintain as much of that service as we still could but at the same time recognize there are financial constraints on what we can and cannot do.”

Snow clearing is one of those services that residents perceive to be a basic and essential services the city is supposed to deliver. “Pay more, get less,” one upset resident wrote to Egli. He’s not alone in that belief for sure. But it’s impossible to both respond affirmatively to each and every demand and then call on the rest of the city to see reduced service. Seldom can you appease everyone. But judging by Egli’s emails, easy to believe he wanted his residents to receive whatever standard they deemed to be appropriate.

Apparently he believes the squeaky wheel should get the snow plow. His office staff followed his lead. “Please take care of it today,” Egli wrote on one occasion.

Look, this column will likely garner the Knoxdale-Merivale councillor praise from his constituents. And certainly, it’s his job to respond to concerns in his ward. Several of the e-mails directed staff to deal with the problem as soon as possible, in one case asking if the work could be done within hours and questioning why it hadn’t been done earlier. Page after page, Egli and his staff do their best to get increased service into his ward.

In the end, the cost saving report died a spectacular death. Despite bringing the report forward in a sun-filled sleepy July, the public had their say. And they weren’t prepared to see reduced service.

End of story.

Rising Waters, Rising Tempers

It was the fall of 2016 and Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt was having one of his town hall meetings in North Gower, just an informal gathering to keep residents up-to-date on city issues. But the small crowd on hand had little interest in listening to much of what Moffatt had to say. They were angry, they were suspicious and they didn’t hold back in letting him know. The reason for their anger? A plan to hike their water and sewer bill on their municipal taxes.

It was clear the rural residents trusted Moffatt, but they were almost paranoid in their distrust of Ottawa council as a whole. The group had questions, lots of them. One man, particularly angry, suggested the rural residents might be able to accept the change, but feared this was nothing but a slippery slope — the start of bigger hikes on their taxes.

Moffatt, perhaps a little too trusting, assured him and the rest of the crowd that would not be the case. Fast forward to the fall of2017. Turns out Moffatt unwittingly lied to his residents, through no fault of his own. He actually believed the increases wouldn’t be jacked up. He was wrong. Not only was he wrong, but he wasn’t even included in the discussion about the change in policy. And at this week’s environment committee when the policy was unveiled, Moffatt uncharacteristically exploded. Here’s the thing. Moffatt is what you want in a local politician. He’s one of the best. He’s hardworking, he doesn’t speak to hear himself talk and you won’t see his face plastered on social media heralding his attendance at a variety of social events that have nothing to do with his work as a ward councillor.

As much as he can, when real work isn’t calling him, he spends his evenings with his family.

Here’s the background.

Up until the fall off 2016, all stormwater services were funded through the sewer surcharge.

Here’s how Moffatt explained it in a newsletter to his residents, “The creation of a separate fee for stormwater reflects the reality that stormwater costs are not related to water or water use, but are driven by rain and meltwater volumes and impervious surfaces like roads, buildings and paved surfaces. This fee will be charged to all properties across the city (except for agricultural and forested land), rather than only those receiving water bill.”

Frankly, that’s fair. Misleading rural residents isn’t.

Moffat, usually relatively calm lashed out at the committee, accusing environment committee chair David Chenushenko of blindsiding him. No theatrics here. Moffatt was on solid ground with his accusations. Chernushenko, not so much.

It’s standard practice for councillors affected by proposed new politics to be advised. It’s absolutely ridiculous they weren’t. Chernushenko, living in his little downtown world, didn’t show any leadership or collegiality. “What I would believe is that the cost would go up incrementally as anything does. I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated something as drastic,” Moffatt said. “I trusted them and I thought they were being honest. That’s what makes this incredibly disappointing. It’s my job to make sure they’re not telling me a bunch of sh…,” he told On the City, From the Burbs.

Information unveiled at Tuesday’s meeting showed the projected annual rate increases. Residents will pay as much as 13% more each year for storm water service over the coming decade. The city expects to garner $50.3 million in revenue next year, and $134 million by 2027. The average combined rate increase for water, wastewater and storm water will be 5.2% each year for the next five years, and 4.4% for each of the following five years.

The storm water fees alone are projected to rise at more than double those rates. Moffatt is vowing to fight this.

As he should.

Chernushenko?

