ROYSON JAMES: 10 things Miller needs to do

Toronto Star columnist Royson James’s column today outlines 10 things Mayor David Miller should do in wake of Toronto’s budgetary crisis. Here are his suggestions (and we’d love to hear your opinion on James’ proposal):

1. Cut councillors’ perks and salaries. Before going to the public with a recovery plan, remove the biggest budgetary obstacle and source of public anger. Cut councillors’ office budgets by about 20 per cent; end their free golf passes and zoo passes; roll back their recent 9 per cent pay hike to $87,214.

Councillor Peter Milczyn says his Etobicoke constituents can’t accept cutbacks to skating rinks while city councillors refuse to cut their office expense budget.

2. Prepare a “State of the City” address to council in September. Encourage media to carry the address live, giving Miller direct access to citizens’ living rooms.

They want to know that there is a calm hand at the helm, an accounting of the price of victory or defeat, and what sacrifices they need to make. This address is to educate and inspire, to rally council and the city behind a mission — pulling Toronto out of the morass of fiscal restraint, with or without the help of the premier or the Prime Minister.

He’d announce how he might:

Cut waste, explore all revenue sources, and consider innovative ideas that save money without destroying Toronto’s quality of life and commitment to a vibrant civil service.

Open up a “Waste Not” hotline where civic workers can report wasteful practices in their departments. Distribute some “T-Dot. Waste Not” T-shirts.

Lead the battle with the provincial and federal governments to secure proper and sustainable funding for Toronto and all cities.

Deliver to the late October council meeting a recovery plan with a mix of property taxes, city-controlled revenues and user fees, innovative financing and other measures needed to put Toronto on a sound footing — with and without help from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

3. Open the city’s books to public scrutiny. Many claim there are mounds of waste at city hall. Bring in a team of business experts, CEOs, and other pit bulls from the private sector to look at the city’s entrails and find the waste that’s believed to be hidden.

Keep a couple of spots for representatives from employee unions and social agencies.

Have the “Waste Busters” report in 30 days, even if this means just a “scoped” audit of the big departments such as the TTC, police and housing. Commit to act on the recommendations.

City manager Shirley Hoy welcomes the scrutiny as a chance for vindication. Staff have fulfilled 80 per cent of more than 800 recommendations from the city’s independent auditor general. Still, people don’t believe.

4. Call an emergency council debate on plan.

The question? Philosophically, is the city to be governed by traditional values of providing services for everyone, using property taxes; or will services be reduced to a core, with user fees funding the rest? Settle this as a template for the future.

5. Deliver a “Made in Toronto” recovery plan to each citizen. Based on principles set during the emergency debate, convene a team of city councillors to draft a recovery plan and deliver it to each citizen. As a symbol of the new relationship with the private sector, secure a private-sector partner to pay the postage for the door-to-door delivery.

Tell the truth about what it costs to run Big City Toronto. Each government has a role. Queen’s Park must pay its bills and reverse the downloading. Ottawa must invest in Toronto as a calling card city, not treat it as an outcast. And Torontonians will have to pay more to avert disastrous decline. How much more? That will depend on the success of lobbying other governments and finding waste. So, include in the recovery plan a guide on how to lobby MPs and MPPs.

6. Go on the road to sell the plan. In a weekend campaign-style road show that takes him to each of the 44 city wards over 48 hours, Miller leads a blitz to raise awareness and talk to citizens about the city’s challenges. Stage this the last weekend in September, when the provincial election campaign is in full throttle.

Ideally, all 44 councillors, a battery of staff, volunteers from social agencies, the cultural community, and civic leaders would speak with residents, inform them of the issues and urge them to hold provincial candidates accountable by asking them what they intend to do for Toronto and other cities. Community groups and associations could be encouraged to stage their own demonstrations, barbecues, fall fests, mock funerals, etc. in support of the initiative.

7. Forge partners for a federal blitz. Meet with the City Summit Alliance, the Toronto Board of Trade and key business leaders with ties to the federal Conservatives to step up the “1 Cent Now” campaign — a drive that seeks 1 cent of the GST to be used to help cities fund services, an amount totalling $450 million in Toronto alone.

