What do you think?

21 Feb

Hello all!

A couple of interesting items are upon us and your thoughts are welcome:

1. There will be a motion before us next Monday night (Feb. 25) to give first and second reading (not the final vote, but an opportunity to voice objections and support) to a by-law amendment to change the allowable age of vehicles used as taxis from 5 yrs to 7 yrs.

This change was requested by some taxi owners, and recommended for approval by both city staff and the standing committee on public safety and the environment. Comparable cities in the region have no limit (Saint John, Halifax, Charlottetown); Moncton has an 8 yr limit.

Taxis are required to have a motor vehicle inspection (MVI) done every 6 months. They are also subjected to random inspections. Despite the MVI requirement, the last time there was a random inspection, 8 of 20 taxis failed their inspections, which has raised some concerns about the potential safety impacts of extending the life of taxis. We have also heard from a taxi operator who fears safety problems associated with this change.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

2. There is movement towards creating a policy and by-law related to street performers and buskers. A draft policy will be posted on the City website (I will bring it to your attention when it goes up) to invite public comment. In the mean time, I’m curious about your thoughts on having a permitting system for street performers and buskers.

The report we received on the matter indicates that the goals are:
*to distinguish between busking and panhandling (we have a by-law that prohibits panhandling, which I have serious concerns about, but that requires separate consideration)
*to ensure busking and street performance remains part of our downtown culture
*to allow buskers to “accept but not solicit donations in appreciation of their performance”

Enacting such a policy would require some sort of permitting system, and one of the discussions about this matter at our recent development committee meeting was about whether or not there should be a fee associated with a permit, if a policy is enacted.

Do you have any thoughts on having a policy about busking and street performance?

Thanks in advance for your engagement!

Leah

 

Budget Business

8 Jan

Hello All,

Wed., Jan. 9th (6:00 pm, City Hall) is the meeting to pass the 2013 City of Fredericton budget: http://www.fredericton.ca/en/index.asp

There was also a public meeting last night where the capital, operating, and grants budgets were presented. These meetings were announced in my last newsletter (http://leahlevac.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/ward-10-newsletter-1-9dec20.pdf), and at the last City Council meeting (Dec. 10). Last night’s and tomorrow night’s meetings are a change from the originally posted schedule (Nov. 5, Nov. 28, Dec. 3, Dec. 11). More on this below.

Ultimately, the budget to be presented tomorrow night is a $104M budget. We will vote on several motions, culminating in the passing of the budget. The budget is balanced, and the total revenue is a 2.86% increase over last year’s budget. The increase is almost exclusively the result of our tax base increase (mostly from increased provincial assessments on the value of homes, and also from new construction). The actual tax base increase would have been almost 5%, but the cuts to the unconditional grant (more below) and the federal payment in lieu of taxes absorbed the remainder. This table shows the breakdown.

  BUDGET 2012 BUDGET 2013 $ CHANGE % CHANGE
WARRANT (TAXES) 86,004,968 90,255,217 4,250,249 4.94%
NON-TAX REVENUE 9,491,599 9,586,115 94,516 1.00%
Federal Payment In Lieu of Taxes 60,456 (41,310) (101,766) (168.33%)
UNCONDITIONAL GRANT 5,643,032 4,294,351 (1,348,681) (23.90%)
GROSS BUDGET $101,200,055 $104,094,373 $2,894,318 2.86%

A 2.86% increase to the gross budget does not reflect the increase required to maintain our current level of services (the annual increase to our cost of operations is approx. 3.1% due to cost of living salary increases, rising costs of materials, and so on), so the difference has been made up through many found efficiencies. Staff members have done an exceptional job with the budget in light of this year’s circumstances and all service levels will be maintained this year.

In addition to being balanced, the budget includes many new initiatives that have been identified as priorities by residents throughout the city. Of particular note (and pleasure) for me is some funding for the developing youth action team, some re-allocated funds for some new citizen engagement work, and a comprehensive transit review. There will be a more detailed release of the contents of the budget after tomorrow night.

Back to the schedule change. The change to the budget schedule is not ideal, and I realize that many will not have known about last night’s or tomorrow night’s meeting. The core of the issue is that the final budget was originally scheduled to be passed on Dec. 11. The original schedule was in one of my newsletters, announced at our last community meeting, on the city website, etc. That schedule was way-laid when the province announced a $1.3M cut to our budget (through its unconditional grant formula) in late Nov.

