Coming up at City Council: November 10-14, 2014

Agendas for upcoming City Council meetings are generally released on Thursday afternoons. I like to take a look to see what Council will be discussing, and I figured I should share that here. Below you’ll find links to the meetings taking place next week, as well as links to and thoughts on some agenda items that caught my eye.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

First I want to mention that this week Council held a public hearing and its first budget meetings. If you want to dig into the budget, check out this microsite that the City has launched. There will also be an AMA on Reddit at some point, and a survey has already been sent out to members of the Edmonton Insight Community. City Council will be discussing the budget in detail from November 26 to December 10, with optional meetings scheduled for December 11 and 12 if they need more time.

If you’d rather listen to this overview, check out this episode on Mixcloud:

Or you can download it in MP3 here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Wednesday, Executive Committee will be meeting in the River Valley Room. Items on the agenda include:

TEC Edmonton’s 2013-2014 Annual Report

This is the annual update that TEC Edmonton is required to provide. A recent study of university business incubators listed TEC Edmonton 10th overall worldwide, and 3rd in North America, and in June, TEC Edmonton was named “Incubator of the Year” by Startup Canada. An increase in federal funding of about $2.5 million per year will enable TEC Edmonton to launch a new Health Accelerator “to enable the city to catalyze growth of a significant new health tech cluster.”

The Way We Finance White Paper on Debt

This item is the public launch of the third white paper presented as part of The Way We Finance. This one focuses on debt: “After establishing the Edmonton context related to the use of debt, we are going to talk about what the City of Edmonton uses debt for, why it is used and how we determine what amount of debt is reasonable for the City to carry.” Debt was a hot topic during last year’s municipal election, which I wrote about here.

Purchase of the Wellington Surplus School Site

Administration is recommending that City Council approve the purchase of the Wellington Surplus School Site from the Edmonton Public School Board for $4,755,000 (which reflects current market value for the property). Council had previously agreed to proceed with the land purchase, which ultimately will result in a new home for the Calder Library, 2.27 hectares of “civic open space”, and potentially a future multicultural centre.

2014 City of Edmonton Subsidy to the Homeward Trust Foundation

City Council last year approved a subsidy of $1,238,000 for the Homeward Trust Foundation, but approval by Executive Committee is now required to actual pay it. Since 2000, the City has contributed approximately $1.2 million per year to support the agency’s work. The Homeward Trust Foundation receives funding from all three levels of government and has allocated $154 million in funding to 95 capital projects since 2001.

A number of reports were supposed to have been discussed at this meeting, but have instead been pushed out until 2015:

  • Bylaw amendments for parking requirements for “minor” eating & drinking establishments
  • A report on business models & governance options for Edmonton Research
  • An update on the potential for commercial activity at the Rossdale Generating Station
  • An update on the West Rossdale Redevelopment

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Community Services Committee

In the morning, Council’s Community Services Committee will meet. Items on the agenda include:

Edmonton Historical Board Chair’s Report Recommendations

This one seems timely given the discussion lately about more of our historic buildings disappearing to development. The report responds to recommendations that were made on how “new leadership could be applied to extend and add to Edmonton’s existing heritage achievements.” Administration is looking for a funding increase of $500,000 to increase municipal heritage designation participation rates.

Edmonton Arts Council 2015 Festival Operating Grant Recommendations

With this report, Administration is recommending the approval of $200,000 for six festivals in 2015: Deep Freeze, Edmonton Poetry Festival, Edmonton Pride Festival, Ice on Whyte, Silver Skate Festival, and Serca Festival of Irish Theatre. The program enables a maximum of 25% of the festival’s operating budget to be covered by the grants.

Backyard Firepit Control

This one is a response to an inquiry made by Councillors Esslinger and McKeen (which many people thought was a rookie mistake). The report outlines some background, how the City enforces fire pit regulations, and clarifies the current legislation. It also says that “current Bylaw provisions provide effective enforcement tools to regulate the impacts of outdoor fires, and no Bylaw amendments are recommended at this time.” No surprise there!

Three items have been postponed until early next year:

  • Update on the New Africa Centre Facility
  • Civic Precinct Master Plan – Addressing Current Square Design
  • Options to Support Suicide Prevention

Transportation Committee

In the afternoon, the Transportation Committee will meet. Items on the agenda include:

Low Income Transit Pass Pilot

The report for this item has not yet been released, but this should be an update on the three-year pilot project that was approved back in May. At the time, the goal was for the low income pass to be in place by January, so hopefully that remains on track.

