The next term is not going to be an easy one for those who are elected. Candidates should be prepared to understand and have a position on the major issues that Council will have to face.
By Daniel Rodrigues
Published August 26, 2010
As the summer winds down and the kids return to school, local politicians and wannabes will be putting on their galoshes and walking shoes, readying themselves to knock on doors, shake hands and kiss babies, all in the name of getting elected on October 25.
Over the past term in Hamilton, we've seen some pretty interesting governance practices and behaviours: From a 'stolen' tape to a thrown pen during a council meeting; from 'threats of physical violence' to using one's position to try to avoid a ticket; from one too many split vote decisions to an economy that fell into the tank; from spending oodles of cash on questionable consultant's reports to deferring decisions to the next council term.
No matter how you slice it, the next term is not going to be an easy one for those who are elected, as revenues are expected to be down with demand up, as a result of the sluggish economy.
All that aside, here is a list of issues that candidates for (re-)election should be prepared to have a position on how they feel the City should go:
This inefficient, ten-year-old levy system (the only one in North America) has been broken from the get-go. Term after term, Council has deferred the problem to the next year, and we are getting closer to having to make a decision.
Even though a 'citizen's forum' has been formed to review the area rating formula, any recommendation to Council in November will be just that: a recommendation. Council is not obligated to honour the recommendation, or make any decision to change.
This divisive issue needs to be put to rest once and for all. When speaking to a candidate for Council, ask them what their position is; if they dodge a response with a 'wait and see' - call them out, as the facts and options have been on the table for years.
This could be one of the sleeper issues of the election. Hamilton's curbside recycling contract is up in 2013, which means that a decision on a new contract is made in 2012, and continuing to work backwards, means that the RFP goes out in 2011.
Faced with costing concerns, the City may be forced to look at converting our existing two-stream recycling program (containers in one blue box; paper and fibre in the other), to a single-stream recycling program (everything is in one box or co-mingled).
There is undisputed evidence shows that, while initial costs of single-stream versus two-stream may be less, the amount of contamination increases dramatically - meaning more recyclable materials will end up in a landfill. Figures show that a contamination rate in two-stream recycling is less than 2%, whereas single-stream contamination rates are as high as 13%.
The problem here is that it won't be Hamilton's landfill, it will be someone else's. So the question is: What's more important, saving money or protecting the environment?
Should Hamilton's transit operation operate outside of Council influence? It's a question worth asking, as there has been little to no significant change to the overall operation of the HSR since amalgamation.
Routing decisions are based on Councillor influence, and while a study was completed on the operation last year, no changes have been forthcoming.
Viewed as a 'social' service by many due to its 'public transit' moniker, even the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce recognized that in order for transit use to increase, it needs to be operated by an arms-length transit commission and be referred to as 'mass transit'.
The desire to change is there from the private sector, but where is the desire from our public representatives?
As Hamilton's tax pool continues to shift toward higher dependency on residential property rates due to the exodus of various businesses and manufacturers, is Hamilton doing enough to attract businesses to our glorious city?
The continuing sprawl of retail big-box development only further entrenches Hamilton into a 'bedroom' community status. Absent of significant manufacturing facilities that once graced our landscape, we must at some point in the very near future decide our direction.
Continuing at our pace of piecemeal development only exasperates urban/rural planners who see growing plots of mixed-use lands.
I'm not speaking of the Ancaster or Dundas Community Councils, or Ward meetings, or any other variation thereof: I'm speaking of Community Councils as they were intended when Bill C-130 came into force in 2007.
At the time, Council did a nicety by forming a Community Council Task Force to look at how Hamilton could benefit from full-fledged Community Councils like the ones Sudbury, Winnipeg, and Toronto use - but their weak-kneed recommendation was promptly placed on a shelf somewhere.
Community Councils as they are intended to be used can offer effective decision-making processes at the grassroots level. There are only three things a Community Council cannot make a decision on: Staffing issues, taxes, and the Official Plan.
While it is not recommended to strike fifteen Community Councils (which is one of the recommendations made by the Task Force), combining Wards (i.e. 6, 7,& 8 on the Mountain) into one Community Council can be quite effective in managing concerns within said communities.
Do we have the right people in the right positions within the City of Hamilton? Do we have the right number of people?
We've seen multiple changes in the City Manager's seat since we became a bigger City and subsequent changes in middle-management positions. The Director of Transit's position was effectively downgraded, with Don Hull now reporting to a Senior Director instead of the City Manager.
Someone once asked: "How many City managers (senior staff positions) live in Hamilton?" It's a fair question, as one has to wonder the level of commitment one has to a job in one town, when they live in another. The decisions they make should impact their home as well, and they need to be comfortable with those decisions.
With the pending effects of the economic downturn, demand for services will no doubt increase while revenue decreases. What plans are in place to manage the existing programs and services that will ultimately need to be restructured or eliminated as a result of this imbalance?
Without proper planning, rash decisions are made, and the resulting impact generates anger from the community at large.
Recognizing that a politician cannot execute some of the above points, they can still provide direction and guidance. As such, they need to have an opinion or at least an acknowledgment of what lies ahead as they enter the election race.
As our elected representatives, they will have an obligation to their constituents to make sure that the best possible plans are being supported. Far too many times, decisions are made based on what's appropriate for a single area, versus the benefit of the City as a whole.
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