As a result, the last public meeting (Dec. 3) was cancelled, as was the Dec. 11 meeting. Staff spent the interim time working on how to address the cut without lowering service levels or increasing the tax rate. To replace the Dec. 3 and Dec. 11 meetings, last night’s meeting and tomorrow’s meeting were scheduled. I appreciate that these meetings are too close together, leaving little time for citizen participation, and I realize that changing the process mid-way makes the process less accessible. For that, I apologize. If there’s anything I can try and offer by way of information today or tomorrow, please email me at leah.levac@fredericton.ca

As I mentioned above, staff members have been working under extraordinary circumstances this year given the late changes to our revenue figures. I have been very impressed by the extensive work that they (especially the senior staff team and the City Treasurer, who is a tireless woman!) have done. So, while I acknowledge that the timing of these meetings is not ideal, I also sincerely believe that our options were extremely limited, and that this seemed to be the best option.

As a follow up thought, through this year’s budget process, residents have been identifying policy issues that are reflective of some of their budgetary concerns (sidewalk clearing, communication strategies, etc.). I will use Facebook, my newsletter, community meetings, and other avenues to try and prioritize ideas to bring forward leading into next year’s budget. I also know that Councillor Grandy, the Chair of the Finance Committee, is interested in exploring ways for the process to become increasingly participatory and engaging for the public. I am pleased about his enthusiasm on this front (and for the will of many of my colleagues on this matter), and will be working with him on this piece.

Sincerely,
Leah

City’s Buy-Back of 618-624 Queen St. Raises Important Questions

22 Aug

In response to City Council’s decision to buy 618-624 Queen St. from DPM to seek another hotel developer, some important questions have been raised. Below are some of my thoughts on the questions I’ve heard.

To start, do we even need another hotel? Whether or not more hotel space is needed seems generally to be met with a ‘yes’ by people who try and host events in Fredericton, and who strive to attract more and more events to the region. To be fair, discussions about drawing major events to Fredericton necessarily include an acknowledgment of the transportation limitations (airlines and more accessible public transportation) we face, so I think it’s fair to say that this pending hotel development is one piece in a bigger puzzle. That said, the question of whether we need another hotel forces the related question of how desirable and/or possible it is to compete with other cities for major conferences/events. At present, Fredericton has decided it can compete, and is going to try, and so that drives subsequent decisions.

So, assuming we can and should compete, and do need a hotel to do so, the next question is whether or not the city should be involved in such transactions. I find this question more complex, and I’m somewhat torn about it. On the one hand, advocates of private development are likely to see this as the purview of the private sector. On the other hand, many (me included) are strong advocates of a city’s role in advancing progressive, creative, socially inclusive, and sustainable development. I’m not necessarily suggesting that this hotel project will meet these kinds of aspirations. However, I do think that the idea of the city having a plan of development for the east and west ends of the downtown core, and subsequently of being involved in bringing these plans to fruition, is a good one in concept at least.

The final question I’ll bring up is whether or not the costs of getting involved in deals such as this outweigh the benefits. I may be throwing myself to the wolves here, but for me, this is the most difficult one because we don’t have very good ways of assessing the full costs or benefits of many of the decisions we make, partly because we tend to focus on short-term economics rather than on longer-term and more diverse outcomes. We certainly discuss potential long-term impacts, and I certainly try to use the range of information that is available to me (as do others, I think), but assessing diverse impacts of decisions is a pressing challenge facing governments, organizations, and companies alike, and it’s a challenge that’s becoming more complex as the world becomes increasingly networked, and therefore, as we become more exposed to emergent (unknown) realities. There is a golden leadership opportunity for Fredericton in working towards addressing this challenge as a small urban centre. I realize that there’s lots of room for debate rolled into this paragraph. If anyone ever wants to discuss, I’d love to chat about it with you, and learn from you.

The Trick of Trust

10 Aug

I want to make a couple of observations about trust, inspired by a recent situation in the city where some mature trees were removed in Queen Square. I’ll give you my punch line first, so you don’t need to read the whole thing if you don’t want.

My personal experience to date, with both my council colleagues, and with our municipal public servants, is that they are committed, trustworthy, and dedicated to the public good. Can they improve their practices? Of course; just as I can. Do I agree with all the decisions and positions they take? No. But neither do they agree with my positions and statements all the time. Do I agree with all of the policies and procedures by which we govern and by which public servants operate? Nope, but I still believe we need them (and that we can work to change the ones that need to be changed). Do we agree on what constitutes the ‘public good’? Sometimes, but not always. Do we define leadership and representation in the same ways? Not entirely. But does any of this mean that they can’t be trusted or aren’t working hard to be good representatives? No.

