Coming up at City Council: March 7-11, 2016

Council is back to Committee meetings next week!

Edmonton City Council

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Urban Hens Pilot Evaluation

Last year after a successful pilot, Council approved the bylaw changes required to support urban beekeeping. Will they do the same for urban hens?

From the 35 citizens that applied to the urban hens pilot, 19 sites were formally accepted across the city. Each had to register provincially and had to receive consent from adjacent neighbours. They were managed by “both experienced and inexperienced hen owners” and they received support from the River City Chickens Collective. Here’s how the pilot went:

  • Each site was inspected at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the pilot.
  • “The majority” of sites were compliant, but a few follow-up inspections were required.
  • One site had concerns over the requirements and withdrew.
  • There were 12 citizen complaints across six sites, but all were “investigated promptly” and resolved amicably.
  • There were no complaints related to coyotes or other predatory wildlife, but there was “an increase in nuisance birds, roaming cats, and mice” for some sites.

A formal Urban Hen Keeping Program does not require any bylaw changes, so the Committee can essentially give the go-ahead if they support the idea. Property owners would be required to abide by the guidelines and would need to obtain a development permit under the new urban outdoor farming class. The requirement for neighbour consent would be removed, but participants would need to complete a training course or workshop before being issued a license.

Chickenses
Chickenses, photo by Dave Sutherland

“While the results of the pilot lean favourably towards supporting a program, several pilot outcomes cause some concern from an enforcement perspective,” the report says. For that reason, Administration is recommending a phased implementation in which the number of sites would be capped at 50 over the next two years.

The Edmonton Insight Community survey that was conducted along with the pilot found that 51% of respondents somewhat or strongly agree that raising hens in the city is good for neighbourhoods.

Park & Ride

A report from the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board identifies short and medium-term options to address the high demand for Park and Ride stalls. Recall that a previous report on Park & Ride at Century Park found that the lot is 85% full by 7am on weekday mornings and that the average weekday utilization of all park & ride sites is 97% at LRT stations and 60-70% at transit centres. The ETSAB report suggests “there is a clear need for an increase in supply” but it also suggests dealing with the price of stalls too. Roughly 87% of all stalls available are provided free of charge, with reserved stalls priced at $42/month (the same since 2010). The existing Park & Ride policy states that up to 18% of stalls at each location can be reserved for paid parking.

The options identified to deal with this include:

  1. Convert a Greater Proportion of Existing Stalls into Paid Reserved Stalls
  2. Increase the Price to Park in Reserved Stalls
  3. Offer Time-Limited, Unreserved Stalls
  4. Seek Alternatives to Increase the Supply of Park and Ride Stalls

The recommendation is for Administration to prepare a subsequent report on “the feasibility, implications and details of implementing” those options. ETSAB “believes that Park and Ride facilities form a critical part of our transportation system” but they feel customers should pay a greater portion of the costs of parking.

Century Park Station & Park and Ride
Century Park Station & Park and Ride, photo by City of Edmonton

A related report deals with the strategy for Park & Ride locations. The current policy (C554) was approved in 2009 and states that park & ride will be located:

  • at selected LRT stations and transit centres served by LRT, premium bus, or express bus services;
  • in areas along or outside of the Inner Ring Road (Yellowhead Trail, 170 Street, Whitemud Drive, and 75 Street/Wayne Gretzky Drive) and preferably at least eight km from Downtown or University of Alberta North Campus; and
  • at sites where more intensive development is not possible or feasible, such as the Transportation Utility Corridor or other major utility rights of way or where such development is not expected to occur in the immediate future.

Administration feels the policy has limitations and should be updated, just not right away. The new Transit Strategy is slated to be complete in 2017 and “is envisioned to encompass all transit-related issues at a high level, including park and ride.” The recommendation is to revisit the park and ride policy at that time.

Urban Balcony Expropriation

Identified as a part of The Quarters Downtown, the “urban balcony” is a triangular piece of land located between Jasper Avenue, 101 Avenue, and 96 Street atop Grierson Hill. The Quraters plan envisions it “as refuge for public gathering, providing and protecting public access to some of the most beautiful views in the City.” Its inclusion in the plan “recognizes the importance of access to the River Valley both in a physical and visual sense.”

urban balcony

In order to build the urban balcony, the City must acquire four properties. Two of those are vacant and undeveloped, and two contain unoccupied apartment buildings “in poor repair.” One is actually “subject to an Alberta Health Services Health Hazard Notice and is unfit for human habitation.” Administration has been negotiating with the owners the properties, but so far they haven’t been successful. As a result, they are recommending that Council approve the commencement of the expropriation process.

Other interesting items

  • A report on the current tax status of urban farmland identifies that although buildings used for farming operations in Edmonton receive an automatic 50% tax exemption, no such provision exists for urban farmland. Council does have the power to set a differential tax rate for farmland.
  • An update on EPS funding shows that in the latter half of 2015 they spent $266,000 on “component rebuild” for Air 1 and Air 2.
  • About 75% of the funding for the Community Energy Transition Strategy was being withheld pending a report on the provincial climate change strategy. Now that the report is available, there’s a recommendation to release the funds. “The conclusion was that the City’s action plan is consistent with provincial policies and directions.” See also the report on Corporate Environmental Targets.
  • Administration has provided a summary of its engagement to date with stakeholders regarding the Blatchford Project and in particular related to “visitable housing” which is “the concept of designing and building homes with basic accessibility features that provide easy access on the main level for everyone, including persons with limited mobility.” The recommendation is to encourage home builders in Blatchford to incorporate visitability principles.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Coming up at City Council: February 29 – March 4, 2016

Moe Banga was sworn in as the new Councillor for Ward 12 at City Hall yesterday. He handily won Monday’s by-election, earning nearly twice as many votes as his nearest competitor. “City building is a team sport,” said Mayor Iveson at the ceremony. “So it’s very exciting to welcome a new member to our team.” He also offered some advice to the new councillor. “You represent the people of Ward 12, but you serve the entire community.”

Moe Banga Swearing In Ceremony
New Ward 12 Councillor Moe Banga

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Stanley Milner Library Renewal

A recent update on the Stanley Milner Library Renewal project says that EPL has already raised $3.7 million, including “a lead gift from a significant donor.” The total cost of the project is estimated to be $62.5 million, and EPL has committed to raising $10 million from community partners by 2020. The City of Edmonton is contributing the rest of the funding. Bylaw 17572 is being considered this week and will authorize the City to borrow $51,498,000 to “undertake, construct and finance” the Stanley Milner Library Renewal project.

epl stanley milner renewal

The new building will be “open and airy, with much more natural light, a larger children’s library and Makerspace, and a two-storey tall interactive video screen” reports Metro Edmonton. Elise Stolte reports that the new building will also feature a daycare space, three new community meeting spaces, and a much larger cafe.

