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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Poem for Peter

Tribute to Peter Kormos
A Poem to remember Peter

Peter
We salute.
We all came
As the marching time drew closer.

Politics, tainted.
You preached mankind:
Spirituality, Social Equality.

Sad! Sad! We are
That Society and the Institution did not
Understand.

All of us caught up with our own insecure
World
Now, that wall is removed.
Knowledge is Eternal,

So your Legacy continues on.

By Shekar (Chandrashekar)
Retired Civic employee

The Mayor and Metrolinx

Click here to see the Mayor's conversation with Bruce McCuaig (President & CEO of Metrolinx)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Sips and Bites- March 2013

“Sips and Bites – March 2013”
Well I certainly did get your attention! The previous column (Are we a culinary wasteland – Part 1?) attracted a lot of comment. Based on that, the time I need to digest the thoughtful input of individuals I’ve interviewed for the piece (including ebullient Hamilton Dishcrawl Ambassador, Dave Hanley), and the Easter holiday, I’m deferring the second part of the piece till next time around.

Before I tell you about a few upcoming events I’ll begin with a curious piece I found in my local newspaper, the Flamborough Review, about a food and drink


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hillbilly Justice or Victims of the Press?

In today's Hamilton Spectator (see it here or purchase the print copy), Hillbilly Heaven is again in the media spotlight. The Spec has reported that Hillbilly Heaven is operating its two establishments illegally, as it has not paid required licencing fees to the city. The Spec's article also summarizes some of the issues that have plagued Hillbilly Heaven; specifically, its use of the confederate flag on its signage and Cameron Bailey (its owner's) refusal to remove the flag.

We followed up with Mr. Bailey on the licencing issue, and with Clr. Jason Farr. Our Q/A with Cameron is posted below. We have not heard from Clr. Farr yet, but will post his reply if we receive one. Last time around, Clr. Farr needed some time to gather information 
before he responded. That's fair; we'll post his reply if we receive it.

Q. With respect to the non payment of city licensing fees, you were quoted in The Spec as saying: “Everybody has to pay the fees, only because they go along like sheep. What I’m saying is these fees don’t make any sense at all, other than you want to shake somebody down to own a business.”

While allowing that there are likely many rules that people would disagree with or wish to challenge either with respect to city policies or other policies in general, how do you respond to those that would suggest that there is a proper way of challenging things that you are not in agreement with, and an improper way? How do you respond to those who would say that simply refusing to make the payments is akin to making up your own rules, which in turn poses a threat to rules of order?


We are not refusing to pay anything – we are asking the city to justify some of them. Imagine that....asking the government to clarify something before you pay it.

Our fees are 29 days past due and I have been in contact with several members of the City’s licensing / business development staff over that time. The City has been patient and it was not an issue until today.

Below is the response I posted to our website.


JOBS OR FEES?

Today I received a call from a reporter from the Hamilton Spectator who is working on yet another story about us.

Since January 2012, Hillbilly Heaven BBQ (a proprietorship) has been operating without a City of Hamilton business licence. That information was obviously leaked by a city employee and found its way to the newspaper. The Spectator is choosing to run this "story" for no reason other than to smear our business.

In January 2012, we applied to the city for a licence and were advised of set of fees totalling $1,182.00. Additional to that, the city required us to commission architectural drawings showing the 24 seats we intended to put in our space. The cost of those drawings was $8,000.00!

When I complained to the city and wrote to our councillor, I was advised that the city would postpone that requirement until a future review. Our second review was done on January 11, 2013 and the by-law officer gave us until February 28th to comply.

In late 2012, I had the drawings done by an architect – you can't fight city hall – so we were ready to comply.

I presented that package to Ilya Stipic at the City on February 19th and asked to discuss the fees, some of which are nothing more than a financial shake-down. The same set of fees was required for our downtown location and, again, I asked to discuss the fees.

I have met with several people from city hall and made several calls but still no response. This morning I called two city councillors and left messages to call prior to the story being published.
_______________________________________________________

Throughout this period I have consistently presented two options to every City employee

- employ people today and pay fees tomorrow
- pay the fees today and terminate some staff to cover the cost

Each time the city employee responded to keep people employed – in today's economy that not only the right answer, it is the only answer.

Our staff is comprised entirely of people that were long-term unemployed or Ontario Works recipients. We have never hired someone away from another business and we pride ourselves on creating new jobs

Christine & I run a small business in a tough economy and make very little money at it. We live in a small apartment in downtown Hamilton and drive a 2005 Honda Civic.

