Never give a sucker an even break!
Ron Bolin: June 26, 2013
Never give a sucker an even break: Words of wisdom from the tongue of W.C. Fields to City of Nanaimo Staff who have taken it to heart leaving Council and the Public to cope with the consequences.
Step one in this sucker making process is to keep Council and the Public in the dark on upcoming issues until just before the meeting at which they will be presented for action. Make sure the agenda is several hundred pages long so that even reading the thing in such a short time will be a trial, let alone understanding it. And of course the public, even those who try to keep up with such things, mustn’t have the time for any research or to organization on these issues until after a decision has been made. The current time frame for public discussion of issues being brought forward to Council is 4 days, two of which are working days for those Councillors with jobs as for many, if not most, of our citizens.
Two: Try to set a meeting time for as many meetings as possible which minimizes the number of citizens who can attend, especially for meetings where money topics will be presented. Thus we find that COW meetings where most discussion of budget and money matters takes place are at 4:30pm in the afternoon. I must hasten to add that, to their credit, Council has put its Regular meetings on line for some time, and in addition made the executive decision to hold the COW meetings in the VICC Council Chambers rather than the small board room at the new SARC building. They also took the step of ensuring that the meeting would be available on video by the day after the meeting do that all citizens have the potential to view their Council and Staff in action, even if not in live performance.
Three: Hold a lot of in camera secret meetings while muttering the magic words: land, labour and litigation which covers a lot more ground than is provided for such by sections 90-1 and 90-2 in the Community Charter. The magic which transfers the generic L, L or L to secret in camera meetings is exquisitely performed right before the eyes of all onlookers in the same manner as Yossarian was flummoxed in Catch 22. Because it’s a secret, one can’t question it… and only Council has the power to bring about this transformation –or to release it. A report on releasing the power of dead in camera issues has been in preparation for some time, and each time it looks like it will come forward, there always seem to be inexplicable delays. It has been rumoured that a report on the status of in camera issues over the past couple of years has been available for several months, but sits languishing in the hands of Staff. Whenever Council asks for the status of this report, Staff responds that it is coming: “Soon come” as they say in Jamaica.
I, for one, would really like to see the minutes and the vote of the in camera meeting which decided that the Colliery dams should be destroyed. I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what could be secret in such a decision. The situation called for long overdue action, for public notice and emergency preparation, and for a clear plan for dealing with the problem. The failure to act publically before making a complicated decision in these circumstances has cost all of us dearly and shows no signs of letting up.
Four: Minimize interaction between Council and Citizens on issues. Council seems to do fine in attending social events where they are unlikely to be asked embarrassing questions. When in the mood, Councillors are also willing to discuss or correspond on issues with individual citizens. But for engaging issues with citizens who have come together to discuss one or more issues, there seems to be no appetite. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that in the indoctrination programs which are given to new Councillors and as refreshers to incumbents, Councillors are strenuously cautioned about the dangers of making their ideas public: Silence avoids controversy. Are ideas and opinions really so dangerous? Aren’t they what democracy and politics are really all about?
In this area credit is due to Councillor Anderson who promoted and brought Council to its first town hall meeting with the budget as its subject. The meeting was hampered by a subject so broad as to be bewildering for most on both sides of the table and so new for those same sides that they tended to be very tentative. Perhaps not much was accomplished on the subject matter, but a great deal was gained in the experience. It needs to happen more regularly and on topics more confined. It could be that after gaining experience we could put together something extraordinary. Perhaps to avoid clashing with the restrictions of Council on the definition of meetings, what we need is an outside organization to sponsor these events to which Council and Staff may be invited. I have often felt that Council needs a venue outside Council at which ideas could be thrashed out without the formality of a Council meeting.
Five: Have an ambiguous policy on what documents are public and which ones will appear on line. We need an information policy which defines as public all documents which are not declared to be secret, and these documents should be available on-line. Excepting the cases of historical data which may require special efforts to place on-line, the rest should be available when received unless declared secret. The need to make FOI requests should be brought to a minimum. The public has paid for the documentation which the city receives, or it has been provided without cost by the public. Why should it not be available without special request?
