More Heat On Rising Police Costs

- April 21st, 2014

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario will try tackling the escalating cost of police services.

Ottawa police recently stopped overnight hours for its desk at headquarters on Elgin St.

AMO announced earlier this month it’s striking a task force on “police modernization” to inform a provincial study by a future of policing advisory committee.

The committee’s work seems to involve a wide examination of police services in Ontario, but AMO’s interest, no doubt, is keeping costs down.

This will resonate in Ottawa where police board chairman Eli El-Chantiry and Mayor Jim Watson have called for changes to the province’s arbitration system.

Salaries are the biggest cost driver, but there are issues beyond arbitrated contracts fuelling increased police costs.

There have been some interesting developments recently in Ottawa with the police force finding ways to save money.

Crime reporter Danielle Bell wrote about the future of community police centres and managers debating if the offices are still worth the resources.

Starting last Tuesday the police force cut back on the hours of its front desk at Elgin St. headquarters. Instead of being available 24/7, the desk now opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. each day.

There has also been some discussion about how police deploy resources to manage traffic as part of the force’s ongoing service review.

We might learn more about big changes in the police force as the year goes on. The service review is expected to bring efficiencies starting in 2015. The force needs to find $1 million in savings annually between 2015 and 2017 to meet its financial forecasts. Still, the police budget is projected to increase by $10 million in 2015, taking into account a 2.5% tax hike.

—–
Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

Via Rail Answers The Bell

- April 17th, 2014

Mayor Jim Watson asked Via Rail officials to come to Ottawa and answer questions from councillors and reporters about the malfunctioning rail signals in Barrhaven. It appears Via has agreed to come next week.

Dear colleagues,

As you know, the City of Ottawa has been in discussions with VIA Rail about the ongoing rail signal issues in Barrhaven.

In recent weeks, VIA Rail has taken a number of measures to improve safety in the area.

Yesterday, VIA announced that it will undertake a high level of activity including maintenance, repairs and testing over the next two weeks at the following crossings in the Barrhaven area: Woodroffe Avenue, the Southwest Transitway where it crosses Woodroffe, Fallowfield Road, Greenbank Road, Jockvale Road and Strandherd Road.

We support the interim steps VIA has taken to ensure the safety of our residents at railway crossings in the City of Ottawa. However, our top priority remains ensuring that VIA Rail fixes its rail signals, as soon as possible.

I have expressed the view that our City Council, but more importantly our residents, deserve a complete update about the work that has been undertaken by VIA Rail to come up with a permanent solution to these issues.

Last week, I formally requested that VIA Rail representatives hold a public technical briefing for Councillors and media at Ottawa City Hall as soon as possible. I offered City of Ottawa space and resources to VIA Rail for such a session.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Steve Del Bosco, interim President and CEO of VIA Rail, informed my office that VIA Rail officials are planning to hold such a public technical briefing/panel next week in Ottawa. Once the final details are provided to us, I will ask that City staff keep you informed about the time and location of the briefing.

Our residents need to regain confidence in these crossings, and I believe that next week’s technical briefing/panel will help us begin to move in that direction. Once again, I wish to extend to VIA Rail any assistance they require to hold this public technical briefing in Ottawa.

It is my intention to continue to work with our residents, members of Council, Via Rail and other elected officials to restore public confidence in the affected railway crossings.

Sincerely,

Jim Watson
Mayor

—–
Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

Fury Over Free Soccer Tickets To Council

- April 16th, 2014

City integrity commissioner Robert Marleau sent a memo to council members this morning telling them the rules for accepting tickets to the Ottawa Fury FC’s home opener at Carleton University on Saturday.

First, the memo:

Sent on behalf of Mr. Robert Marleau, Integrity Commissioner:

De la part de M. Robert Marleau, Commissaire à l’intégrité :
 
Mayor and Members of Council,
 
I have received several inquiries regarding tickets provided to Members of Council for the Ottawa Fury FC home opener on Saturday, April 19. This message advises on disclosure requirements, should you choose to accept the tickets.
 
While the tickets and invitations forwarded to my office have stated “Club Seat Holder,” they have not provided any information on the ticket cost. I have determined the value based on information provided by a ticket agent. The agent estimated each club seat ticket for the April 19th game at Carleton University to be valued at approximately $70. When including these tickets in your next Gift Registry and Ticket Disclosure, please list the value of tickets accordingly.
 