Despite the struggle, we keep the business open because we enjoy our staff, our customers and take pride in the fact that we are providing the community a great product at a very fair price.

Perhaps the Spectator article will highlight the positive, but I doubt it.

Cameron Bailey


Your thoughts? Do you believe Mr. Bailey is taking a just stand, or has he stepped over the line with respect to the licencing ? Is he being batted around by the press? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lynwood Charlton, The City, Human Rights and the OMB

" I just hope they see that it really isn't just about zoning, because it's not. It's about the stigma of group homes being undesirable." 

" I don't understand how I moved down the street and suddenly became an undesirable"

Those are quotes from Clara Munn, a resident of Lynwood Charlton, as part of her testimony at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in relation to the city's attempts to prevent Lynwood Charlton from being relocated to Augusta street. Clara's testimony ( as quoted in today's Spec), will no doubt resonate with those who see beyond issues of zoning and examine the underlying human rights principles.

While the Ontario Human Rights commission is party to the proceedings, this phase of the eight day hearing will only deal with the planning issues. The second stage will incorporate the human rights code.

Our readers may recall that The Hamiltonian covered this topic extensively, which included some of our local politicians and also mayors from other municipalities weighing in.  Links to our coverage can be found by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

As Found on the Mayor's Blog

Transit – Taking a political TOLL
March 26, 2013 By Mayor Bob Bratina

The Province is embarking on the next phase of the so-called “Big Move,” which is intended to provide solutions to gridlocked roads and highways in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA). Hamilton has already benefited immensely because of the Province’s commitment to build a new GO Train station at James Street North as well as an all-day two way service to Toronto. Also, in the plans is a second station in the Centennial Parkway area of Stoney Creek. Premier McGuinty made this commitment to me personally, and Premier Wynne has confirmed that service should begin in time for the 2015 Pan Am games. This has fallen under Phase 1 funding of “Quick Win” projects totaling $744 million dollars. The next phase includes Hamilton’s “Rapid Ready” transit plan, including Light Rail Transit, and will require new funding of an estimated $34 Billion dollars.

This is the subject of intense discussion among the mayors and councils of the GTHA because of the need for new revenue not currently available within the Provincial treasury; now struggling with a multi-billion dollar deficit. We will soon learn what strategies the government will propose to generate the dollars needed for transit expansion and enhancement, and just as important, the public’s willingness to participate through road tolls, gas tax, parking fees, or whatever is brought forward by June 1st as legislated. My thanks to CHCH TV news for accurately reporting my thoughts in the following telecast story:

http://www.chch.com/home/item/12173-tolls-tax-hike-may-fund-roads-transit

One thing to remember is that the best laid plans of mice and men…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=4F4yT0KAMyo#t=44s

Sunday, March 24, 2013

To B or Not To B?

In the wake of the controversy and subsequent parting of ways between the City and Dialogue Partners, the city announced that it would go to a Plan B, which is to use city staff and local social media contacts to complete the engagement work.

We thus followed up on this topic with Paul Johnson, Director, Neighbourhood Development Strategies City Manager's Office. Here is our Q/A with Paul:

On the heels of the cessation of the relationship with Dialogue Partners, a plan was to be presented as to how the work would be continued.  Using city staff , as well as a role for local people familiar with social media, were cited as mechanisms to continue. We are wondering what the status of this is, whether there is a plan, and if local social media contacts will be engaged. If a plan exists, we are wondering if it can be shared with our readership.

An internal staff team that was formed to look at how to move forward with the project is working on the plan as we speak. We expect to discuss the plan with the Senior Management Team this month and report to Council in April.

For additional clarity and also publication purposes, have any local social media outlets been contacted/consulted yet? Are they part of the plan’s formulation?

At this stage no one has been contacted. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Your Tax Dollars, Not at Work- Follow Up

As a follow up to this story (click here), we asked the following questions of City Manager Chris Murray. Here is our Q/A with Chris: 


Q. We understand that seven public works employees of twenty nine, who were fired pursuant to an investigation about the amount of work they were doing a day, are being reinstated without back-pay. Their return to work is said to be under “strict conditions”.

Without asking details that would reveal the identity of the workers involved, can you provide a sense of what type of new information was brought to bear and why that information was compelling enough to reinstate the workers.

Further, Hamiltonians may be wondering why the reinstatement would not include back pay, and would be under strict conditions and what those conditions might be, if in fact the new information presented was strong enough to warrant a reinstatement after conduct that was reported as being very disturbing and unacceptable.