Late Night Transit Update

This report is a follow-up from August and outlines “a proposal for the phased implementation of late night service”. There are two phases proposed: the first would extend late night service until 3am on five routes, the second would further extend service to 5:30am. Funding of $1.322 million is needed to get Phase 1 going, and phase 2 would cost $2.1 million annually. If the budget is approved, Phase 1 could be implemented in September 2015 and Phase 2 could be implemented in September 2016. The five routes are the 1, 4, 8, 9, and 505 (Clareview – Central LRT replacement service).

How can we build a great city with transit?

Get ready to be consulted and engaged on the development of a major transit strategy! This report “outlines the steps for public consultation to be completed as part of development of a transit strategy” that aims to discuss the question above. Administration is looking for one-time funding of $623,000 to take this work forward.

Cell Phone and Wi-Fi Coverage in LRT Stations and Tunnels

Back in July, Mayor Iveson made an inquiry about mobile and Internet coverage underground. This report answers that inquiry, and states that “today, cell coverage in LRT stations and tunnels is limited.” On the plus side, the report says the City is looking to offer cell phone coverage and Wi-Fi service in the fourth quarter of 2015 to LRT stations (and parts of tunnels). That means getting connected underground is still a year away, but at least it is coming.

Two items have been postponed to an undetermined future date:

  • Civic Precinct Master Plan – SE LRT Integration
  • Valley Line Construction Impact on the Use of Churchill Square

Friday, November 14, 2014

There aren’t normally Council meetings on Friday, but on the morning of the 14th the City Manager and City Auditor Performance Evaluation Committee will be meeting. There are no reports available as these items are protected by sections 17, 19, and 24 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. My understanding is that the committee will agree upon the process and timelines for evaluating the performance of the City Manager and City Auditor but that the actual evaluations will take place at a future date.

That’s it! 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.

Politicians in the 2014 Edmonton Pride Parade

Here’s a look at some of the politicians that participated in the Pride Parade that made its way through Edmonton’s downtown early this afternoon.

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
Premier Dave Hancock

Former premier Alison Redford was the first premier to attend a pride parade when she addressed the crowd in Churchill Square back in 2012. She followed that up last year by becoming the first premier to march in a pride parade when she acted as grand marshal for Calgary’s parade. Premier Dave Hancock became the first premier to participate in Edmonton’s Pride Parade today.

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
MLA Laurie Blakeman

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
MLA Raj Sherman

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
Mayor Don Iveson

Former Edmonton mayor Bill Smith repeatedly refused to proclaim Gay Pride Week in Edmonton, but that all changed in 2005 when former mayor Stephen Mandel proclaimed Pride Week. He became the first Edmonton mayor to participate in a pride parade when he rode that year in a car alongside Michael Phair, the city’s first openly gay elected official. Mayor Don Iveson has supported the parade for years.

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
Mayor Don Iveson, Councillor Scott McKeen, Councillor Ben Henderson

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
Councillor Dave Loken

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
Councillor Andrew Knack

Councillors Walters & Henderson
Councillor Michael Walters & Councillor Ben Henderson, photo courtesy Michael Walters

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
Randy Boissonnault, Liberal nomination candidate for Edmonton Centre

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
The Liberal Party

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014

Edmonton Pride Parade 2014
The Alberta Party

You can see many more photos of the parade here. The Pride Festival runs through June 15.

City Council approves a new transportation goal and outcomes for The Way Ahead

It’s no secret that LRT is City Council’s top infrastructure priority. They have repeatedly stressed the importance of expanding our LRT network, and scored a win recently with the Valley Line. LRT is part of a bigger transformation that Council hopes to realize, which is a shift away from the car-dominated transportation network we have today to a network that offers realistic choice through a range of travel options. At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, they approved a new goal for The Way We Move that makes this transformation clearer.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

In November last year, Edmonton’s new City Council took part in a series of strategic planning sessions. In addition to serving as a crash course on the City’s strategy and approach to long-term planning, the sessions were also a way to ensure the new Councillors were on board with the corporate outcomes, measures, and targets for each of the six 10-year goals identified in The Way Ahead. Among the key outcomes of those meetings were a desire by Council to review the goal statement for The Way We Move, as well as a desire to emphasize public engagement within The Ways.

The public engagement action is being handled through a new Council Initiative, and I think we’ll hear much more about that in the weeks ahead. I’m looking forward to it.

The goal for The Way We Move was reviewed and discussed at a couple of subsequent Council meetings, notably January 28 and March 11. Council wanted to stress the use of public transit, but they wanted to make it clear that Edmontonians would have choice. The goal they ultimately settled on reflects both of those desires and has led to a new set of outcomes too.