Draft Policy on Enterprise Risk Management

The Audit Committee has recommended that the Enterprise Risk Management Policy C587 be approved, and that Administration report on progress by the end of the year and again in Q2 next year. Here’s the policy statement:

“The management of corporate risks through a formal enterprise risk management framework and process is key to the fulfillment of Edmonton City Council’s goals for the City of Edmonton. City Council and the City Manager share the responsibility for creating a corporate culture and philosophy that encourages identification, evaluation, and reporting of corporate risks and risk mitigation strategies.”

There’s also an Administrative Directive that says the City is “committed to identifying, assessing, managing, and reporting on enterprise risk associated with the City’s business and strategic goals in a systematic, consistent and transparent manner.”

The policy was discussed by Council last June, and is largely based on Calgary and Saskatoon’s enterprise risk management policies. If Council approves the policy, future reports that require a Council decision will include a risk section.

McDougall United Church as a Municipal Historic Resource

If Council approves this bylaw to make the church a Municipal Historic Resource, a total of $500,000 will be allocated from the Heritage Reserve Fund to pay for rehabilitation efforts. The church has also been designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and Alberta Culture has committed $750,000 to help rehabilitate the building. The total estimated cost of restoration and rehabilitation is in the range of $11 million to $16 million.

McDougall Methodist Church, Edmonton, Alberta
McDougall Methodist Church, photo courtesy jasonwoodhead23

Here’s what the Heritage Planner’s Statement of Significance says:

“The heritage value of McDougall United Church rests in its association with the establishment of early religious institutions in Alberta. It is further significant as an example of early twentieth-century ecclesiastical architecture, and for its identity as a landmark cultural facility in Edmonton.”

The earliest church on the site was “a modest wood structure” built in 1873 by Reverend George McDougall. In 1892, a second wood-frame church was built. The current structure was erected in 1910. “Over the course of its history, McDougall United Church has served not only as a place for religious worship, but also as an important social and cultural centre.”

Other interesting items

  • The Hawrelak Park Water Play Feature is in need of $1.8 million from the River Valley Trail and Park Renewal capital profile. The concept that Council supported in 2013 has “undergone significant redesign due to a change in location” and that has caused the budget to grow.
  • Bylaw 17531 will amend the Business License Bylaw to implement three of the recommendations put forward by the Body Rub Centres Task Force: new license application requirements will be added, two employees must be present at all times and one must be a manager, and practitioners may work at more than one location under a single license.
  • Community Services Committee has recommended that the CIOG award recommendations be approved. A total of $3,546,490 is being provided to 225 not-for-profit organizations in Edmonton.
  • At Executive Committee this week, Council reluctantly decided to approve the environmental review for the funicular. That means the project will move forward with a targeted completion date of 2017.
  • The terms of reference for the new Active Transportation Council Initiative are ready for approval, with Councillors Henderson and Knack leading the project.
  • Bylaw 17536 and Bylaw 17274 will allow for a new Stormwater Management Facility at 2403 51 Avenue NW.
  • Council will receive an update on the City Manager Recruitment effort on Wednesday.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Coming up at City Council: February 22-26, 2016

Monday is Election Day in the Ward 12 By-Election, so I’m sure Council will be paying attention like the rest of us to see who their new colleague is. I understand that the Elections Office expects the results to be posted in a large batch, hopefully by 8:30pm, so it shouldn’t take long to find who wins. The Swearing-In Ceremony for the new Councillor will take place on Friday afternoon.

Untitled
Photo by City of Edmonton

But enough about the election for now, there’s work to be done. As I wrote about back in January, a reorganization of the City Administration is slated to take effect on March 1. Mayor Iveson wrote about the reorg yesterday, and highlighted that Council will be changing its committee structure to match:

“On the City Council side of the table, we’ve also begun the process to change Council’s committee structure to support more coherent decision making and build clear lines of accountability into the departments. The new Urban Planning Committee should mean a better alignment of the City’s planning functions; City operations now report to the Citizen Services committee; and all infrastructure work will now report to the Executive Committee.”

Those changes have not yet taken effect but will soon.

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

MacEwan West Operating Models: Governance & Tenancy

Although Council approved the purchase of the MacEwan University West Campus back in November 2012 for $36 million, the transfer of the facility isn’t expected to take place until the fall of 2017 (just $5 million has been deposited thus far). To prepare, the City has established a Community Stakeholder Committee as well as a cross-departmental Internal Committee. The proposed vision for MacEwan West is “an Intercultural, Interagency Community Hub for arts, recreation, wellness and learning.”

MacEwan West
Photo courtesy of MacEwan University

The building was constructed in 1981 and contains 257,000 square feet of space, about half of which is considered available for programming (the rest is common areas, mechanical, etc). Over 80 groups initially expressed interest in being tenants or offering programs at MacEwan West. In addition to their input, research on governance, operating, and tenancy models has been completed. Three different models have been identified:

  1. Mixed Used Model – accommodates the greatest number of tenants/stakeholders with an anchor tenant occupying 30% of the space
  2. Hybrid Model – anchor tenant would occupy 50% of the space
  3. Predmoninate Single Use Model – anchor tenant would occupy over 70% of the space

Under the first two models, the City would be responsible for ongoing maintenance and renewal costs, estimated at $1.6 million annually. Under the third model, the City would consider selling the facility to the large tenant, but would “would retain the parkade for future LRT development.”

The next steps are to establish a Tenant Selection Committee, finalize a tenant selection process and criteria, report back to Council in Q4 with a “recommended tenancy structure, governance model and operating model,” and complete the MacEwan West Business Plan and budget by early 2017.

Corner Store Pilot Program Update

Back in March 2014, Council approved the Corner Store Pilot Program to “stimulate local small business growth, enhance access to local amenities and contribute to community building.” The pilot began with three sites in Ritchie, Elmwood, and Newton and has been successful enough that the City will be expanding it to five additional sites later this year. More than 100 business owners and residents in Ritche were surveyed about the pilot and they expressed strong support:

  • 88 percent of business owners feel the Corner Store program is important to their business and are confident the program will positively impact their commercial centre
  • 86 percent of community members feel the program is important to their community
  • 77 percent of community members are confident that the program will positively impact their commercial centre

The new sites “will be chosen based on the program criteria and possible alignment with the Neighbourhood Renewal program.” A total of $1.25 million has already been budgeted for “public realm enhancements” for the new sites, so no new funds are required to expand the program.

Measures of Social Return on Investment and Other Community Well-being Indicators

Last year, Council asked for an update on how Edmonton and Calgary measure social return on investment and other community well-being indicators. Both cities are working together to share information, tools, and techniques in this area. “The most common area that captures well-being indicators in both the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary is through Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).” Edmonton and Calgary (and other municipalities) are mandated to report on outcomes for FCSS funded programs.

