A while back I asked Hamiltonians to let me know if they would like to be interviewed on 10 Tough Questions. The Hamiltonian is welcoming of all Hamiltonians on 10 Tough Questions. Daniel Rodrigues contacted me and said he was up to it.
Daniel is an engaged Hamiltonian who is a volunteer on many fronts. These include: Chair, Property Standards (City of Hamilton), · Chair, Clean City Liaison Committee (City of Hamilton), · Past Chair, Waste Reduction Task Force (City of Hamilton), · Chair, Transportation Committee (Hamilton Chamber of Commerce),· Chair, DARTS Board of Directors, President, Hamilton Chapter (Heart & Stroke Foundation of Ontario). Daniel is also a member of the Hamilton Rotary Club, Winona Men’s Club, and the
Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for the Hamilton Police Services. Suffice it to say, he has a passion for this city and his community. Daniel elected to answer each question put to him. Welcome to 10+ Tough Questions with Daniel Rodrigues. Comments welcome.
1. I’d like to ask you a question in the context of your role as Chair, property Standards. Why do we have so many derelict properties in our city? How do these properties reach a stage of demolition by neglect and why has it come to this?
In answering this question, I’ll need to clarify the role of the Property Standards Committee (PSC): The PSC is a judicial committee which hears appeals from property owners/managers who disagree with the ‘order to comply’ issued against their property. Comprised of 5 volunteer citizen representatives as chosen by Council, the only time we may delve into policy is when we arrive at a particular decision.
To address the questions, I’d have to say that our state of present status of property standards concerns rests in a combinative mix of Political will and Community will. As an illustration of each of these “wills” the Lister Block and graffiti come to mind.
Unless I am mistaken, there was a plan brought forward by Joseph Mancinelli of LIUNA to tear down the Lister Block and build a replica building. Efforts were thwarted by Council who stuck by standards set by Heritage Designation. Fast forward to the upgrades to City Hall, and an exception was made by Council to allow the use of replication versus same materials to place on the outer shell of the structure. In other words, what wasn’t acceptable for a private developer, was okay for City Hall. This inconsistency has the potential to create apathy among property owners who question the importance of policy making and execution.
Community Will also contributes to the acceptable standards we expect with our buildings and community. I was at a community meeting last year speaking on graffiti (aka vandalism) when a community member stated that there has been graffiti gracing the walls of a prominent business location for over a year. While I don’t want to remove ownership from the property owner, no one from the community had picked up the phone to call the police or the City to report the graffiti on the building. This can leave a measure of perceived acceptance by the community that graffiti is okay.
If we’re looking to resolve the state in which buildings are maintained, then we need to hold strong on our policies, and provide the community with tools needed to bring those buildings who neglect to hold our community standards into check. I can say with pure certainty that once the promotion of what to do when graffiti is witnessed was implemented in 2009, the police and the City Call Centre witnessed a dramatic increase in community engagement.
2. What makes you proud about Hamilton, and what drives you nuts about Hamilton?
I’d have to say that my first pride in Hamilton is its proximity to Toronto, Niagara Falls, and my hometown of London, Ontario. Long before Chris Ecklund commenced the (long overdue) promotion of Hamilton’s waterfalls, I had taken great pleasure in hiking around the various places of Hamilton which showcased the multitude of waterfalls. My family and friends who visit from London are always taken out for a discovery of the ‘underground’ of Hamilton’s beautiful sightlines.
On the flip side, I was with a senior person with GO Transit and the comment made to me was that Hamilton is known as being in a constant state of “malaise”. It took Hamilton about 50 years to complete the Lincoln Alexander Parkway and the Red Hill Valley Parkway. We appear to struggle with decisions, and as a result we get left behind in terms of progress. One only has to look at Hamilton’s growth and success in the last 20 years, and realize that most likely our largest growth is in the social assistance sector or poverty rates…not something to be proud of. As a whole, Hamilton needs to identify its strengths and move past obstacles of the past.
3. You are very involved in many things and have volunteered a great deal of your time. What drives you to do so and can you give us an example of the challenges and rewards you have encountered along the way.
I’m not really sure what drives me to be an active community participant…perhaps a quick check of my sanity would answer that question! :) In all seriousness, I only do what I do because I can do what I do. There are a number of rewards that are provided to someone who can make a positive difference in the community in which one lives.
Without getting into specifics, my style has certainly raised some challenges along the way, and I expect as much. When one participates or leads a group of volunteers, there is an expectation that respect and trust is earned not simply given. Dealing with certain Committees populated with a member or two of Council or City Staff representation, it is important to make sure that I remain open to the politics of moving things forward.
What is important is that I can move past the challenges in order to reach the objectives set forth by the Committee.
4. You’ve been part of many committees. What is the most effective city related committee you have ever been on? What made it effective?