Current Goal: Shift Edmonton’s Transportation Mode

The current goal statement for The Way We Move is focused on “mode shift”, which is meant to convey that while the majority of Edmontonians get around the city using vehicles today, that should not always be the case. The reasons for needing a shift included changing our urban form to be more sustainable, accessibility, supporting active and healthy lifestyles, reducing the impact on the environment, and attracting business and talent to Edmonton.

Here’s the goal statement that accompanies the goal:

“Modes of transportation shift to “fit” Edmonton’s urban form and enhanced density while supporting the City’s planning, financial and environmental sustainability goals.”

Each goal also has an ‘elaboration’ associated with it. The current one for transportation reads:

“In shifting Edmonton’s transportation modes the City recognizes the importance of mobility shifts to contribute to the achievement of other related goals. To do so suggests the need to transform the mix of transport modes, with emphasis on road use for goods movement and transiting people and transit use for moving people. This goal reflects the need for a more integrated transportation network comprising of heavy rail, light rail, air and ground transport, and recognizes the important contribution that transportation makes to environmental goals.”

While the current wording attempts to connect with the other goals in The Way Ahead, it doesn’t as forcefully make the case for offering alternatives to single-occupant vehicles. The other challenge is that “mode shift” doesn’t mean anything to most of us, and sounds bureaucratic.

Perhaps more importantly, this was the only goal that was presented as if was worth doing solely to achieve the other goals. Surely a shift in how we move around the city should have benefits of its own!

New Goal: Enhance use of public transit and active modes of transportation

The new goal statement reads:

“Enhancing public transit and other alternatives to single-occupant vehicles will provide Edmonton with a well-maintained and integrated transportation network. Increased use of these options will maximize overall transportation system efficiency and support the City’s urban planning, livability, financial, economic and environmental sustainability goals.”

And the new elaboration reads:

“Through this goal, the City recognizes that a transportation system that is designed to support a range of travel options will increase the number of people and the amount of goods that can move efficiently around the city, while supporting the City’s goals for livability, urban form, financial, economic and environmental sustainability. Creating this 21st century sustainable and globally competitive city means offering choice. It will allow Edmontonians of all ages and abilities to safely walk, bike, ride transit, ride-share or drive to the places they need to go. The trade-offs needed to achieve this vision will create an integrated transportation system with greater travel choices for Edmontonians.”

The connection to the other goals is still present in the new wording, but not at the expense of highlighting the desire for alternatives to the car. There’s also the suggestion that trade-offs will need to be made in order to create a system that offers choice – we can’t have it all without making some hard decisions. The new goal is much more approachable now that “mode shift” is gone.

New Outcomes

Alongside this change, Council approved 12 new corporate outcomes, replacing the 20 that had previously been approved. Through their discussions, Council felt the outcomes should be specific and measurable, and provide a clarity of purpose. They wanted to simplify the approach. Here are the 12 outcomes they ended up with:

  1. Edmonton is attractive and compact
  2. The City of Edmonton has sustainable and accessible infrastructure
  3. Edmontonians use public transit and active modes of transportation
  4. Goods and services move efficiently
  5. Edmontonians are connected to the city in which they live, work, and play
  6. Edmontonians use facilities and services that promote healthy living
  7. Edmonton is a safe city
  8. The City of Edmonton’s operations are environmentally sustainable
  9. Edmonton is an environmentally sustainable and resilient city
  10. The City of Edmonton has a resilient financial position
  11. Edmonton has a globally competitive and entrepreneurial business climate
  12. Edmonton Region is a catalyst for industry and business growth

Gone are words like “minimized”, “supports”, or “strives”. The new language seems less open to interpretation, which is a good thing for determining progress. The next step is for Administration to prepare measures and targets based on these outcomes and to update The Way Ahead (there are currently 65 approved measures and 27 approved targets).


It’s great that Council wanted to strengthen the transportation goal and that they have simplified the outcomes. Most of this strategic planning was completed by previous Councils, so the exercise probably helped to ensure our current Councillors feel a sense of ownership. But the challenge remains: we need to implement the plans and see results. An annual report on progress will go to Council next year, based on the new outcomes, measures, and targets.

Edmonton City Council Initiatives for 2013-2017

With the adoption of Policy C518 (pdf) in March 2006, City Council started identifying and assigning Council Initiatives, “projects that Council deems would benefit from having a Councillor as a sponsor.” At its December 11, 2013 meeting, our current City Council approved the list of initiatives for the 2013-2017 term.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

The following initiatives from the 2010-2013 term were renewed (the Councillor assignments, as volunteered, are in brackets):

