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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hail to the Chief

There are many things about Chief Brian Mullan that are impressive. Be it his 35 years of distinguished service, his innovative approach to policing or his resolve in tackling the tough issues that cities of Hamilton's size face, it is clear that we will be losing one heck of a public servant when he retires at the end of this year. Although in comparison to his other accomplishments this example pales , one of the things that impressed me about Chief Mullan was his routine appearances on Cable 14, fielding questions from Hamiltonians. It may appear less significant than his many other achievments, but, for me, that was a shining example of  good leadership and engagement.

The Hamiltonian is honoured to have Chief Brian Mullan on 10 Tough Questions.

1. As outgoing Chief of Police, what advice might you have for the new Chief?

Stay focused on our mission, vision and values. Make sure you understand our community needs. Our Members are our greatest resource and we have to make sure we give them the necessary tools to serve our community well.

2. What would you say was your greatest accomplishment during your tenure as Chief of Police?

The Hamiltonian Poll Featured on Talk Radio Stations

The good people at 900 CHML and 820 Talk both featured the poll results on air. Bill Kelly featured it this morning and invited listener feedback and Mike Nabuurs featured it as well.  I did not catch the 820 piece. The CHML piece seemed to suggest that the poll results were consistent with the sentiments out there. I think it behooves the Mayor and council to not take a defensive posture, but to see this as a need for positive change. I'm a fair person and, as mentioned, anyone on council is invited to state their views on this blog; defensive or otherwise.

So far, 81% of people polled on The Hamiltonian believe that it is appropriate for our local councillors to engage with citizens on blogs.

Thanks to the good people at 900 CHML and 820 Talk.!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

10,000


Let's reach our goal of getting 10,000 hits on www.thehamiltonian.net  Empower Hamiltonians! Invite your friends and networks to visit this site!  Thank-you for your support and interest

Cal DiFalco, Publisher

Open Letter to Mayor Eisenberger and Hamilton City Council


The following email was sent today to Mayor Eisenberger and all members of Hamilton City Council.

Dear Mayor Eisenberger and members of Hamilton City Council:

Recently The Hamiltonian Ezine/blog conducted an online poll gauging the effectiveness of this council and the Mayor. The axioms of query were as follows: Approval rating/effectiveness of council as a whole, and of the Mayor, stewardship of public funds and resources, value for money for tax dollars and culture at city hall.

The polling was not scientific and cannot be claimed as being statistically reliable. At the same time, the results are from real Hamiltonians and these results, appear to be consistent with comments found on other blogs and media sources. I would suggest that the results thus carry some meaning and resonance and ought to be taken seriously.

The results are as follows:

Mayor's Approval Rating
49% of respondents believe that Mayor Eisenberger is doing poorly or failing.
28% of respondents believe that he is doing a fair job
17% believe he is going a good job
3% believe he is doing an excellent job
Conclusion: Performance is not stellar. Definite need for improvement

Council (as a whole's) Approval rating
77% of respondents believe that council is not very effective or failing.
5% of respondents believe that council is doing a "middle of the road" job
0% believe council is doing an effective job
3 % believe council is doing an excellent job
Conclusion: Performance is unacceptable

Stewardship
88% of respondents believe that council is a poor steward or failing in its role
8% of respondents believe that council is a fair job as stewards
0% believe council is a good steward
4 % believe council is doing an excellent job as stewards
Conclusion: Performance is unacceptable

Value for Money
75% of respondents believe that they are getting poor or no value for their tax dollars
12% of respondents believe that they are getting fair value for their tax dollars
8% of respondents believe that they are getting good value for their tax dollars
4% of respondents believe that they are getting excellent value for their tax dollars
Conclusion: Performance is unacceptable

Culture
84% gave council a poor or failing grade
4% gave council a fair grade
2% gave council a good grade
4% gave council an excellent grade
Conclusion: Performance is unacceptable

In the spirit of citizen engagement and responsible government, I invite each one of you to visit www.thehamiltonian.net and comment about the poll, the issues and thoughts you may have on how to improve our situation.

Your words and input will demonstrate your degree of engagement and commitment to Hamiltonians. Your silence or declining to engage, will speak just as loudly.

In the spirit of constructive discussion, please share you thoughts on this post. Hamiltonians are expecting you.

Sincerely,

Cal DiFalco
Publisher, The Hamiltonian
http://www.thehamiltonian.net/

Special Note: Sincere apologies who those who may have received multiple emails from the Hamiltonian. It was a computer glitch and I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Finally...don't forget to blast www.thehamiltonian.net to your friends and network.


Recognizing Michelle

Michelle Hruschka of the Hamilton Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits, made an impassioned plea to ask for food stamps or debit cards to be provided to low income earners, so that they can shop with dignity, where they please. This was in the context of discussing rates for social assistance payments and provision of food. You will know that Michelle has been a staunch advocate for those disadvabtaged and part time workers. The full story is here

Kudos to you Michelle!

Monday, September 28, 2009

10 Tough Questions with Jeff Bonner


Jeff Bonner is an engaged Hamiltonian and also, a realtor. Here is Jeff on 10 Tough Questions. 


1. How has the recent plunge in the economy specifically affected the Hamilton Real Estate market?

From where I stand, the economic turbulence didn’t really affect the Hamilton real estate market that much. The market saw some areas of Hamilton go into a decline in sales and price, such as Hamilton Mountain and Ancaster. Hamilton Mountain prices were actually on a downward trend for a while, looking at one year of average price data, but that has reversed itself and prices are going positive again. However, the drop in number of sales was much more significant than any drop in prices. Real estate in general didn’t sell very quickly, and it was worse for higher-priced listings. A clear example is Flamborough seeing an average time-on-market over 100 days at one point.

On the other hand, some local districts sailed through as if nothing were wrong. Even in the worst part of the market downturn, there were parts of Hamilton where real estate was selling in an average of 25 days. I think this is partly due to our being located close to Toronto. We’re just close enough for Toronto investors to look at, but far enough away that our prices are attractive. And the fact that we don’t have the extra municipal land transfer tax (MLTT) was beneficial. The extra MLTT really bites into the return-on-investment for any property up there. I noticed a large influx of investors from the GTA looking at investment properties in the lower city and east end, and this probably contributed a lot to balancing out our market.

2. What advice might you have for Hamiltonians who are looking to buy or sell real estate in the next 6 months?

For buyers, I’d say to go to your bank or a good mortgage broker and get a mortgage pre-approved for as long as you can. A pre-approval will hold the interest rate until the pre-approval expires (usually 90 days). While the Bank of Canada says it’s holding its rates steady for now, we never know what mortgage rates will do. They’re at their all-time low right now, so it’s a good idea to lock it in for as long as you can with a pre-approval. Besides this benefit, it’s the logical first-step anyways, because then you know your maximum purchase price and that there are no surprises on your credit history. Your real estate agent will also feel better knowing you can actually buy. I tend not to work with buyers who put off getting a pre-approval, and a lot of agents feel the same way.

For sellers, you need to get educated on what the market is doing in your specific area. Find out what the average price is like, both listing and actual sale. Here’s a tip, you’ll need a real estate agent for the actual sale prices, because the public doesn’t have easy access to historical sale data. Attend open houses in your area to get a feel for how those properties stack up against yours. You’ll be competing against properties like that when you put your house up for sale. And finally, be realistic. We all want to put more money in our pockets, but being unrealistic with the list price can just drag the process out, wasting time, advertising money, and opportunity.