Lastly, what measures will be in place to ensure that incidents like these are not repeated?


A.  As we have indicated previously, we are in the second phase of our supervisory/superintendent investigation. It is expected that this will last a few more weeks, at which time we will be updating Members of Council.

In terms of what has happened over the last six weeks, as previously indicated, we have continued with the supervisory phase of our investigation. We have also started the grievance process with respect to the 29 employees who were terminated. During this phase, which included dialogue and conversation with the 29 employees and their union representatives new information did come forward. This information has led us to reach an agreement that saw 7 employees return to work under very strict conditions. Furthermore, these returning employees will have served an unpaid 30-day suspension prior to their return.

I cannot share in detail any specific information relative to the individual cases. In terms of moving forward, staff are developing a new training program for supervisors and superintendents. Furthermore, there have been positive impacts throughout the Roads division and Public Works as a whole in the last number of months. We have seen increased productivity within the roads division already, as well as improved communication and accountability.

Chris Murray


Your thoughts. Are you satisfied with the way this is being handled so far? Do you think justice will be served? 

Media Release- Office of the Mayor

City of Hamilton reacts to 2013 Federal Budget 

March 21, 2013 – Hamilton, ON – Today, the Government of Canada announced its budget and priorities for 2013. This federal budget has some continued targeted investments as well as a focus on balancing the budget by 2015.

“This 10 year plan provides Hamilton with stability and will allow us to start prioritizing our infrastructure projects”, said Mayor Bob Bratina. “I am happy that the federal budget has a focus on affordable housing and other infrastructure investments.”

“Seeing as the previous infrastructure stimulus program was set to expire, I am pleased that this budget provides confirmation of funding for the next 5-10 years,” added Mike Zegarac, Acting General Manager of Finance and Corporate Services. “Over the coming days, staff will review the budget details to determine how to best leverage these programs.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Clr. McHattie- on Participatory Budgeting

Clr. Brian McHattie has served up a stellar example of citizen engagement by initiating a form of participatory  budgeting, whereby he consults with his constituents in order to make decisions on how to allocate a reserve of funds referred to as the Area Rating Special Capital Investment Reserve. This reserve is intended to aid in addressing the required infrastructure investments within the former City of Hamilton. We decided to once again touch base with the Clr. to get his thoughts on how the process has gone so far. 

1. Some might say that this initiative, while admirable from a democratic perspective, was ambitious and may have opened a can of worms in terms of managing expectations. Can you describe the challenges and rewards of the process.


We had 12 organising meetings of the Ward 1 Participatory Budgeting Advisory Committee (PBAC), learning/designing the process/encouraging project submissions/organising project submissions for voting/reviewing the process for improvements etc. so a lot of work, no question! It's always a challenge encouraging citizens to become involved in a process like this, but we got off to a good start! A very rewarding process in that we received 70 or so project ideas from the neighbourhoods and through the voting system we learned what citizens' priorities were, and therefore feel good about the projects that are going ahead.
2. Making choices through a Participatory Budgeting initiative, would certainly seem to result in more defensible decisions. When making any choice, there are bound to be perceived “winners and losers”. While perhaps not presenting it in so stark a light, what assurances were you or are you able to give those who participated, but, in the end, may not see their priorities addressed in this round?

This was difficult in the sense that some of the project submissions weren't able to be advanced to the voting system (were on private property, not City jurisdiction, already happening). The defensible part of this is through the voting system with strongly supported projects rising to the top. I hope that folks with projects that were not supported will consider proposing them again in future years as each year we will have $1.5M or so to dispense, and I should emphasize that the $1.5M per year is in perpetuity. I should note that some projects were larger, more expensive projects which are difficult to do given their cost - the PBAC decided to put aside $300K in a reserve with the thinking that this can build over the years so we can do larger projects (i.e., $750K and up).

3. Would you enact a Participatory Budgeting initiative again (should circumstances be conducive) and what have you learned from it?

We are committed to undertaking this process each year into the future and are currently interviewing prospective PBAC new members, and are set to begin meeting on this year's process beginning in April. We've learned that our main focus for this year must be on getting the word out so that more citizens can become involved, develop projects, and vote!