“City-building without the business community is a losing proposition,” says Councillor Brian Ashton. “If you can’t convince the business leaders of the merit of your city-building vision, forget the public.”

8. Announce “Waste-Buster” findings. Make a ceremony of it. Show the public city hall is committed to eliminate any waste uncovered. Make it a positive, civic duty, with the benefit of saving essential services now threatened.

9. Deliver progress report prior to tax vote. With the provincial election over, greater knowledge of when the province will upload its costs from the city, prospects for other revenues, mayor recommends to council any amendments to the land transfer tax and vehicle registration fee hikes deferred in July to the Oct. 22 council.

10. Win the council vote. Reach out to city council, build on the credibility gained from the recovery plan, secure the vote. Clear up councillors’ issues. Don’t take the vote to council until victory is assured.

13 comments

  1. Imagine this article from royson james who “PROMOTED” Joe pantalone during the last election.Even he was taken in by the “balanced budget” lie that joe pantalone and david miller promoted during the last municipal election.Well it looks like he has seen the truth and I’m sure this plea to miller just shows that he really is sceptical that the toronto ndp party will come forward with honesty and sincerity to reveal the true budget numbers.Just try to get the budget papers, I did and was told “for staff eyes only”.Then after pointing out that the budget is a public document they conceded that I could get a copy for $5000 the cost to photocopy the budget in full.Well I still wasn’t happy with that answer so on 640 AM radio adam vaughan said that he would allow me a peak at the documents but if I wanted a copy then the cost per page would be charged.So hopefully it will be “on display” for all to see on the toronto.ca website soon.Maybe royson can ask.
    I wonder if he still thinks his endorsement of joe pantalone was a wise partisan move?I hope he apologizes to my constituents because they are mad as hell at the moment.Maybe Rosario Marchese can bail his ndp friend out by explaining his partners actions. I guess it seems even the ndp can stretch the truth to get elected.

  2. Royson James gets on my nerves. Sheesh, one more time on councilor’s salaries and waste at city hall.

    Concerning suggestion #1, does Royson not think running the city takes smarts, and skills, worth paying for? Or, is it just this particular bunch of politicians who are such lame brains they aren’t worth a decent administrative pay level. Thing is, there was an election and the people voted for this crew – following the decision to raise salaries. Perhaps he thinks it’s the electorate who are too dumb to know what they’re doing.

    Royson could address the amount the city would actually save if councilors’ decided to pretend he has a point about their office budgets, their free golf and zoo passes and their pay hike. He won’t include this figure and its relationship to the real problems this city faces because to do so would illustrate the mean and sorry vision this suggestion is based on.

    The salaries of the mayor and councilors were raised to the 75th percentile of whatever is being paid in big cities across Canada. I think that’s reasonable. Also, as I’m sure Royson is aware, city council mandated ongoing scheduled reviews to ensure the salaries stay within that range. I think that’s reasonable. Attacking a person’s reasonable income is pretty low life politics

    Where is his respect for the work that good councilors and a smart mayor do. I’m not sure Royson believes in the role of elected municipal leadership. Is it reasonable councilors should make as much money as high school vice-principals? For sure, there are some charlatans on city council; thing is, they were elected. And they have to get elected again. Is there some other way of doing things that Royson would like to suggest?

    Suggestion #1 and the suggestions to find waste, celebrate finding waste, go get the wasteful, sloppy, LAZY, CITY WORKERS WHO ARE RIPPING OFF THE TAXPAYER etc. is nothing but point scoring. Of the lowest level kind.

    To promote this attitude towards the role of mayor and councilor on Toronto council and towards city workers is a wretched form of spiteful, small minded politics that will cripple this city if it continues. Stringent procedures were followed to ascertain what a fair salary for the job of mayor and councilor might be, procedures proposed and designed by Councilor Walker and then-Councilor Jane Pittfield; something else Royson doesn’t usually include in his commentaries on councilors’ pay hike.

