From The Vault: Four Years Of Constructive Criticism II

Last week we published Four Years Of Constructive Criticism Part I in response to a column in the Abbotsford Times by Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Allan Asaph. Prior to starting the ‘Four Years Of Constructive Criticism’ series we responded to Mr Asaph but we felt his suggestion that, without the proper control of out-of-town newspaper chains and business clubs like his, public opinion expressed on newfangled technology like the internet wasn’t worth much, required a bit more of a response.

We weren’t surprised by Asaph’s position regarding what he refers to as the “unfortunate” fact that, nowadays, “Anyone with access to a computer can create a website, a blog or other web presence and hold themselves out as an arbiter of what is wrong and right,” given the track record the leadership of his business club has in supporting the use hundreds of millions of dollars of his friends’ and neighbours’ tax dollars on public projects that have seriously impaired the City of Abbotsford’s ability to function.

Abbotsford's unique approach to democrary

Abbotsford’s unique approach to democrary

Projects like Plan A – ” … a very well thought out business plan that addresses the needs and concerns of all current and future citizens,” according to Fiona Brett, Chamber president in 2006; the ‘gift’ from MP Ed Fast of two overpasses on a federal highway, the majority of which we had to pay for ourselves, and the money for which has crippled our DCC fund to name a couple.

We felt it important to respond to Mr Asaph’s apparent contention that all of the self-serving, poorly thought out, and ill advised decisions supported and loudly proclaimed by the Chamber of Commerce executive are easy to criticize, but that what is needed most is constructive criticism.

So here is Part II in the long list of constructive criticism the very talented and intelligent citizens of Abbotsford have provided, through Abbotsford Today, to those in the little social club atop the power structure of Abbotsford only to be ignored, denied, refused, marginalized and rudely denounced by those who are ruining our city.

We’d like to thank Mr Asaph for his comments on the low value he sees in the criticism expressed on the interent from those outside of the established power structure of those within it who have brought our city to its current state because.

If nothing else it has caused us to go back and look at some of the constructive criticism we’ve provided over the years.

It also caused us to notice how much of it has been ignored by those up top who claim the authority to make some pretty enormous decisions with their friends’ and neighbours’ money.

Far as we can tell … not one bit of advice from outside the power structure has been followed. Maybe if you would learn to listen to your critics instead denigrating and insulting them you wouldn’t keep making such terrible mistakes with your friends’ and neighbours’ money

Oops … was that another bit of invalid internet criticism?

You’re welcome 🙂


Losing Your Money With A Smile

Mike Archer

Mike Archer, Today Editor

Mike Archer, Today Editor

1. Pay the Abbotsford Heat to move to Utica (or anywhere else) and stop draining the treasury
2. Pay off Global Spectrum and ask them to go do a mediocre job on some other city’s dime
3. Close the arena so that the taxpayer is only hit with minimal maintenance costs to maintain it’s value
4. Put the AESC on the market and if a buyer materializes, make a good deal for the taxpayers of Abbotsford at a high enough price that we can repay some of the hundreds of millions this little adventure has cost us
5. Put the tax revenue from the now privatized AESC towards the above mentioned costs


Banman Is Right – Chamber Should Buy Heat Tickets

By Mike Archer
[excerpt] If there is one group Abbotsford which really should respond to Banman’s plea and dig into their pockets to buy Heat tickets it is the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce.

The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce pulled out all the stops to make sure that the referendum over Plan A and the massive Abbotsford Entertainment Centre (AESC) gamble had as much support as it possibly could.

Former Chamber of Commerce President Fiona Brett

Former Chamber of Commerce President Fiona Brett

“Plan A has a very well thought out business plan that addresses the needs and concerns of all current and future citizens.” – Fiona Brett, Chamber of Commerce, President, 2006

The Chamber used all of its influence and membership to make sure that the enormous debt taken on by Abbotsford taxpayers thanks to municipal politicians like Councillor John Smith and former councillor Bruce Beck for Plan A would be approved.

These business people were some of the biggest boosters and supporters of the AESC and the failure which it has become.

If there is any group in Abbotsford who should be going to every single home game and bringing their family and friends it is most certainly the members of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce.

The rest of the community is already paying its share.


On the Abbotsford Heat Contract

Vince Dimanno

Abbotsford Ratepayers Association (ARA) president and Today co-owner Vince Dimanno

Abbotsford Ratepayers Association (ARA) president and Today co-owner Vince Dimanno

[excerpt] Guess what? If you read the business plan put forward you would see this impending failure in a heart beat.

