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Who’s on First: Setting Municipal Priorities

This Article is By: Nancy Foster    On  Sep. - 26, 2006

Who’s on First: Setting Municipal Priorities

by Nancy Foster

September 26, 2006

Most people have embraced the concept of long-term planning – the thought that if you don’t know where you are going you won’t get there. So how does Kingston move along that road – how does we define the city we want? And how do we reach long-term municipal goals in the context of elections every (now) four years and changing participants?

Following amalgamation Focus Kingston was an attempt to do just that – probe the psyche of Kingstonians to see what they really wanted and set out a process for achieving the goals.

Let’s see what was decided:

  • Access to Information and Services
  • Culture, Heritage, Parks and Recreation
  • Economic Prosperity
  • The environment
  • Getting our house in order
  • Planning: Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan
  • Affordable Housing Strategy
  • Support for Volunteers
  • Promotion of Neighbourhood Associations
  • Our Young People
  • Our Elders 

Hmmm. Pretty vague wouldn’t you say?

Following the acceptance of Focus, a Steering Committee and an Implementation Committee were set up. The latter reported to the former. A genuine effort was made to see that Council actions conformed to the Priorities.

I think it is fair to say that the exercise failed. Why?  Here are some possible reasons:

  • Change of mayor/ council who had different priorities. It is possible- in fact probable – that the current Council regards Focus Kingston and the Transportation Master Plan and the Growth Study which grew out of it as ‘off the rails’ – full of airy fairy ideas that won’t do us any good.
  • A belief that the past is the past – decisions made by former Councils is just that – former. Each council brings with it a new dynamic. Preparation for the job consists of getting elected – not researching and considering prior policies.                       
  • The first priority – or the first in the alphabet (in Focus Kingston) is so lacking in substance that it can be easily ignored. Because it can be ignored the whole group can be ignored. Would Council actions have changed if Affordable Housing had been the first item?
  • Failure of the average voter/Councillor to reason from generalities, for example,. ‘Our Environment’ to the particular such as reforming rules on parking lots to prevent excess run-off.

So later we had the ‘Group of Seven Priorities’ (2003) built upon the 4 strategic goals as follows:

  • Build valuable infrastructure for the future
  • Enhance the environment
  • Nurture an active culture and recreation scene
  • Advance the economic strength and prosperity of the community

The 7 initiatives accepted by Council were to support the goals above:

  • Ravensview Sewage Plant Upgrade
  • Sports and Entertainment Centre (LVEC)
  • Multiplex Community Centre
  • Grand Theatre Refurbishment
  • Market Square Revitalisation
  • John Counter Boulevard Widening
  • K&P Trail acquisition and Opening.

The next set of priorities is set out in Harvey Rosen’s June 26th nomination speech in which he announces he will seek a second term as mayor.

see Rosen's speech:

Here we find that the 3rd Crossing, Improved Transit, Promotion of Kingston, new affordable housing and rehabilitation of Lake Ontario Park, Richardson Beach, and the Memorial Centre are our new priorities. 

I say ‘our’ on the assumption that if Rosen is re-elected his priorities will become Council priorities. There is little from Councillors past or aspiring to indicate that they have items for the priority list. Lots of negativity but little in the way of ideas that would exploit the fact that while an individual Councillor is one of 13 – so is the mayor

Lurking in the background is a wave that could derail the mayor’s priorities. Several of the candidates – some of them might even win  - stress environmental objectives.  While environmental objectives have not been absent, many feel that they are not at the top of the list.  This is more than just an anti-LVEC stance. If Schmolka, Osanic, Hutchison,, Matheson, and Barnes win and if they can act together we may be witnessing a profound change in our city.

In the past, city-changing actions were usually the result of administrative initiative. Long serving administrators who commanded the respect of succeeding Councillors carried a lot of weight. It was through them that consistency was achieved.  Continuing shifts in administrative responsibilities make it less likely that this city will ever see another Doug Fluhrer who, for better or worse, as administrator of Parks and Recreation, is responsible for the way city parks and trees are today. The adoption of the CAO position makes it more likely that it is this person who will give consistency to forward planning.  However the track record here is not promising as both Focus Kingston and the Service Review went nowhere.

Our current CAO, Glen Laubenstein, seems set to go at the long-term thing again. Apparently he has had Dr. Don de Guerre on contract since prior to the city reorganization last fall. Dr. de Guerre’s major area of interest is ‘ the development of participative governance and organization and the further development of open systems theory’.  Hmmm. Good luck I say. It will take a genius to meld this with the mayor’s objectives.