Six: Do not record or report on complaints. If you don’t hear them they don’t exist. The City needs a formal mechanism for recording and reporting on citizens’ complaints whether received in person, by phone or by email to City Hall. Complaints need then to be tallied and quarterly reports on those complaints should be published. This mechanism allows both citizens, senior Staff and Council to see the pattern of complaints by type and by area of the City and, over time, to see whether complaints are growing or are being reduced. This document can form part of the budget process.
I am sure that I have missed some important ways in which Council, as the Board of our Corporation and acting on our behalf, could improve transparency, public confidence and in the longer run public participation in the process of improving our City. Confidence and participation cannot be bought: they must be earned. I look forward to your observations and suggestions for improving the political conversation in Nanaimo.
“The City needs a formal mechanism for recording and reporting on citizens’ complaints whether received in person, by phone or by email to City Hall.”
The city needs a new paradigm period!
Recent decision by council, Colliery dams, Wellcox, VICC hotel, etc., have not so much been made by and authoritative agency as by children, unaccustomed to responsibility, making fatuous ill considered gambits.
A decaying downtown, entrusted to a moribund DNIBA, is dismissed by happy talking councilors who lack the imagination and courage to do anything substantial other than repeat, for their own personal satisfaction, how wonderful Nanaimo is! In the meantime the able bodied move on to greener pastures.
Religiously attending council or committee meetings when television reveals a more intimate view of councilor’s facial expressions (i.e. revealing what they thinq rather than what they say) apparently hasn’t moved many minds in the fourteen years I have lived downtown (or indeed my business contact with the town since 1959).
We have an executive body of, essentially, old age pensioner aided and abetted by loquacious followers, also old age pensioners, who, according to Marshall McLuhan seek direction “looking in the rear view mirror”.
Nanaimo is shackled, by default, by a staff that has weaseled its way into control by inertial: i.e. if council doesn’t fall into line stall until it does.
We have an, apparently, self-satisfied public who choose not to vote, or follow, or participate in any way in the public debate. We have one or two self-styled critics from the galleries who continue to pursue the same old same old while failing to notice the king is dead.
Thank you as always Ron for your great posts (and Roger I enjoy reading your comments).
One of the biggest detriments, I find, to being involved in municipal politics is the way the public is treated by the media and council. Many of us ‘general public’ are interested in bringing our point of view to the table, but it is not welcomed and you have to be made of tough stuff to endure the procedures and the media backlash.
Last year I made a presentation to the Northern Gateway Review Panel. I was unprepared for how supportive, friendly and helpful they were! It made me realize just how hostile the atmosphere has been when I have made delegations to the Nanaimo City Council and other ‘Public’ meetings. (be grateful, I just deleted my whole rant about Airport Development)
Public speaking is difficult for many people and rather than feeling welcomed you are stared at by stoney faces and handled with minimal procedural nicities. How different it would be if we were greeted with smiles and encouraged with words of thanks for taking part in the public debate, perhaps even some recognition for the personal time and effort given.
Nope, bang you’re 30 seconds over the limit, finish up and clear out. Consquently most of us remain silent, our input and support is lost, and we remain dissatisfied.
I read in today’s Daily news that a Chinese company is close to an agreement to build the VICC hotel.
Ummmmm, why do we have to reach thousands of miles across the Pacific for a simple construction like a convention hotel?
*We built NRGH, an infinitely more complicated structure, with local design and construction workers and infrastructure!
Click to access wellcox.pdf
Roger: This offer comes from a Chinese travel business which can and will bring its Chinese travelers to Nanaimo using the hotel as a base for the Mid Island. This ready-made supply or hotel room occupants and the addons which this permits, allows them to make a businesslike offer, asking only for the 10 year tax exemption to which anyone building or extensively renovating a hotel or motel is, courtesy of our free spending Council, entitled. They will pay market value for the hotel property and eventually will pay taxes on it. They are also paying for a couple of hundred parking spots in the VICC parkade and I expect that they will open their own car rental agency to serve the hotel visitors. They will have this end of the Chinese travel and Vancouver Island tour business sewn up. The tours booked into their Nanaimo Hotel will also undoubtedly serve Chinese investors looking for properties in the Mid Island area and could be a real game changer -for better or worse I will not speculate.
The firm which has been hired to design the hotel is out of Vancouver, has a very good reputation and were apparently responsible for the design of the Olympic Village housing project.
The firm which has been hired to design the hotel is out of Vancouver, has a very good reputation and were apparently responsible for the design of the Olympic Village housing project…………….