The overarching goal of the FCSS Outcomes Model is to enhance “the social well-being of individuals, families, and community through prevention.” In Edmonton and Calgary, three dimensions are evaluated: economic well-being, social well-being, and physical well-being:

community well being indices

Calgary has gone further and has experimented with Social Return on Investment, “an innovative, principles-based methodology and increasingly sought-out approach that assigns a financial value to a social impact that would otherwise be overlooked or misunderstood.” After pilot projects in 2008-2009, Calgary decided to offer grants to agencies that wish to complete a Social Return on Investment evaluation.

Edmonton currently has two Social Return on Investment evaluations underway, one on the “Net Analytics Pilot” and one on “The Youth Transit Access Project”. Both are expected to go to Council in the next month or so.

LRT History and Principles

How are we going to build the next phases of the LRT network? That’s one of the key questions that Council is going to have to address this year, starting with Wednesday’s discussion. “Council has laid the foundation for the next phases of LRT expansion with a principle-based plan,” the report says, highlighting The Way We Move, the Valley Line planning process, and the LRT Network Plan.

“Globally competitive cities recognize the importance of an integrated transportation system that gives people choices of where to live and how to move around the city. LRT is an investment in Edmonton’s future, a critical asset for a modern city with a transportation system and land-use choices that meet the needs of a diverse, dynamic and growing population. LRT is one of the most efficient modes of transportation: a single light rail track can carry up to 20,000 people per hour compared to a freeway capacity of 2,000 vehicles per hour per lane. As demonstrated by cities around the world, modern LRT can help shape cities, communities and neighbourhoods, with LRT often becoming the focal point for new mixed-use development.”

Funding for the southeast leg of the Valley Line LRT has been approved and construction is slated to take place through 2020. But what about the other legs? Based on direction from Council a year ago, Administration has initiated the LRT Prioritization Study to “provide a recommendation for construction staging of the remaining unfunded portions of the LRT network.” One of the first deliverables from that is the LRT Prioritization Evaluation Critera. Will Council be able to agree on an order that makes sense for Edmonton, or will Councillors push their own areas of the city above all?

LRT Network Plan

The report goes on to note that “the cornerstone of the plan is Urban Style LRT” which encourages transit-oriented development, reduces construction costs, and “strengthens the City’s integrated transportation network.” While this report only deals with the prioritization of LRT, it should be noted that other complementary work is already underway, such as the development of a new Transit Strategy.

Active Transportation Council Initiative

City Council already has an expansive list of 24 initiatives but it has decided to add another one. The new Active Transportation initiative is slated to proceed through the end of the current Council term and hopes to achieve “heightened awareness of the Active Transportation options available to Edmonton’s citizens and the benefits of active, healthy living, recreation, and sustainable communities” and “education for users of Edmonton’s transportation systems about their rights and responsibilities, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians”, among other things. Currently the initiative lacks both a budget and Councillor sponsors.

Other interesting items

  • The list of CIOG Award Recommendations is now available and totals $3,546,490 that will be provided to 225 non-profit organizations.
  • An update on the Urban Beekeeping Program says that 31 beekeeping sites have been approved and licensed and that no complaints have been received about those sites.
  • Deloitte was contracted in October 2014 to conduct a review of the City’s programs and services for developing or redeveloping community league facilities. They made a number of recommendations that the City is now proposing to action including a draft Tripartite License Amending Agreement “that would reduce the risk to the City and community leagues, as well as support the future sustainability of community league facilities.”
  • One report looks at the impacts of the Provincial Budget on community organizations and says that “although the Province increased funding to the Family and Community Support Services in 2016, the City continues to advocate for further funding increases for 2017-2018.” The report also highlights that “increasing unemployment throughout Alberta is resulting in an increased need for social services, especially in larger urban centres such as Edmonton.”
  • Thus far the Edmonton Public Library has raised $3.7 million for the Milner Library Renewal project. They need to raise a total of $10 million by 2020 to support the revitalization of the downtown branch, which the City is contributing $52.5 million toward. You can learn more about the plans for the library in the Make it Possible! document.
  • An update on efforts to protect and preserve the McDougall United Church says that urgent repairs using provincial funding are underway and that “a bylaw to designate the McDougall United Church as a Municipal Historic Resource is expected to be brought to City Council for consideration on March 1, 2016.” The total cost of restoration and rehabilitation could be up to $16 million “in the immediate to short term.”
  • Council is being asked to approve an Environmental Impact Assessment and Site Location Study to advance the River Valley Mechanized Access project, commonly known as the funicular. An open house and online survey held last year found that “approximately two thirds of the respondents were supportive of the project.” Council has already approved $34.4 million for the project.
  • Proposed amendments to the zoning bylaw would reduce the minimum parking requirements and otherwise increase the flexibility of passenger pick-up/drop-off spaces to facilitate the expansion of child care services.
  • The LRT Governance Board’s fourth semi-annual report is now available and covers the period from July 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015, during which the board convened five times.
  • A detailed report on the Mill Woods Double Barrel Replacement/SESS SA1B project is on the Utility Committee’s agenda. The project is “one of the largest and complex capital drainage projects undertake by the City of Edmonton in over 35 years.” The City has run into challenges though, and the original $56.9 million budget has grown to $91 million. In order to complete the project by August 2017, Admin is recommending another budget adjustment, which would bring the total to $96.5 million. One of the lessons learned here is the same as what came out of the Metro Line debacle: “Regular communication to Council and citizens on the status of the project and more frequent updates when experiencing issues.”
  • Council is being asked to support appointing a City representative to the board of the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. “The City has provided grant funding to the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance in the amount of 25 cents per capita.”

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Danisha Bhaloo is the right choice for Ward 12

Much has already been said about the large number of candidates running for Council in next week’s Ward 12 by-election. Choosing from 31 names is certainly daunting, but fortunately there are some quality candidates to consider. Irfan Chaudhry has run a solid campaign and would bring a strong focus on diversity and inclusion to Council. I continue to be impressed by Lincoln Ho‘s passion for Edmonton and his thoughtful ideas. Moe Banga would bring solid credentials in addressing crime & safety. But there’s one candidate who I believe stands out as the right choice for Ward 12. And that’s Danisha Bhaloo.

danisha bhaloo

After receiving her BA in Criminology from the University of Alberta, Danisha went on to become Alberta’s youngest Probation Officer. She made the move to the not-for-profit sector shortly thereafter and for the last few years has been the Manager of Fund Development with Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton. BGCBigs is an organization Danisha has a lot of history with. “My teenage years were difficult,” she wrote in 2013, but thankfully her mother enrolled her in the Big Sisters program. Danisha credits the experience with helping her overcome the challenges she was facing at the time.

