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.

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.

Edmontonians rank public transportation as the City’s top priority

If it were up to me, that would be the headline on the front of every newspaper and at the top of every news broadcast in Edmonton today. The result was buried in the middle of a report that goes to Council on Monday on the proposed downtown arena, but that makes it no less significant in my mind.

Edmontonians who participated in a statistically valid phone survey from December 20 to December 23 were asked what the key issues are that the City of Edmonton should address. Public transportation, and specifically LRT, came out on top.

The City is addressing this, of course, with an expansive plan to extend the LRT to all corners of the City. Shifting Edmonton’s Transportation Modes is also one of the goals in the City’s 10-year strategic plan, and public transportation is the key to achieving that. But we have to keep pushing. As the City’s Chief Economist John Rose said:

“[LRT is] the urban equivalent of an enabling technology – if you have it, you can do a lot of great things.”

Public transportation is costly – both to build and to operate. No question about that. But it’s worth it, and more importantly, Edmonton’s future success depends on it.

It’s important to remind ourselves, not to mention City Council, that improved public transportation is what Edmonton needs above all else.

Edmonton Election 2010: Candidate Surveys

I think it’s much more interesting and useful to hear a candidate explain their position on something, but there is still value in reading the many candidate surveys that go out during an election. Here are the ones I’ve found:

And if you’d rather watch your candidates answer questions, check out the election videos at ShareEdmonton or the archived candidate forums.

Advance voting is on now!

2009 Edmonton Citizen Satisfaction Survey Results

The results of the 2009 Citizen Satisfaction Survey are being presented to City Council today. The survey was once again conducted by Banister Research & Consulting Inc. Some quick facts:

  • The total cost of the survey was $13,650.
  • A total of 800 telephone interviews with Edmonton residents aged 18 or older were completed between June 2 and June 14, 2009.
  • A total of 7989 calls were attempted, 2328 of which resulted in refusals.
  • 50% of respondents were male, 50% were female.
  • 79% of respondents have lived in Edmonton for more than 10 years.
  • 69% of respondents were aged 45 or older.
  • 76% of respondents reported average household income of less than $150,000
  • City-wide results provide a margin of error no greater than +/- 3.5% at the 95% confidence level, 19 times out of 20.

There’s lots of great information in the report, which you can download in PDF here. Or if you prefer, you can just download the highlights, also in PDF.

One of the survey questions is the following:

Now, taking into consideration all City of Edmonton services and programs, overall, how satisfied are you with the services and programs provided by the City of Edmonton to residents?

And here are the results:

In the report, Banister explains:

It is important to note that in 2007, 2008 and 2009 this overall satisfaction question was asked following the satisfaction ratings for specific City services. This was done in order to allow respondents to think of all facets of the service provided by the City of Edmonton, thereby providing a cumulative and overall rating.

I thought it would be interesting to check how effective that is. Unfortunately, the results of the survey are in PDF, not the easiest format to work with. Fortunately for you, that didn’t stop me!

Download the Satisfaction Results by Area in XLS

(I recognize that Excel isn’t the ideal open format, but it was quicker than creating 18 different CSV files. And hopefully this data will be made available as part of the open data initiative anyway.)

Citizens were asked how satisfied they were with 18 different service areas (one, environmental programs, was new this year so I ignored it). The data is available for each area for 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2003. I added up the “very satisfied” and “somewhat satisfied” percentages for each and compared it with previous years. Here is the percentage change in satisfaction for each area from last year:

And here is the percentage change in satisfaction for each area from 2003 (affordable housing was not scored in 2003):

Now we can compare the reported and actual change:

Respondents reported a 1% decrease in overall satisfaction from 2008, and the average change of all the services was the same. Compared with 2003 however, respondents reported a 13% decrease in overall satisfaction, but the average change of all services was a decrease of just 5%.

See how much fun you can have with open data? Now imagine combining this dataset with other datasets! I’d love to compare the results of the satisfaction survey with 311 call volumes, for instance.

Why do you blog?

Post ImageDarren Barefoot is presenting a session called “Why We Blog” at Northern Voice next month, and as part of his preparations he has launched a short online survey. There’s only sixteen questions and it’s pretty quick to fill out, so if you’re a blogger, why not help him out? I just completed the survey so I can affirm that it is quick and painless. Oh, and there’s prizes too:

One randomly-selected person who completes the survey will win an iPod Shuffle.

Another randomly-selected survey completer will win two Lonely Planet books–Micronations and Experimental Travel.

I obviously want to promote the survey, so I’m also giving away one CAN $50 gift certificate to a randomly-selected person who blogs about it. Just link to and you’re qualified to win.

So if you are a blogger or have been a blogger in the past, fill out the survey here.

Read: Why Do You Blog?

Podcasting more popular than beer?