The Olympic village was not without controvesy.
There were complaints from Olympians as to the quality of the units with claims of hearing noises from two or three appartments away.
There was also problems with the sale of the units with buyers compaining of shoddy construction.
What justification there was , I do not know, but I have a feeling that development has a ‘Pacifica appartment ‘ aire to it.
Should this proposed hotel be successful ; then well done but at what consequence?
There are many questions to ask before bestowing the ‘Order of the Downtown Business development ass’, Tourism Nanaimo credit of excellence or the ‘Order of Nicol Street ‘ awards on those involved.
We could start with; what are 200 to 400 Chinese ‘visitors’ going to do in Nanaimo?
Walk the harbour or go to the ‘Old City Quarter’??
Tourism to Canada is in decline why would visitors come to Nanaimo at the expence of Victoria?
I think the problems with the Olympic Village were unrelated to the architectural firm that did the design.
As for the hotel, I don’t want to be cast in the role of defending the situation. I merely point out that I am not sure what the City could legitimately do to stop this from happening -or that anything better could happen with the property. I believe the land is zoned for a hotel. The tax exemption is available to anyone who will spend $2 million or more in building or renovating a hotel or motel. I suppose the City could refuse to rent the parking stalls. I’m not sure what else could be done without destroying any impression of Nanaimo being open for business unless federal intervention under foreign investment regulations were found to be in play.
Quite the contrary.
‘If’ we are to believe the complaints against the Olympic Village /Condo’s the design/quality control was at the heart of the problem.
As to stopping the hotel ; this is out of the question.
Like Cable Bay the City, be it staff or Council, have decided to go ahead with the project through hell or high water.Nothing is going to change this , just as nothing will change the Colliery Dam decision.
Hard nosed decisions by Council/Staff can only be couteracted by hard nosed opposition.
7000 signatures did not change the Cable Bay outcome.
I shudder to think what it will take to change any hotel or dam decision..
To those that think we live in a democracy; think again…
Deep & black humor that applies to us..??
Wellcox update: after the celebrations. Hey ho and a noddy noddy no!
When the new owners are safely ensconced in their brand new tourist hotel, (VICC! who cares about conferences?), and the hordes get a glimpse of the view, that’s when the fun begins.
All that deep sea loading stuff, separating it from the water, will move to Duke Point. Then hey presto that lineal strip of land will, indeed, be waterfront: that’s when local speculators really move in.
Huh! Why didn’t I thinq of that before. Cheap waterfront land: fuggedit! I’ll bet Ron and Jim did: they just kept mum!
There are one or two minor problems however.
Vancouver, suffering decades of take over, became unaffordable. With a growth rate of only 4% annually it has become a speculator’s, empty suite, haven.
Vancouver real estate is now in protracted decline. Mom, pop and the kids moved up the valley making it, too, unaffordable and in the process confounding all the green city bullshit.
I used the past tense because the jig is up: the land of the mighty dragon is, itself, having problems. Nanaimo has come in at the tag end.
It takes a while for the penny to drop!
The acronym SARC will come to represent the first syllable in the word sarc-astic.
Would that Nanaimo would start hoeing its own row: agriculture?
“Deep & black humor that applies to us..??” Right Trailblazer.
On further thinquing, I conjecture the hotel has nothing to do with tourists driving off to see the wonder of the island: it is a real estate sales office.
200 hundred rooms will be filled with prospective buyers of the view properties lined up along the Wellcox property. Council hopes to made a killing giving first dibs to speculators offering condos to the evidently gullible tourists who will be herded off to see the view of the mud flats.
There is however a slight glitch. The bloom is off the rose: the offshore real estate bonanza in Vancouver has tanked and it never happened here. So council has its neck stuck out big time! A major characteristic of the city now is empty condos, rentals at 9% and unemployment at 3% because all the able bodied have de-camped to Fort McMurray!
The City, any city, should never get involved in speculative land deals.
No, not being SARCastic, just trying to get to the bottom of the mayor’s council’s clouded machinations.
“With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no . . .” As you like it. NOT!
It look as if the noose is tightening.
Why would the City of Nanaimo purchase land with limited access?
They did the same with the Joan Point Park which is landlocked by Cable Bay Lands & Island Timberlands ,development, properties and has no legal access.