Superman Ties and the Public Purse

When it comes to spending our money currying favour with the electorate, some city councillors just have no shame. Seems no purchase is too big or too small for city councillors to dole out our hard-earned income. What other job can you get elected, then use the electorate’s own money to help keep you in office? How many of these municipal politicians ever give pause before plunking down our money to entertain residents across the city, fly across the country or make charitable donations with our tax dollars? The charitable donations are particularly galling.

Keep in mind that’s our money and they get the tax receipt. And if they feel so strongly about a charitable organization, shouldn’t they be using their own money?

Of course they should.

For example, Kanata Coun. Allan Hubley bought a personalized Ottawa Senators jersey for $400 at a charity event. Say what The money apparently went to the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club, according to records accessed by my new blog On the City, From the Burbs. What became of the jersey? Good question.

Hubley has some other interesting expenditures which we’re picking up the tab for. For example, he used our money to buy a $25 tie, which according to his records will be worn at community events to promote his Smart City work.

Really?

The receipt describes it as a City Scape Superman tie! Illusions of grandeur perhaps?

Hubley isn’t alone.

Gloucester-South Nepean Michael Qaqish, though a first-term councillor, is learning the art of self-promotion quite quickly. (Note: I ran against Qaqish in the last municipal election. Clearly I lost! You’ll have to judge for yourself whether my columns are fair comment or not.)

Qaqish developed an affection for bigger-than-life posters of his image on bus shelters. In fact, if you peruse his 2016 expenses which are online on the city’s website, you’ll see that at almost $50,000 for the year, he’s leading the charge in the advertising category.

There’s always been a lot of talk about swag in the media, with purchases of personalized t-shirts, coffee mugs, even tattoos with the politician’s own image – allegedly for gifts, but look more like vanity purchases.

Qaqish spent about $1,200 on mini-hockey sticks to hand out to kids at games. The logo? His name of course! Hey, those kids have parents who can vote, even if the rising hockey stars can’t!

Sadly, there’s plenty more examples where these came from.

More later.

Yes…I’m Back!

Welcome to my new blog: On the City, From the Burbs.

Seems journalism has a stronger pull than I realized!

There are lots of strong journalism voices at city hall.
But there are never too many opinions. It’s good for the city and helps keep politicians honest!

So yes, I’m back!

I believe I offer a unique voice,as a journalist from the burbs with a distinctly suburban perspective.

I first started covering Ottawa City Hall back in the days of a one newspaper town. The Journal had shut down and the Citizen became the only game in town.

I first worked for the Ottawa Sunday Herald, founded by former CFRA broadcaster Lowell Green.

As a staffer at a small weekly, you covered everything, city hall, federal and provincial politics, courts, I was even the entertainment editor for a period of time.

But my real love was municipal politics.

Born in Arnprior, I’ve lived in this city almost my entire life.

As a strong Nepeanite, I remember the days of Aubrey Moodie as reeve of Nepean, distinctly recall the night Moodie lost the leadership to Andy Haydon and eventually become the first mayor of Nepean. And then Ben Franklin become the first elected mayor of Nepean.

All to say, as a resident and a reporter, I’ve lived and breathed municipal politics for years.

My focus has been on watching the bottom line, how city councillors spend our tax dollars, whether that’s swag bought for self-promotion or the multi-million dollar projects like Lansdowne Park.

I care about consultation, about letting the public have a say on the future of their community. It’s a principle not always seen at city hall.

I have no time for dishonesty, for politicians who are too afraid to stand up for and to the truth.

And so, having taking a voluntary buyout from Postmedia this past December, I’m finding I still have a desire to continue adding my voice to the mix.

No one has covered city hall longer than I have; no one has covered more mayors than I have. The more voices the better.

Of course, as someone who has lived, worked and volunteered in this city for many years, I’ve got friends and acquaintances across the city.

If I prevented myself from writing about them, there wouldn’t be many people I could columnize about!

For example, I was at Carleton University at the same time as Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, had the support on the campaign from Bay Coun. Mark Taylor and was defeated in the election by Michael Qaqish.

You’ll have to judge for yourself whether my personal relationships are clouding my opinion. I can promise that if I write about someone I know, I’ll be open and transparent about what that relationship is. And while I’ve known Watson for almost 40 years, no one has ever suggested I’ve ever gone easy on him, most notably Watson himself!

Hope you enjoy the read. Offer your thoughts. Question my opinions, add your own.

The best municipal government is one we all participate in.

Look for my first column this weekend.

Cheers!