Danisha’s experience has fueled her committment to improving the lives of Edmonton’s children and families ever since. I first got to know Danisha when she was the President of the Youth Restorative Action Project and Director of the Inner City Children’s Project. I found her to be very driven and compassionate. She has continued to make important community contributions in the years since, joining the Edmonton John Howard Society board, the Edmonton Opera board, and the University of Alberta Senate, among many others. The common thread throughout her work has been a focus on community and ensuring others have the support and opportunities they need to lead happy, healthy lives here in Edmonton.

Along the way, Danisha has earned a number of awards and honors. In 2009 she was chosen to receive the Distinguished Nominee for the Ron Wiebe Restorative Justice Award by Correctional Services of Canada. She was named one of Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 and one of Edmonton’s Sizzling 20 under 30 in 2013. And in 2014 she recieved the Alumni Horizon Award recognizing “the outstanding achievements of University of Alberta alumni early in their careers.” This is just a small snapshot of the recognition she has received.

“My life, both professionally and personally, centers around improving the lives of children and families in our community. That’s what keeps me motivated,” she said in a 2014 interview.

I think Danisha has run a solid campaign. She has heard from residents about the need for crime prevention and community safety and she understands that different parts of the ward experience these issues differently. Danisha is supportive of building LRT and of ensuring that Ward 12 has great connections to the Valley Line. She’d also like to review DATS and has spoken about the important work of the Transit Strategy review that the City is currently conducting. She views the cultural diversity of Ward 12 as an asset and something to be celebrated. She is supportive of the service review that Council has asked for, but understands the need for balance.

I really like Danisha’s position on public engagement and the fact that she has joined one of the working groups as part of the Council Initiative on Public Engagement. “We need to be as diverse in how we connect with Edmontonians to reflect the diversity of Edmontonians themselves,” she wrote in response to my survey on the issue.

Her position on women’s issues is also encouraging. She agrees with many of us who feel that we need more women in leadership positions throughout the city and her approach to achieving that is focused on mentorship and leadership. “I will look for ways to ensure we are asking the tough questions of ourselves for the agencies and boards to which we appoint Edmontonians,” she responded, “where we have opportunities in the City to mentor strong female leaders, and set a good example of leadership on this issue for members and organizations in our community.”

I don’t agree with Danisha on everything. She’s a little more sympathetic to the taxi industry than I am, and I don’t think she’s tough enough on the issue of police spending. But what’s important is that she is able to have a healthy, constructive debate about these and other issues. Danisha is open to new ideas and information, and she’s willing to consider alternative perspectives. These are important skills and attributes that any City Councillor needs to have in order to work collaboratively to get things done for Edmontonians.

danisha bhaloo

It’s true that Danisha does not live in Ward 12. She did grow up in the ward and does still own property there, however. I asked Danisha about this and her position was that the ward is very diverse, so living in one neighbourhood doesn’t mean you automatically understand the needs and challenges of the others. Whether you live in the ward or not, you’re going to have to work hard to represent your constituents effectively. My preference is definitely for a Councillor to live in the ward that he or she represents, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. What’s more important is, can they do the job and are they willing to put in the work? I think the answer for Danisha is a clear yes.

I believe Danisha is in this race for the right reasons. She’s running to contribute to her community and to help move Edmonton forward. The reason that Danisha was first to announce her candidacy was because this is not a decision she made on a whim. This is not just a stepping stone for her. This is a logical step forward in a career built on public service.

I do think increasing the cultural and gender diversity of City Council would be a good thing, but I don’t believe we should accept candidates less suited to the role just to achieve that. Fortunately with Danisha, that’s not an issue.

Amarjeet Sohi represented Ward 12 very effectively during his time on Council. He brought important leadership and perspective to the table, both for his constituents and for all Edmontonians. No candidate should seek to fill his shoes, but should instead bring their own ideas, strengths, and abilities to the table. I know that Danisha will do all of that and that Ward 12 residents would be very well represented if they chose her as their Councillor. I also know that like Amarjeet Sohi, Danisha will consider the bigger picture in serving as a member of City Council.

If I were voting in Monday’s election, I’d be voting for Danisha Bhaloo.

A closer look at the issues Ward 12 candidates care about

I’ve been looking through all the Ward 12 candidate websites (well, those that have websites) to find information on their platforms. As expected there are a few common themes, but not a lot of detail.

I’d say the top three issues that candidates talk about is community safety, transportation, and fiscal responsibility. Nearly every candidate says they want to reduce crime, improve roads or transit or both, and ensure citizens receive good value for money. Quite a few candidates mentioned reducing or eliminating poverty and/or homelessness, but never as a top priority.

Ward 12 By-Election Signs

Most candidates mention the Valley Line LRT one way or another. Some like Brian Henderson highlight the importance of LRT expansion, while others like Jag Gill say that the Valley Line needs oversight to ensure it is completed on time and budget. Don Koziak would “reallocate LRT funding to improve vehicular traffic flow.” David Staples spoke with a number of candidates on this issue, as did Vue Weekly.

I thought that the Vehicle for Hire issue would come up more, but only Moe Banga, Dan Johnstone, Nav Kaur, Balraj Manhas, and Nicole Szymanowka mention it on their websites. Many candidates shared their thoughts on Uber with Metro Edmonton, however.

Some eye-catching ideas include Mike Butler‘s “sky train idea”, Dan Johnstone‘s pledge to donate $10,000 of his salary, and Jason Bale‘s pledge to spend just $100 on his campaign. Shani Ahmad, Sam Jhajj, and Balraj Manhas, and Steve Toor all talk about fixing potholes. Mike Butler, Jag Gill, and Dan Johnstone all mention photo radar and either reviewing or banning the program.

A few candidates went with a slogan. Nick Chamchuk‘s is “Cold Hands & Feet, Warm Heart”. Lincoln Ho went with “Keep. Moving. Forward.” Yash Sharma‘s slogan is “People Living in Harmony”. And Preet Toor chose “Moving Forward for Better Communities”.

There are four candidates that actually provided some details behind their platform priorities. It’s one thing to say that you support improving transportation, for instance, and quite another to provide some ideas on how you’d go about doing that. I certainly don’t agree with all of the ideas presented, but I appreciate that these candidates made the effort to go a bit deeper.

Jason Bale wants to increase the fines for speeding in school zones, implement free 24-hour public transit, install city-wide video surveillance of public areas, and bring esports to Edmonton to boost tourism. If elected he would work to establish a cap on the amount election candidates can spend. I like his idea for saving money on signs, but unfortunately the weather hasn’t been cooperating: “In lieu of producing costly lawn signs, I am asking my supporters to write ‘100’ in the snow in front of their homes and businesses.”

Irfan Chaudhry would work to create incentive-based structures within agreements to ensure projects are complete on time and budget. He would work with EPS and the Chief’s Advisory Council to improve public safety. He would support creating share social spaces (such as community gardens) and would work with universities and colleges to enable the donation of unused U-Passes to the “Donate a Ride” program. He would work on developing “Edmonton for All”, a strategic plan for making Edmonton a welcoming and inclusive city, and he’d help Administration establish a Local Immigration Partnership Council.

