Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hola To Our $30M Slush Fund

I can never take Gord Henderson's place, I admit it.

He can keep his columnist job as long as he wants. The man is unbelievable. Our Mayor started speaking at around 7 p.m. and by at least 8:04 p.m. when I saw it not only had Gord absorbed everything that the Mayor had said in his speech even though he had not yet finished delivering it but he was also able to write a column and have it posted on the Windsor Star website.

The man is amazing as well because even before the Mayor finished his speech, Henderson was interviewing him. I will have to check my video of the Mayor's speech to see how Henderson did it. It must have been while people were applauding, the relatively few times that they did.

Oh I know, I'm being silly but I had to stay up late to write this BLOG. We know that Gord interviewed Eddie in advance of his speech. He must have been given a copy of it or was told about it in advance in detail so that he could write a column praising whatever it is that Eddie thinks he's going to be doing. I wonder if other media types were given the same courtesy. Heck I am still waiting for media accreditation from City Hall

I love the way things just come to Eddie out of the blue:
  • "Francis said the need for local incentives hit him, like a brick between the eyes, over the Christmas holidays while he was trolling websites and business publications looking for investment opportunities for Windsor."

I wonder if this was like the Youth Committee that just came to him when he was walking through Devonshire Mall or how he and President Strasser started thinking about their St. Clair deal over a lobster pot or how he just discovered the Lear site for the arena at a wedding in London. Why Eddie almost sounds Trudeau like doesn't he. Remember what I wrote before:

  • "How did Eddie come up with this great idea about a Town Hall meeting for kids. "The town hall idea came to Francis on a recent Friday night movie outing with his wife" said the Star. Now isn't that just like Pierre's walk in the snow when it just came to him to retire or Jean's walk when it came to him not to."

If you really want to know what the Mayor said, then just go to the City's website and read it for yourself. Let me just give you those some thoughts that I had as I listened to him last night and as I went through the speech:

--I listened to his speech on the radio first and what I found very interesting about it in a strange way was the inflection in his voice and how we started pronouncing certain things. Check out the audio or video for yourself and tell me if I'm wrong but in places, he sounded an awful lot like Mike Hurst. Is there a Windsor mayoral style that one develops over time when one becomes the Mayor so that you start sounding like the Mayor before you?

--I really like the style of speechmaking these days that the Americans have perfected and which the Mayor has copied.

You know what I mean, personalize things by talking about real people problems and referring specifically to letters written by people that one can incorporate in one's speech. It's all done to make it appear as if the speech is dealing with real issues from someone who has been out there looking for answers. The examples here were the comment from someone who works at Sutherland or the people who sent a Letter to the Editor of the Star praising the City or the airline executive.

I wonder why the Mayor didn't refer to all those people who wrote all those nasty things on the Windsor Star Forums. They were "off-message" I guess.

--At least on radio when I first heard the speech, the applause from the crowd did not start until well into Eddie's speech. Sure there were a number of interruptions but they were not frequent and certainly not sustained.

--The new phrase to be used this month is "change the conversation." It was used over a dozen times. As for myself, I thought the needle was stuck.

--I thought that this was one of the poorest delivered of Eddie's speeches that I've heard. He seemed extremely nervous for a good part of it but picked up the pace towards the end.

--The sloganeers have earned their keep. They came up with another one last night "Jobs Today." Mind you, if I had been helping the branders out, I would have added an "!" at the end to make it "Jobs Today!"

There, isn't that better to show how important it is to create jobs in the City. I am disappointed however that no name was created for the ad campaign that is about to be started for Greenlink. They should have been something. How about "Let Greenlink Transform Us" since it is

  • "A transformational investment. The type of investment that improves a city, an economy, and a quality of life."

--Aren't you glad to know what our main priority is now. No it's not branding although that was kind of snuck in towards the end of the speech. Rather it is jobs

  • "Let there be no mistake. Creating jobs, and re-invigorating our local economy, has to be the number one priority of Windsor City Council.

    And it has to become this community’s collective and shared responsibility.

    Bringing jobs and prosperity, to continue positioning Windsor for success in the new economy, must be at the heart of each of our decisions. More jobs for Windsorites has to be our primary goal."

I know, I know, where we can get 15,000 new jobs. The Mayor told us to call him if we had ideas.

  • "Do you know about businesses or other entrepreneurs looking for a world-class location in which to succeed and thrive? I’ll call them."