    Urging the citizens of Toronto to be peevish about a miniscule amount of money paid in fair salaries to the representatives we elect – why not leave it to Bill Carroll and his know-nothing ilk to slop around in the bottom of the ideas barrel.

    If Royson thinks there’s waste let’s have some examples – there’s been plenty of accusations; haven’t seen him offer a single example.

  3. I dunno. It’s another Spacing Wire post based on an article in the acceptable paper, the Star. You could have done a much cleaner job of excerpting it, too; this seems like a rare example of exceeding the bounds of fair dealing.

  4. Why are tax dollars in capital projects (vs. operating) relatively immune from cutbacks? Why are we going ahead with the Spadina subway extension into sprawl and building a highway in the core that will harm two transit systems?
    And this devolves into the core of the problem: our “carrupt” kultur won’t charge cars any user fees for being on the streets despite the space consumption.
    With the “amanglemation” the urban core is dominated by auto-crats – and if the rump of councillors do ever see the light, the 905 belt at the province will make sure we don’t get too “roadical” by tolling the roads.
    But “roadicalism” is needed: citizen June MacDonald in Rae’s ward recently guesstimated that there’s about $400M of gifting to the private car in the civic budget.
    It’s past time to charge the cars more user fees (though they’re already costly to run, tis true – and it’s a lot easier to say this in the core where we gashouse greens can bike/transit).
    And you can’t trust the Star or other media to bring this analysis forward. Just analyze the ads of our pollutocratic media – that’s the truth, not the print.

  5. If the budget costs $5000 to photocopy in full, that implies that someone making $50/hr would have to be at the job exclusively and full time for two weeks, copying something like 9000 pages at 9 cents a page in consumables.

  6. Cutting the salaraies has to be done if only as a gesture, but i can see how Miller-ites can argue that was approved and voted upon before this council was formed and no one else’s salary is being cut. The perks do not cost money , like the zoo pass or golf pass since they are not keeping people out in exchange for their admittance. That’s been the worst part of this argument.

    #2 idea is great.

    #3 Ahh, the books are open, its a public government, and you can find non-city audits that prove their point. Useless idea, other than making them more accessible thru the city’s web site.

    #4 seems to be a debate that can only take place along ideology lines, so this suggestion is useless too.

    #5 get he private sector to pay for postage? Did Mike Harris jump behind Royson’s keyboard? There’s a difference between getting the private secotr on-side and having them pay for your costs…. Oh wait, that sounds like street furniture deal….

    #6 Totally do the road trip. Best idea of the lot.

    #7 Has nothing to do with the crisis in its current state. The idea is to try and implement the taxes, not whine about more money from the Feds, etc. Get the taxes first, than you can take to the upper levels of government.

    #8 They’ve done this: its called an audit. Read KPMG’s take on the city. I don’t think any Sun editor or columnist has ever looked at it or they’d realize theur hypocracy.

    #9 Council will demand this anyway and would have to be part of the procedure of passing taxes, etc. Another useless suggestion.

    #10 Duh! They will since everyone is the city is creaming about service cuts.

  7. At least Royson posted a list of ideas finally after complaining for months and offering nothing.

    The real issue is if David Miller has the leadership to do any of these steps. My feeling more and more is that he doesnt.

  8. #3 — opening the books to public scrutiny — is a good suggestion and also an opportunity for spacing to really contribute.

    What we need is a high-level analysis/breakdown of the city budget and how it works. very few people really understand the scope of toronto’s spending and where the dollars go. trudging through 5000 pages of line item budget documents (which may or may not be difficult to get a hold of) is not really a practical option for most.

    there was an excellent graphic in either the post or the globe about a month back that illustrated the percentage breakdown by department of spending. It was a great chart because you realized just how much we spend on law enforcement and the debt (for example).

    It would have been even more illuminating if you could have overlaid that graphic with the percentage of mandated/required services which the city must provide no matter what. Then you could have really understood how much leeway the city does or does not actually have to cut spending.