I wrote a little article back in the midst of the “crisis” on the importance of realistic expectations, available at http://www.jeffsellshomes.ca/articles/realistic.html

3. What unique characteristics of Hamilton, as a city, make it difficult or easy to attract real estate buyers?

As mentioned above, we’re close to the GTA, but not really a part of it. We have the transit in place for people to commute to work in the GTA, and our housing prices are attractive enough to entice some of these people to buy their personal residence here. We are also still attractive to long-term investors looking for areas-in-transition, as well as cash-flow investors looking for a deal. The image still makes it difficult for many, though, and some are turned off by our high property taxes.

4. How would you describe Hamilton's image and how could we capitalize on it or improve upon it, depending on how you've assessed it?

I think we’re largely seen as Toronto’s dirty inept little brother, but I think the city is already doing a lot to correct that false image. The world just needs to see more of Hamilton than the view across the water from Burlington or Toronto. Many visitors are surprised at what a beautiful city it really is, once they get to see it. We just need to keep pushing to educate outsiders on what the city has to offer. We should also try to promote our history as a forward-thinking city and reclaim that heritage.

I think an effort that requires special mention and applause is Chris Ecklund and the fantastic job he is doing with his “City of Waterfalls” campaign.

5. Who do you consider to be the most effective Hamilton councillor and why have you chosen that person?

Hmmm, I didn’t think the words “effective” and “councillor” went together in Hamilton. The atmosphere and parochial culture of the council doesn't allow any individual councillor to be very effective in my eyes. That said, though, I think I’d choose Tom Jackson. His support of the city's economic growth and development at the harbour & airport is the kind of philosophy we need in the city.

6. Do you think amalgamation was a good thing for Hamilton, or was it a mistake? Why?

I think it is a good thing in the long run. It minimizes the size of government required and reduces costs to the taxpayers in that sense. In the short term, perhaps we’ve seen a lot of NIMBYism and parochial politicking, but they seem to be gradually getting over this.

Once we have a council that is looking at the larger picture and thinking in terms of the greater good, rather than localized interests and lobby groups, the benefits of amalgamation will start to become more clear. Then we’ll become the power house that we should rightfully be.

7. If you had to select one property in the downtown core that has the most potential, but is being under-utilized, what property would that be and why?

I know it sounds cliché, but probably the Lister. Besides the fact that it looks ugly in its present state and drags down the image of the city core, the lost revenue from taxes on successful businesses running in the location is staggering to think of. While it would be nice to see it redeveloped into a profitable commercial building, it would be better as a parking lot than as the derelict it has been.

8. Hamilton continues to have a problem with derelict properties and the phenomenon of "demolition by neglect". How do we arrest this continued erosion of properties?

Personally, I would suggest that we need to reclaim Hamilton’s historical forward-thinking philosophy. While old architecture has its value, it's unfortunate that we would sacrifice our city’s economic health to save it.

Properties like the Lister were once beautiful, yes, but now they have become blights in the downtown scene. By designating them ‘heritage’, we make it so much more difficult to use these properties in any practical way, and thus find ourselves wasting all kinds of time and money trying to work within the designation’s strict rules.

Hamilton was once a leading city in the country, both economically and socially. Hamilton can proudly make such claims as having the first stop light in Canada, the first Commonwealth Games, the first black MP, the first sanitary water fountains, the first telephone exchange in the British empire, and the list goes on.

We were leaders in the past, because we lived in the present and looked forward, planning for the future. Back in 1887, the city realized that the city hall needed to be replaced – no messing around “sprucing up a dead horse” like we do these days.

9. What's the greatest lesson you've learned in your line of work?

If you get stuck in your past, you’re useless to the present. If you live in your future, no one is taking care of business while you daydream. Learn from the past and plan for the future, but live in the present.

10. When selling Hamilton properties, what is the most common concern expressed by potential buyers, relative to our city, communities and neighbourhoods, rather than to the actual physical properties?

It’s probably just a sign of the times and a symptom of the general consumer malaise we’ve seen with the economic downturn, but recently most people are concerned about property values. They don’t want to put their money into a property and have it lose value. Largely, this is because of the impression people get from the news, and is not truly a significant concern when looking at historical data and long-term forecasts.

Second to that, and much more significant in my view, buyers very commonly express a concern about our high municipal tax rates in comparison to other cities.

Special thanks to Jeff for his interest in Hamilton. Visit Jeff Here

Comments are welcomed.

Note: Fixed numbering. Thanks for the catch.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Customer Service


I don't have occassion to call city hall all that often, so I may not have the best read of this. However, on those occassions when I have called city hall or other city services, about 85% of the time, I found the customer service to be good or better than good. Sure, I've had the odd experience where the person on the other end of the phone or counter, was either unhelpful or "cranky", or occasions where I found myself in voice mail hell, but for the most part, I think I've received good service.

What has your experience been? Do you have examples of good or bad customer service when contacting city personnel? Any advice or kudos? Note; may be best to describe circumstances rather than naming people.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Appropriate or Conflict of Interest?



Repeated delays may mean that Mayor Eisenberger’s proposal to provide rebates to individual election donors will not be in place in time for the start of the next campaign in January. Under debate since February, the reform measures made little progress at this week’s audit and administration committee.

CATCH has calculated that nine of the councillors elected in 2006 each got at least two-thirds of their reported funding from corporations. Five others, including Eisenberger, refused to accept money from either unions or corporations.

Corporations provided 53% of all the donations over $100 reported by Hamilton’s mayor and councillors, even though six of the sixteen collected none at all. That’s because nine of the other ten got at least two-thirds of their campaign money from corporate donors.

Maria Pearson topped the list, collecting 82% of her funds from corporations. She was closely followed by Bernie Morelli (80%) and Sam Merulla (79%). Dave Mitchell, Terry Whitehead, Lloyd Ferguson, Tom Jackson and Chad Collins were clustered in the 73-75% range, while Brad Clark got 69% of his financial support from corporate donors.

Margaret McCarthy, Mayor Eisenberger, Russ Powers, Brian McHattie, Bob Bratina and Scott Duvall were at the other end of the scale with zero donations from corporations. The first five also took nothing from unions, while Duvall got 45% of his funds from that source.

The remaining councillor, Robert Pasuta, got 40% of his funds from businesses, mainly incorporated farms in his rural ward, and the rest from individuals or his own pocket.

McCarthy took no donations of any kind, personally financing her entire campaign. Russ Powers paid for about three-fifths of his election costs, and got the rest from individuals. Bratina, Eisenberger and McHattie relied 100% on individual donors.

It is clear that corporate donations and the like are a critical source of funding for some councilors. Many of these councilors are also on the committee that is looking at this whole thing. Does this seem appropriate to you?  Would it not be better to have a third party body consider the options and report to the Mayor/Council and the Public, in a timely manner? (by the way, by Third Party- I don't  mean consultants.).

Special thanks to the good people at C.A.T.C.H. for doing great research on this.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Harry and The Hamiltonian


When I asked Harry Stinson to be a guest on 10 Tough Questions, he immediately accepted. It was a bad week for both Harry and I to orchestrate this. Harry was immersed in some business transactions and I was out of the country.

So, while I provided Harry with the usual quantity of questions, we agreed to use the questions as a reference point, rather than to answer each (given the constraints on our time).  Below, you will find the initial list of questions which provided a reference point for Harry's response, followed by his response.  Enjoy 10 Tough Questions- "Stinson style".