Congratulations Clr. McHattie and your constituents for setting a good example of citizen engagement. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Taking Action- Opinion

In the context of budget considerations, Hamilton Police Association President Mike Thomas, is getting heat from Chief of Police Glenn DeCaire, over Thomas' suggestion that a way to deal with budget constraints and alleviate the need to hire new front line officers, is to redeploy some officers from the ACTION team. This despite the fact that the ACTION team appears to have been well received by Hamiltonians and have demonstrated results (see previous Spec article here).

The Chief did not hold back,  as he suggested that Thomas' idea is disconnected with the realities of policing in Hamilton; including ignoring crime analysis, response times and the benefits of the ACTION team. As quoted in The Spec, DeCaire said "The response (from the association) is simplistic, myopic and self-serving"

DeCaire also suggested that in the context of fiscal constraints, the association ought to be prepared to take fiscal responsibility during contract negotiations and accept the concessions and restraints of other city employees.

Parking the back and forth for a moment, and the fact that Clr. Terry Whitehead, for one, sees the association's letter as positive,  the adage of "robbing Peter to pay Paul",  seems fitting in the context of  this latest suggestion. If Hamiltonians accept the detailed crime analysis that the Police service has completed and the language of results against capacity, then the question comes down to how risk adverse are we and what are we prepared to settle for where the prevention and management of crime is concerned.

The Chief ,through the analysis conducted has determined that there is a need for net new officers and is making a case for it. It seems short sighted to think that depleting the ACTION team will be an effective way of handling this, unless the only consideration is fiscal savings, agnostic to all else- including public safety. In other words, you can't simply move the chairs around.

The Hamiltonian continues to believe that we need to balance what we are prepared to risk verses what we are prepared to pay for, where public safety is concerned. We believe our leaders should face that question head on in consultation with their constituents, and make a decision in the best interests of Hamiltonians. That's the type of action we need to take.   See our previous write up here. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Media Release - Public Screening of Video Case Studies

MEDIA RELEASE

Premiere Public Screening of Video Case Studies
April 16 Event to Show Local Urban Renewal in Action

HAMILTON March 18, 2013: The Renew Hamilton Project — an initiative of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the City of Hamilton and myriad other partners — today announced the premiere public screening of five video case studies that track the changing face of Hamilton’s urban landscape

over time.

The studies are a major component of a multi-year undertaking to document, promote and accelerate the regeneration of downtown Hamilton and adjacent neighbourhoods. They are meant to highlight individuals and organizations advancing renewal projects that range from the adaptive reuse of historic buildings to the revitalization of public spaces — initiatives that are attracting people and investments to the heart of the city.

The event — titled New Beginnings — takes place at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in downtown Hamilton on


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Integrity Matters with Hamilton's Integrity Commissioner, Earl Basse

In this edition of Integrity Matters, which we've dubbed the "Who knew?" edition, we asked Earl Basse, Hamilton's Integrity Commissioner,  a number of questions pertaining to how and when active investigations are known to be in play, and by whom.

Here's our Q/A.

Q. You have stated that in accordance with your interpretation of the Ontario Municipal Act, that you will not acknowledge whether or not there are active investigations. If we have interpreted your intentions correctly, this means that the complaint will be known to the public only if the complainant comes forward and declares it, if the councillor(s ) come forward and declare it, or through your annual report to council.

Section 223.5(1) of the Municipal Act states as follows:

"223.5 (1) The Commissioner and every person acting under the instructions of the Commissioner shall preserve secrecy with respect to all matters that come to his or her knowledge in the course of his or her duties under this Part. 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 98."

The Integrity Commissioner as well as members of Council and the public must abide by this section. In my


Friday, March 15, 2013

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Are We a Culinary Wasteland? – Part 1.

Are We a Culinary Wasteland? – Part 1.

I hope I have your attention! When I started this column last May (FFT01 – The first steps in our journey), I had a feeling we were missing some critical gastronomic element in Hamilton and Burlington.

Sure, there are some fine restaurants, talented chefs, great produce, well-stocked kitchen stores, and individuals passionate about food, amongst an almost-overwhelming presence of fast food outlets and chain restaurants serving undistinguished fare.

I’ve written in the past that the Oakville-to-Niagara area should merit attention at the national level, and in rankings such as the En Route guide to top restaurants (FFT 21 – Belgian Delights, Canadian Lists). I’ve also suggested that something bold might help put us on the map (FFT13 – High Flying Food).


Media Release- Call for Stallholders

Hamilton Farmers’ Market Now Accepting Applications for New Stallholders

Hamilton ON – March 15, 2013 – The Hamilton Farmers’ Market is currently accepting stallholder applications from local vendors interested in contracting space at the Market.