Lincoln Ho has perhaps the most specific and wide-ranging list of priorities. He wants to establish text-to-911 for everyone, widen major roads and add additional access points to the Anthony Henday, add trams to the public transit mix, and utilize land along the Anthony Henday for urban farmland and large scale community gardens. He’d also like to implement free transit to the river valley, create specially designed parks/playgrounds for pets, vary speed limits on Whitemud Drive, and use traffic circles instead of traffic lights in new developments.

Steve Toor wants better lighting for pedestrian crosswalks, more citizens involved in neighbourhood watches, more thorough snow removal in school zones, to reduce or cap bus fares, to create more park ‘n ride locations for the LRT, to add more bus routes into newer areas, and to reduce interest rates.

If “progressive issues” are your jam, then check out the analysis from Progress Alberta. If you think gender diversity and women’s initiatives are importance, check out the Women’s Initiative survey. Metro Edmonton asked candidates for their thoughts on the police budget. And in case you missed it, here’s my candidate survey on Edmonton as an open, transparent, accountable, and engaged city.

Coming up at City Council: February 15-19, 2016

It has been a couple of months since my last “Coming up at City Council” update – time to get back into the routine. Thanks to everyone who has provided positive feedback on this series!

Untitled
Photo by City of Edmonton

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Infrastructure Report Card

Every year the City compiles an annual inventory of its infrastructure. The report for 2014 is now available while the 2015 inventory is still under development. The 2014 Report indicates that the City’s replacement value for all of its infrastructure assets is $42.8 billion. Of that, $29.4 billion is drainage and road right-of-way, hence the phrase “roads and pipes”.

infrastructure value by asset 2014

The average state and condition of the City’s assets are as follows:

  • 57% of the City’s assets are in good or very good physical condition, 30% in fair condition and 13% in poor or very poor condition
  • 65% of the City’s assets have very good demand/capacity, 19% have fair demand/capacity and 16% have poor or very poor demand/capacity
  • 79% of the City’s assets have good functionality, 9% have fair functionality and 12% have poor or very poor functionality

How does that compare to other municipalities? “In comparison to national averages in the 2016 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, the City of Edmonton generally has fewer assets in good and very good physical condition and more assets in fair condition.”

There are lots of charts and other information in the report, which you can read here (PDF).

ETS Bus & LRT Review

Well this report from the City Auditor is just depressing. I use transit and want to support ETS, but this just makes it extremely difficult to do so. The auditor found that “the reliability of service has been declining” and worse that “actions being taken to address reliability issues (i.e., on-time performance and overcrowding) are not improving the overall system performance.” Combine that unreliability with the cost of transit (which just went up yet again) and the value proposition isn’t very appealing. The single cash fare in 2011 was $2.85 and today it’s $3.25.

ets reliability

This chart shows that:

  • “Adherence to service schedules has declined from 2012 to 2015.”
  • “The best overall performance period was in the June to August period. In 2012, 74% of service was on-time. In 2014, performance declined to 69%.”
  • “The worst performance was experienced in the December to January period. In 2012, 60% of service was on-time. In 2014, performance declined to 58%.”
  • “The 90% performance target for arrival was not achieved in any time period measured.”

Why is the performance so bad? ETS says it is “a reflection of an increase in the number of persons with mobility devices and strollers, construction activity, and increased traffic congestion on city streets.” Sounds like a lot of excuses to me. On top of that, they suggest that operating budgets did not include funding to address these issues.

Capacity issues are also a problem. “In total there were 1,328 pass-by incidents reported in 2014,” the report notes. “Bus Operators estimated that more than 21,700 customers were affected.” While the current ETS fleet meets “the majority of ridership capacity needs” the report notes that “35% of customers rated overcrowding as unsatisfactory.”

Here are the auditor’s three conclusions:

  • ETS services are generally delivered in an efficient and economical manner when compared to other public transit organizations.
  • Service reliability expressed in terms of on-time performance was lower in 2014 than in prior years.
  • A lower percentage of ETS operating expenditures are funded by revenues than for comparable public transit organizations, single ride cash fares are comparable to that of other public transit organizations, and monthly pass prices are below average for comparable organizations.

You can find the auditor’s report here and Administration’s response here.

Designating the Molson Brewery as a Municipal Historic Resource

Bylaw 17507 “is to designate the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building as a Municipal Historic Resource and to allocate financial incentives for its restoration.” This bylaw is ready for three readings.

Molson Brewery Building, Edmonton
Photo by Connor Mah

Here are the details:

  • “The heritage value of the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building, built in 1913, consists in its association with the formation of the brewing industry in Edmonton and Alberta, its functional, yet artistic design, and its association with Chicago architect Bernard Barthel.”
  • “The Province has initiated the process to designate the building as a Provincial Historic Resource.”
  • “A payment of $417,550 annually over a ten-year period will be made to the owner to encourage the designation of the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building as a Municipal Historic Resource in accordance with City Policy C450B.”
  • “Annual rehabilitation grant payments of $417,550 will be made from the Heritage Reserve Fund to the owner starting in 2016, and will extend to 2025. However, the owner will be required to complete the identified rehabilitation work to the building by December 31, 2021.”
  • “The total estimated cost of the restoration portion of the project for the Edmonton Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Building is over $8,350,999. Other non-heritage work is estimated at another $3,590,462.”

Great to see this moving forward!

Other interesting items

  • A review of the City’s Debt Management Policy finds that it “is consistent with debt management practices in other Canadian cities.” I wrote about Edmonton’s debt back in 2013 during the municipal election.
  • Executive Committee has recommended that the funding agreement between the City and EEDC for the Edmonton Film Fund be approved. They also voted on February 2 to have Administration, the Edmonton Arts Council, EEDC, and industry work together to develop “a preferred model to replace the Film Commission.”
  • Bylaw 17527 is an amendment to the Zoning Bylaw to “add Urban Gardens, Urban Outdoor Farms and Urban Indoor Farms to additional zones.” Council approved the three new classes back on October 19, 2015 as well as the zones they apply to. Additionally, they asked for special area residential zones like Terwillegar to allow Urban Gardens and for Commercial Shopping Centre zones to allow Urban Farms, which is what this bylaw will allow, among other minor changes.
  • As of February 4, there are 34 recommendations from the City Auditor outstanding, 10 of which are overdue. Administration has completed 13 recommendations since November 2015 and has provided an update on recommendations that are more than 6 months overdue.
  • The Coin Processing Audit report suggests that “the City’s coin processing operations are effective in mitigating the risk of mismanagement of City cash” and that “the services Coin Processing Operations provides are economical compared to other municipalities.”
  • Council’s furniture budget remains unchanged for 2016 at $11,278. Only $3,073 of last year’s budget was spent.