The questions:

1. You’ve been received with some mixed reaction in Hamilton. Some see you as a entrepreneur with just what it takes to bring some bold ideas to fruition. Others are leery and question motives, techniques and ability to deliver. What is it about Harry Stinson that triggers these extreme points of view?
2. If you could change one thing about the investment climate in Hamilton, what would that be and why?
3. Setting up investment deals obviously entails being persuasive, winning and sustaining the confidence of prospective investors and delivering on a return on investment. What is the most challenging part of that cycle and how do you approach that challenge.
4. You’ve had entrepreneurial experience in Toronto and other places. How is Hamilton different from an investor’s perspective? Are those differences good or bad?
5. What lesson have you learned the hard way, during the course of your entrepreneurial ventures and how has that changed you?
6. How receptive have you found city council to be to your ideas and observations, and do you think we are setting the right tone to encourage new investment? To the extent we’re not, what would you suggest be done differently?
7. Reflecting upon you initial ideas for the Royal Connaught Hotel, and in recognition of the present thinking which would see the building used, in part, for affordable housing, what do you think the best course of action would be now?
8. Is Harry Stinson misunderstood? If so, how so?
9. Stinson School and your approach to transforming it into living units, sounds very promising. Assuming its success, what other opportunity (ies) might that spawn in the surrounding neighborhood. Do you see the Stinson School project as a catalyst for additional positive spin-offs, or do you see it as a more contained success?
10. Whenever a new idea is proposed, there are always “believers” , “non believers” and those who wait and see. You’ve proposed some bold ideas for Hamilton. How do you respond to the skeptics?
11. If there is one thing that Hamiltonians don’t know about you, and that you think would be useful for them to know, what would that be?


Harry's response
 
I am not going to apologize for “trying”. Yes, it troubles me to hear the skeptics and naysayers, but the only way to resolve the situation is not through an e-mail debate but by delivering some buildings. That takes a lot of energy and time.
 
The City of Hamilton is floundering specifically because too many people have given up trying to get things done. Instead, those who have the financial capacity to change the downtown – and there are many people in Hamilton with the personal money and resources to do so – are remaining passive rather than endure the public embarrassment of a “failure” or lose any of their family money. Significantly, much of the private money in Hamilton is multi-generational and the tough old guys who truly understand the concept of entrepreneurialism are gone, or retired.

 It is far easier to sit on a Committee or Task Force or go to “Summits” (featuring speakers from out of town) or organize more bloody golf tournaments…. then give each other pretentious awards for all they have done for the community. (Of course, a big banquet is required for this process, attended by the usual suspects giving the same self-righteous speeches).

The Connaught example is a classic. Everyone knows that converting such a prominent civic landmark into public housing sends out exactly the wrong message as to the future of downtown Hamilton. However, it is being justified on the basis that “it’s better than nothing”.

Even the poor folks and older folks whom I talk to on the street think it’s a stupid idea to convert the Connaught into public housing.

In many respects it is precisely the poorer folks and the older people who remember what downtown Hamilton used to be like…. and who are crying out for local leadership to revitalize downtown. These people understand first hand that such a revitalization will in turn create an environment where they could find a decent job, or enjoy their retirement in a neighbourhood similar to Toronto’s St Lawrence market or Queen West.

If “being resigned” to public housing at the Connaught is the level of thinking and ‘action’ that is acceptable … in comparison to offering a vision and then actually making a serious effort to see it happen, (even if it does not work out)……then I certainly have no apologies for at least trying. The Connaught Tower vision captured attention nationally in a positive way, and I certainly didn’t spend any Balsillie bucks in the process.

 
I really don’t think Hamiltonians in general are looking for leadership based on “why try……,‘cuz it might not work”.

 
My sense is that most people appreciated the imaginative attempt and the effort.

Can I “deliver”?

I have done so several times before, but it was never easy, nor fast, nor a slam-dunk. It takes many years and much trial and error and many setbacks to transform a non-precedent development vision into a reality. The Candy Factory Lofts in Toronto was a perfect example. The industry and the experts and the bankers all laughed at me when I started trying to develop loft apartments on Queen West……. Then they copied it. Mayor Barbara Hall changed the whole zoning approach to downtown Toronto. And all the mainstream developers started building lofts. Look at Queen West now!

The same lengthy effort was required with 1 King West; it took 10 years. At the beginning, “industry experts” ridiculed the idea that there was any market for residential apartments in the financial district, and that NOBODY would ever pay $400 a square foot for such product. Now, it’s the norm, and $400/sq.ft. is considered low. When you think about it, the vast majority of the buildings developed in Toronto in the last decade have been residential towers, and they are the key to the dynamic of downtown Toronto.

 
There was also skepticism and derision when I introduced geothermal heating at High Park Lofts 8 years ago. Geo-what?

It is significant that when Tridel (Canada’s largest condo builder) needed a solution for their derelict retail mall under Village by the Grange, the Del Zotto brothers called me personally to come up with a live-work loft vision, which I designed and successfully sold out for them at above-market prices.
The same scenario occurred at the Graphic Arts Building on Richmond, the Knitting Mill on Queen East, the Victorian Tower…..…

Damn right I can deliver….. but nobody offers me the easy stuff.

The experts and bankers told me I was naïve to open a non-smoking restaurant in 1971 (the Groaning Board) because “60% of the population smokes”.

Well, I figured that if I were to open the only restaurant in Toronto which catered to the population that did NOT like smoking, then 40% was not a bad market share.

I hear from - and about – people who say they were ‘big supporters’ but now have “lost faith”.

Huh? In what useful way were they supporters?

Did they buy a suite? Did they invest any money?” Did they offer to personally help?

I certainly don’t recall much in the way of tangible assistance or support from these folks. They can sit around Tim Hortons and ‘save the world’ and they can write all the hour-consuming blogs they wish but I am going to keep persisting with redevelopment in Hamilton.

I am not here to be part of any club or association or to be “one of the gang”. I came because I really see an opportunity here and I love restoring old buildings. It is also no secret that I am starting all over again personally after a very painful partnership meltdown in Toronto in which I basically lost everything.

I came to Hamilton only 18 months ago with no resources, nor any connections, nor any big backers. In the circumstances, I am surprised that so much has been accomplished. I have no apologies for the Connaught vision and I really wish that I could have funded it. Actually I came close but then the wheels fell off the financial world.

I will try to answer the questions in detail later but in the meantime I am focused on actual work (far too much “talk” around here….)

Sorry if this sounds like a rant……. I am a passionate guy

Edit:  Harry has added the following:

The present Connaught controversy really puts into focus that Hamilton desperately NEEDS to be encouraging - not discouraging - the 'dreamers'. Instead of saying "I told you so", the message should be "keep trying".


The entire and only justification for recommending the Connaught public housing grant - which I strongly believe is a very bad urban planning decision - is that "it's better than nothing and we don't want the building to sit there and rot anymore". What pathetic leadership.

Good for Bob Bratina and his strenuous opposition to the concept; I hope the other councilors - and the mayor - have a change of heart (and stop listening to bad "legal advice").

Harry characterizes his response as a "rant". What do you think? Is Harry simply recounting the brutal facts? What do you think of his observations and assertions?

Special thanks to Harry and his interest in Hamilton. To read more about Harry and his accomplishments, click here





The Guest List



Being a featured guest on The Hamiltonian is nowhere near as glamorous as the picture to the left suggests, however, feedback for 10 Tough Questions has been very positive.

Below you will find a link to the list of people whom I have invited to be a guest, and the status of the invite.

How to interpret the status field:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Representation

One of the tenets of representative government in a democracy, is that the people are duly represented. Hamilton benefits from a very diversified mix of citizenry. If we step away from that, you would expect that our elected officials mirror or approximate, to a reasonable extent, that make up.