The event will require disclosure as:

· It is not directly tied to your representative role as a Member of Council;
· The ticket value exceeds the $30 threshold for disclosure
 
For these reasons, if you choose to accept the tickets, they must be disclosed in the Gifts Registry. As you’re aware, information on the disposition of the ticket must also appear in the Registry (e.g. who attended with you, or if donated, to whom/what organization). Hospitality received that is directly connected to the invitation, such as food and beverage provided by the event, does not require additional disclosure.
 
I can confirm that there are no active lobbying files related to this invitation.
 
Please recall the Code provision regarding the limit on accepting two tickets for up to two events from one source in a calendar year. I encourage you to keep this in mind if offered any additional tickets from the Ottawa Fury FC this season.
 
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact my office.

In summary, if council members use the tickets, they have to indicate so on the gift registry.

This doesn’t sit well with a few councillors who — thankfully for us! — hit Reply All in emails back to Marleau.

There was Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder:

I find it is very unfortunate that consideration of the first ever professional soccer team in the City of Ottawa, one that will make its home at Lansdowne when completed is not seen as something that Councillors and Mayor “should” attend.  You are correct there isn’t an amount on the ticket for price simply “general admission” or “general seating” or the like.  I think this is an example of where in our quest for transparency we closed the loop too tightly.  Because of this I will not be attending unless I buy my own tickets.

There was Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley:

Jan I agree this needs to be revisited as it impacts our ability to do our jobs and driving up the cost of the IC’s office much more than the cost of these tickets.
 
Respectfully
Allan Hubley

And, there was Orléans Coun. Bob Monette:

This is something that needs to be revisited when the new council is formed unfortunately we all agreed on the present process even though there are apparent issues with it.
 
Bob

Then there’s Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, who can’t believe the price Marleau is placing on each ticket:

Mr. Marleau,
 
I am just curious about the information you received on the ticket pricing.  Where exactly did you get the information that would suggest these tickets would be valued any higher than what they are being sold for?  The General Admission ticket prices for the games at Keith Harris Stadium are between $10 and $20.  Just for fun, I’ve supplied a picture of the stands below.  I would find it hard to believe that I could sit in these stands for $70 while everyone else paid $10-$20 for the exact same seats.  It would be one thing if we were talking about TD Place, but we aren’t.

Moffatt’s email included an image like this one of the stands at the soccer pitch.

So, there are two beefs here: One, some councillors seem to believe that attending the Fury’s home opener is part of their duties as municipal politicians; and two, the price Marleau is putting on the “club seats” at the university stadium is in dispute.

Lots of eye-rolling over this in the corridors of City Hall. Some councillors can’t grasp why it’s such a big deal to list the tickets on the gift registry if councillors really want to go. Plus, there’s the debate about whether going to this soccer game should be considered official business.

This, of course, is a delicious prelude to the Ottawa RedBlacks’ football season. The home opener for the new franchise at Lansdowne Park (where the Fury will also eventually play) is in July and you can bet council members will be on the ticket list.

Would attending the RedBlacks game be closer to “role of a council member” because it’s being played in a municipal asset? (Both the football and soccer teams are owned by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, the city’s Lansdowne development partner.)

Everything is a little more touchy in an election year, isn’t it?

—–
Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

Things I Learned Last Week

- April 14th, 2014

I find myself always learning little tidbits that don’t necessarily make full-blown stories but are still interesting. Here’s what I learned last week:

- The advanced flashing green traffic light has been phased out in Ontario. The flashing green means different things across Canada.

- The city has repaired nearly 100,000 potholes so far this year.

- Gravel roads in the rural areas are re-gravelled every four years.

- The city is outfitting 700 street lights with LED technology as a pilot project.

- More of those flexible signs will be plopped in the middle of Ottawa roads this year.

- 600 traffic counts will be happening in Ottawa this year by a couple dozen students sitting at intersections.

- The fine for vandalizing with graffiti is $615.

- The city’s royal swans will be released into the Rideau River next month. For those wondering.

—–
Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.

City Sports Fields Still On Schedule

- April 11th, 2014

A quick update for those itching to get your spring/summer sport leagues going.

Public works GM Larry O’Keefe said today his department still expects to open city sports fields on time. “On time” would be the beginning of May for ball diamonds and the middle of May for soccer fields.

The lingering winter might be a factor in bringing the fields up to playing condition.

O’Keefe said he’ll have a better idea once staff come back from Easter weekend and work on the fields.

—–
Follow City Hall reporter Jon Willing on Twitter at @JonathanWilling and at ottawasun.com.