Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stadium Financing and Ethical Behaviour

Good evening Regina!!

I'm trying to keep these blog posts to a regular weekly schedule now, but today is a special situation in that the Regina City Council (in the form of the Executive Committee) once again was to vote on the subject of the Regina Revitalization Initiative. Or, as most people know it, the new Stadium. No matter what bullshit you hear from Council, the fact of the matter is - the issue at hand today was, indeed, the Stadium, and not the "rest" of the RRI (you know, the shiny new neighbourhoods and blue sky visions that we've seen in many versions of fly-over computer-generated - assumably pretty expensive - videos). Why they continue to try to put rose coloured glasses on this project is not only insulting, but to me, borderline unethical and should be illegal.

Anyways, as you know, I am not one to let things go without a fight. And, well, today I got just that. I wasn't going in there trying to be combative - today, I actually tried to address Council with respect and a reasonable tone, keeping personal jabs to an absolute minimum. The only one that I did bring up related directly to the motion at hand, and unfortunately the Mayor tried to call me out of order - even though he was not the chair of the Executive Committee meeting today. Out of respect, I obliged; with gritted teeth mind you. What did I say that was so out of order? Well, it's in my second last paragraph in the speech below. Commenting on how I do not trust Mr. Brent Sjoberg, CMA to be put into such a position of authority and responsibility - solely - to negotiate and authorize the spending of $100 MILLION of our tax dollars. Seems like a reasonable request if you ask me, but who am I to judge? Thankfully, the final authority for the issuance of said debt will be given to City Council through the form of a Bylaw, but anyone that's paid attention to City Hall as of late, knows full well that is only a matter of licking that good ol' rubber stamp and whamo, it's put through.

Don't worry, Regina. I've got many more tricks up my sleeve in order to ensure that your voice IS heard by this City Council. 

They may think they can ram this and many other ridiculously expensive construction projects through, as a favour to those that funded their campaigns, but I assure you, they will not do that without a legal battle. Here is my speech that I presented today. I hope to again present this, or a modified version thereof, to City Council on Monday, November 4, 2013.

I hope to see you all there!

Good afternoon Members of Executive Committee,

My name is Chad Novak, and I am here today representing the Saskatchewan Taxpayers Advocacy Group, a truly grassroots group of individuals from Saskatchewan that are pushing for Accountability and Transparency from their municipal governments. I am here to address the recommendation before you today, to authorize your Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Brent Sjoberg, to negotiate external financing to a maximum of $100 Million for the RRI Stadium Project.

I would first like to say that, once again, I feel very strongly that this project should be immediately stopped, pending an independent, unbiased vote of the taxpaying population. I feel that this is necessary in order to properly gauge the proportion of citizens of Regina – and Saskatchewan for that matter – that indeed have an interest in seeing the Stadium Project proceed, as proposed. I would refer you to the recent WWTP Referendum results, where 43% of Regina Citizens did not support a unanimous City Council decision. Considering this, I would suggest to you that the citizens of Regina do not necessarily wholeheartedly support every major financial decision you make. At the very least, they deserve to have a fair, unbiased, neutral referendum hosted by the City of Regina.

NOTE: Mayor Fougere's response to this idea:
We continue to hear from City Council and Senior City Administration about their major concerns for our major infrastructure deficit. When we talk major, we are talking in excess of TWO BILLION DOLLARS. This isn’t chump change, and something that I think we should all begin taking far more seriously. I reviewed some of the campaign platforms for many on our current City Council, and it seemed a common theme was the need to tackle this deficit head on. I am not so blind to acknowledge that many also campaigned on the idea of going ahead with the RRI, but I am a firm believer that, given the option between the two, the citizens of Regina would certainly put infrastructure as a priority over a football stadium. 

What I would like to see from this City Council is to put its money where its mouth is. Step up to the plate and demonstrate, not only to Regina citizens, but also to the Provincial and Federal Government, that you want to get this infrastructure deficit tackled. Any and all major capital projects should be delayed, until we can put a sizeable bite into that deficit. Keep in mind that we do have viable alternatives for the stadium to prolong its usable life – but we do not have that luxury with our roads and water mains. We can’t just put a bandaid on the water mains, but we certainly can on the stadium. Yes, I know there are complaints about parts of the stadium, but to me, complaints about our roads, sidewalks and transit should always take higher priority than any luxury project.

Let’s consider for a minute what Regina might look like if you were to take this $100 Million that you are wanting to issue in DEBT FINANCING, and reallocate it to our roads, sidewalks and transit, to name but a few important issues. Sure we might not be the envy of Canada for having the latest, greatest football stadium, but we most certainly would be the envy of Canada for being one of the first to tackle their crumbling infrastructure head on and having the smoothest roads, and newest and safest underground infrastructure in Canada. Consider now, if we were to take the entire cost of this project and reallocate that to addressing the parking and traffic nightmare that exists in the downtown core and around our hospitals. Consider if we were able to tackle these issues so much that, within four years, we were able to not only put a freeze on property taxes, but also offer a REBATE to the taxpayers! I know this might sound utopian and idealistic, but I strongly believe that if you give the taxpayers a chance to have their voice heard, and offer them an alternative between the Stadium and Core Infrastructure, these kinds of utopian ideas can become a reality.

One common complaint I hear from our Elected Municipal Officials and Senior City Administration is that “we have limited sources of income”. Well, here is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you are able to maximize the benefit realized from those limited sources of income. Also, why not consider alternative revenue streams, such as a Land Bank, to supplement what you already have coming in? How about investing Pension Funds locally into a rental housing co-operative, for example, which could have a three-fold benefit? Reasonable pension returns on investment, increasing affordable housing and increasing the sense of community that a housing co-operative offers to its residents. Another viable source of revenue is the $6M per year that is transferred from our utility bills to the general reserve, apparently as an offset for property taxes in-lieu. Or how about the significant advertising revenue that the City loses out on, because they allow private media corporations to not only manage the advertising on the Regina Transit buses, but also to profit at the expense of taxpayers. 

Speaking directly to the issue of authorizing Mr. Brent Sjoberg for negotiating these financing contracts, I have some serious concerns with this, considering that Mr. Sjoberg is currently under investigation by the CMA Office for being in violation of the Code of Ethics on more than one occasion, in situations directly related to his duties as Chief Financial Officer of the City of Regina. I feel that if you must provide some responsibility to him directly; please have at least two individuals assigned for authorization.

NOTE: Mr. Glen Davies, City Manager, clarified that this complaint was apparently dismissed by the CMA Office. Two issues come up on this - 1) On what grounds was the serious complaint dismissed and 2) How is Mr. Davies privy to anything relating a private complaint that even I hadn't talked about publicly?

In closing, I would like to once again suggest that the Executive Committee seriously consider what their priorities are, as elected officials. Reviewing your platforms, I am confident that our Major Infrastructure Deficit is certainly a common priority. What you have to decide today, is whether the Stadium, a recreational facility for the enjoyment of a sporting event, is more important to your constituents than the roads we drive on every day, and the pipes that carry our drinking water to our homes. And, remember, Apathy should never be considered to be Acquiescence. Please allow this vote voluntarily, and do not force the citizens of Regina to take legal action to force an injunction on this project.

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