Council is made up of 16 councilors (including Mayor Fred). Two are women. None appear to be members of visible minority groups. There also appears to be noone who is living with a disability (I could be wrong - disabilities are not always visible).  The makeup is noteworthy, because it does not mirror or approximate Hamilton's diversity or gender balance. Representative government works best when the government actually represents the community in which it governs.

Certainly one can achieve an understanding of issues related to different cultures and race, gender etc. by being connected to those communities/people. I’m not suggesting that we have no effective form of representation. But it is not an ideal substitute for the perspective that could be brought to bear from those with lived experience.

Of course, this is not an issue that I lay at the foot of council.  The roots of the problem are complex. Systemically, there seems to be nothing in place that ensures or promotes arriving at a better balance, other than the opportunity for anyone to run for office.

Do you think we would be better served by a council that mirrors or aproximates our citizen make-up? Would we be better off if we had, for example, an equal distribution of women on council and within the whole distribution, representation from people from a wide range of groups that live in our communities?  If you believe it  matters, what can be done to ensure a better balance?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

10 Tough Questions with Glen Norton

Glen Norton is the new senior business development consultant with Hamilton's downtown renewal office. Read more about him here . For 10 Tough Questions, Glen provides some additional insight into his approach and aspirations for downtown renewal.

1. In your interview with the Hamilton Spectator, you left no doubt that you are confident and enthusiastic about downtown renewal. What willyour focus be in the first 90 days?

In addition to learning about what programs the City has to encourage development downtown, I am meeting many of the key players: the developers, City staff, BIA staff, and business owners to develop my own understanding of what the challenges have been, what has worked well (and what hasn't and why). From this orientation and meeting phase I hope to be better equipped to add value personally.

2. What is your message to small business people who are finding it challenging to operate in the core?

I do believe the business environment continues to improve downtown. I would encourage them to join and actively participate in a BIA – things do get done when people with common issues band together. I understand this Department is big on the “one stop shopping” approach to providing services, which will become more apparent at the new City Hall and is already getting some traction on-line. I would also suggest they make themselves aware of the financial incentive programs the City offers in the downtown enterprise zone and the BIA's. They can find these at www.hamiltonrenewal.ca, or call us at Downtown Renewal. Our programs are designed to create jobs and create housing, both of which provide market opportunities for our downtown businesses.

3. One of your stated goals is to address the boarded up places throughout the core. How are you planning to approach that issue?

I much prefer the 'carrot' to the 'stick' approach. In other words, we need to maintain the successes of by-laws and enforcement for vacant buildings (as seen in the recent Spectator article), and we need to balance this with incentives for revitalizing vacant buildings. Ultimately, as the business environment improves downtown it will make good financial sense to the property owners to remove the boards and develop the space for commercial, retail, or housing uses. And by the way, I don't believe there are nearly as many boarded up buildings downtown as people think.

4. Change and transformation are two different things in terms of magnitude. Are you looking at a transformation, or a change?

Tough question, in fact, I had to go look up a definition using Google: “Change is incremental at best. It is about moving the pieces in a game on the same board or field. Change is like putting on a new outfit. Transformation is fundamental and structural. It is about changing the field or the board on which we are playing. Transformation is about changing from within. Transformation requires change; change does not require transformation. “ Given those definitions, I would have to say that there needs to be some of both. The transformational part is in people's attitudes – that Hamiltonians will stop berating and belittling the downtown and will come to see it as an area worthy of respect for its history, and support for what it is becoming. The changes are incremental, and started at least five years ago. Every new store that opens, or living unit that is created, or event held in the downtown core is in itself a change that will bring about other changes. Some exciting possibilities – like the PanAm games or an NHL team – may accelerate the pace of change, but we should not forget about those labouring day by day to make the downtown a better place.


5. You mentioned that your goal is to make the need for your job redundant. What measures or indicators would you be looking for to know that you've reached that objective?

The biggest indicator of success will be that deals are happening, new businesses are opening, building owners are improving their properties – all without the assistance of any City funded programs. Other indicators will be that the commercial vacancy rate has declined, and the number of people who live, work and play downtown has increased.

6. Many have said that they don't feel safe when walking downtown Hamilton at night. To the extent that this perception is out there, how can we address this problem?

As you said Cal, it is really a perception, without a lot of reality. This issue is one that is shared by all cities of comparable size. There is a dedicated police presence in the core and increased closed circuit television cameras, showing the commitment of Hamilton Police Services. I would encourage any citizen of Hamilton to make the trip downtown, spend some time and money here. Their presence, active engagement, and their spending, are really the keys to a vibrant city core.

7. Many attempts, from well intentioned people, have been made to breath new life into our city's core. What makes you different?

I am not sure what you are referring to by the ‘many attempts’, the only one that I am aware of is the well intentioned mistake made when the old City Hall and downtown neighbourhoods were replaced by a monolithic urban mall which turned its back to the sidewalk (and this is a mistake that numerous cities across North America made in the ‘70’s). I do believe that there have been many positive contributions made by many people, from the small business owner to the largest corporations and institutions. I can only hope to keep the momentum going and to accelerate the rate of change. I can’t do this alone, and fortunately I don’t have to! There are a lot of people committed to making the downtown a better place, and I feel privileged to be working with them. If you want to know why I think I can be successful in this new job, I would tell you that I bring a very broad, multidisciplinary and collaborative approach that I have arrived at through my careers in Landscape Architecture, banking, and small business ownership. I also think my timing is good: people seem open to change right now, and are talking about what is happening, not just what might happen. This positive thinking was indicated in a recent online poll, and I hear it in conversations regularly – particularly when talking with the younger people and newer businesses.

8. What will the city's core look and feel like five years from now, if you succeed?

In five years there will be more of all the good things that are currently happening downtown: more people will be living, working and playing downtown. The downtown will be where the bright young minds graduating from McMaster and Mohawk will want to work and live, instead of moving to Toronto. The downtown will be where our citizens go when they want to enjoy the best in arts and culture, whether it be music, drama or fine arts. In five years we won’t be at the destination of what the downtown will become, but we will be well on our way.

9. What is the biggest challenge to achieving your objectives? How do you plan to tackle it?

The biggest challenge by far is going to be real and measurable change in the mindsets and perceptions of people – and I am not just talking about those “on the outside looking in” (like Torontonians), but Hamiltonians themselves. I see a real attitude of cynicism and apathy from too many people that should know better. Tackling those long-entrenched attitudes is not going to be easy, but if I have to start by changing them one person at a time, so be it. I see it like that old shampoo commercial: ”…. and she told two people, who told two people, who told two people…..” . I will be taking every opportunity I can to get the message out that we don’t need to wait for the “home runs” – single base hits are the way to win a ball game.

10. What is the biggest opportunity that the core offers, and what is the biggest barrier. How will you approach these?

I think the core offers two strengths that will lead to opportunities for economic growth: the first is easy access to everything a business could need or want; the second is character – for example: great old buildings, Gore Park and the waterfront. Part of my strategy is going to be to present these strengths to companies that do not currently operate in Hamilton (read: in downtown Toronto). When you add the very affordable housing stock throughout Hamilton to the mix, I see our downtown as a fantastic opportunity for regional offices for the national and international companies, and for head offices of the regional firms, particularly in the financial services and not-for-profit sectors.

Special thanks to Glen for his contribution to "The Hamiltonian" , for his service to the city, and for his interest in our city.



