Ottawa City Staff, Council Are Incompetent: BENN

 

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Just because its complicated doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put the hard work in.

Sage advice I received far too many decades ago, from a mentor with the “scar tissue” to show for his efforts.

The city has scar tissue, too. In fact it has wounds due to lack of progress on … just about every policy initiative it has announced over the course of the last decade or more.


With the authority to make decisions comes the responsibility to make the right decisions. Making the right decisions requires having the right information. Complete, accurate and timely analyses (note the plural) that take account of a range of likely outcomes. Analyses that take account of decisions that might be outside the organization’s control. Analyses that are based on supportable assumptions. Assumptions that are based on evidence.

So let’s look at city hall. The recent revelation that the walk-on amendment to the Official Plan that added Tewin to the urban boundary will cost the city north of $600 million to bring the requisite infrastructure to Tewin comes.

Just one of many decisions made by city council without the supporting analyses to make an informed decision.

I Tot I Taw A Deflection …

Case in point, the Official Plan.

Were any evidence-based analyses on what the incremental cost of implementing it will have on existing and future infrastructure, such as water supply and sanitary and storm sewers? Were there any evidence-based analyses on how public transit will need to be adapted to fit the actual needs of the residents and businesses? Any analyses that address the likely range of outcomes, such as the willingness of the residents to change their needs to meet the wants of the planners? Any analyses regarding the commercial viability, a variant integral to the concept of affordability, of the form of housing required to meet the density requirements? Any evidence-based support that the key assumptions are reasonable? No, no, no, no, no.

However, city staff is well underway on drafting bylaws that will change the zoning requirements. Once the zoning is changed, there is little chance of reversing course. Why would the city want to reverse the zoning by-laws that it passes in support of the Official Plan? Perhaps when city council finally sees the cost to replace or upgrade existing infrastructure to handle the increased load that will come with a much denser housing pattern. Perhaps when city council finds out that it is not possible to meet the minimum service levels required of its public transit service.

Do we know that either of these events will come to fruition? No. But neither does city staff nor city council. Yet the decisions have already been made.

Next. Lansdowne 2.

What was presented as an analysis of the projected capital costs and operating results would not meet the reasonable expectations of a board of directors tasked with the prudent stewardship of an organization’s resources. Where were the range of outcomes: worst case, most likely/base case, best case? Where was the evidence-based support for the assumptions regarding construction costs and expected operating results? The financial projections were of such a quality that the external reviewer called them optimistic. For those not blessed with an understanding of terminology used by those with a professional-accounting designation, optimistic means beyond best case. Fanciful being too descriptive a term for such a staid profession.

Next: Affordable housing.

City policy is for 20 per cent of all units built near a major transit hub, typically an LRT station, to be affordable. Wonderful aspiration. The metric since this policy was passed is less than four per cent. Why? Well, there is nothing in the actual zoning requirements. There are insufficient funds allocated to achieve this policy in the city’s operating and capital budgets. Why? Well, its complicated.

Managing a million-resident city is complicated. Just because it is complicated doesn’t mean that staff should not do the work. Just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean that city council should let staff off the hook.

The people tasked with managing the city are not up to the job. Sadly, the same conclusion is true of the people tasked with oversight of the city managers.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.

 

Unforeseen Problems | Yes, Prime Minister | BBC Comedy Greats

Sometimes problems are just unforeseen … such as at the Tewin project.

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9 Responses

  1. John Langstone says:

    How do we expect sound planning decisions when our planning department is in business partnership with the development sector. Isn’t that what the OSEG partnership is? Wasn’t that Jan Harder’s office back in the day?

  2. Valerie Swinton says:

    Well said, Mr. Benn. Might this overburden of incompetence warrant a review by new Min. of Housing Paul Calandra or the Ontario Auditor General?

  3. Peter Karwacki says:

    They were all elected fair and square. Plus, it is nat illegal to be wrong…as long as the process you follow is legal.

    That said, Benn is correct.

  4. Robert Roberts says:

    Agree. Now what do we do?

