By Mike Archer. It is becoming apparent that, while much of Abbotsford City Council and senior staff exist in one universe, the citizens of Abbotsford exist in another.
The universe in which senior staff and most of Council seem to exist involves endless growth and always rising projections made almost a decade ago, many on wildly inaccurate assumptions … none of which have come true.
The failure of any of those projections to come true doesn’t seem to have dissuaded most of Council or any of senior staff from changing their plans for what they want to do with our money.
They seem to blindly put one foot before the other in stunned disbelief that things aren’t panning out the way they expected.
Our population was supposed to be over 140,000 and still rising by now. It is actually stalled at 133,000, only 10,000 more than it was back in 2005 when Parks & Rec Director Mark Taylor started making all his grand plans for the City.
Our water usage was supposed to be through the roof by now, based on faulty and inaccurate assumptions by the Engineering Department which Chief Engineer Jim Gordon, Economic Development Manager Jay Teichroeb and former City Manager Frank Pizzuto stubbornly stuck to despite clear, overwhelming and sustained evidence to the contrary.
Plan A was supposed to be paying for itself by now because, according to former councillor Bruce Beck (an investment advisor) and Councillor John Smith (a former banker), Abbotsford is a hockey-mad town and the City would be able to grow its way out of any mistakes, miscalculations or ill-advised investments Council was making.
As it is we now have a taxpayer-dependent AHL club that can’t get enough of an audience to break even; an Abbotsford Entertainment Centre (AESC) that sits mostly empty and loses money every year while we pay an American company (Global Spectrum) to not find shows for us; an empty DCC fund (in fact it is badly in deficit) and none of staff or council’s wide-eyed projections about an endless bountiful future have panned out.
In order to pay for all of the red ink and broken promises, Council has been dipping into our reserves, ratcheting up water rates, taxes and fees, and borrowing against our DCC fund to the point where developers can’t make money here, we can’t find tenants to occupy all of the residential housing projects we have approved but have never been built, and our housing starts and building permit values are plummeting.
Realtors and developers cannot make money in Abbotsford and the only economic growth we seem to be able to generate is government-funded, taxpayer-financed phony growth like the YMCA proposal on the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) lands.
Our newspapers haven’t told us much about all the things that are going wrong. Whether because a) they see themselves as boosters and cheerleaders for a group of people and ideas that have no connection to sound financial accounting or reality, or b) bad news and depressing economic truths don’t make things any easier in a failing economy and dying industry, is of no consequence.
Abbotsford’s taxpayers, business people and residents have no more time or patience for the jolly boosterism of the newspapers or dutifully reported outright fictions of the politicians and bureaucrats like the one’s told by Frank Pizzuto, Jay Teichroeb and former Mayor George Peary when they told us we were running out of water and facing economic ruin in 2016 because of it.
All three had access to the report, released eight months later, showing our consumption was plummeting.
This is not the way democracy is supposed to work. There is supposed to be at least the veneer of a passing acquaintance between the realities faced by real citizens, business people and taxpayers and the issues being discussed by politicians, bureaucrats and media.
There are reasons for hopeHenry Braun
While Bruce Beck and John Smith managed to convince voters they were successful businessmen they were, in fact, businessmen who knew just enough about banking and finance to convince others and themselves they knew what they were talking about.
Henry Braun, on the other hand, is the real thing. He is a self made success story in the business world who has learned how to ask tough questions and provide real answers, to himself, those who report to him, and those to whom he reports.
He understands full well that he reports to the voters, taxpayers and citizens of Abbotsford … not the other way around.
He knows that BS may get you through a meeting but it won’t fool the auditors, the shareholders or the accountants at the end of the year.
He has pissed off an awful lot of people at City Hall and he has made few friends around the council table with his insistence on truth and proper accounting.
All those he has pissed off can simply learn to shut up and take their lumps because Braun seems to understand that the taxpayers are his shareholders and senior staff are the ones who have been mismanaging the company.
Fred Thiessen is a successful developer, realtor and businessman and a card-carrying member of Abbotsford’s power structure – the real power structure that has financial clout rather than phony political clout of those who merely represent the interests of the powerful.