Blog Policy Note: Bad language, name calling or other inappropriate posts will not be tolerated. Posts of this nature will not be edited. Rather, they will not be posted. Please keep your comments respectful





Friday, September 11, 2009

820 Talk Radio Profiles The Hamiltonian Blog/Ezine Ghosts and Posts

Mike Nabuurs from 820 Talk Radio, was kind enough to profile The Hamiltonian blog/ezine on his show Nabuurs and Friends. The show aired today. It was an great opportunity to speak about the blog/ezines's purpose and objectives and I enjoyed talking with Mike on air. Visit Mike and the good people at 820 here 

Download the interview : Part 1 Part 2

Ghosts and Posts

"Lurking" on a blog describes people who visit a blog, follow it and read the posts and commentary, but do not post comments. Lurking is quite common and is welcome here.

At the same time, I would encourage folks to post their opinions and views. The blog allows for anonymous posting and as long as you follow the blog policy, your views will be posted. So, please weigh in on issues. Your contribution is valued here. If logging in anonymously, I encourage you to use a screen name so that your comments can be discerned from other anonymous posters.

5000 Hits
 
We are now over 5000 hits in a mere matter of weeks. I say "we" because this is very much a collective accomplishment. Thank-you for your continued interest in this blog and please continue to alert people to it. Blast it out over Facebook, Twitter or any other means. Let's shoot for 10,000 hits.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Revamping The Royal Connaught Hotel

The Royal Connaught Hotel, in its hey day was an elegant icon in the heart of our downtown. Sadly, it has lied dormant with several attempts to revive it, failing based on financial and other considerations.
The hotel's owners are seeking more than $18 million in government assistance for a $27-million mixed-use project that would feature 100 units with rents 20 per cent below market value, another 106 market-rate units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space.The units would be geared toward seniors and persons living with a disability.

The plan is being received with mixed feedback. Harry Stinson, for example, referred to it as a “sad evolution” while, at the same time, recognizing the value of having the building occupied.
See Spec story

Does this plan fit with what your vision for downtown Hamilton is? Do you support this direction?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

10 Tough Questions with Mahesh P. Butani

Mahesh Butani has an interest in re-developing old buildings in downtown Hamilton. Mr. Butani is an engaged citizen, businessman and  blogger. I think you will find his answers insightful and interesting. Please post your comments.

1. As someone who has experience putting together deals for investment in our downtown, can you describe the challenges of attracting investment into Hamilton. On the flip side, when deals did come together, what elements were in play that contributed to success?

The challenges of attracting investment into Hamilton are markedly different for different parts of the city, as they are for different types of development projects.

Hamilton's primary investment challenges spring from its 'image factor' that of its skyline and its downtown core. While dealing with the skyline issue is far more complex on account of its scale and impact; mitigating the image issue of the downtown core is relatively simple in my view, as it spring partly from faulty analysis of its growth patterns and partly on account of perception arising from an 'issues aggregation' effect.

Attracting residential/commercial investment in our core five to ten years ago for small to mid size projects had different challenges than what are faced today. Back then it was overcoming the financial institutions reluctance in approving mortgages for new or redevelopment projects on account of higher vacancy rates, many derelict properties, and very few pioneering projects attempting to define rejuvenation.

The City bridged the mortgage gap at an early stage with critical downtown redevelopment programs, making many projects viable and spurring the natural re-growth of the core which directly and indirectly attracted hundreds of new residents to the core, and in turn continued to boost investor confidence over the years. There are however a few examples of project failures, but they are mostly a result of poor project conception, bad timing or execution, outlandish marketing or an over-reach in tactics that works in mature markets, but are not appropriate in an older city centre like ours where incremental growth is the proven primary driver of rejuvenation.

On hind sight, had financial institutions funded projects rampantly in that early phase of our cores re-growth cycle, we may have been witnessing a depressed market, instead of being in the relatively secure position that we are in presently experiencing the early stages of the second phase of downtown redevelopment, comprising of incrementally bigger and more articulated mixed-use projects in strategic areas of the core.

As a result of continuing private and public investor confidence - a very large percentage of small to mid-size properties along the two primary axes of our core are either already redeveloped or are under planning.

A case in point being King Street East, between Wellington and James  There are around 50 to 55 properties on the north side, and around 40 properties along the south side. Visual verification today clearly establishes that of the 90 to 95 properties in total on this east-west axis, only 4 to 8 properties await redevelopment and or are boarded up. The same is also true for James Street, the major north-south axis in the core.

Unlike Locke Street, where the wave of rejuvenation moved outwards from the redeveloped commercial Locke into the residential east and west.  In the downtown core, one can see the opposite pattern of the wave of residential rejuvenation moving inwards towards the core  from a fast revitalizing waterfront in the north, and similarly from Corktown and Durand in the south. These patterns are apparent by walking around downtown and also reviewing property values in the core over the last decade.

Presently the redevelopment and investment challenges on the two main axes in the core are concentrated in and around a few key hotspots:

The three to five large parcels of land/buildings which are awaiting the right business models from a few socially enlightened developers.

The King Street stretch of the Lansdale neighborhood to the east of the core, which is facing the brunt of failed social development policies  but which unfortunately falls outside the municipal definition of the core.

And the Barton to King William stretch to the north of the core  which is the next frontier for incrementally large to mega development projects on many large vacant lots. Â It is this cluster of new well articulated mixed-use projects which will provide the high density that the core is awaiting  to sustain the ambivalent street-front/retail of the two historically significant axes which gives our downtown the urban texture and historical character.

The store-front/retail quality on the King Street axis is suffering a higher degree of growing pains than the James Street axis presently on account of the geographic peculiarities of the core with its twin east-west expressways; and the continuing fallout from the lack of a concerted store-front/retail strategy . In spite of these conditions, all the occupied store-front/retail on both these axes are showing signs of incremental growth, and in a few site specific cases, stagnation or failure for reasons mentioned earlier  with a fluctuating vacancy rate of around ten to twelve percent.

A highly refined interim retail strategy with a tactical plan needs to be rapidly developed by the local BIAs to support struggling small store-front entrepreneurs and develop a much better retail mix.

This will go a long way in mitigating the image issue and investment challenges for the remaining few larger projects on these two axes and ensure that the ongoing redevelopment in the core is not diluted by negative perceptions and overzealous critiques  just as the second phase of revitalization ramps up in the coming few years from the north side of the core.In this transitional phase of the core what many find disconcerting is the prevailing mix of people in the core.

A little research would reveal that a majority of the people to whom the so called image problem is ascribed to directly are in fact, not residing in the central core, but reside in and around the streets/neighborhoods surrounding the core. And they traverse the core by foot, bicycles, scooters and transit to various social service organizations and a few bars and specialized retail outlets, including the mall in the core, and the Gore Park which is used as a meeting/hanging/trading place in the right weather.

If an interactive property/building/retail inventory map is developed to track the flow of people and movement patterns of individuals and groups from various locations in the core and the surrounding neighborhoods  the exact nature of the issues and challenges in the core would be highlighted  and rapid and simple short-term and long-term solutions could be developed to build on the ongoing achievements of revitalization.

We have allowed a few projects such as the Lister, Connaught, and the Federal building parcel; along with a few debilitating social issues  to dominate the image of the core and the narrative of the city.

Reeling from the resulting issues aggregation effect, we have been searching for a magic bullet to fight this mythical multi-headed Hydra  and in the process we have missed much of the care and attention that was required to strengthen the first phase of redevelopment by way of nurturing the projects already completed with innovative guidance in retail design, business development and marketing.

To overcome these challenges and enhance investor confidence in our core  we urgently need to:

Define appropriate use/s for the few remaining vacant buildings/large parcels that are critical to the long-term identity of the core  The current wide swing of projected uses from hotels to condos to seniors residences to a glitzy super skyscraper to the recent loosely defined affordable housing on the same land parcel, seriously undermines investors confidence and understanding of the local market.

