Ewen I can see the Ink Fish

Dear Editor,

Re: District must guard privacy, THE RECORD, Mar. 26, 2008.

The ink fish, when it senses danger, releases a cloud of ink, in which it hides until a later time, so that it can emerge when safer conditions prevail.

The series of news articles and letters in the RECORD, culminating with the above referenced letter from School Board Chair Michael Ewen, provide us with a view of actions by Ewen that mirror those of the ink fish when its alarms go off. Ewen would have us believe that the matter facing the Royal City Education foundation is one of the District guarding the privacy of scholarship and bursary winners. The fact that the winners’ names are published in the community newspapers and that they are also announced at convocation exercises shows the utter absurdity of this argument. It is the cloud of the ink fish.

The real issue, as it always is at School District 40, is one of transparency and accountability. Issues, particularly of finance, are so intertwined at the school district, the business company and the RCEF, that interested parties, simply, are unable to navigate through the system. They are left to guess which thimble the pea is under.

Many people in this community question as to how the School Board could reach such a dysfunctional and deplorable state.

The account of the Mar. 11 School Board meeting by reporter Niki Hope gives us some insights to the question.

First, how is it that the School Board deals with substantive issues with only four of its members present? Although quorum requirements are met, this is no way to conduct business.

Second, the lack of professional approach in acquiring legal opinions is extraordinary. Questions of law should be presented to legal counsel, in written form and answers should also be supplied, in written form, to all members of the board. To have this all done verbally by the chair is a recipe for disaster. It leads errors, is an abuse of process, and indeed, that night resulted in the bullying, by the chair, of a dissenting board member. That Trustees Watt and Bennett voted with the Ewen on this issue ( incidentally, they are members of the same political slate), speaks to their lack of judgment, ethics and their sense of decorum.

Third, the board deals on a verbal basis on almost all matters brought before it. Often, there are no written reports distributed in advance to interested parties. Much of the discussion and decision- making that should take place at open meetings is done in closed meetings. Again, we see a huge deficit in transparency and accountability. It is no wonder then, that except for a very few dedicated people or for crisis situations, public participation in board matters is almost negligible.

The public committee meetings Ewen once boasted about have ground to a halt.

The time has come for a complete forensic audit, of both finance and process, at School District 40.

Casey Cook,

Director, Voice New Westminster.

Letter to The Record, (RE: Voice should be up front March 22, 2008)

I appreciate Vince McFadyen’s views on government and politics in our city and I would like to answer the questions he posed to Voice New Westminster surrounding transparency: Who paid for the most recent Voice ad? As previously stated in the Record, our ads are paid for by Voice New Westminster through our ten dollar membership fee and a 2007 fundraiser held at Clancey’s pub. In addition, we will be holding a fundraiser at Taverna Greka April 6th to raise money for the upcoming election.

Mr. McFayden wishes to know the names of our candidates for the election; Voice will hold our nomination meeting September 22, 2008. The candidates will be selected in an open process by our members, and of course, new members are welcome.

We also have previously encouraged the labour council endorsed candidates to comply with the same level of transparency: Will Councillors Cote, Harper, and Williams – if they haven’t already – supply the public with the value of their Burnaby campaign office, the salary of their campaign manager, and the value of the phones at the Burnaby office from the last election? Will the self- proclaimed choice of labour Mayor Wright do the same?

Our candidates will be elected in an open process this September, but what about the labour council endorsed candidates? My understanding is that they are selected by a committee and are required to sign a document of some kind as a condition of endorsement. Who is the committee, are they residents of New Westminster, and what does the document entail?

Under stricter new provincial legislation municipal slates must declare themselves and their financial dealings during the upcoming election: Voice New Westminster is setting an example of transparency and openness by supplying this information in advance. We are declaring who we are, how we select candidates, and how we raise money. Will others do the same?

Steve McClurg

A response to Mr. McFayden’s letter to the editor

Without exception, every letter that Mr. McFadyen has written to the editor has supported the Mayor and Council, endorsed the School Board and has criticized VOICE New Westminster for being “negative”.

What the man consistently fails to recognize is that VOICE New Westminster is an organization that is grounded in fact and is attuned to community sentiment; that is something quite different from being “negative”.

One only has to read the newspapers to validate that difference. For example, the School Board is fraught with crises after crises; and if the Mayor and Council were proactive about listening to City residents, there wouldn’t be as frequent a need for them to (as Mr. McFadyen so aptly stated) “… back down and revisit position when the City’s voters let their displeasure be known”.

VOICE New Westminster is all about responsible governance and issue-based community advocacy (asbestos, pubs, pools and projects, for example).

As a VOICE Director, it is frustrating to me that Mr. McFadyen (and others) purposely ignore that well documented fact.