    Having some kind of detailed — but easy to use — third party ‘guide to how the city spends’ would be useful on both sides of the debate. For example suggestion #1 – cut back councillors pay increases. The comment was made that James never cites the amount and that it’s a ‘miniscule amount’ to get peevish over. Is it? Well what’s the number, and even if it *is* a small number relative to the whole budget, so what? We’re having enough trouble scraping up cuts as it is.

    Suppose it totals a million dollars of savings — less than a percentage point of the total cuts ‘required’. Would you prefer to cut that million dollars from the library budget instead? I would rather be peevish, thanks.

    Anyway, what we really need is a clear, simple to understand educational guide to the city budget, in order to make the debate more productive. This analysis is currently NOT readily/easily available in a generally consumable format from the city. [a side note: why can’t they post the budget overview in a SINGLE pdf??!]

    [if there are already other groups engaged in this analysis, please post links, I would love to hear about them/learn more]

  9. Sorry – you’re not going to get a million dollars by rolling back salaries of the councillors and mayor. You’re not even going to get half a million. Let’s round up the cost of those salary increases to $445,000 and that’s on the high side of the calculation. Here are some interesting salary comparators:

    – salary city councillor Toronto: $95,000 (2007)

    – salary mayor Toronto: $160,000: (2007)

    – salary city councillor Vaughn: $102,000 (2007)

    – salary mayor Vaughn: $165,000: (2007)

    – salary city councillor Mississauga: $113,000 (2007)

    – salary mayor Mississauga: $159,000: (2007)

    – salary vice-principal secondary school TDSB an example: $101,000 (2006)

    – salary elementary school principal TDSB an example: $106,000 (2006)

    – salary Director Dufferin-Peel CDSB: $200,000 (2006)

    – base salary MPP: $ 110,000

    – salary Ontario Cabinet Minister: $157,000

    Royson’s got us wasting our time arguing about the following:

    $ cost of increase in councillors’/mayor’s salaries as a percentage of $575 million shortfall: 0.07% . Doesn’t this figure indicate the low level nature of this debate – even on a practical level it’s a waste of time.

    Though there is a fairly constant theme about the symbolism of rolling back salaries. Wasn’t that always the emotionally satisfying strategy of the right?

  10. hamish – David Soknacki got smacked down by Hizzoner’s PR machine for suggesting just that. Capital projects might be “separate money”, and in some cases are multi-year contracts so breaking them will cost us more, but they almost always increase operating spend. So do programmes which didn’t exist before.

    scott – your prejudices are showing. You might not agree with what James is saying but he has said plenty and some of it has been all too sensible. For instance, his July 18 column mentioned starting the 2008 budget immediately which would mean that the expense reductions would become part of the budget process rather than an isolated procedure. The City still refuses to countenance zero-budgeting (start from $0 and work up rather than start from 2007 and index) – why not round on the CTF and the Wong-Stintz alliance and disprove their assertions in a ordered way rather than answer with further assertions and councillor-on-councillor shouting matches.

    nate – the problem with budget overviews is that they are just that – high level stuff with figures too large for people to grasp in a concrete matter. The Star does that kind of exercise every year and nobody seems to be better educated at the end of it.

    A roadshow might help with that if the numbers were broken down by ward – how many potholes filled, how many kilometres of pavement renewed, how many speedhumps Michael Walker has foisted on his ward against the advice of Staff, that sort of thing.

    The problem might be that people might start looking at what other wards get and wonder “why is that…” and in some cases there will be good reason and in others it could be “because we’ve always spent that and it’s a comfortable habit”. Having a breakdown of city income per ward might also be illuminating.

    James is wildly mistaken on one thing if he thinks Miller can reach 44 wards in 48 hours – can you travel to 44 venues in this town and say anything meaningful in the 32 hours or less anyone could be bothered showing up? It would mean him dropping in, saying his piece and leaving before anyone has a chance to interact with him – especially if he tried doing it on his free Metropass.