Scale expectations and outcomes of development projects on these parcels with the incremental increase of market demand.

Develop an action plan to quickly and humanely mitigate the negative social impact of locating the many mental health and social service organizations at the street level in the core.

Stabilize the adjacent Landsdale neighborhood to the east of the core by designating the King Street East stretch of the Landsdale neighborhood as a new redevelopment zone with location specific micro-investment/incentive programs to spur innovative store-front/retail revitalization and residential restoration.

All of this will go a long way in enhancing the quality of life and image issues of the core, besides accelerating the investments in the second phase of revitalization of the core.

From my experience what attracted private investment in the first phase of revitalizing the core was the presence of a few risk-tolerant first-movers who saw the upside of depressed property values and location  For them the negative image of downtown was an opportunity and not a liability as is often perceived by visitors and downtown voyeurs.

It is this diverse group of first mover the investors, developers, entrepreneurs and owners, who in conjunction with the city renewal programs, have collectively established a solid foundation of numerous viable small to mid-size projects in the core. A foundation upon which the more risk-averse investors now can take the plunge with incrementally bigger and more articulated projects as the natural demand grows.

As a community which is anxious to see rapid rejuvenation, we need to understand that if we are not vigilant of the hard won successes, and attempt an yet another over reach in project size with poor project definition just to catch up for lost time, or score some political points or even pander to our predisposition to mint heroes and saviors our remaining projects in the core will continue to face investment challenges. And if we are unable to recalibrate our image issues rapidly, possibly even experience a devaluation of the many stable new and redeveloped projects in the core.

2. Complete the following sentence: What people from out of town don't know about Hamilton is that ________.

Its downtown core is transitioning from the first to the second phase of revitalization.

3. Out of a scale from 1-10 (one being the poorest score and 10 being the best score), how would you rate this city council. Explain your score.

I would give the council a rating of 7. Given the fallout of the amalgamation, the shift in its industrial base, the dumping of social services in the city, the wide historic differences in the socio-economic conditions and agendas of all the wards, aggregated with the downswing in the economy things could have been much worse.
Somehow if we can see through past events of our city, and walk through various neighborhoods from the east to the west and from the escarpment to the waterfront - we will be convinced that we have - many things to be proud of in our past, and have many reasons for hope in our present.

The remaining 3 points reflect this council's inability to convey an image of cohesiveness, which deeply impacts our community's self-image and the collective sense of purpose.

4. Describe a leadership moment in this present council term. Who demonstrated the leadership, what was the context and why did it impress you?

Getting together for a group photograph for the "Make it Seven" campaign!! The collective leadership moment was self evident when rallying for a common cause.

This impressed me because in spite of the uncertainties of the outcome, there was a sincere attempt to convey the spirit of one voice.

5. Describe a moment of failure in this present council term. What was the nature of that failure? Who do you attribute it to and what could have she/he or they, have done differently to get a better outcome.

The Council's failure to perceive the need to implement a By-law to curb the speed limit of electric scooters driven at high speeds on sidewalks in the downtown core, and cars driven at higher speeds on Main and King Streets; and the failure to bring in a progressive culture of innovation in the 'Parking Crimes & Punishment Department' (all three items form a part of one single failure to foresee and correct the one glaring factor ailing the core  Speeding and Parking!!).

High speeds both on the roads and the sidewalk has had a devastating impact on the core's ability to rejuvenate quickly. This failure is attributed to the inability of the downtown residents, businesses and associations to come together as a group on issues. A simple field experiment with lower speed limits for one month  would prove the point without getting into costly makeover exercises.

6. If you had the undivided attention of all Hamiltonians, including city council, what would you say to council, and what would you say to Hamiltonians, in terms of advice on how we can better succeed as a city?

To the Council:

Endeavour to meet at least one other councilor and their family for an informal dinner once a week through the term, in spite of conflicting agendas and schedules.

Always be wary of forming a quorum at barbeques, games and chat rooms.

Stay the course on the vision of making Hamilton a ' People's Place' as per the internationally recognized definition of the term, in spite of conflicting agendas.

Hand over the baton with grace when you feel you have given your best to the community and have nothing more to contribute to the ever evolving public good in rapidly changing times.

To Hamiltonians:

Form new Citizens Talent Banks and not new Watch Groups.
Start trading in innovative ideas amongst different talent banks and the Council.

Collaborate with your Councillor to achieve your aspirations for Hamilton.

Don't be afraid in forming a quorum at barbeques, games and chat rooms.

Stay the course on the vision of making Hamilton a 'People"s Place' as per the internationally recognized definition of the term, in spite of conflicting agendas.

Mentor with grace those who you feel are capable of leading the next guard to enhance the ever evolving public good in rapidly changing times, and show up to vote for them when your time comes to take a stand.

7. What are your views about our downtown core? What specifically can we do to better the downtown core?

We have come a long way from the boarded up reality of downtown. As observed earlier we are well over the hump and off to a start of the next phase of downtown growth. Our urban narrative needs to be grounded in optimism through the ups and downs of the re-generation cycle.

In this phase, to bring about the urban quality we desire, we need to rapidly mitigate the social issues in the core that impact the self-esteem of our community; and develop a definitive and unique retail strategy to assist the small storefront businesses  while we await the development of bigger projects on the north of the king street axis.

We also need to be extra vigilant about the remaining few large land parcels on the east-west axis, and the larger lands to the north of the core. It is from the quality of development of these parcels that the true potential of our core will be extracted or destroyed forever.

We must also remind ourselves that for the notion of sustainable urban growth to be relevant, it has to be rooted in the notion of affordability, just as the notion of suburban sprawl has come to be rooted in un-affordability.

Our new and redeveloped urban projects need to reflect this reality. Our developers, architects and mainstream & alternate media need to develop a new imagery for the term 'affordable'. They need to make 'affordable' and 'affordability'  sexy and chic. Just as the old imagery made mink coats and silvery high-rise condos sexy and chic.

We don't have to cringe at the word 'affordable' in our times. Our collective future already depends on this term.  We just need to start demanding a higher intellectual and aesthetic standard of it. Successful manufactures and retailers who have grasped this have discovered new mass markets.

The place where many minds in our city, across class, race and income divides, need to arrive at, is the new commons“ a multi-tired, crisscrossing virtual and real network, spanning communities, backgrounds, interest and mind-sets. It is only from this new mediated space that relevant and innovative projects will spring up in our city core.

8. Can we make amalgamation work better, or do you think it is a case of living with a square peg being jammed into a round hole?

Strategic errors were made by dismantling the regional structure in our city in the name of efficiencies and parlaying it into a loosely cobbled amalgamation of towns with an appearance of a larger city. What we already had in place a decade ago was the structure and potential of 'Polycentricity' - a planning and spatial policy notion, which has been gaining currency over this decade in Europe and other parts of the world.We dismantled it politically in the name of progress, and we have suffered for it since then.

We still retain the experience and expertise in our communities to build on this notion of Polycentricity to leverage our local economy into an evolving regional one that can distribute economic abundance broadly in the region and absorb many local systemic shocks.

The question is, do we have the public and private imagination for making that leap?

Our public discourse would have us believe otherwise -- but already established networks such as the 'Golden Horseshoe Biosciences Network' (GHBN) are proof of the many opportunities waiting to be seized - if we can recalibrate our views of our city via Edward Said's "imagined geographies", and remain focused on the positive. A look at GBHN's member directory and map can be a refreshing experience for all of us grasping for answers as well as those who seem to have them all.