  • Northern Relationships/Circumpolar (Gibbons, Iveson, Caterina)
  • Arts & Culture (Henderson, McKeen)
  • Economic Development
    • Heartland (Iveson, Gibbons)
    • Startups (Oshry)
    • Port Alberta (Nickel)
  • Housing (Iveson, Henderson)
  • Edmonton’s Poverty Elimination (Iveson, Henderson, Sohi)
  • Indigenous Peoples Strategy (Iveson, Caterina, Henderson)
  • Multiculturalism (Iveson, Sohi)
  • Next Gen (Oshry, Knack*)
  • Public Transit (Knack, Sohi)
  • Recreation (Anderson)
  • Seniors (Knack, Sohi)
  • Traffic Safety (Esslinger, Loken)

The following initiatives are new (the Councillor assignments, as volunteered, are in brackets):

  • Child Friendly Edmonton (Esslinger)
  • Communities in Bloom (Nickel)
  • ELEVATE (Esslinger, Walters)
  • Public Engagement Initiative (Henderson, Walters)
  • Urban Isolation/Mental Health (McKeen)
  • Winter Cities (Henderson, McKeen)
  • Women’s Initiative (Iveson, Esslinger)
  • Post-Secondary Relations (Iveson, Knack, Esslinger)

Here’s a look at all the initiatives by Councillor for the 2013-2017 term:

Councillor Initiatives
(Ward 9)
– Recreation
(Ward 7)
– Northern Relationships/Circumpolar
– Indigenous People’s Strategy
(Ward 2)
– Child Friendly Edmonton
– Women’s Initiative
– Post-Secondary Relations
(Ward 4)
– Northern Relationships/Circumpolar
– Economic Development – Heartland
(Ward 8)
– Arts & Culture
– Housing
– Edmonton’s Poverty Elimination
– Indigenous People’s Strategy
– Public Engagement Initiative
– Winter Cities
– Northern Relationships/Circumpolar
– Economic Development – Heartland
– Housing
– Edmonton’s Poverty Elimination
– Indigenous People’s Strategy
– Multiculturalism
– Women’s Initiative
– Post-Secondary Relations
(Ward 1)
– Next Gen*
– Public Transit
– Seniors
– Post-Secondary Relations
(Ward 3)
– Traffic Safety
(Ward 6)
– Arts & Culture
– Urban Isolation/Mental Health
– Winter Cities
(Ward 11)
– Economic Development – Port Alberta
– Communities in Bloom
(Ward 5)
– Economic Development – Startups
– Next Gen
(Ward 12)
– Edmonton’s Poverty Elimination
– Multiculturalism
– Public Transit
– Seniors
(Ward 10)
– Public Engagement Initiative

The following initiatives from the 2010-2013 term were considered complete and are now discontinued:

  • City of Learners (mandate complete and to be continued by EPL)
  • Community Sustainability (to be re-focused through ELEVATE)
  • Environment (moving into implementation)
  • External Affairs (covered with board appointments)
  • Transforming Edmonton (mandate complete and operationalized)
  • Agri-Food/Urban Agriculture

Council approved the above initiative assignments and closures unanimously. The next step is for Administration to bring forward updated Terms of Reference for each.

One impact of declaring these initiatives is that Administration is required by the policy to include all Council Initiatives in business plans and budgets. That makes it possible (to an extent) to track resources and progress on each.

These initiatives aren’t highlighted and assigned just for show. You can expect to see Councillors at any media events related to their initiatives of course, but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that each will do as well.

In addition to the initiatives above, Councillors are also appointed to various boards and committees. There is a limited amount of overlap.

I am a little surprised that the Environment initiative was closed, with no related initiative put forward to replace it. Especially given the direction Edmonton is heading as a leader in sustainability and waste management. I am very pleased to see a new initiative focused on public engagement, however.

* – Though the documents do not reflect it, Councillor Knack has confirmed that he too is on the Next Gen initiative.

2013-2017 Edmonton City Council Swearing In Ceremony & Inaugural Meeting

Edmonton’s new City Council was officially sworn into office this afternoon at City Hall. Councillors have been busy since last week’s election of course, learning how everything works, getting their staff and offices in order, and I’m sure, stopping every now and then to take it all in. But now their positions are official, and the real work can begin.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

The event was emceed by John Dowds and opened with an invocation from Elder Francis Whiskeyjack. With the help of Justice D. M. Manderscheid, each new member of Council took the oath of office in front a packed crowd. It wasn’t all business though, as Sierra Jamerson performed a beautiful song right before Mayor Iveson took to the podium to deliver his remarks.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

Mayor Iveson began with some tributes, acknowledging that Edmonton is on Treaty 6 territory, and praising the work of the previous Council. He highlighted the “vigorous pace” that outgoing Mayor Stephen Mandel had set and confirmed that he too will lean on “the diversity of wisdom and perspective” that each member of City Council brings to the table.