***end punch line here; enter additional commentary ☺***

I understand that some (perhaps many?) residents feel a general cynicism and lack of trust towards both elected officials (municipal and otherwise) and public servants (including city employees). I also know that a lack of trust is easily created, or entrenched, by situations like this one, where residents felt surprised by something that they should have been involved with, or at least should have known about. But these issues are, by and large, systemic.

Many of today’s institutions and systems (of all sorts), are not designed to promote meaningful engagement and inclusion, to facilitate collaboration, or to respond to the many complex social, environmental, and economic challenges we face. However, these systemic issues, which we are absolutely compelled to address, are not usefully, accurately, or appropriately laid at the feet of individuals. Rather, systemic problems need systemic solutions. And we will not get there if we cannot work respectfully together.

In this great TED Talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree.html), Margaret Heffernan talks about the importance of engaging in productive conflict. She suggests it requires, “…find[ing] people who are very different from ourselves…. [We need to] seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different perspectives, and different experiences, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience, and a lot of energy… and you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care. And we also have to be prepared to change our minds…”. She goes on to suggest that productive conflict, as with all other skills, requires practice. She does not talk specifically about trust, but I would suggest that we also need trust for productive conflict.

I don’t know the answer to how we go about re-creating enough trust to provide a foundation for productive conflict, but if we’re going to talk about what we need from each other to build a better city, let’s start here.

Back!

10 Jun

Greetings Ward 10 Residents!

The dust is settling, so I’ve updated my website to change it from a ‘vote for me’ tool, to a ‘let’s work together’ tool. You will now find links to:

- the newsletter that I will send out approximately twice a month

- a calendar of events (e.g., council meetings, ward meetings and gatherings)

- news from city hall

- information about work that I’m doing as part of my council responsibilities

I continue to welcome your thoughts, ideas, and questions, and look forward to working with you in the coming years.

Take care,

Leah

Why Vote for Me?

12 May

Dear Ward 10, 

I just returned home from our ice cream social in Wilmot Park. We had a great turnout of about 100 people despite the looming clouds and rain. For me, it was a great chance to meet new neighbours, visit with friends, and say thank you to some of the people who have worked so hard over the last six weeks to make this journey possible. On this journey, I have learned, discussed, and been challenged. I have grown increasingly committed to you, and to the responsibilities associated with being a city councillor.

During this journey, some people have asked me why I decided to run for council, and why I am the best candidate for the job. I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t think I was the best candidate for the job. But I know, that’s like saying “just trust me”. So, this afternoon, while reflecting on the campaign, and on the answers I’ve offered to these questions along the way, here are some of my thoughts on why I will make a great councillor:

Most importantly, I will represent you with the same integrity, hard work, and compassion that I demonstrate in my everyday life. I think that everyone who knows me will validate this assertion if asked. My life has been graced by privilege. I grew up in a loving home, where I was surrounded by a world of possibility. My family was always supportive and encouraging, even when my ambitions seemed outrageous. With this kind of privilege comes great responsibility. I take this responsibility very seriously. I cannot say whether or not this makes me unique from the other candidates, but I can assure you that I will approach the task of councillor with the same amount of commitment that I dedicate to all spheres of my life. 

I can bring people together to work towards a common cause. A good example of this is the team of 70 volunteers that came together to make this campaign possible. I am humbled by their diversity, their experiences, their dedication to the task at hand, and their conviction in my capabilities. 

Because of my professional and volunteer work, I am uniquely positioned to help bring residents, as well as different levels of government, different professional sectors, and different ideological positions together to work on complex challenges. I am a community-based researcher who works on public engagement in decision-making, and on diverse women’s leadership. I also bring people together to create new initiatives, and work as a facilitator, both professionally and as a volunteer. Another important part of my life is that I am a dedicated athlete. Through these pursuits, I have become more determined and focused, and a strong networker, skilled facilitator, and capable relationship builder.

Actions speak louder than words, which is why I modeled my platform commitments throughout the campaign (and which is also why it feels a bit funny to be writing this down…). I hosted community conversations, met with school children to discuss their role in community planning, and met with residents who wanted to talk about particular issues/ideas. I met with city staff and current councillors to learn more about their roles, and with community organizations to talk about current and future partnerships. I gathered and shared information on bikeability, public transportation, and other topics of interest to residents.    

I understand that diversity is an asset, and that representative democracy depends on new tools and guiding principles for how elected officials engage with citizens. I study and implement some of these tools and models in my research, and am committed to spending (at least) the next four years trying to bring these tools and principles to bear on the decision-making processes we use in Fredericton. Last but not least, I know that young women benefit from having intelligent and interesting female political role models, and I am honoured by the possibility of being one such role model.