Post ImageYou may have heard the recent story about iPods and how they are more popular than beer among US students according to a biannual study. It’s apparently the first time since 1997 than beer has been knocked from the top of the list. Naturally, one wonders why the iPod is so popular? Managing partner of Student Monitor Eric Weil thinks he knows why:

Part of the explosion in its popularity may be due to the iPod’s use as a learning tool in the form of “podcasting”, technology that allows students to download lectures directly into their handheld devices to be listened to and viewed at their convenience, suggested Weil.

“Professors are using whatever way they can to jam information into students’ brains,” said Weil.

Wishful thinking Eric! I don’t seem to recall any colleges or universities making a big deal out of podcasting just yet. Sure there’s a few professors who have started using the technology, but hardly enough to cause students to give up beer!

A more likely reason is that there are simply more students who like music than who like beer. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there are a bunch of students who call their MP3 players “iPods” even if they aren’t. I’m expecting beer to be back on top again next year.

Read: Yahoo News

Podtrac Survey Results

Post ImageI am happy to see a large number of podcasting surveys and research efforts lately. The latest comes from Podtrac, who claims to have developed the largest podcasting demographics database in the world, with over 55,000 detailed demographic profiles. Some of the findings:

  • 56% of podcast audiences listen to and view podcasts on their computer, compared with 46% on a mobile device.
  • A huge majority, 88%, listen to or view podcast episodes in their entirety.
  • 76% of podcast users are also online shoppers.
  • 41% of U.S. online adults were aware of the term “podcasting” at the end of Q1 2006, compared with just 32% at the end of Q4 2005.

The results are more or less the same as some other similar surveys. Perhaps the only one that seems low is the number that listen/watch on their computers. I think the true number is actually quite a bit higher. I also wonder about the 88% who listen to an entire episode – I am willing to bet that will go down over time.

Read: Podcasting News

Canadian Podcasting Survey

Post ImageFound this item via Podcasting News this morning – there’s a new survey aimed at discovering what is happening with podcasting in Canada. I just took the survey, which was relatively quick and painless, so you should too.

Toronto-based Sequentia Communications and Caprica Interacitve Marketing Inc. have joined forces to launch this podcast listeners survey. All of the findings will be part of a whitepaper on Canadian podcasting habits and audience size, to be released in June 2006.

The goal of this survey and its findings are to better understand the growth of podcasting in Canada and how quickly Canadians are adopting this new form of technology.

Apparently the survey is only available until tomorrow, so you better hurry if you want to fill it out! At the end of the survey you can enter an email address to get a summary of the results.

Read: Take The Survey

Podcasting Research Findings

Post ImageYou might recall that a little over a month ago I mentioned Peter Chen’s very promising survey of podcasters and the preliminary results. I remember getting the email about the final findings, but I must have overlooked it in the chaos that was my November (at least the first two weeks). From the abstract:

Based on a survey of 366 podcasters and videobloggers, this paper examines these emerging cultural practices from aspect of production, with specific interest in producer motivations, production methods, the relationship between formats, and audience numbers. The exploratory research findings – largely limited to English language producers – illustrates a number of interesting features about this area of activity.

I’d go out on a limb and posit that “podcasting” and “audioblogging” are generally accepted to be different practices, and I don’t think that “video podcasting” and “videoblogging” will be any different. That being said, the title of the research as “Podcasting and Videoblogging” is kind of off-putting. Is it really videoblogging, or is it actually video podcasting? It would make a difference if you’re really trying to compare the audio and video guys.

The findings are really quite interesting and basically make me long for even more research. Of course, too much research can be a bad thing in some cases too (today wine will save you, tomorrow it will kill you, etc). The frequency of production, gender, and age of producers are immediately the most interesting, but there is lots of data to grok.

Read: Peter Chen

Preliminary Podcasting Survey Results

Post ImageVia Derek I came across Peter Chen’s preliminary statistics from his podcasting and videoblogging survey. He makes it clear that the results are preliminary, and that follow-up data is being requested with more analysis to come. Having said that, the results are quite interesting! Here are some highlights I picked out:

  • Looks like the majority of podcasters publish content weekly. (48.77 %)
  • Average episode length is just over 29 minutes.
  • The average number of minutes spent producing an episode is almost 260! That’s an incredibly high number that we hope to reduce with our solutions. I know how much time it takes – that’s one reason I stopped BlogosphereRadio to focus on building the tools!
  • About 61% of respondents say they have no business model – they do it as a private endeavor. Sounds like my Average Joe Podcasting post was spot on!
  • English is overwhelmingly the most commonly spoken language. (85.75 %)
  • One stat that surprised me – around 83% of respondents were male. For some reason, I expected that to be a little lower. I think it’s because of the recent push in blogging to find female voices; I probably figured that podcasting would benefit.

Very intriguing results. I look forward to seeing what Peter comes up with next. I also wonder just how representative these numbers are – there’s no margin of error or anything posted (probably because they are preliminary results).

Read: Peter Chen