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.

Update on the race to join Edmonton City Council in Ward 12

With just 11 days to go until Election Day in the Ward 12 By-Election, let’s take a look at what has happened so far in the race to replace Amarjeet Sohi.

More than 3000 advance votes cast

The City of Edmonton held advance voting this week from Monday through Thursday at the Meadows Community Recreation Centre. Election officials told me today that more than 3,000 voters have cast a ballot. That’s a little less than anticipated, but is nevertheless a good start considering a total of 17,815 votes were counted in the ward in the 2013 Municipal Election.

The weather today didn’t help with advance turnout, and neither did the “overwhelming number of campaign supporters” present at the Rec Centre that may have intimidated voters earlier in the week. Election officials took action and setup a barrier to help deal with the situation.

Signs, signs, and more signs

Much has been made in this by-election about the number of signs that are appearing around the ward. Signs are not supposed to be placed close to intersections, bus stops, schools, or polling stations, but they have been. Election officials had to take action because so many signs had been setup close to the advance voting location, and drivers and others have complained the large number of signs are distracting. Campaigns can face a $250 fine for poorly placed signs.

Ward 12 By-Election Signs

I was in the ward on Sunday, and observed dozens and dozens of signs that had fallen down or otherwise been damaged. The intersection at 34 Street and 35A Avenue did feature quite a lot of signs along the fences. But overall I saw fewer signs than I expected, based on the online chatter I was seeing about them. Campaigns have 72 hours after the election to remove all of their signs and other ads.

Lots of candidates

Most of the discussion about the by-election thus far has centered on the large number of candidates running. A total of 32 will be listed on the ballot, and that makes it difficult for a candidate to “break from the pack and distinguish themselves” let alone for voters to get to know all of the candidates in order to make an informed decision. The Journal has a pretty good introduction to each candidate, and while that may help to narrow down the field, it’s not enough.

So far, just one candidate has dropped out of the race. Shani Ahmad announced he is supporting Irfan Chaudhry instead, but because he dropped out after the nomination grace period ended, Ahmad will still appear on the official ballot.

I did not attend the forum last week at the Mill Woods Seniors Activity Centre, but it must have been quite the sight to behold. “The ratio of observers to candidates at Tuesday night’s Ward 12 Forum…was around five to one, and that’s with only 21 of the 32 candidates in attendance,” wrote Claire Theobald. Understandably, many people left early or otherwise complained about the unmanageable number of candidates.

Vote for a woman

One way that voters may reduce the number of choices is by focusing only on female candidates. There are six running, a ratio that isn’t too dissimilar to what we see on Council currently where Bev Esslinger is the only woman. Danisha Bhaloo, Nav Kaur, Nicole Szymanowka, Laura Thibert, Preet Toor, and Jeri Stevens are your female candidates.

Getting more women elected has been the focus of Equal Voice as well. Their goal is to have “half of Edmonton City Council and School Board candidates to be women” in the 2017 election and they have launched yegparity.ca in support of that effort. They recognize that if the by-election is any indication, things are not off to a great start. “Out of the current 31 candidates, only six are women…meaning only five percent of candidates,” they wrote (as a commenter points out below, that’s actually 19% of candidates). “That’s nowhere near close enough to meet our goal of 50 percent gender parity in 2017.”

Woman’s Initiative Edmonton also highlighted this issue with a feature on Nisha Patel, a young woman who lives in Ward 12. “The fact that there’s only a handful of women running amongst all these people who put their foot forward means that I want to support a progressive woman, because I think it’s about time,” she said.

Partisan-free civic politics

Do you think partisan politics should be kept out of the civic realm? That’s the issue everyone was talking about last week as Environment Minister Shannon Phillips took part in a fundraiser for candidate Nav Kaur. “This seems to be quite over the top,” is what Councillor Oshry told CBC Edmonton. Most of the comments I saw about the issue were overwhelmingly against the event and the NDP’s involvement.

Ward 12 By-Election Signs

On the other hand, Dave persuasively argues that it’s a “popular and misinformed myth that ‘there is no partisan politics in municipal elections.'” He notes that it “is natural for politically engaged people to be involved in elections for different levels of government” and that many current and past Councillors have had affiliations in provincial and federal elections, or endorsements from provincial or federal politicians.

Still, it’s hard to look at Nav Kaur’s incredibly orange website and list of key supporters and not immediately think the NDP is running for Council.

Where do they live?

For some voters, candidates simply must live in the ward to be considered. I generally feel that way too, but for me it’s a preference, not a hard and fast rule. And clearly it hasn’t hurt campaigns in the past, as both Councillor Nickel and Councillor Anderson do not live in the wards they represent, for example.

It turns out that about a third of the candidates running in this by-election do not live within the ward boundaries, according to an informal poll conducted by the Journal. With such a large number of candidates running, I don’t think this is that surprising. I also don’t think it’s such a problem. What’s more important than where a candidate lives is whether or not they can do the work necessary to represent their constituents.

There’s an awful lot of variation within Ward 12 as it includes new neighbourhoods like Summerside where median household income is $110,374 (average is $127,128) and also older ones like Minchau where the median household income is $81,139 (average is $89,686). Living in one part of the ward doesn’t mean that candidate will understand all of the challenges facing other parts of the ward any better than an outsider might.

Run-ins with the law

According to CBC Edmonton, six of the candidates running have had issues with the law. “While many of the incidents were minor, one candidate was convicted of assault, another was the subject of two court-ordered peace bonds and a third pleaded guilty to more than a dozen public health charges,” wrote Janice Johnston.

A second article by CBC Edmonton says that candidate Yash Pal Sharma is being sued “over his involvement in an alleged scheme to smear the reputation of a local Punjabi-language journalist.” He denied any involvement.

What do they stand for?

Considering we’re less than two weeks from Election Day, there hasn’t been much discussion about ideas or platforms. Candidate Nav Kaur did not like the fact that Council moved forward on the Uber decision without a Ward 12 Councillor, but clearly she’s not just running on the Uber issue. It’s probably a safer bet to suggest that’s why Balraj Manhas is running, but his website doesn’t include any platform information.

The other item I’ve heard/seen many candidates talk about is the Valley Line LRT and ensuring we get good value for money on that project. The Valley Line isn’t going to enter Ward 12 as it terminates at Mill Woods Town Centre in Ward 11, but it will have a big impact on transportation to and from the ward, of course. Still, it’s pretty easy for a candidate to say “we need to do better than the Metro Line” and just leave it at that.

Ward 12 By-Election Signs

But maybe there’s still time for more substantial discussions with candidates to take place. Edmonton’s NextGen has a set of questions they are asking candidates this week, I’ve sent a survey to candidates that I will share the results of next week, and I’m sure others are gathering input as well.