Thank you for being part of this journey with me.

Leah

Ward 10 Celebration and Ice Cream Social

12 May

Thanks to everyone who came out today!


What better way to brighten up a damp day than Ice Cream?


I’m throwing a little celebration in Wilmot Park today to thank all my volunteers, friends, supporters and all Ward 10 residents for their engagement in this election.  Come on out between 12:00 and 2:00pm to share some ice cream, laughs and community!

Going forWARD on Engaged Communities

9 May

It is probably no secret that this is the piece of my platform that I’m most passionate about. I know – based on my experiences and on the research evidence – that we are smarter together. I also know that the other commitments I’ve made as part of this campaign depend on my commitment to engagement. I believe that being a responsible leader hangs on my ability and willingness to engage. Borrowing from a number of sources, I define responsible leadership as the process of determining or clarifying goals for a group of individuals and bringing together the energies of members of that group to accomplish those goals; aligning those goals with an ethically determined notion of the public good in a “shared-power, no-one-wholly-in-charge world”; and building the capacity of others to do the same (adapted from Keohane, 2010; Cleveland, 2002; Crosby & Bryson, 2005).

In the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote, ‘What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say’, I have been trying to do responsible leadership and meaningful engagement throughout this campaign. After 5 weeks of knocking on doors and four weeks of community conversations, I’ve heard concerns and ideas from over 400 people of different ages, backgrounds, and beliefs. At our community conversations, we’ve discussed traffic-calming, development at the FREX, local food/community gardens, democracy, and more. These community conversations, combined with going to places ‘where people are at’ (e.g., their homes, their apartment building lounges), respect some key principles of citizen engagement, and model how I think we can work together in Ward 10 to identify concerns, develop possible solutions, collaborate with city officials, other councillors, businesses and community organizations, and other levels of government, and set priorities for going forWARD. The active engagement of many Ward 10 residents already is inspiring, and a great sign of things to come.

Engaging citizens in decisions depends on residents having access to reliable information. It also means ensuring that the decision-making process is clear, and the role of residents in that process is clear. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.  In my platform, I committed to a number of engagement initiatives under the headings, Citizens in Decisions and Over to YOUth. Specifically related to citizens in decisions, I will hold community conversations quarterly, maintain an updated website to communicate with residents, explore participatory budgeting options as a way to involve residents in the city’s financial decisions, and report annually on my commitments.


Over to YOUth is my commitment is to actively engaging youth in community decision-making. For healthy development, young people need to have useful roles in the neighbourhood. They also need to feel valued by adults in the community, and have a sense of purpose. Youth who have these and other assets are more likely to do well in school, show leadership, help others, and become more connected to their neighbourhoods. Last week, I held an event with a group of 25 young people (aged 9-11). I invited the other Ward 10 candidates (one participated) because I believe that youth engagement is apolitical – it’s the right thing to do, not a way to win votes. We asked participating youth what they thought we could do to improve our community. They highlighted the need for better recycling, a dog park, and more activity equipment in Odell Park (they really want a zip line)! Below are a couple of pictures of the map that we used to identify what they’d like to see, and where they think we should put it. The participating young people were thoughtful, engaged, and able to discuss their ideas with each other. They have great ideas to offer. This activity is a step in meaningfully involving youth in neighbourhood decisions.

I am committed to continuing to work with schools, community organizations, youth, and others to actively involve youth in neighbourhood planning, especially related to environmental issues, and recreation and culture activities – areas where young people express particular interest in being engaged. People everywhere are starting to recognize the critical role that young people play in defining a better future. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives just released a great little book called, Power of Youth: Youth and Community-Led Activism in Canada. It contains 20 stories of young people who are engaging for change. Check it out here. We can support more youth and community engagement in Fredericton.

I offer you my commitment to responsible leadership, and my ideas for going forWARD on engagement in Ward 10!

Take care,

Leah

Link

Active Fredericton wants you to vote!

8 May

Active Fredericton wants you to vote!

A big thanks to the folks at Active Fredericton for highlighting their members who are running for the DEC, the RHA, and Council positions here in our city.  It’s great to see another forward-thinking, valuable local group encouraging people to get out and exercise their right to vote!

Reminder – Final Community Conversation (#4!)

6 May

Just a little reminder that my fourth and final Community Conversation is SundayMay 6th at the Stepping Stone Senior Centre between 1:00 and 2:00pm. Come meet your Ward 1o neighbours and exchange thoughts on our beloved city of Fredericton.

Click here to view the full schedule of Community Conversations.

Leah

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