Mayor Iveson talked about the importance of the Edmonton Region, the new relationship with Calgary, and the need to “firm up stable, predictable funding for key infrastructure, including LRT.” He talked about roads and pipes, fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency, homelessness and poverty, urban living, innovation, the environment, the arts, and diversity and inclusion. It was the same messaging Iveson has been delivering for months on the campaign trail, but asserted with the new confidence that comes from being mayor.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017
Mayor Don Iveson takes the oath

Before highlighting his colleagues on Council to close, Mayor Iveson addressed the so-called generational shift that has been talked about over the last week:

“Some have remarked that this election marked the passing of the torch to the next generation of leaders. But I and my fellow Council members are custodians of that leadership, doing the most good with it to make Edmonton an even greater place, in time to pass on the torch to our children and grandchildren. The leadership you see here represents all Edmontonians, regardless of age or interest. A united city we must be, in order to accomplish all on the path ahead in the next four years.”

Here’s a video of some of today’s highlights:

The inaugural meeting of the new City Council took place immediately after the ceremony. The first order of business was to adopt the agenda, and after the vote passed unanimously, Mayor Iveson let out a brief “whew!” that the much-larger-than-normal crowd enjoyed.

Here’s the seating order, from left to right:

  • Councillor Amarjeet Sohi
  • Councillor Michael Oshry
  • Councillor Ben Henderson
  • Councillor Andrew Knack
  • Councillor Tony Caterina
  • Councillor Scott McKeen
  • Mayor Don Iveson
  • Councillor Bev Esslinger
  • Councillor Dave Loken
  • Councillor Michael Walters
  • Councillor Bryan Anderson
  • Councillor Mike Nickel
  • Councillor Ed Gibbons

The mayor gets to select the seating order. I’m not sure how Mayor Iveson came up with the order, but Joveena noted that experienced and new Councillors alternate, which seems like a smart approach. The returning Councillors are more or less in the same spots as before too.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017
Unanimous, for now

The meeting was very short, though Councillor Sohi did give notice that he intends to bring forward a motion in November to provide WIN House with $50,000 in funding. He was sporting a bright blue shirt that said, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like”.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017
Mayor Don Iveson

Now that it’s official, City Council will get down to business, starting with Strategic Planning tomorrow and soon, the 2014 budget. You can see the upcoming schedule as well as agendas and minutes here.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017
City Council gets down to business

Congratulations to our new City Council!

You can see my recap of the 2010 Swearing In Ceremony here. You can see more photos of today’s ceremony and meeting here.

City Council data now available in Edmonton’s open data catalogue

Yesterday Edmonton became the first city in Canada to release “a fully robust set” of City Council datasets to its open data catalogue. A total of five datasets were released, including meeting details, agenda items, motions, attendance, and voting records. There are now more than 100 datasets available in the catalogue, with more on the way.

Here’s the video recording of the news conference:

The City also produced a video about the new datasets:

The Office of the City Clerk is responsible for managing Council & Committee meetings, boards, elections, and more. The release of this data (referred to as “Clerk’s data” by some City employees) is another example of the way that office has embraced technology over the years. Kudos to Alayne Sinclair and her team, as well as Chris Moore, Ashley Casovan, and the rest of the IT team for making this data available!

I’m really excited about the potential for this data. The information has long been available on the City’s website, it was just locked away in meeting minutes as “unstructured” data – possible for humans to read relatively easily, but not for software. Now that it is available as “structured” data in the open data catalogue, applications can be written that take advantage of the data. You can find the data under the City Administration tab of the catalogue. Unfortunately the datasets only go back to June 1, 2011 instead of the start of Council’s term in October 2010. Currently, the datasets are updated daily.

I’ve now had a chance to look through the data, and while it looks good, it is unfortunately incomplete at the moment. There’s quite a bit of data missing. I would love to do some statistical analysis on the data, but with so many missing records there’s a good chance that my conclusions would be incorrect. I have already summarized my findings and passed them along to the team, so hopefully they can resolve the issues quickly!

I have already added functionality to ShareEdmonton for this data, and as soon as the datasets are fixed, I’ll release it. I hate to say “stay tuned” but there’s not much choice right now!

2010-2013 Edmonton City Council Swearing-in Ceremony & Inaugural Meeting

Edmonton’s new City Council was officially sworn into office this afternoon at City Hall. Following the ceremony, they held what will undoubtedly be the quickest meeting of the term, to approve council chamber seating arrangements, standing committee membership, and the meeting schedule for the next year. Nearly 400 people attended, including many of the Mayor’s and Councillors’ friends, family, and supporters.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony 
Organized by Communications & the City Clerk, the event had a very nice printed program!