While I’d be almost foolish if I didn’t say that all the Committees I’ve been on were equally effective, and I’d be equally foolish if I singled one out as being more effective than the other!
What makes committees effective though, is active participation by those around the table. The best example of this would be: A couple of years ago the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee wanted to weigh in on the subject of Community Councils. Chaired by Dr. John Knechtel, participants provided their time and expertise from various industries. John’s style ensured full disclosure of progress and concerns, as well as held participants accountable for contribution…in other words; no one was allowed to just say they were on the Committee. The end result saw a well-received recommendation that I had the pleasure to present to the Standing Committee of General Governance at the Ontario Legislative Building.
5. To the extent that not all committees, working groups or roundtables are as effective as they might be, what advice might you have to make such efforts worthwhile?
Stay focused on the Mandate. It’s very easy for groups comprised of volunteers to become distracted by issues which may be important to a particular participant or group, but not necessarily a component of the mandate.
Ensure those participating on the Committee are the right folks to represent the group. Merely appointing individuals to a particular Committee as a form of recognition for past support, or accepting individuals who may be eager to just belong, procedures must be in place to protect the Committee from ‘bobbleheads’ (those that only sit and nod) and ‘MINO’s (members in name only) or ‘RB’s (resume builders).
Understand the Mandate of the Committee…Generally speaking, Committees are formed with the intent to provide advice or create policies aimed at bettering the Community in which we live, work and play. Caution members on the level of their participation, so that projects or concepts are not dependant on the Committee member to execute. I have heard all too often the phrase “we did this project, but then member ‘x’ left the committee…” No project or concept that made a difference should falter when a committee member leaves. Back to my first point, successful groups are those which create sustainable programs within their mandate. Relying on committee members to execute programs will only lead to failure further down the road.
6. Can you comment on our transportation infrastructure. What is working well, what needs to be changed and why?
Hamilton’s transportation infrastructure is poised to be one of the best in Canada. Our proximity to the marine shipping corridor, our airport lands and its designation for future growth, our rail linkage, and our road designs all carry the correct balance required to have Hamilton prosper.
Obviously, there is still work to be done on the use of roads in and around Hamilton. We are reaching peak travel concerns both towards Toronto and now Niagara, which highlights the need to provide proper transportation links for goods movement.
I’m of the belief that we should be working on the North/South Light Rail Rapid Transit corridor first, versus the East/West line as planned by the City. There are far too many restrictions for economic growth on the East/West line, and while one could argue that there will be a bounty of users on the East/West line…the question will be on how to build up around that line. The North/South line holds the availability for employment growth much stronger than the East/West corridor.
Statistics consistently illustrate that roughly 30% of Hamiltonians leave the City each day to go to work. That number is not being displaced by the same number arriving into Hamilton, so there is a clear demonstration that we require more employment opportunities within our Community.
On April 27th, 2009 the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics (MITL) released a study on the requirements needed to develop a sustainable strategy for Hamilton to be a gateway. Through the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, an initiative was commenced to adopt a strategy to see Hamilton be the ‘centre’ for regional employment growth through a properly marketed campaign, mirrored from the highly successful SmartPort program in Kansas City.
Utilizing the resources of Hamilton’s transportation network, we position ourselves to see true economic growth. Reliance on strictly manufacturing success will no longer control the prosperity of our Community, but rather the accessibility within our Region will control our successes. Through the expansion of employment lands, connected through multi-modal transportation linkages, our ability to prosper becomes clearer.
7. As a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for the Hamilton Police Services, were you surprised at Glenn De Caire being appointed as our new Chief? In an unscientific poll run in The Hamiltonian, 72% of those who responded, believed that the new Chief will make a difference. Do you believe so? Why or why not?
Yes, I was pleasantly surprised to hear of De Caire’s appointment. Given the political influence of the Police Services Board, the choice to appoint someone from outside of Hamilton’s Police Services was a welcoming appointment.
De Caire is relatively young, and has a great future ahead of him. I would expect that his goals are to continue to excel in his career path, and that his Hamilton appointment is merely one more step along the way. I fully expect that De Caire will find himself back in Toronto or in a leadership role at the Provincial or Federal level. And, in order to accomplish that, he’ll need to enact change within Hamilton’s Police Services.
Personally, I’m looking forward to working with De Caire through the Clean City Liaison Committee and the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, as my expectations are that we will continue to move the needle forward in mitigating crime and vandalism opportunities in Hamilton.
And, to reference my answer to Question 5, I hope that the changes brought forward for the betterment of Hamilton continue past De Caire’s tenure.
8. What do you think of term limits for municipal politicians? Do you support the notion? Why or why not?
Give me a good reason to support term limits, and I may change my mind. But, using term limits as a means of simply removing ‘deadwood’ from the Council floor is weak and reactionary in nature.