Some background on Polycentricity: http://www.espon.eu/mmp/online/website/content/network/92/469/1029/file_808/polycentricity.pdfMonocentric%20Versus%20Polycentric%20Models%20in%20Urban%20Economics:%20http://ideas.repec.org/p/kyo/wpaper/611.htmlMonocentric Versus Polycentric Models in Urban Economics: http://ideas.repec.org/p/kyo/wpaper/611.html

Monocentric Versus Polycentric Models in Urban Economics: http://ideas.repec.org/p/kyo/wpaper/611.html
Polycentricity and metropolitan governance. A Swiss case study http://ideas.repec.org/p/wiw/wiwrsa/ersa04p440.html
http://www.espon.eu/mmp/online/website/content/tools/912/index_EN.html
http://www.inspiringcities.org/index.php?id=1&page_type=Article&id_article=18046


At Google Books - Preview: The spatial economy: cities, regions and international trade By Masahisa Fujita, Paul R. Krugman, Anthony J. Venables

Economics of agglomeration: cities, industrial location, and regional growth By Masahisa Fujita, Jacques-François Thisse

** Above response is republished from my thoughts on this topic on the RTH blog on 9/2/09 at: http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog.asp?id=1496#comment-33168


9. If you had 3 million dollars to spend toward the betterment of our city, how would you spend it?

$300,000: Towards setting up an office of the 'Chief Architect' of the City of Hamilton --- for spearheading innovations in building and project design; and initiating a comprehensive system-wide "design" based approach to all planning and policy development efforts.

$300,000: Towards acquisition rights and start-up expenses to establish a new public/private Hamilton Region 'Export Zone' (the H-EZ), on the former Studebaker plant and lands; and initiating strategic development work including collaborations with foreign-trade offices of Brazil, Russia, India and China; and establishing innovative trade relationships in the US, EU, Mid East, Far East and Africa --- for re-establishing the 'Made-in-Hamilton'  spirit and create new jobs locally for growing markets abroad.

$400,000: Towards securing the development rights for the Connaught Hotel lands and adjacent parcel, and packaging a new project for establishing the 'Hamilton Technology Design Centre' with local and international student & staff residences, in a public/private joint venture with key business and universities in Brazil, Russia, India and China --- for creating a viable and sustainable higher education institution in the downtown core and supporting the technology design needs for the new H-EZ.

$500,000: Towards acquisition and start-up funds for developing a unique eco-village styled live/work campus, for a Regional Holistic Health & Rejuvenation Centre on the Upper James transit corridor in a public/private collaboration with local agencies and internationally renowned mental health organizations and holistic healing specialists. --- This new eco-health cluster will facilitate the relocation of all mental health and addictions clinics and supporting social service organization from the core; along with short/long term residences and skills/work-force re-entry training workshops for all clients.

$20,000: Towards hosting an -annual regional conference- to explore and develop innovative solutions and processes to mitigate the outcomes of dumping mental health and social services in urban communities and establishing new benchmarks from successes and failures of current and past practices.

$30,000: Towards hosting an -annual national conference- on exploring and Developing Best Practices in Regional Growth Strategies and Economic Development.

$1,450,000: Towards setting up a fund to develop Green Industries in Hamilton - with a $15,000,000 annual fund-raising target to promote and directly support the creation of new green industries in downtown Hamilton.

10. If you just arrived in Hamilton and had a chance to pick any neighbourhood in Hamilton to live in (including of course Stoney Creek, Ancaster, Flamborough, Dundas and Glanbrook.), knowing what you know now about Hamilton, where would you choose to live and why?

The Downtown Core  as it continues to offer the most opportunities both personal and public - for shaping the Next Hamilton.


Special thanks to Mahesh for his contribution to "The Hamiltonian" ,  and for his interest in our city.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Propping Up Old Churches

City council is considering measures that would see that old historic churches, are converted or adapted for re-use, so as to retain their heritage value.

Councillor Brian McHattie is expected to introduce a motion today, calling on the city to approve hiring a consultant to look at the issue. The cost of the consultant would be contained to $5000.00.

Councillor Bratina, on the other hand, isn't convinced that the hiring of a consultant, is the best way to proceed.  Bratina argues that the city's development process needs to be perfected so heritage concerns get flagged right away. He also maintains that there also needs to be a list of priority heritage buildings in the city, something council has approved compiling,  he said.

(see article as found in The Spec, here)

Do you think we should focus on this issue and,  if so, what do you think is the best means to do so?

Friday, September 4, 2009

N.H. Hell?

Gary Bettman,  NHL Commissioner has said that there is nothing that Mr. Balsillie can do to join the NHL ever. With that degree of entrenchment, and with the propsect of appeals and further lengthy court challenges, should Hamilton re-assess its arrangement with Mr. Balisillie?

 
No doubt that Mr. Balisillie has the staying power to see this through, if he chooses to do so, but is this still our best bet at getting a NHL team, or is this destined for prolonged litigation that will only paralyse or otherwise harm our future chances?

Update: Balisillie has increased his offer by 30 million dollars. Do you think it will make a difference, or is this a case of, as Lennon and McCartney wrote, "Money Can't Buy me Love"?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What's New?

Scott Thompson of CHML was kind enough to interview me on air tonight and to profile The Hamiltonian blog.

I also spoke to Mayor Fred tonight who tells me he is very much looking forward to being a future guest.

Thanks to both Scott and Mayor Fred for their interest.

Don't forget to spread the word about this blog. Let's see if we can get to 5000 hits very soon. Post your views. There are a lot of eyes on this blog.

10 Tough Questions with Clr. Terry Whitehead

Councilor Whitehead doesn't strike me as the type who would back away from tough questions. I was not disappointed.


1. You recently voted in favour of asking the province to grant cities the right to ban corporate and union campaign donations. What influenced your vote and why did you support it?

This is a debate that needs to take place. There are pros and cons on both sides of this issue and I believe that it is important to understand all aspects before making a final decision. At this time my position is not necessarily supporting a ban, as I believe it is a slippery slope in seeing the creation of a party system at the municipal level. I do not believe that the general public will have the stomach to support partisan politics at the municipal level. I do have concerns that only the wealthy or individuals that associate with certain fringe groups or organizations would be advantaged by the elimination by corporate and union donations. The maximum donation at the municipal level is $750.00.

Surely no reasonable person would believe that  $750.00 would influence a municipal Politician in any decision and or access thereby jeopardizing their credibility, integrity and future. Unions are well known to provide assistance if not through financial donation through providing full time staff in campaigns and therefore banning union donations would not change any perception of their influence.

The better way to go would be to create tax incentives for all individuals that provide contributions to Municipal campaigns currently something that only exists at the Provincial and Federal level. I believe it is important  when a Councillor is running in a large ward that they have the ability  to raise enough funds to ensure that the voters are well informed on who they are and what they stand for. Limiting their ability to raise funds could jeopardize the ability of the voters to know or be well informed about the candidates running in their Ward.

Lastly, it is important to remain open minded about this discussion and understand all aspects and the implications. I support the continuance of this debate by supporting the resolution and I hope
to arrive at a informed decision.

2. Is it uncomfortable or otherwise troubling watching as someof your colleagues were under investigation for code of conduct violations? How does this affect the dynamics within council?

It is always concerning to see any colleague run afoul with the code of conduct. The nature of the violation may determine the dynamics within Council. If it is an honest mistake, it would obviously have little impact on the relationships with Council.

If it is a blatant violation then as a role of Council we need to support the code of conduct and support the findings of the Integrity Commissioner and support any sanctions that are recommended.