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Staff Sergeant Langford Bawn piped council members into the City Room, accompanied by members of the Edmonton Police Service, Fire Rescue, and Alberta Paramedics Guards of Honour.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Council members smiled and waved as they entered. Lynda Steele served as the Master of Ceremonies. Matt Day played the piano, and Amanda Clark led the singing of O Canada.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
The Honourable Don Manderscheid, Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, administered the oath to the Mayor and Councillors.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
After Mayor Mandel was sworn in, he received the Chain of Office from City Manager Simon Farbrother. After all the Councillors were sworn in, Mayor Mandel spoke about the work ahead.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Students from the City Hall School lined the second floor of the City Room, while friends and family filled the seats below.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
Council Chambers was packed for the inaugural meeting! By the time everyone had piled in, the meeting was finished! A reception was held following the meeting.

Edmonton City Council Swearing in Ceremony
2010-2013 Edmonton Mayor & City Council

You can see the rest of my photos from the event here.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Dave, here are some photos from the 2007 swearing-in ceremony.

Tony Caterina on the issues in 2009

It’s not surprising that City Councillors are often in the news, offering comment, explanations, and other thoughts on the latest decisions and issues. Some are generally in the news for positive reasons, others, not so much. Ward 3 councillor Tony Caterina is one of the members of council who seems to be mentioned for negative reasons more than positive ones (thanks to Dave for the photo). I mean, he’s even got his own hashtag on Twitter to track all of the bizarre things he says and does! I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at Caterina’s quotes throughout 2009. Ideally I could just point you to his voting record online, but we’re not there yet, so quotes will have to do!

A note on the data: I decided to make it simple and to only look at quotes from the Edmonton Journal. I searched the Canadian Newsstand database (anyone with an Edmonton Public Library card can access it for free) for “tony caterina” in the Edmonton Journal for any date in 2009. A total of 71 articles were found, up to December 3rd. For each one, I looked for direct quotes. I also added some quotes from articles written after December 3rd.

First off, here’s a Wordle of all the quotes:

And here, by subject, is a selection of Tony Caterina quotes on the issues in 2009. You can download all of the quotes I found here in PDF.

On the City Centre Airport:

"We’re talking about closing aviation down, and businesses, and putting people on the unemployment line. Really, that doesn’t make sense."

"In regards to economic development, it’s critical … here we are contemplating getting rid of something that’s already here. That just doesn’t make sense to me."

"If we’re not going to talk about the possibility of improved aviation service, what are the possibilities? From our perspective on council, we will want to push for that to be part of the debate."

On the Edmonton Indy:

"It’s not a cost, it’s an investment into promoting Edmonton as a world-class city. We made a decision as council to support this event because it is world-renowned … Given the exposure we have had, it’s money well spent."

"The publicity, you can’t even put a price tag on it. The Indy is being seen by countries around the world."

On EXPO 2017:

"The prudent thing would be to get a…firm commitment from the province and the federal governments (that) if this bid is successful, they are prepared to support the $2.3 billion."

On Budget 2010:

"We have gone all year asking administration to work on this budget, three per cent (plus) two per cent for (neighbourhood) renewal. They have certainly done that. It’s a very fair budget to everyone. If we don’t accept this recommendation on this after a full year’s work, then going forward from this, any time we ask them to do something, where’s the credibility?"

On Jasper Avenue:

"The pedway system is there. Certainly, we’re not going to get rid of that, but there probably needs to be better planning for the buildings that are going up. The main floor has to be commercial, more so. They should be concentrating on getting merchants back on the street so people have a reason to be outside, and not just in the pedway system. To bring people back on the street, you need something for people to attract them -clothiers and shoe shops."

On the York Hotel:

"They make everybody else look bad. The majority in the…industry are good operators, but you have the few who, they can’t comply or won’t comply."

On cats:

"I don’t know what it is about me, I’ve always denied that I like cats but I’m always the first one they come to."

"When it’s a cat involved, there are more people saying ‘just keep Fluffy, I’m not paying 250 bucks for it. It seems dogs have more value."

On infrastructure:

"We’ve been so far behind in infrastructure repairs. The more we can get done, the better. There are a little sharper pencils putting the prices out. This will help go a long way to making sure we come in with a very very reasonable tax rate for next year."

On the U-Pass:

"There’s enough residual benefits, from (lower) carbon dioxide emissions and fewer vehicles…We subsidize (student) tuition, we subsidize transit, we subsidize all kinds of things, but they’re an important group."

On the new ward system:

"Even with the system that we have now, you’re running against each other. There’s always a chance that one incumbent, as happened in the last election, or both, could be defeated. I don’t think that’s an issue for consideration."