As for Mr. McFadyen’s curiousity about who the VOICE endorsed candidates will be, I can say that VOICE has a scheduled candidate selection process and, like the Labour Council does, will announce candidate names closer to election time.

Personally, I am curious to know if the Mayor will remain “the unofficial choice of Labour”, or if, in fact, that endorsement will be made “official” this time.

Susan Wandell
Director, VOICE New Westminster

Crime: Is it all relative?

In a recent Maclean’s Magazine article the editor wrote: “Being ranked the third most dangerous city in the country is not the sort of achievement most Mayors are willing to acknowledge. Lucky for Winnipeg, he goes on to write, Sam Katz is not most Mayors.” “We have a problem with crime. We are going to address it. End of story.” Says the City’s blunt-spoken mayor.” (on line edition March 24, 2008)

Too bad for New Westminister that we do not have a mayor willing to acknowledge problems when they exist. “Don’t believe everything you read in Maclean’s magazine, Mayor Wayne Wright told members of the New Westminster police board at its most recent meeting.”

According to the Royal City Record, within two days of the Maclean’s article, Chief Lorne Zapotichny and acting Deputy Chief Dave Jones attempted to put together statistical information that refuted the Maclean’s story and showed that crime in New Westminster is actually on a downward trend.

However, a story in the Burnaby Newsleader the same day reported that even though the New Westminster Police Services statistics show a decline over the past 10 years, the crime rate is still higher than the provincial average—something the city’s police chief attributes to the fact New Westminster is an urban centre and also home to five SkyTrain stations.

New Westminster’s crime rate for 2006, according to the BC Police Services statistics, is 28 points higher than the provincial average of 114. So what is it? Do we have a problem with crime in our city? Are we spending just a little too much time on defending ourselves and not enough time on the real issue of crime?

Deputy Chief Jones stated that New Westminster can only “compare ourselves to ourselves” when analyzing crime statistics. Really!? So it would be OK if we are the most dangerous city in the world as long as on an incremental basis we are trending downward while we maintain our number one status?

Here is the real question: Is New Westminster safe? We hear of so many crime-related incidents in this small community. As a member of the Community Policing Committee I get a first hand report and I am not comforted. There appears to be an emergency siren running every hour somewhere in our city. One Sunday morning I counted 15 emergency vehicle sirens between 9:00 am and noon.

I applaud the members of the South Burnaby Community Policing Committee who are holding a first-ever public safety forum slated for Thursday March 27. Their proactive approach will go a long way towards addressing the safety and security concerns of their community. I suggest that New Westminster Police Board and Police Services could learn a lot from its neighbours. (Burnaby was ranked 13th in the Maclean’s survey.)

Jan Fialkowski

WayneRite Denies Wooing Metro’s Waste?

It is very difficult for anyone to find any plausibility in Mayor Wayne Wright’s denial of wooing Metro Vancouver’s waste. Are we really to believe that our mayor has no idea if New Westminster is on Metro Vancouver’s radar as a potential waste to energy site?

Lisa Spitale, the city’s director of development services, was asked by council to visit England’s integrated waste management system. A strange request considering the mayor is quoted in the March 15, 2008 Record as saying, “Our garbage is not ours. It belongs to the GVRD.” So our city council asked a city employee to look at something, while on holiday, that is a regional issue. Apparently Councilor Harper will also be visiting a waste-to-energy facility in Japan. Maybe we could have Ms. Spitale give a report back to the residents of New Westminster at the next council meeting.

In the past Metro Vancouver has been very sensitive to the wishes of its member municipalities. I have no reason to believe that they would act any differently on a matter as important as this one. The March 15, 2008 Newsleader stated that New Westminster is, “one of several cities in the Lower Mainland that Metro Vancouver is eyeing for a new waste-to-energy facility.” In the same article Metro Vancouver’s Bill Morrell states that, “Port Moody, North Vancouver and Surrey are also among the cities listed as possible locations.” It is ludicrous then for our mayor to state that he has no idea about the possibility of this.

Waste-to-energy is good technology but given the air quality issues, the past pollution problems of the Braid and Sapperton area, the truck traffic implications and the access and egress of the site one has to wonder if this is really the best location for such a facility.

In the March 15, 2008 Record Wright said, “I want to be there at the beginning and not playing catchup.” Well, I’m sure he is there, at the beginning, leading the charge. The residents of New Westminster would like to be there too and be as informed as possible.

– Neil Powell, founding director, Voice New Westminster

WELCOME TO THE THIRD COSTLIEST CITY IN THE GVRD AND THE SIXTH MOST DANGEROUS CITY IN CANADA TO LIVE IN

Kudos to Councillors Bob Osterman and Betty MacIntosh for taking a stand during council’s budget deliberations this year. The last five years have seen budget increases that simply are alarming. The increases have positioned New Westminster to be the third highest taxed jurisdiction in the GVRD (Metro).