If you’re a voter in Ward 12, there’s not much time to get to know the candidates hoping to earn your vote. If you’re a first time voter, Edmonton’s NextGen has a good roundup of important things to know. Good luck to all!

Transition pay for Sohi, silencing street preachers, local food perceptions

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Transition pay for Amarjeet Sohi

There has been a bit of discussion recently about the transition pay that Amarjeet Sohi collected when he left office. As outlined in Council’s Compensation, he collected a little over $46,000 for his 8 years of service (the transition allowance is “three weeks salary for each year served, to a maximum of 36 weeks”).

Prayer Service - International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Amarjeet Sohi in March 2015, photo by Paula Kirman

Councillor Michael Oshry feels that by collecting the pay, former-Councillor Sohi went against the spirit of the allowance. He told the Journal:

“What I have a problem with is having a situation where somebody leaves mid-term, is basically quitting the job. I have a problem with that because it’s now their choice to do that.”

The transition allowance has been in place since after the 2001 election which is when a February 2000 motion to implement the final recommendations of the Independent Committee to Review the Renumeration and Benefits of Members of Council took effect. That motion was carried unanimously, by the way. At the time the transition allowance was “equal to 2 weeks salary for each year served to a maximum of six months salary.” Here’s the rationale the committee provided:

“Severance allowances serve the purpose of assisting individuals to bridge the period between the time that they leave a position until they re-enter the workforce in another position. Most severance allowances are linked directly to length of service and include a maximum pay out. In addition, most employees have access to Employment Insurance benefits to help bridge the gap during a transition to another job.

Members of Council currently do not have access to any severance or transition benefits; nor are they eligible for Employment Insurance benefits. The Committee felt that Members of Council should have access to some severance/transition support; however, they felt strongly that the provisions should not be retroactive. Having the current Council establish the policy for future Councils was viewed as a more appropriate and prudent way to manage the transition to this new policy.”

The transition allowance was increased by one week in 2006, with this rationale from the Independent Council Compensation Committee:

“Members of Council are not always in control of when they leave office and the Committee recognizes it takes time for members to re-establish themselves back into the workforce. Employees in government and non-government agencies, when laid off or the position is phased out, would receive some transition allowance and are eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits for this transition period. Members of Council are not eligible to receive these benefits. The Committee felt increasing the transition allowance by one week per year served allowed for fair remuneration comparable to other jurisdictions and Alberta MLAs, who receive three months salary for every year served.”

Council voted on this issue back in June 2006, and actually made it retroactive to 2001. It passed 12-1, with the only dissenting vote coming from Councillor Mike Nickel (he voted against the entire motion to adopt the report’s recommendations).

The Independent Council Compensation Committee reiterated support for a transition allowance back in 2012/2013 when they last issued a report, stating:

“The existing transition allowance is modest, is comparable to other jurisdictions and to the public sector, and provides appropriate economic protection to citizens who must leave other employment to serve on City Council.”

While I can see the point Councillor Oshry is making, I don’t agree. Amarjeet Sohi served for eight years (in my view quite effectively) and I think he’s entitled to all of the compensation that goes along with that.

Silencing street preachers

Earlier this week Council discussed the “use of amplified noise on City sidewalks”. Street preachers, essentially. Councillor Oshry made an inquiry about the issue back in November, saying that “the use of amplified noise by individuals on public property can often disturb the peace of others and infringe on their peaceable enjoyment of public space.” The two page report notes:

  • Excessive noise is regulated by the Community Standards Bylaw (PDF)
  • Section 14 of the bylaw states that a person shall not cause or permit any noise that disturbs the peace of another individual
  • Enforcement Officers “apply objective standards” to determine if an offence has occured
  • Last year a total of 959 noise complaints were received from citizens, most related to garbage collection, street cleaning/snow removal, and construction
  • Activities related to street preaching on public spaces fall under the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Any legislative change would have to fall within the rights of the Charter, and would also apply to “all variations of amplified noise”, including sporting events and outdoor concerts, so that could make a solution tricky. One idea is to restrict amplified noise in certain locations, such as within a certain proximity to building entrances. Another is to require preachers to obtain a permit, just as buskers must do. Ultimately, Council decided to request a report outlining “what other municipalities have in place to regulate amplified noise in public spaces” and information on legislative options that could be used to address the issue. That report is slated to come back to Council in April.

Bylaw
Fine for Violation, photo by Linelle Photography

Some street preachers are concerned the issue isn’t about noise at all. From CBC:

“I think the noise complaint is really a content complaint, wrapped in a noise complaint,” said Nehemia Smeding, who preaches on street corners twice per week. Smeding said he and his fellow street preachers use amplifiers so their message can be heard over the roar of traffic and crowds downtown.

I generally don’t have an issue with noise downtown, especially during the day. There are often organized protests that wind their way through the core making use of a megaphone along the way. I’m even happy with the odd outdoor concert that takes place on the streets during the summer months. However, because of all the buildings downtown noise is already amplified, even without a speaker. So while I can understand what Smeding is saying about wanting to be heard over the traffic (crowds? really?) I think there’s a reasonable limit. It’s probably too loud when I can hear clear as day on my 12th floor condo on 104 Street the preaching coming from 103 Street and 102 Avenue, which seems to have happened much more frequently in recent months. Blame the nice weather, I guess?

As you might expect, this isn’t the first time the issue has come up. Back in 2000, street preacher Tony Hritzuk was charged for apparent disruptions along Whyte Avenue. But not noise disruptions – he was charged obstructing pedestrians. The Traffic Bylaw (PDF) states that “a person shall not stand or be in any other position on a highway so as to obstruct the entrance to a building or to obstruct pedestrians or vehicles using the highway.” He and his lawyer said they’d fight the charge under the Charter, and the charges were dropped.

Perceptions about Edmonton’s local food system

The Edmonton Food Council (which I am a member of) is running an online survey until February 15:

“The Edmonton Food Council is interested in tracking how Edmonton’s food system is changing over time and would like to hear your thoughts and perceptions about the local food system. The Food Council intends on releasing an annual scorecard of Edmonton’s food system using the results from the following questionnaire.”

Please take a moment to share your thoughts with us! And if you’re not already a member, consider signing up for the Edmonton Insight Community to give input to the City on a wide range of topics each month.

The City of Edmonton is reorganizing in support of functional integration

The City of Edmonton is being reorganized effective March 1, 2016 around a new mandate of integration based on function. Acting City Manager Linda Cochrane announced the changes yesterday in an email sent to all City of Edmonton staff. She wrote:

“This new structure bundles work in departments based on function: all operations work, all infrastructure work, all planning work, all financial and corporate services work, all citizen services and all communications/public engagement work will each be grouped in the same department.”