On bike trails:

"There’s a limited amount of money and we have to look after higher priorities. Edmonton already has a lot of paths for a winter city — about 1,000 kilometres of bike trails and roads — so I think we’ve done a good job."

On the Citizen Panel:

"How many members, how many panels, do we need? We might as well just ask the public where to put the money. That’s a big part of the councillor’s responsibility. It sounds good to have public involvement, but at the end of the day that’s what council is here for."

On the idling bylaw:

"All it’s going to do is pit neighbour against neighbour. I would have to agree with my constituents that have phoned in to say this sounds like the silliest thing we have done here in a number of years. I think this is a little excessive. People in general are good. They understand the environment and will do what they can in order to mitigate their contribution to … pollution."

On bloggers (thanks Dave for saving it):

"A number of bloggers — who knows where they come from — are treated as gospel."

As you can see, not all of the quotes are negative. As an aside, I think Scott McKeen wrote more about Caterina than anyone else this year. He must love him 😉 In quite a few articles, Caterina is mentioned as the only councillor to vote for or against something. He likes to be different, I guess! I couldn’t find a quote, but earlier this year Caterina said he worked longer hours and spent fewer nights at home when he worked in the private sector. That’s no surprise though, as Caterina apparently likes to get out of his duties as a city councillor.

Some other related reading you might be interested in:

Anyone else looking forward to more fun with #toncat next year? Election day is October 18, 2010.

Edmonton’s improved online City Council meeting agendas & minutes

A little over a week ago a new online system for Edmonton City Council’s meeting agendas and minutes went live. The long overdue update brings a number of improvements for public access, notably an integrated view of all information on the same screen. As someone who frequently accesses the agendas and minutes, I’m really happy the old system is gone, and at least so far, I think the new one is great!

The previous system for managing agendas and minutes, built in-house about 15 years ago, was called OCCTOPUS (Official Council and Committee Tracking Output Publishing and Updating Services). If you’ve never used it, consider yourself lucky! Based on Microsoft Word documents, OCCTOPUS was clunky and awkward to use. To get at the details for an agenda item, you often had to click through four connected Word documents. It always reminded me of the ETS Trip Planner, which loves to spawn dozens of new windows.

If you want to see the old system, check out the minutes for the November 10th Council meeting. Then compare that to the new system, by looking at the minutes for the November 24th Council meeting. I think you’ll agree that the new one is much better!

Some of the improvements & features of the new system include:

  • No more Word documents! Agendas and minutes now appear in HTML.
  • You can access the agenda, minutes, supporting materials, and archived video for a meeting from within the same screen.
  • Archived video and supporting materials (often PDF reports) appear in column on the right side and open with a single click.
  • If you really want to, you can get a print view of the agenda or minutes with a single click.

Aileen Giesbrecht, Director of Governance and Legislative Services in the Office of the City Clerk, told me that the project to replace OCCTOPUS started in the summer of 2007, and in the fall of 2008 SIRE Technologies was awarded the contract. SIRE provides “legislative management technology” for county and local governments, and offers a number of off-the-shelf solutions or modules. According to Sarah Ellington of SIRE Technologies, the City of Edmonton is using three such modules: Agenda Plus, Minutes Plus, and Workflow. Each of the modules have been configured to meet the City’s requirements for formatting, business processes, etc. The City of Edmonton’s implementation is the first major SIRE project in Canada.

The biggest challenge in getting the new system in place, according to Aileen, was simply “finding the time to make it happen.” The work isn’t finished yet, either! The project currently improves access primarily for the public, and Aileen and her team are now working on improving access internally too. She said the related internal systems being implemented will help with ease of use and will support the City’s paperless strategy.

The proposed 2010 budget for Corporate Services (PDF), which mentions $164,000 for operational maintenance and support of SIRE, offers some additional insight into what’s next:

Operational funding of SIRE will allow for: Maintenance of SIRE software, including ‘Agenda and Minutes Plus’ and web integration between SIRE and our current ‘Thunderstone’ web-based search function; licences associated with SIRE software, including access for Councillors (‘Agenda To Go’), as well as access for City Clerks and other Administrators, Bi-annual updates to the SIRE software suite; and one staff position to coordinate and maintain the entire SIRE system.

The new system isn’t perfect – it still uses Windows Media for video, and it would be nice to be able to click directly from an item on the agenda to the corresponding item in the minutes – but it’s much better than what we had previously. I think it’s great that the City is working to improve access to information for citizens, and I hope this is just the beginning (think: open data).

Edmonton City Centre Airport Decision: Phased Closure

City Council voted today to implement a phased closure of the City Centre Airport. The motion put forward by Councillor Gibbons described two phases and passed by a vote of 10-3. I’m happy with the decision that was made today, and I commend Council for taking a courageous step toward ensuring the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan are realized.