But I didn't really hear anything about cooperating with the Senior Levels or talking to the Ambassador Bridge Company. It was back to Greenlink and spending taxpayer money on ad blitz on a road that is dead. More stalling and delay. Again.

--The new program seems to me to be another THINK BIG gimmick. Dazzle the local folks with big numbers. It's another do-nothing talk scheme so that one can pretend to be doing something when in fact nothing is done. It is another planning extravaganza typical of bureaucrats and administrators rather than an action program to accomplish results.

--There was a reference to the Economic Development Commission who held an economic summit. How many months it take them to issue and report on this Conference and exactly how many jobs has it created? What makes anyone think that they will act more quickly

--Eddie kept talking about the problems that existed 30 years ago. Yet he and the Development Commission knew or should have known that the problems are so much more different today. He knew that years ago since the idea of the Commission started years ago-- and yet nothing significant has been done until it is almost too late. Action is taken not by planning but by trying to manage a crisis that has been caused by inattention to our economic reality.

--Here is one of the dumbest lines of the night as far as I'm concerned that makes his 5-point plan a joke. It is nothing more than an echoing of the first Schwartz report after it had clearly failed after it was used as a stall for I don't know how many months:

  • "These are initial suggestions. Ones that will stimulate debate at Council, and encourage the development of other ideas.

    Jobs Today isn’t intended to be the only solution, but a strong beginning."

Gee doesn't that sound an like something that was said on Face-to-Face that put the nail in the coffin of Schwartz #1. It is just the beginning that will allow conversation at Council---- while Windsor burns!

We don't need more conversation; we need action. But then again inaction is what this Mayor and Council are very good at.

--How is this plan going to be financed the Mayor asks... why Windsor is going to take a huge part of the Federal Gvernment program that is administered by the Province. Yes sir, we are going to get almost $2 billion for the border, $30 million for Ford and all of this money from the National Community Development Fund program. All for Windsor and little for the rest of Ontario.

Are we ever special! It is owed to us after all. We are entitled to it. That is what calling Senior Levels the "enemy" will do and threatening lawsuits accomplishes.

Unfortunately as the Premier said about the Conservative program:

  • "Ontario's Dalton McGuinty said Harper's announcement is "important" and "helpful" but "in the grand scheme of things it is not commensurate with the level of need and sense of urgency."

In other words, Mayor, do not hold your breath waiting for a cheque!

--now the Slush Fund that I didn't know about and wonder if you did, dear reader:

  • "I will also be asking City Council to make a historic, one-time $30 million dollar investment from existing sources to kick-start this fund...

    Our strong financial position means we can do this without new taxes, and without new debt."

Where the heck was this money hiding? I thought we did not have any spare money until after the arena was paid for. No wonder we can afford to spend millions hiring out of town lawyers and consultants.

Why didn't we use this money for watermains or for the arena or for roads and sewers? Why are the Tunnel Plaza Improvements being put off for years since that project only requires $10 million? No money for crossing guards or $800,000 for the Library System... what's going on here? Increasing taxes and levies...why???

We have existing sources, we can do this without new taxes or without debt. And why all the moaning and groaning about the budget if we have so much loose cash around. I wonder how much of the Maxess sale will go into this $30 million.

Too bad University, you're not getting any money for your Engineering Complex from this Council unless there's more slush money around somewhere.

--Apparently the fund that the Mayor is creating has the "the potential to build a $100 million Economic Development Investment Fund." I'm not sure how it gets from $30 million to $100 million

-Who is going to be responsible for this great fund of ours? None other than the Development Commission. And what will be Commission do first:

  • "We will need the help of our Development Commission to establish detailed criteria related to accessing money from the fund, and to help ensure that these taxpayer dollars are being used as effectively and efficiently as possible."

I hope they work faster than the Planning Department who was supposed to develop criteria for exemptions in Sandwich. Hopefully they will work faster than they did when it took them months to create the report after the Summit. And I trust that it will not take them the same period of time that it did to figure out that they needed some brochures.

You see what I mean about talking and inaction.

--I'm glad to see that Sutherland was dragged out. Does that mean that they are not closing their operation in Windsor? I hope not. Unfortunately, the Mayor did not talk about the unused parking lot for the Sutherland employees that the City paid for.

--I have to tell you that one of the great initiatives in the speech was something called "Long-Distance Commuting." Those sloganeers are good. However it's not really all that new.