Would you be interested to know that during the planning phase for AESC and the Heat that 3 reports were commissioned. 2 of the 3 called it a bad idea. Guess which one they kept?

At least other cities aren’t falling for this kind of crappy deal. Edmonton City Councillors said no to an arena deal saying that it felt like the Oiler’s owner was holding the city ransom for millions and millions of dollars extra (read the full article here).

How ironic with all the lying that has gone on around the Heat that it is actually the truth that would set them free. So, I offer this advice to the Heat ownership again….

Call a press conference … stand in front of the cameras and tear up this contract. Tell the people of Abbotsford that you want and need them. Now, they think you are leeches and no one wants to pay twice for the same ticket. Tear up the contract and I predict another 1000 fans per game will show up. That’s what communities do when they think everyone is in it together. Instead, they view as getting something for nothing and they are staying away on principle.

Of all the predictions I make, this is a positive one that I would like to see come true.


On an Organizational Review

Mike Archer
[excerpt] An organizational review performed by firms such as Human Resource Group Management Consultants of Calgary, can be a difficult process, especially for senior staff. The process is much more detailed than a Core Services Review and involves every employee at City Hall being privately interviewed and a complete review of every process, procedure and methodology used in the management of the citizens’ assets.

Typically organizational reviews are required when a city grows so rapidly, often by amalgamation, that many of those who may have been qualified to manage their departments in the previously small communities they served are not qualified to manage the same departments in a suddenly much larger corporate entity.

Since senior staff quite effectively sidelined one attempt by council to find out why things appear to be so broken by determining where savings could be achieved – The Core Services Review – they must not be allowed to have anything to do with an open, honest, professional review by an outside contractor into the goings on at City Hall.

The citizens of Abbotsford deserve no less. After all of the money that has been spent and committed to ill-advised schemes, plans and nonsensical projects in this City it is time that the people paying for it all – the citizens who own the City – are told what the hell is going on.  


On Rural Water Issues

Vince Dimanno
[excerpt] Now that you’ve raised taxes more than 100% over the last 10 years, you are hitting the ceiling where mistakes like this just can’t be absorbed. It is incompetence … and a whole team of people had to be incompetent in order to pick my street for this work. Mr. Mayor, I also understand that you can’t oversee this kind of small item, but it is up to you to change the kind of culture at City Hall that allows this to happen.

That is the new idea we need from you. Not how to pay for stuff that we need, but how to get the staff at City Hall to stop spending money on things we don’t. In fact, I’ve done the math. If you take back all the money in the last 10 years that we spent on things we don’t need … like bike paths on country roads, paved trails in the woods, gazebos on the road sides, Plan A, the Heat, oh I could go on … if you didn’t spend that money, you could give us back nearly all of that 100% property tax increase.

Don’t believe me? I could show you the math … I really, really could.


On Property Taxes

Vince Dimanno
[excerpt] How could Mission pass a budget with a 0% Property Tax increase?

Well, the community certainly elected a whole new group of Councillors, but there is one that sticks out.

Former Abbotsford Ratepayers Association (ARA) Executive Board Member Tony Luck was elected to Council last November. Tony was outspoken in the ARA about how a 0% tax increase was not only possible, but demanded by residents in these tough economic times. He carried that philosophy with him as he moved to Mission. Now, as the first ARA member to be elected to office, Tony has become a pivotal part of the only Fraser Valley City Council (to date) to pass an upcoming Budget that includes a 0% Property Tax increase.

This illustrates the potential of a community group, like the ARA, that does its homework on municipal affairs and the municipal budget. It prepares the public and future candidates to deliver fiscal options to the community should they be elected.

As an elected official, Tony can no longer be a member of the ARA, but our loss is Mission’s gain. As the President of the ARA, I am proud to see Tony elected in Mission and hope that he and his fellow Councillors can deliver on the promise of fiscal responsibility and maintain city services over the coming years.


Abbotsford Council Has To Learn To Stay Within Its Jurisdiction

By Mike Archer
[Excerpt] Abbotsford City Council has got to stop passing ultra vires bylaws and venturing into legislative fields where it has no jurisdiction.

Unfortunately it may take someone successfully suing the City and the councillors involved before council learns once and for all to:

a) Abide by the law
b) Stay within its legal jurisdiction

This is not student council guys … this is the legal body governing a city of 133,000 citizens. This is your friends’ and neighbours’ money and legal responsibilities with which your are playing.

Your friends and neighbours deserve better from you.


