What exactly was Allen Garr saying today?
The other night after our thoroughly enjoyable CityCaucus.com Christmas Cheer pub night, Daniel and I decided to drop in to the evening's city council budget meeting taking place across the street. As we arrived on the third floor most of the remaining speakers were all inside council chambers, and hanging out on the third floor was fidgety-looking Aaron Jasper (whose intended leap to provincial politics is looking a little shakier these days), Mike Jackson of CUPE 1004, Paul Faoro of CUPE 15, and Alex Youngberg of CUPE 391.
Mixing among the group of union bosses I spotted Vancouver Courier demi-columnist Allen Garr – also known as The Beekeeper – who appeared to be on his way home for the night. You have to wonder how many of these meetings Garr has sat through. Without question Allen Garr is the most experienced City Hall watcher on the beat. And as Courier readers fully understand, Garr is extremely loathe to criticize Vision Vancouver in any way.
By in large you can count on the Vancouver Courier to be a publication that parks its critical faculties in neutral when it comes to anything to do with Vision Vancouver. An exception to this is Sandra Thomas, the Courier's veteran reporter, who now contributes very good opinion pieces to the paper in the space vacated by Garr on Wednesday, and some of Mike Howell's 12th & Cambie columns.
This week's column by Garr was going to be no more remarkable than his usual tepid critique of Vision Vancouver's governance, except that when you begin to read it you start to think that Garr has finally seen the light:
Why is Vancouver having all these problems coming to grips with its budget when other municipalities in the region seem to be managing reasonably well?
Here's what I've concluded. And Vision won't be pleased.
Allen, tell us more! Why will Vision be frowning after they read today's column??
Garr sets things up like he's finally going for the jugular. For months he's been waiting to pounce. Allen, don't hold back!
At times the Vision-dominated council has tried to explain its woes by pointing the finger at decisions by previous councils for passing on costs that are more than the taxpayer is willing to bear.
Oh, the ecstasy! Garr is finally sounding like he's going to criticize Vision Vancouver. Hell hath frozen over. The cow jumped over the moon! What does he say next?
There is some merit to this.
Oh. Drat. A bit of a buzzkill that line. Oh well. I'm still ready to hear him dissect Vision.
Next Garr talks about the expense of 311 creating some challenges. Then he goes on what he really thinks of this service that has received rave reviews in every city that has adopted it:
The new system will allow you to complain about pot-holes at three in the morning and speak with an operator in Urdu, Yiddish or Mandarin. Who wouldn't rather have that than more hours at your local library?
Gosh, maybe Garr is correct to suggest that Mandarin speakers requiring services from the city is a bit extravagant. I wonder if he wrote this line after a conversation with his wife Joan Anderson, chair of the Vancouver Library Board?
No worries. I'm still strapped in and ready for Garr's skewering of Vision Vancouver for the very first time. Someone put out snacks, will ya? This is a BIG event.
There is also the incredibly rich labour settlement--17 per cent over five years--the city under former mayor Sam Sullivan's NPA administration agreed to, with even more being paid out to managers.
Yes, yes! Absolutely, Allen. We all remember Vision standing foresquare with CUPE, don't we? Quinlan published videos on his YouTube.com channel with Heather Deal chanting Sam's Strike! Sam's Strike! Vision demanded that the NPA settle with CUPE immediately!
This year's increase is about four per cent while inflation is closer to one per cent. Blame that in large part on the strike provoked by an inept city management strategy and the fact that no one wanted a labour disruption during the 2010 Olympics.
Oh dear. Did I miss something here? So, you're saying that CUPE should have only settled for one percent in year two of this contract? The fact that CUPE took 3 months to accept an offer tabled in week two of the dispute was caused by "inept city management"?
Okay, Allen. Don't leave me standing at the altar here, buddy. I'm ready for you to put out and really go after Vision. What's next?
And that brings us to what is arguably the most significant reason for the struggle council is facing as it attempts to hold property taxes down.
Oh Hallelujah! I almost can't contain myself! Someone get me a towel!
Simply put, it's what council agreed to do with the $11.8 million dollars in strike savings from 2007.
Huh? Allen, you're losing me here. Get to the point, man!
At the July 24, 2007 council meeting (just days after the 3-month long strike began), when Sullivan was mayor and the NPA held a slim majority, Vision councillor Raymond Louie moved a motion to return the strike savings to the taxpayers.
Former councillor Peter Ladner amended it slightly. Then Louie came back saying the money should "be used to reduce property taxes to the city taxpayers in 2008."
...there was a lot of chest thumping on Louie's part. But staff in finance was horrified. Council would use this one-time money to pay for $11.8 million in programs in 2008 without any tax hit.
So we've hit the 543-word mark in Garr's column waiting for him to make his point. As any journalism instructor at Langara College will tell you, that's called burying the lead (or lede – take your pick). It's taken him 12-months of columns, and he hides it near the end of this one, but what Garr is trying to say is that Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie screwed up.
Louie was clearly trying to play politics during the early days of the 2007 CUPE strike. He thought that his clever motion to "return the savings" to taxpayers (and who could have guessed in week one that CUPE were dug-in for nearly 10 weeks?) would play well for the public. It appears that Louie got outplayed by the NPA when he amended his motion so that strike savings could "be used to reduce property taxes to the city taxpayers in 2008."
The strike savings were used to "reduce taxes" by the NPA. They simply spent some of it and left Vision with a $6.6 million surplus that they've managed to squander.
So I guess there's some reason to celebrate the fact that the Beekeeper has turned a new page, and finally criticized Vision Vancouver. It's just too bad it took him so long to get there.
- Post by Mike