The fact that he felt the need to devote his not insignificant brains, drive and personality to fixing what some misguided people have done to his city is a sign that people who matter within the power structure in Abbotsford are beginning to take note of the mess that has been made of their community and are fed up with the pablum being delivered by the chain newspapers and the politicians about how well things are going.
People who read balance sheets for a living tend to know how to cut past all the crap being shoved their way by the sales and marketing guys.
When Thiessen launched the Citizens for Responsible Municipal Government (CRMG) he sent press releases to both chain-owned newspapers, offered interview opportunities and let them know well in advance about his delegation to the Executive Committee of City Council January 21.
Neither newspaper told their readers about the meeting until after it happened. Why didn’t the newspapers tell their readers about the meeting? The Matsqui Centenniel Centre council chambers were packed with concerned citizens. How did everybody find out?
Sherril Guthrie was fawned over by the chain newspapers a year ago when she first introduced her ground-breaking method of gauging the value of politicians by their ability to live up to their promises, deliver on their commitments and listen to the people for whom they work.
Now that she has re-introduced her survey methodology and morphed it into her Annual Mayor and Council Performance Review the newspapers have suddenly lost interest in her project.
Though she launched the project several weeks ago and provided all Abbotsford media with the same press release and regular updates on the project, neither the Abbotsford Times nor the Abbotsford News has chosen to share the information with their readers.
They’ve had three weeks to find the first press release and a week to find the second one. People are picking up the survey like hotcakes at the Clearbrook Library despite the fact that neither newspaper has told anybody about it.
Editor’s Note: As a result of the success of the first delivery of the surveys at Clearbrook Library, another date has been scheduled for Saturday Feb. 3rd.
So; a professional researcher who is trying to re-introduce a more substantive level of democracy to a broken community tells the newspapers about it and they don’t seem to care enough to share the news with their readers.
Here’s the thing …
Neither newspaper told their readers about Fred Thiessen’s presentation to Abbotsford Council’s Executive Committee meeting last Monday and yet some 250 angry people showed up.
Neither newspaper told their readers about Sherril Guthrie’s experiment in democracy yet the response to her provision of hard copies of her Performance Review at the Clearbrook Library was tremendous.
Last autumn the City of Abbotsford, under Frank Pizzuto’s direction, spent several hundred thousand dollars surveying, marketing and advertising a campaign to have an American multinational company build and operate a new water system for Abbotsford.
Forcefully-retired (now teaching in India) mayor George Peary staked his career in public life on the fact that we needed a new water supply despite the fact he knew our consumption was plummeting and the newspapers helped deliver that message to their readers.
In lock step both out-of-town newspaper companies backed the efforts of Peary, Pizzuto and Econcomic Development Manager Jay Teichroeb to convince voters the sky was falling and yet, the citizens of Abbotsford defeated their plan by a factor of 75 percent to 25 percent in the P3 Water Referendum.
How is it the people of Abbotsford seem to know what’s going on despite all of the effort put into convincing them otherwise?
You know why …
Because when real people who give a damn want to cut through the crap and insist that those who are well paid to serve them tell the truth and do as they are told, the system our forefathers built allows the real people who own this community to prevail despite the roadblocks put in front of them by government, politicians or media.
City Council and senior City staff may have grown used to the fact that most people are too busy or distracted to give a damn what they are doing with their friends’ and neighbours’ money but they did not prepare themselves for what would happen if their friends and neighbours ever found out what’s been going on.
Unfortunately, most of those who are being very well paid to take care of our money are ill-suited, not only for the job they were hired to perform, but for the shit storm of anger from their friends and neighbours now that it is becoming very clear they have screwed things up.
A quick look at the Economic Indicators the newspapers don’t report will demonstrate that Abbotsford has become a dicey investment risk for developers, realtors, and businesses. 2012 showed a steady and sustained decrease in building permit values, housing starts, real estate sales, and employment.
When the steady increase in taxes, fees, development costs and municipal debt are added to the mix, it seems everyone but those charged with managing the City or reporting what is going on to the citizens of the City can see the perfect storm which has been developing now for eight years.
This is not the fault of the economic collapse on Wall Street or the worldwide economic downturn. This is the result of unqualified people making terrible mistakes with their friends’ and neighbours’ money.
Maybe Frank got out while the getting was good.