On Water Rates

Councillor Henry Braun

Councillor Henry Braun

Henry Braun
[excerpt] We need to realign water rates. Residential rates must come down and ICI rates must rise so that all users are paying the same rate. Water is a basic necessity and should be priced the same for everyone. Other large cities, like Surrey, do not offer preferential rates to the ICI sector – the City of Abbotsford shouldn’t either.

ICI discounts can no longer be justified as the City’s water supply comes under pressure. Increasing ICI rates would also encourage conservation efforts in this sector, thus further reducing the demand for water. Businesses are very good at finding ways to be cost efficient. However, there is no incentive for businesses to conserve water under the current rate structure.

The residential sector has decreased their average day consumption by approximately 15% during the past 5 years. Unfortunately, their reward has been that the City has increased rates from $0.64/m3 in 2007 to $1.15 in 2012 (an 80% increase), while the ICI sector rate only increased by 43% over that same time period. There is no rational justification for this – it is unfair and most stop.

Future water rate increases should be directly related to increases in costs or related to specific capital projects. Either way, future rate increases must be justified and the residents told what the rate increase will be used for. 


On the P3 Water Shortage

Vince Dimanno
[excerpt] So the cost of doing business is going up, your customers will all have less money, your City will spend all of its money irresponsibly, virtually eliminating its ability to close the gap between your tax rate and the residential tax rate….and you’re for it?!?!? What’s in it for you?

So we’ve had to listen to the Chamber of Commerce complain about how they don’t like being charged 2.5 times the property tax rate that residential ratepayer pay. Â To now agree to a 50% increase in their own water rates is baffling.

I’m sure that they may say that without water, new development can’t take place, but we all know that is a sham. As a future Councillor, I won’t let our water needs get put on the back burner. Â If it is vital to the city and our economy we should move forward. It seems that now we are moving forward, just like Plan A, at all costs, with little planning and a complete refusal to come to grips with the financial reality of the situation.

Chamber members must surely be upset at the hypocrisy of the situation. Â I can’t imagine any advocate for business saying that they agree to increasing the costs of doing business and yet here the Chamber is, blindly supporting City Hall.

If anything, it may surely work in favour of the “Vote NO” campaign. After all, the Chamber support Plan A and that turned out to be a disaster. If the P3 passes, at least the Chamber will be batting 1000…while we all pay a few extra thousand.


Abbotsford’s Real Water Problem

Councillor Henry Braun
[excerpt] Given the history of this matter, the people of Abbotsford need to know the truth. City Council and staff need to regain the confidence of the public in order to move forward. I believe the time has now come to quit spending more money on self-serving studies that appear to avoid rather than confront the real issues. The sooner we get to the truth, the sooner we can begin to do what is necessary to fix the problems. One way to do that is to have an independent Peer Review, which is what I called for by tabling a Notice of Motion, so that the AMWSC can discuss this matter at its next meeting, scheduled for September 13, 2012.

Until we have objective, supportable and independent information, we cannot move forward with decisions, and we cannot give the voters of Abbotsford what they deserve: the truth about the real water issue.


How To Make A Success of the AESC

Vince Dimanno
[excerpt] The entire city of Abbotsford, including all its citizens and businesses must commit to it.

Simple to say…but very hard to make a reality.

Last week, I was fortunate to be invited to watch an Abbotsford Heat game from a corporate box. Many times I have been in a corporate box at GM Place and the experience at AESC was comparable. There is no doubt that the facility, and amenities like the boxes, are nothing short of excellent.

Here’s the problem…they aren’t sold out!

They should be. We have a deep business community here and the whole of Plan A was unconditionally endorsed by the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, so now is the time local businesses must step up to plate and commit to it. Individuals must buy tickets and businesses must buy corporate boxes.

Last week, it was KPMG ( that offered me their hospitality. When you walk into AESC, it is unmistakable that they are committed to the success of the facility, but this should be no surprise. KPMG, here in Abbotsford and throughout Canada, is a true corporate community leader. They can regularly be found to support community initiatives and AESC is no exception. It is my hope that the example they are setting will be seen by other business leaders in Abbotsford who will also step up to the plate and give AESC the corporate anchor support it needs to build individual attendance on.

Some people think it is a good idea to boycott AESC. They are completely wrong. You have two choices. You can go to events, enjoy them and pay your taxes. Or you can sit at home, pay even more taxes and not take advantage of this facility now that it is here. I think the answer is clear…buy a ticket, experience an event and be part of our community.

KPMG made their decision, and as a community we should be grateful…but now it is your turn!


Next Week: Part III
For the full series click here.

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