The City’s last reorganization took place back in 2011, roughly a year and a half after Simon Farbrother was hired as City Manager. That restructuring was largely cosmetic though in that it didn’t dramatically alter the silos that had existed since the late 1990s (though the Financial Services and Infrastructure Services departments were later merged). This reorganization is all about getting rid of silos and breaking down barriers to more integrated service delivery. And the most notorious silo of all, Transportation, is now gone. More dominoes are indeed falling.

Here is the new organizational structure:

New Org Structure
Click for a larger version with the branches & managers

So previously there were five departments, plus the Office of the City Manager (you can see the old org chart here):

  • Community Services
  • Corporate Services
  • Financial Services & Utilities
  • Sustainable Development
  • Transportation Services

And now we have six, plus the Office of the City Manager:

  • Citizen Services
  • City Operations
  • Communications & Public Engagement
  • Financial & Corporate Services
  • Integrated Infrastructure Services
  • Sustainable Development

The new structure “bundles work in departments based on function.” This is perhaps most evident in the dissolution of Transportation Services. Here’s what happened to each of that department’s branches:

  • Edmonton Transit is now in the City Operations department
  • LRT Design & Construction is now LRT Projects in the Integrated Infrastructure Services department
  • Roads Design & Construction is now Transportation Infrastructure in the Integrated Infrastructure Services department
  • Transportation Operations is now in the City Operations department
  • Transportation Planning is now in the Sustainable Development department

Mayor Iveson spoke to the Journal about the changes yesterday, saying: “we’ve been talking about this for years; the transportation department, quite frankly, was very siloed and off on its own.” Well, no more.

Why now?

I had the opportunity to speak with Acting City Manager Linda Cochrane about the changes today. I wondered about the timing, given that a new City Manager could be coming on board in a few months and may want to make his or her own changes. “That’s true, some things could change with a new City Manager,” she acknowledged, but said that “Council endorses the bundling of services in a functional way.” She feels there is “strong support” for the new structure. On top of that, Linda is very interested in the role herself and will be applying to become the new City Manager.

During last year’s budget deliberations, Council asked for a full service review of everything the City is doing. Couldn’t that have an impact on the structure, I wondered? “A structure based on function will facilitate the service review,” Linda said. “It will let staff and stakeholders speak in functional ways and that will further the 2% initiative too.” She noted that this structure provides a different lens through which Administration can work to find efficiencies.

A number of City staff I spoke with about the change referenced the importance that Linda places on servant leadership. That’s reflected in her message to staff as well, where she wrote: “as always, service to citizens is our priority.” I asked if she had any other key messages for City employees. “Keep doing the good work you’re doing,” she replied. “That work is important on its own, but it’s also part of the context of service delivery.”

And that speaks to what I think is the big factor driving this restructuring: integration. “There is some phenomenal work taking place in the organization,” Linda said. “But we need to get better at integrating the good work that is happening.”

It’s about integration

There are four principles that “underpin the development and implementation of The Way Ahead,” which is the City’s strategic plan.

  • Innovation: A planning approach and operational culture within a municipality that encourages and enables continuous improvement and the exploration and adoption of new techniques, technologies, products and ways of operating in order to improve results and lead progressive change.
  • Integration: A holistic view of strategic planning that acknowledges the interrelated and interdependent reality of complex urban environments.
  • Livability: A set of interrelated factors that influence people in choosing where they live and reinforce their sense of well-being.
  • Sustainability: A way of living that meets the needs of the present and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The reality of the last eight years or so is that the City has been tackling these things relatively independently from one another. On some, there has been good progress. Livability is central to the City’s existence and much of the work of “The Ways” has addressed this. Council’s 2% and the changes in culture really address innovation. And with The Way We Finance, there’s been a good start on addressing the City’s sustainability. That leaves integration.

I think the one tangible attempt at addressing the integration principle was the creation of the Great Neighbourhoods Initiative. It falls under the Neighbourhoods branch of Citizen Services, but it is really a cross-department effort to more efficiently deliver services of all kinds, to conduct comprehensive neighbourhood planning, and to improve communication with residents. And it has worked well as a way to revitalize our mature and high-needs neighbourhoods. In fact, one City report said it exemplified a “One City-One Voice” approach to “leading City efforts to deliver services in a coordinated, effective and efficient manner.”

This reorganization builds on that success and is all about addressing integration. Here’s another excerpt from Linda Cochrane’s email to employees:

“The goal is to help open doors for work groups to integrate their work and share expertise. It is based on the One City principle and we believe it will further stimulate our cultural effort.”

Most citizens don’t think about the City in terms of the silos that have long-existed. But thinking about planning things vs. operating them is a pretty easy distinction to make. By bringing that citizen-oriented perspective to the City’s internal structure, there’s a good opportunity to integrate the work of the City to really have a positive impact.

This won’t be easy. Just because a bunch of branches have moved into a new department that has the word “integrated” in its title doesn’t mean that magically everyone is going to start working together effectively. The leadership there has a difficult task ahead to break down barriers and really encourage that integration to happen.

A cultural fit

The City has been undergoing a cultural transformation since at least 2007. Over the years this effort has taken on different names, including “Transforming Edmonton Through Organizational Excellence”, and “Transforming Edmonton and Me” (TEAM). Currently known as “Building a Great City”, the City’s internal cultural strategy focuses on five outcomes:

  • Our Employees are Engaged
  • We Have Effective Leadership
  • We are a High Performance Organization
  • Our Workplaces are Collaborative
  • Our Work Focuses on Citizens

It’s the last two that this reorganization seems most aligned with. The strategy notes that “there are many excellent examples of collaborative success in our organization” and that building upon those will be critical for achieving business objectives “in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world.” It also highlights the public sector trend toward “citizen-centered services redesigned around the needs of the end user.”

Communications & Public Engagement

I think the other big takeaway is that Communications & Public Engagement has been elevated to its own department. It’s a major change for the organization. I think it makes a lot of sense for Customer Information Services (which contains 311) to be part of the same department as Communications and the Office of Public Engagement (formerly part of the Office of the City Manager). It’s about listening to citizens and talking with them just as much as it is about telling them what the City is up to.

Some of CLT
Gary Klassen, Adam Laughlin, Rob Smyth, Linda Cochrane, Dorian Wandzura (some of the members of CLT)

The Office of Public Engagement is quite small at the moment, with only a handful of staff, so resourcing it effectively will be a challenge. The good news is that improving public engagement has the full support of both City Council and Administration. The Council Initiative on Public Engagement has been underway since 2014 and just began Phase 2 a few months ago. Over the next year and a half, citizens will come together with Council, Administration, and other partners to improve public engagement in Edmonton.

And the timing for this could not be better, with the full service review later this year, a municipal election coming in 2017, and a more complete review of the City’s vision and strategic plan commencing in the next couple of years as well. Effectively engaging the public will be important for all of these initiatives and more.