The reality is that every Councillor still has a vote on issues that affect the taxpayers of the City of Hamilton. It is important to maintain professionalism and rise above these issues and continue to work in collaboration to move the City forward. Ultimately, I believe that the dynamics at Council does not change.

3. I note that you own a vehicle that is wrapped in the City of Waterfalls advertisements. Can you tell us about how that came to be and your thoughts about the Waterfalls campaign?

I am actually glad that you have asked this question. It gives me an opportunity to recognize the wonderful work of true Hamilton booster and philanthropist Chris Ecklund. He has started something with the promotion of the waterfalls and the City of Hamilton that have seen tens of thousands of people locally, nationally and internationally that have taken an interest in the little known secret that Hamilton is the Waterfall Capital of the World. My family and I have joined many walks with Chris and many individuals from far and wide to explore the natural beauty that is provided by the waterfalls within our community.

The fact is that there is still a perception amongst many across this country and beyond that Hamilton is an industrial wasteland. I believe this branding exercise has opened the eyes of many. Chris and his team continue to promote the City in a way that directly addresses people unfounded perceptions of Hamilton.

As a Councillor, I have attended a number of conferences across the country with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and I have introduced myself as the Councillor from the City of Waterfalls Hamilton Ontario. It has opened up many positive discussions and the realization that Hamilton has unique geography that provides many majestic views and in fact has more green space per capita that any other City in Canada. This is a story that needs to be told and I am proud of doing my part in telling it. My Wife and I bought into the promotion and therefore had my car wrapped so that I could be part of the team in selling the City as the Waterfall Capital of the World.

4.What was the most useful criticism you have received as a politician and how did that change you?

As a Councillor for the last two terms, I have sat on many boards and committees; in fact the largest number compared to my colleagues. One of the criticisms is that I have spread myself too thin and as a result may not be as affective in championing issues that are important. I have consciously turned down and will continue to purge the number of committees that I sit on until I find the right balance.

Until that time I will be very selective of any additional boards or committees. I have had "some" indicate that I could be a bit more economic with my comments and should consider not repeating points that I have already made. I believe this to be constructive criticism. I will continue to work on streamlining comments during future debates. In the heat of debate I am very passionate and I acknowledge that it is an area that I need to work on.

5. If you had to step outside of your role, and make a clinical assessment of how council functions, would you say that everyone is basically on the same team, or is it better described as every person for themselves with some pockets of alignment? To the extent that there is a need for improvement in teamwork, what is the missing element(s) that would lead to a greater degree of alignment?

Paraphrasing Churchill, democracy is the worst form of government however all of the others have been tried. The reality is; each Councillor is elected by their Constituents. Many of the Wards have diverse social, economic, cultural and even religious backgrounds. Often, those perspectives are reflected in the representation around the Council Chambers. I believe this to be a strength not a weakness. As we move forward as a City we have a responsibility to be sure that no one is left behind. We also have representatives on Council that have keen environmental interests, economic interests and quality of life interest. I have said this in the past and I will say it again "Thank God we are not homogenized" and there is a diversity of views. I do not subscribe to the premise that we have a dysfunctional council.

We have achieved much in challenging time and we continue to slow tax increases relative to other municipalities. There has been many studies in magazines such Canadian Business Magazine and Foreign Direct Investment Magazine etc. that Hamilton is one of the best places to invest and to do business. On many of the comparative studies we are consistently in the middle of the pack and consistently rank higher in the quality of life. What most people see is Council meetings which is only a very small piece of what we do, most of the work is done at sub committees and standing committees. I have been fortunate as I have had the experience of living in other communities and seeing their councils in action and I have yet to find one that does not have many of the same challenges that we do.

6. Some say that people are most effective when they play to their strengths. What would you identify as being your greatest strength and how do you bring it to the table?

Hard work and experience! I have worked in all levels of government which has provided me the opportunity as a Councillor to take that knowledge and apply it to some of the challenges that we face as a City. As an example, we have lost many jobs in the manufacturing sector in southern Ontario and more specifically in Hamilton in recent years. Five years ago, I started a campaign to create the Southern Ontario Economic Development agency and received endorsements from Council , local and Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

This recently resulted in an announcement by the Federal Government of the creation of the Southern Ontario Economic Development Agency with a 1 Billion Dollar fund for the next five years. That is a result of my experience and knowledge at the federal level. From my experience at the Provincial level, I recognized that we could do much better in attracting the film industry to Hamilton. My involvement resulted in the City of Hamilton developing a film policy that has one stop shopping for film site locators, updated digitized library and our staff attending film trade shows. This has resulted in a significant increase in filming in the City of Hamilton.

7. From watching the coverage of council meetings on cable 14, it is sometimes evident that there is an element of strain between yourself and Mayor Eisenberger. Is that a fair observation or is that reading too much into it? Has that situation improved?

Lets be clear; my relationship with Fred Eisenberger precedes him being elected as Mayor for the City of Hamilton. Our relationship was always cordial and friendly and one of mutual respect. What people observe in the context of Council is more about style than about substance. The Mayor and I have had a good discussion and I know that moving forward with the changes that the Mayor has initiated with the governance of Council that any concerns that I have had in the past have in fact been addressed.

8. What are the biggest challenges facing your ward, what are you doing about it, and how are you reconciling those interests against the broader interests of the city.

We are as I previously stated a diverse mix of individuals with varying economic, social and religious backgrounds. We need to understand and educate ourselves so we are better able to relate with one another. Through the development of grassroots neighbourhood groups we are making great strides within our Ward. We are bringing excitement to our neighbourhoods with community festivals and movie nights which is drawing crowds in excess of 500 to each event. These events generate conversation and a sense of community pride where there was none. People are once again coming out of their homes and socializing with their neighbours. I believe these type of activities are directly
transferable to the rest of the city and help create a sense of pride one neighbourhood at at time.

9. If you could change one decision that council has made during this term, what would that decision be and why would you change it?

The renovation of CITY HALL. I feel we should have built a new City Hall. If we are truly thinking of the long term efficiency of City Hall. Then surely it does not make sense to renovate a building that is limited in size and will only accommodate 30% of our employees. We have 1500 staff and only 450 staff will be able to move into City Hall.

That means that for 70% of our staff, will be required to be housed in various locations throughout the downtown core as a result we will be paying rent and have to deal with lease negotiations and unpredictable lease rates for the fore seeable future. A number of these staff will have to travel between their off site offices and City Hall for meetings. Time will be lost and no work will be done while they are in transit to come to City Hall. How efficient is that? I believe that the tax payers of this community got shortchanged with this decision.

10. What is the most frustrating part of your job as councilor ? How do you deal with it? What is the most rewarding part of the job?

Of all the municipalities that I have lived in I find long term residents of Hamilton to be the most critical of their own community. Most often, they do not celebrate and take pride in what Hamilton has to offer. Many newcomers to Hamilton have a very positive outlook and comment on how lucky we are to have some many amenities, miles of walking trails and lot of services that do not exist in the communities they have come from.

Council has to do a better job of communicating many of the achievements and milestones and reestablish a senses of pride in our community To quote Trevor Cole of the Globe and Mail this morning on the radio, Winnipeg has less to offer it citizens and yet there is a real sense of pride. Hamiltonians are much more critical. I believe this a failure of council and we must lay out clearly the vision for the city of Hamilton and promote the positives.

Most rewarding part of the job is knowing that we continue to move the yard sticks forward in improving the lives for many residents of this community.

Special thanks to Clr. Whitehead for his contribution to "The Hamiltonian" and for his service to our city.
Visit him at http://www.terrywhitehead.ca/


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