    Don Wanagas would probably love it but it would do damn all for the cause of public engagement – and after the “consultations” he couldn’t be bothered attending, he’s already behind in the count on that score. He needs to get out in person and cancel his schedule. Let Joe Pantalone take the photocalls with fashion models for a few weeks.

  11. 1. Cut councillors’ perks and salaries.

    Joan’s comment speaks to many of the reasons I wasn’t against the pay increase when it was adopted but I think Royson James is right. It’s not about the less than $8,000 more that each councillor is getting, it’s about politics.

    For the sake of politics, Council should probably also do away with the so-called perks. Though I think the best reason not to cut them is that by using the freebies, councillors are actually doing their job. Members of Council have several functions, one of which is to have an understanding of the services the City provides so they can make informed decisions and ensure that their constituents are receiving the services they ought to. And as great as staff are at writing reports, there really is no substitute for taking in the experience first hand.

    2 Prepare a “State of the City” address to council in September.

    Great. Go for it. Though James should know that there already is an anti-waste hotline advertised in just about every supply/photocopy room in City Hall. Though it would be nice if that number were more widely advertised to residents. Also, the notion that Miller is holding back on “innovative ideas that save money without destroying Toronto’s quality of life and commitment to a vibrant civil service” is absurd.

    In the event that the taxes don’t go through, cuts would be done in a very different way. However, because it’s likely that the City will be in a more stable financial condition by 2009, it was necessary to make cuts that could be reversed relatively easily.

    3 Open the city’s books to public scrutiny.

    I don’t have a problem with this, provided that there isn’t additional money being used to support the budget review task force. City finances are already subject to a great deal of scrutiny that, predictably, costs a great deal of money. Spending more on more audits is a poor use of tax dollars.

    Also, more than a couple seats should be left open for leaders in social service agencies and each of the unions that represents workers employed by the City of Toronto should have a seat at this table.

    4 Call an emergency council debate on plan.

    Do it. Force the councillors who refuse to support taxes while also complaining that the City doesn’t provide services well enough to take a stand.

    However, for people who like direct lines of accountability, once this goes to Council for a vote, it could become much harder to hold Miller accountable because it’s up to Council to support the measures brought forward. Also, having seen the mushy middle of Council at work, they would probably avoid making the hardest decisions and that could leave the City in a far worse condition (for example, they may refuse to support the taxes and refuse to make cuts, leaving the City essentially bankrupt.)

    5 Deliver a “Made in Toronto” recovery plan to each citizen.

    Sounds like a good idea but I can’t imagine there’ll be too many councillors lining up to sit on a task group that will be the ultimate no-win situation. Everyone (council colleagues and constituents) will be pissed off with them for at least part of the plan and it’ll be an incredible amount of work. Granted there are plenty of volunteers to sit on the Budget Committee.

    But I do take exception to the idea that the City should find a private sector partner to pay for the postage. If this is truly a priority for the City then the City needs to pay for it. Having a Rogers insert in my mailing would trivialize the message and, fundamentally, postage is an essential administrative cost that should be paid for by tax dollars.

    6 Go on the road to sell the plan.

    Another fine idea though it’s got to be more than just a 48-hour photo-op. Miller’s got to get in front of every BIA, residents association, cricket club club and Bay Street board he can.

    7 Forge partners for a federal blitz.

    This is happening. That’s why a huge number of councillors were sent to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities a few months ago.

    8 Announce “Waste-Buster” findings.

    I would scrap this and, in necessary, roll it into step 9.

    9 Deliver progress report prior to tax vote.

    Do this a week before the provincial election. In addition, also use it as an opportunity to talk about what the provincial parties have offered to Toronto. Don’t tell people how to vote but for those who are confused about what’s being promised to us, give them a Coles Notes version. Then, if Miller doesn’t feel Toronto has been offered enough, make an open call for the provincial leaders to make one or two specific promises during the final week of the election.

    10 Win the council vote.

    Royson should know that Miller can’t just decide when a vote will happen once its been deferred to a specific meeting. So yes, he cetrainly needs to win this vote but the inference that the mayor has some absolute power to decide when the vote takes place is misleading.

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