  5. Elizabeth McAllister says:

    A modern Public Sector organization sets an overarching strategy to meet the vision for the City set by a meaningful consultation.

    The Strategy is not an Official Plan largely focused on development. It would more likely focus on quality of life and environmental status….health, safety, effective transit, poverty reduction, economic vitality.

    Outcome metrics would be set for each high level objective set by the strategy.

    Each Manager would report progress towards and contribution to the outcomes,

    The way “Outcomes -based management ” works (outcome meaning a qualitative change in the life of citizens or status of the environment) is through collecting quantitive evidence on whether or not programs and services were effectively meeting their obectives and contributing to higher level results set by the strategy. Leadership that sets a learning culture is crucial.

    A focus on outcomes that are by definition are outside a managers control causes the leadership team to work together across departments and in partnerships with outside organizations.

    Unfortunately many politicians are afraid of poor results being made public. Media and others don’t seem to cover poor results if they are evaluated and quick action is taken to correct course. Often the public is quite interested in lessons learned.

  6. Ron Benn says:

    Peter, further to you comment, may I present a metaphor from my high school days.

    In math tests, the marking rubric was such that the majority of the marks were for showing your work. The final answer was worth but one mark.

    My point being that unless you show how you got to the answer, to demonstrate that you know the formulae, for all the teacher knows you looked at someone else’s paper or you guessed correctly.

    To complete the metaphor, staff and council are regularly scoring zero or one out of ten. Not a passing grade. At least not one when I had to walk 25 kilometres in the snow with no boots, up hill both ways, all the while on the look out for sabre tooth tigers.

  7. Alf Chaiton says:

    Some of the problem may be public expectations and pressure. For instance, how do you “make” a property “affordable”? Build a smaller house? Build it below standard? Remove all local, provincial, federal fees? No development charges for community services (so everyone else in the community pays more to make up the shortfall)?

    If it’s a straight up subsidy by government(s) to reduce the price, who gets the windfall profit when the house is sold (at normal market price, one assumes)?

    A revolving fund is the closest to an answer. Government/s create an Affordable Housing Fund. Those eligible are given the difference between a house’s price and 30% of their gross income, up to a reasonable total. The subsidy is formalize as a non-interest charge, to be repaid at the same time as the house is subsequently sold.

    Lansdowne 2.0 I can’t speak to because it has nothing in its favour.

    Tewin is a Taggart project and they were big supporters of the former Mayor as well as the current one. Enough said.

  8. Ken Gray says:

    Alf:

    … we might have over-paid for LRT.

    For what’s it’s worth, i think the only thing that will make housing affordable is a change in the demographics, thus a market change. I think housing is a problem that is too big to solve. It’s bigger than government.

    cheers

    kgraay

  9. Ron Benn says:

    I think that it is important to distinguish between the multiple “flavours” of affordable housing that people are asking for.

    At one end of the spectrum are the people who are on some form of social assistance. They need accommodations that are suitable to their household (# of bedrooms being the primary characteristic). The most appropriate supplier of this type of housing is some combination of municipal, provincial and federal governments. The current model of having a private landlord provide the housing, with payment from the appropriate governing body is not getting the job done. Having said that, the decrepit state of repair of city housing owned/managed facilities (due to political decisions at the time that the budget is set) isn’t a glowing example of success.

    Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are households that have a combined income at the low end of the scale, but do not receive social assistance. This is a difficult category to address. If they don’t qualify for social assistance, then how do they qualify for government provided or subsidized affordable housing? I don’t have an answer.

    At the other end of the spectrum are the households that would like to purchase a home, but lack the down payment and household income to afford one, or the one that they would like to own. To my mind, this is not the responsibility of any level of government.

    Our elected officials should start by focusing on the most urgent part of the problem, notably the people in the first category described above, whilst telling the third category that they will just have to live within their means. That will take the very rare combination, at least within the elected officials of this city/province/country, of real problem solving skills and the courage to risk annoying voters. And that is why have seen so little progress on a problem that is not new (as in 202x).

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