The real credit for this program should go to the farm workers from Mexico and Mexicana airlines. Because what they do is what Eddie is suggesting.

Windsorites would go out west to work where there are jobs and send money back to the folks at home to keep our own local economy going. The odd time too they could come back home to visit.

Interestingly, the Mayor claims that he spends a lot of time at airports. Might be interesting to see how many trips were paid for by taxpayers over the last few years. Clearly he gets some of his information from EnRoute magazine since he quoted the former Mayor from Bogota. Is that still found on Air Canada planes?

Of course, the program is not ready to go yet:

  • "This won’t be simple. It will require careful planning and implementation...Many stakeholders will need to come to the table – including the airlines – to negotiate charter fares... It will include negotiating arrangements...Lots to do, lots of details to work out, and lots of people to speak with. But planning is well under way."

Yes, a good travel agent could figure out how to do this in about 15 minutes with a few phone calls.

So welcome to Windsor's equivalent of the Mexican farm workers long-distance commuting program. Perhaps we could have called the program "Goin' Down the Road" after the movie of the same name if they sloganeers had a sense of humor.

Under this Mayor, that is what we have become.

--The Mayor started talking about the border and made an impassioned plea for Greenlink again while the word is out that even he knows now that the Province is not going for it.

  • "Some would have you believe that this Council – and the people of Windsor – have been standing in the way. That we have been holding things back."

And what did the Mayor do... he quoted his speeches in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Those were the time periods of the long Schwartz studying of the border and making presentations to the Senior Levels that failed, Schwartz report #1, full tunneling which led to Greenlink in 2007. The Mayor is right when he talked about consistency:

  • "No one has the right to accuse us of changing our position. Or of not wanting to move forward with a border crossing solution.

    We have been consistent from day one."

Yes, consistently failing to arrive at a solution. That consistently has been stalling and threatening lawsuits whether it is the Senior Levels, the Ambassador Bridge Company or the County. He has consistently been late in making submissions. Has he ever actually given a formal report yet to the DRIC people that was due in the November, 2007? I'm not going to talk more about this since you have been reading my BLOGs and know what my position is. Most of the rest of what he spoke about Greenlink we've heard before.

--I find this amusing about Greenlink since it appears to me that the Mayor has admitted that he is not following the Council resolution introduced by Council Marra on tunneling:

  • "But let’s be clear. Our plan – Greenlink – is not what we ultimately might have preferred.

    It represents a compromise. It shows our willingness to listen and adjust, and take other points of view into consideration."

How times change. Wasn't Councillor Halberstadt slammed for using the C-word, "compromise." I guess it is okay if they Mayor uses it.

--We are told that we will "hear the call to take action." In other words, the blitz is coming, the blitz is coming.

  • "Later this week, City Council and I will be sharing with you a number of ways you can become involved. Sending a message to the Premier, to our Ministers, and to the decision makers at Queens Park."

I wonder how many books for the Library System could have been purchased instead of using it for an ad campaign that will not achieve anything.

--I'm so glad that the Mayor referred to Baltimore in his speech again. You remember Baltimore don't you... that is where Citistat is from. Citistat in case you have forgotten was the program that the Mayor ran on in order to be elected that was going to revolutionize municipal government in Windsor and save us millions of dollars. Unfortunately it is not yet been implemented and probably will never be.

--Of course there was the usual Eddie about all the wonderful things that are going on in Windsor and how we should brand ourselves and be positive. But here is the funny part about all this:

  • "It is my hope Council will commit to acting on all of those CSP initiatives that deal with the way the city looks.

    There are few sites as depressing as abandoned homes, storefronts, or gas stations. And the number of derelict properties in Windsor is disproportionately high given the prosperity we do have.

    These abandoned buildings are a blight on our city...

    Let’s consider the implementation of a green streets program, and encourage a tree planting and flower planting effort."

DDDUUUHHH! Am I living in the real world in Windsor? Hasn't the Mayor heard of something called the Interim Control Bylaw and the Demolition Bylaw? Haven't he and Council opposed for the last year and a half the efforts of the Ambassador Bridge Company to tear down the derelict homes that they own and create green space in partnership with the Green Corridor Group of the University?

This is totally ridiculous. I would have used a stronger word but this BLOG is G-rated!

--Finally, it was nice to see the Councillors sitting on stage this year and not sitting in the audience. By the way, I could not tell how big or how little the crowd was since the Cogeco cameras never seemed to be pointed to show us the numbers in the crowd.