Here is the vote breakdown for adopting the motion (which you can download here):

Councillor Karen Leibovici (Ward 1) Yes
Councillor Linda Sloan (Ward 1) No
Councillor Ron Hayter (Ward 2) No
Councillor Kim Krushell (Ward 2) Yes
Councillor Ed Gibbons (Ward 3) Yes
Councillor Tony Caterina (Ward 3) No
Councillor Jane Batty (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Ben Henderson (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Bryan Anderson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Don Iveson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Amarjeet Sohi (Ward 6) Yes
Councillor Dave Thiele (Ward 6) Yes
Mayor Stephen Mandel Yes

Council started discussing the issue at 1:30pm, and didn’t wrap up until nearly 6pm. There were at least four rounds of questioning, driven largely by Councillors Caterina and Sloan who were vehemently opposed to the motion. After the questioning finally ended, Councillor Caterina put forward a motion to refer the issue to Administration which was soundly defeated.

Three amendments were made to the original motion. Councillor Iveson’s two amendments were “friendly”. Councillor Krushell’s amendment stated that after scheduled service licenses expire at ECCA in June of 2012, that they not be renewed. All three amendments were approved, and as soon as the final motion is online I’ll link to it which you can download here (PDF).

It became clear as Councillors gave their final remarks that the motion was going to pass. I thought Councillors Henderson, Iveson, and Krushell made excellent comments about why this decision needed to be made, speaking in particular about the future. Councillor Leibovici mentioned the role of social networking in this debate (more on that in a future post). Mayor Mandel used his time to make it clear that “this is a closure motion.” Councillor Gibbons used his time to get a dig in at Councillor Caterina, saying “if you can’t win, don’t bring it forward.”

After the vote passed, a motion from Councillor Sloan was brought forward that called into question the legality of Councillor Gibbons’ motion (the City’s legal counsel gave the OK hours earlier). It also requested that quarterly updates be provided to Council on legal issues related to the City Centre Airport. The motion was split – the first part was defeated, the second part (quarterly updates) passed.

What happens next?

The following will happen immediately:

  • Runway 16-34 will be closed. General aviation business activities will be adjusted to accommodate a one-runway airport. Medivac service will be maintained.
  • As a result, a GPS landing system will likely be added to runway 12-30.
  • The parcel of lands adjacent to runway 16-34 that can be surrendered to the City once the runway is closed will be identified.
  • Negotiations will begin with NAIT and the Province of Alberta to allow for NAIT expansion.
  • The City of Edmonton will create a development office and will work to set out long-term visioning plans for the ECCA lands in their entirety. The plan will be presented to Council by November 2009.
  • Plans for realignment of the NAIT LRT line based on the closure of 16-34 will be provided to Council no later than September 2009.
  • The downtown plan will be adjusted to take into consideration the immediate removal of the overlay height restrictions.
  • The City of Edmonton will develop a communications strategy to inform the public about the impact of this decision.
  • The City Manager will negotiate with Edmonton Regional Airport Authority (ERAA) to make mutually acceptable lease amendments.

The following will happen sometime in the future:

  • ERAA will work with Alberta Health Services on a long-term system design to facilitate Medivac operations at the Edmonton International Airport or other regional airports.
  • The final closure date will be determined by City Council with input from ERAA when the lands are required to support the long-term land development plan.
  • After the final closure date is set, environmental remediation will take place.

What does this mean?

Council decided today to close the City Centre Airport. They stopped short of attaching dates however, which makes the motion much weaker than it could have been (during my live-tweeting I called it “gutless”). Both Mayor Mandel and Councillor Henderson addressed this in their final remarks, stating that Council’s intentions should not be misinterpreted – the intention is to close the airport.

I fear the lack of a timeline will open the door for this to be discussed again in the future, however. At what point are the lands “required to support the long-term land development plan”? Who decides that and brings it forward, especially if the City is to be the developer of those lands? I do believe that the direction is clear, that the airport is to be closed, but the lack of a final closure date makes me uncomfortable.

It’s important to realize that we’re a long way from seeing the airport completely closed. New communities are not developed overnight, and especially not world-class, transit-oriented ones. The City needs to take the time to come up with a solid, exciting plan that Edmontonians readily support.

Final Thoughts

I think Council made a bold statement today. By voting to close the City Centre Airport, Council made it clear that they’re willing to do what it takes to ensure Edmonton’s future is bright. I think today’s decision was an important step in the push to create a more vibrant, sustainable, innovative, and livable Edmonton.

The City Centre Airport will be closed, and that’s good for Edmonton.

UPDATE (7/9/2009): You can download the final version of the motion here (PDF).