Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Regina City Council Violates Charter Rights

Good evening Regina!!

Well, today, the City of Regina City Council approved (not unanimously mind you) to provide sole authority to Mr. Brent Sjoberg, Chief Financial Officer of the City of Regina, to negotiate $100 MILLION in new DEBT financing for the Stadium portion of the Regina Revitalization Initiative. That's right, ladies and gentleman, one person has now been given full authority to issue $100 MILLION in new debt financing, which is more than we currently have in total debt for the entire City of Regina. (The most recent figure was $83M I believe - this could have since changed)

What is most disturbing about this? The fact that we have now provided sole authorization to an individual who has been the subject of an investigation by the Certified Management Accountants of Saskatchewan for clearly breaching their Code of Ethics.

This investigation was due to at least one formal complaint filed against Mr. Sjoberg, and speaks directly to the questionable behaviour taken by him and other senior - unelected - officials from the City of Regina, during the recent Wastewater Treatment Plant Referendum.

This evening, I addressed City Council about my serious concerns about this, which not surprisingly, were not questioned - nor talked about - by Council. Simply the same backscratching, cheerleading about how wonderful the blue sky project will be, and how "it's not just about the Stadium". Councillor Murray went so far as to say that "if it were only for the stadium, I'm confident that few of us would be in favour of it". What got really interesting was on Friday when, unbenounced to anyone, there was an Agenda for a Special City Council Meeting posted on the City website, setup for this evening, just prior to the originally scheduled City Council meeting- postponed from Monday due to the Regional Planning Summit that apparently takes priority over previously scheduled Council meetings. Add to that how the City Council and RM of Sherwood Council (sans two) made a big hurrah about their "surprise" "monumental" announcement of....regional planning! (Yes, believe it or not, this is supposedly news, even though it was quite obvious when the behind-closed-doors meetings began in July that this was going to happen) Then, in a strange turn of events, most media actually left City Hall immediately following the "surprise" Special Council Meeting when the real - originally scheduled/postponed - meeting was set to begin. I have my theories why this happened, but I'll leave those to another day and time.

Finally this evening, City Council felt it was their right, once again, to censor the taxpaying public. Why this doesn't make news here is truly disturbing, but sadly, not surprising. When you have the media in your back pocket, chances are they won't talk about anything that paints you in a bad light. This is a Charter Right that the City of Regina are in clear violation of, and I'll let the note that was sent to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (among others) speak for itself:

Below is the full text of my delegation this evening:

Good evening Members of City Council and Senior Administration,

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 also want to make it very clear that you are not voting on any other portion of the RRI today, solely that of the Stadium portion, and as such, I would respectfully ask that you consider the Stadium on its own merits today.

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. This is certainly contradictory to the sentiments of City Councilors that the citizens of Regina are generally in favour of financial decision that you are entrusted with. At the very least, they deserve to have a fair, unbiased, neutral Referendum hosted by the City of Regina. Failing that, we should have a province-wide Referendum, seeing as how there is significant investment being made by the residents of Saskatchewan for this Regina-based project.

We continue to hear from City Council and Senior City Administration about their serious concerns for our major infrastructure deficit. Now, when we talk major, we are talking in excess of TWO BILLION DOLLARS. This certainly is not chump change, and something that I think we should all begin taking far more seriously. In preparation for today’s meeting, I have reviewed some of the campaign platforms for many on our current City Council, and it seemed that a common theme was the need to tackle this infrastructure deficit head on. Keep in mind that I am not so blind to acknowledge that many also campaigned on the idea of going ahead with the RRI as proposed, 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 Band-Aid 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 currently 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 the ethical behavior of members of your Senior Administration have been brought into question by global experts, as a result of their actions in the recent referendum “Vote No” campaign. I feel very strongly that it would be in the taxpayers’ best interest to appoint an independent authority to review the negotiated contracts, before signing, to ensure that we are indeed getting the best “bang for the buck”, and that we are truly maximizing every tax dollar being utilized. It is my understanding that, once the WWTP and Stadium are approved for DEBT FINANCING, our City will be in a very precarious position financially, and it is even noted in the reports that you have reviewed that we need to ensure our finances are monitored very closely. Of course, this would go well beyond just dollars and cents, in that we should be ensuring that we do not get ourselves into a position that could financially ruin the City in the eventual reality of a market downturn.

In closing, I would like to once again suggest that Members of City Council 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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