The two cities ahead of New Westminster, West Vancouver and White Rock, are positioned where they are primarily because of a virtual and comparative absence of an industrial and business sector. This is not so in New Westminster, although with the addition of many housing units, and the loss of many jobs in the city, we are fast becoming a bedroom community.

What makes the financial situation in New Westminster even more perplexing is that the city has had access to revenues from gaming and from the City’s electrical utility. These revenues last year totaled between 8 and 9 million dollars. Given these numbers, it is clear that the tax and spend crowd truly are in control at 511 Royal Ave. I want to be really clear here, that I am not commenting on city staff. My remarks are aimed directly at political decision-makers.

With the onslaught of high-rises, our so called leaders are under the illusion that the residential growth will lead to prosperity for the city. A recent spate of literature on the topic indicates that quite the opposite is true.

In New Westminster, because of the city’s failure to maintain a competitive Development Cost Charge (DCC) and amenities schedule, the city’s infrastructure is falling behind. An article in the Record recently, quoted the Mayor as saying that the infrastructure needs list totaled over $250M.
You read Wright! A quarter of a billion bucks!!

Consider the budget increases, the access to extraordinary revenue streams for the city, the fact that not a single recreation/leisure facility/arts facility/firehall has been added during this Mayor’s tenure (in fact, the Burr Theatre and the Moody Park Pool have been shut down), and you have to wonder who is running the ship. Could it possibly be the crew of The Queen of the North?

Consider that, in the city’s emergency services, no additional police (the addition of which explains tax increases in some jurisdictions), and the fact that the fire plan has not been added to (the city badly needs a new third hall), makes the current financial situation even more questionable. Throw in the recent MacLeans article on dangerous cities (more on that elsewhere). It all adds up to poor political leadership.

Councillors MacIntosh and Osterman, hang in there. There will be better times ahead.

Meanwhile, as the old adage goes, it is difficult to soar like an eagle when you are flying with turkeys.
– C.C.

Circling the Wagons and Firing Inward

I watched with great interest as all the the pork choppers were ordered to write Letters to the Editor in defense of the hiring of the city’s newly hired Spin Doctor, Blair Fryer. Chris Bradshaw, communications staff person for the BCGEU – spouse of Lynn Osborne, Chuck Puchmayer’s Constituency assistant, Stan Lovick, Health Sciences Association staff person, co-worker to Rebecca Maurer communications staff with the HSA, and Blair Fryer’s spouse. We also have home renovator and wannabe union man Rick Carswell; for some reason known only to them, the UFCW have made him a member and then made him a Labour Council delegate.Good grief, pickings must be slim, you would think they could find a worker. In fact, they could find no one to write in whose salary or perks weren’t tied to a union in order to defend the Labour Council slates hiring of a Spin Doctor.

With the first sign of criticism, the LC slate went into full panic mode and had these guys load up their muskets and begin firing inward producing the most babbling vitriolic nonsense ever seen in the Record. Now I see associate slate member Wayne Wright has placed a city ad in the Piffle – and he’s Wright this has gotta be some kind of joke – defending the good doctor. In the end this resulted in the exit of Brian Coates Brian Coates a loyal 33 year employeee of the city. I guess that’s okay in Wayne’s World.

RE: B.C. to tighten civic election rules

I was pleased to see that the Province is introducing legislation to tighten municipal election finance rules for the upcoming election. The Minister said it was in reaction to the Coquitlam First organization that raised $100,000 in campaign donations, but didn’t have to disclose the donors because it wasn’t an official electoral organization. Voice New Westminster believes this is badly needed legislation, but we also agree with NDP MLA Charlie Wyse that it doesn’t go far enough. Voice has already started complying by supplying the public with the financial sources for our ads in a letter to the editor.

However, will the unofficial slate endorsed by the Labour Council in the last election, that included councillors Cote, Harper, and Williams- if they haven’t already – come forward with a complete accounting of all donations? Will School Trustees do the same if they haven’t? Will they include the market value of in-kind donations. What was the value of their campaign office in the Burnaby union headquarters? What was the value for the use of phones, and how much was their campaign manager paid? In addition, will the self-professed choice of labour, Mayor Wright declare any in-kind donations from this group if he hasn’t already.

The New Westminster NDP added a municipal mailing to their 2005 financial statements declared to Elections BC. Were candidates from the Labour Council slate included in this mailing? Was Mayor Wright included? If they were included and haven’t declared it will they do so? I was a member of the NDP in 2005 and I don’t recall a motion to approve a municipal mailing, either by the President at the time Councillor Harper or his successor Rick Carswell. Was it even approved by their members?

Voice New Westminster began complying with the new legislation even before it’s been introduced in the legislature. In the spirit of transparency will the Labour Council slate and Mayor Wright do the same?

Steve McClurg, city issues chair, Voice New Westminster

(NewsLeader March 13, 2008)