All applicants must complete the application form, available for download www.hamilton.ca/farmersmarket, and submit it to the Hamilton Farmers’ Market office by 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 28. There will be no extensions to this deadline.

The Market supports a Grow It! Make It! Bake It! approach and will select stallholders and their products


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bob Young's Letter to Hillbilly Heaven

Update: The following is a response from Cameron Bailey, owner of Hillbilly Heaven, to Bob Young's letter to him below:

I appreciate Bob Young's position and have the ultimate respect for him.

That said, I am not interested in having yet another entity feel that they have the right to dictate our business strategy. Like it or not, we speak to a large and active demographic and they love our attitude.

This morning I offered Bob an opportunity to have us remove the confederate flag:

Receiver Chris Williams is a customer of Hillbilly Heaven and clear NFL talent with a young family to support - he is in the final year of his contract and has requested his release so he can pursue a position in the


Flagged.....

Link of the moment. Click here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Out of Gas....

The City's benevolent act to keep the gas on at a Hamilton apartment building when the former landlord stopped paying utilities, and its claim to recover the cost of doing so, has itself run out of gas. According to a Spec report (see it here or buy today's print copy), the city paid $80,000.00 to assist those living in the premises, from having their gas turned off. The city appears to have acted prudently by putting a lien on the property and it also began collecting rents directly from tenants to offset the $80,000.00 cash infusion. 

 But upon the sale of the property (which was left unobstructed as the city elected to let the courts decide the fate of the balance of the $80,000.00 owing), the amount of the sale was not not enough to satisfy the lien on the property.

Thus, the court ruled that the city has no recourse against the new landlord or its tenants. Clr. Merulla, as quoted in The Spec, characterized the court ruling as " a disgrace and a travesty". A lawyer for the mortgage holder characterized the decision as a decision that simply upheld the law. Unfortunately, the courts saw it that way too.

(for clarity, nice guys and gals, finish last :_ )

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Your Tax Dollars, Not at Work

Twenty nine public works employees who were fired after an investigation that looked at the amount of work they do, or did not do, during a day, have not only brought shame onto the city, but have done so on a national scale.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation nominated these workers for a Teddy Award,  for The Worst Performance by a City Roads Crew. (see Spec story here or buy today's print version) . The tag line for the awards is "The Teddies- It's a Shame Just to be Nominated."

Despite the city being cast in so poor a light with respect to this incident, The Hamiltonian recognizes and reminds our readers that the vast majority of City Public Servants are not in that light and do a good job for our city.

Friday, March 8, 2013

In Honour of Rod Jerred

The Hamiltonian is saddened to learn of the passing of Rod Jerred. Mr. Jerred who recently lost his battle with melanoma,  served, among other things, as Hamilton Community News Managing Editor. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Controversy in the Core- Update

Earlier today, Cameron Bailey, owner of  Hillbilly Heaven,  posted an update on this thread (click here), that advised that he had met with Clr. Farr this morning and later in the day with Mahesh Butani. We thus asked Clr. Farr,  Mr. Butani, and Mr. Bailey for their comments regarding the meeting. 

Yes, thank you for the follow-up, Hamiltonian.

Now that I have received input and response from each of my inquiries which began Thursday and now that I have been able to speak directly with the owner, I am able to provide a comment; rather than no comment.

I can advise that the City's Sign By-law does not deal with the content/message of signs, except to regulate


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Controversy in the Core

Hillbilly Heaven will be opening up a new location next month on the corner of King and Walnut Streets. The establishment features an image of the Confederate flag as part of its signage.

The Hamiltonian has received emails raising  objections to the use of this flag due to an association made between the flag and its history as it pertains to slavery and oppression.

Some have emailed, setting a very different context, arguing that the American Civil war was not only about slavery, and thus too much is being ascribed . Still, some may argue that the its use at Hillbilly Heaven is harmless, more in line with a marketing presence, than anything else.   

Friday, March 1, 2013

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Heat in the Kitchen

We all know the adage “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” I can imagine it being yelled at the height of a dinner service in a French restaurant in the days of Escoffier. The yeller would have been Chef, immaculate in his whites and toque; the yellee some hapless apprentice wilting at the stovetop as a result of his exertions during a long shift.



The title of this week’s column is a nod towards the remarkably-titled book by Bill Buford, “Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany.” It’s a great read, and gives true insight into what passions can drive those who are obsessed with food.

My nephew, a talented pastry chef, once told me that when he was cooking in a Michelin-starred restaurant,