I’d challenge that one of the reasons incumbents have been so successful is that opponents who run against the incumbent fail to provide a sound platform that separates them from the incumbent. Let’s face it, if nothing was to change, who would you vote for? The devil you know, or the devil you don’t know?
Ideally, candidates wishing to run for a Municipal Seat should be active within the Community in which they are choosing to represent. Simply putting names on a ballot only exasperates the situation, as those looking to de-throne the incumbent will find themselves splitting the vote, leaving the incumbent with the greatest number of votes.
The voter sets the term limit. If you’re looking for change, then challenge the incumbent to provide examples of how they’ve moved Hamilton forward. Be specific in your challenge, and ensure that you have an option available for the voter, in case the answer is not to your liking.
9. How would you rate this city council’s performance to date?
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t rate it very high or well. This particular term of Council has seen some oddities that one would not expect to see from such a seasoned core of Representatives.
There is over 150 years of combined representative Councilor experience currently occupying the Municipal seats at City Hall, yet sometimes decorum mimics that of a rookie season. There remains a dire need to draw distractions like amalgamation, rural versus urban, and ‘fiefdom-ism’ out of the process.
We are entering our 10th year post-amalgamation, and we’re still battling issues which should have been dealt with years ago (such as area rating). I'm not sure if I would be proud to say it’s taken me 10 years to reach a consensus on how to make Hamilton a better place to live, work, and play as a complete Community versus still harbouring its identity through former Township names.
I don’t want to remove local community identity, but rather draw individuals’ sense of where they live, work or play to beyond their man-made boundaries. Recently, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce (again through the tireless work of Dr. Knechtel) created a policy of principle titled “Hamilton – The City of Many Communities, One Economy”. The basis of this principle is to recognize that Hamilton’s success is incumbent on the success of its communities. Ancaster cannot succeed as a community unless Stoney Creek succeeds. Glanbrook cannot succeed unless Dundas succeeds. Flamborough cannot succeed unless Hamilton succeeds. No one community is above the rest. Council has accepted this principle, and now the test will be to see if they can adopt the principle into their practices and policies.
10. How can we encourage Hamiltonians to increase voter turn out in this upcoming municipal election?
Further education and engagement is desperately needed at the voter level. Municipal politicians are very good at compartmentalizing voters concerns, which creates a development of disconnect between the voter’s influence and the outcome.
Not to isolate Councilor Bratina, but his reaction to leave a meeting in which discussions and decisions were being made regarding a building within his Ward does send a wrong message. If the individual representing your Ward doesn’t stay to fight for the cause (whether a losing battle or not), then why should a voter bother showing up on Election Day?
I also believe we need a dynamic leader. Mayor Eisenberger may have certain leadership qualities, but being charismatic is not one of them. The only animation you’ll see of Eisenberger is in a comic book. While I’m not advocating that true leadership is encompassed by a theatric individual, however if you’re looking for voter interest, you need to bring a vibrant individual to the forefront. From Obama to Trudeau…like ‘em or love ‘em, voters love leaders who possess some entertainment value that shows their ‘human’ side.
(As a side note, I also coach U18 Girls soccer for Hamilton in the CANUSA games in August each year, and two years ago when Hamilton was in Flint, I attended a social gathering for the Coaches and Dignitaries on the Saturday evening. I had the pleasure of watching Mayor Fred and his wife Diane get jiggy with it, dancing to Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back”, and Flo Rida’s “Low”…impressive!)
11. Do you think the Integrity Commissioner position will actually make a meaningful difference, or do you think it is just a political gesture?
I guess to answer this question, I’d have to understand what ‘meaningful difference’ we are hoping to achieve through an Integrity Commissioner. Like setting term limits, are we just responding to a concern that the public is constantly being duped by our elected officials?
The voting public did a wonderful job of managing the integrity of their elected officials when they ousted Mayor Di Ianni, who at the time was facing some tough questions on his financial management of his campaign. If we had had an Integrity Commissioner (IC) at that time, would Di Ianni been re-elected based on the mere fact that the manner in question would be in the hands of the IC and therefore, punishment would be managed differently?
The IC will be looking at the Terry Whitehead allegation as his first piece of business…assume for a second that Councilor Whitehead is found at fault, and his penance is handed down. Will Whitehead stand a better chance of being re-elected versus if there were no IC involvement in the issue?
As you can see…there are more questions than answers on this one. I will say this; I find it rather interesting that some of those who moved and/or participated for the inception of an IC have found themselves under the scrutiny of ethical concern (Whitehead, Clark & Eisenberger).
Thank-you Daniel for your contribution to The Hamiltonian and for your volunteer work in our city.