My name is Irek Kusmierczyk and I am honoured to be your voice on Windsor City Council as the Councillor for Ward 7. Welcome to my blog called Forward 7. Scroll down and you’ll find posts about issues residents have raised at the door, ideas and plans for improving Ward 7, how I voted on matters before council, and discussions about innovative best practices in other cities. I hope Forward 7 becomes a space where we can connect and a first step in making City Council more transparent, accessible, accountable and responsive to residents. I invite you to surf my site and as always I am available any time to talk in person, by phone or email.
I would like to start off by acknowledging Mayor Drew Dilkens for starting the process of a 20 Year Strategic Vision, and for engaging City Councillors through an Open Door policy that was established from Day One of the new term. The Mayor encourages Councillors to drop by his office any time to discuss ideas and concerns both at the Ward and City level. I can attest on a number of occasions spending several hours through the evening talking potholes, libraries and economic development with the Mayor.
In the spirit of open dialogue fostered by the Mayor’s Office – I recently shared my position on the Windsor Public Library (WPL) with the good folks at AM800, in which I stated that I prioritize investing in the WPL over investing in international sporting events such as FINA that last only a week. Here’s the quote:
“That money (FINA) I believe, should go to things like the Windsor Public Library which are important assets to our neighbourhoods and our city. It’s not about reaching deeper into the taxpayers pockets. It’s not. It’s about prioritizing and I’d rather invest in our libraries then invest in a week long sporting event.”
The comment was not meant as a criticism of FINA, but more about being up front about my priorities moving forward: in short, spending taxpayer money on international sporting events that have fleeting economic impact are near the bottom of my list of priorities.
Where I do see a need for investment are community centres that strengthen our neighbourhoods – centres such as the various branches of the Windsor Public Library. I made that comment based on the fact that Windsor spends 20 per cent less (per person) on our library than the provincial average – including 20 per cent less than London and almost 50 per cent less than Guelph.
I see libraries as critical to our city’s revival as a catalyst for economic development, social equality, innovation and quality of life. Libraries are meeting places for seniors to socialize, for youth learning to read and operate the newest technology, young mothers learning parent skills, for job seekers sending resumes, for new Canadians integrating into our community. And that just scratches the surface of the role libraries play in our city. They are also catalysts for partnerships between community stakeholders like the University of Windsor, St. Clair College, United Way, New Canadians Centre, industry and countless others.
Yet, in the last 10 years – the operating budget of the WPL has increased by $7000. That’s $700 per year out of a total $7.8 million budget.
Even with the injection of $8 million into brick-and-mortar enhancements at Optimist Community Centre, Sandwich and Budimir coupled with closure of some deteriorating branches in order to bring the bloated number of buildings in line with provincial averages and save maintenance costs – the reality is that the operating budget is 20 per cent less than the provincial average.
That is the reality you can’t ignore. It’s not political posturing to say it. It’s a fact – and it should be a critical part of the conversation around a 20 Year Strategic Vision.
Here’s an example closer to home: Forest Glade Library was built to serve East Windsor in 1988, but it simply does not meet the needs of a growing Ward 7 – especially considering the rapid pace of development around Banwell Road – nor has it kept up with the change in technology. To bring the branch in Forest Glade up to speed requires both capital and operating investments.
Yes, the WPL could operate under the same tight fiscal parameters over the next 10 years, but the WPL would not fulfill its potential.
Having said all that – I wanted to couch my thinking on the WPL in the framework of a broader 20 Year Vision. It is by no means comprehensive, but it does sketch out an outline to start.
So here goes.
I would like to reiterate my commitment to fiscal discipline, which includes the goals of debt reduction and levy restraint balanced with smart investments in infrastructure and services. It is also about finding efficiency – for example – bringing our various economic development agencies and economic development partners under one roof e.g. realize savings by merging WEEDC with TWEPI is a start. There’s no point in both organizations paying separate rent and overhead.
Job Creation and Diversification
Building upon our strengths means supporting homegrown entrepreneurs, leveraging local economic development organizations, utilizing instruments such as the CIP to attract investment, and providing platforms that spur innovation. I support:
- Establishing a technology and business incubator. The innovation centre at Bayview Yards in Ottawa provides a model. Windsor is a city that knows how to build things – a true Maker City with an enormous store of manufacturing and tech talent with start-up potential. Let’s build on that strength!
- Maintaining regional economic collaboration (WEEDC) while establishing an in-house economic development office that focuses exclusively on the City – similar to the model in Kitchener and Waterloo.
- The Windsor Public Library (WPL) can be a catalyst for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development by providing residents with access to technology. Establishing a dynamic Central Library Branch in the downtown core should be a priority. The growing gap between per capita funding for the WPL and peer municipalities should be narrowed.
The state of Banwell Road from Little River Road to Tecumseh Road is deplorable and unacceptable to East End taxpayers as an important arterial gateway to our community. With significant home construction in the area, and as the landing pad for many Ontario transplants moving to our City, the state of a main arterial like Banwell Road is quite frankly an embarrassment to the City and a bad first impression for newcomers.
It goes without saying, the same problem exists across the City. Fixing this problem will require a long term commitment and prioritization.
I support continued investments in Public Transit and the expansion of services in areas such as Ward 7, which are under-serviced. The following improvement would boost service in a neighbourhood experiencing rapid population growth:
- Working with Town of Tecumseh to establish an East-West Recreation/Retail Corridor Route along McHugh-McNorton that would connect Tecumseh Mall + WFCU + St. Joseph’s High School + Tecumseh Arena.
Parks, Bike Trails and Quality of Life
Ward 7 is characterized as a Greenway – with an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities that together provide a defining feature of our East End community. These community assets should be enhanced through the following:
- Complete Area Five – East End of the Vista Riverside Project along with Phase II that would establish bike paths connecting Downtown through Ganatchio to the East End
- Maintain current level of playground equipment
- Expand benches, picnic areas, washrooms and lights for evening access where appropriate
- Provide outdoor exercise equipment at Sandpoint Beach
- Make necessary investments above the minimal required to make Lakeview Park Marina and Sandpoint Beach exceptional public parks
Hire an Auditor General. Full stop.
I also applaud the recent ITS Management Plan which aims to maximize opportunities for the City of Windsor to share Open Data with residents.
On the topic of open data, publishing the voting records of City Councillors should be standard-operating-procedure – as well as establishing easily accessible archived voting records
A major magnet for the attraction and retention of residents and investments is the quality of our schools. Simple fact: great schools attract people. Where possible – the City of Windsor should collaborate with our School Boards to leverage resources and partnerships with the goal of making Windsor schools the best in Ontario. An example could include – the City partnering with School Boards, University and College to establish a downtown Innovation Hub that would include a new High School, a Central Public Library and Maker Space infused with latest technology such as 3D printers and digital lab, and a Community Centre. Students could simply cross the campus to continue their education – evenings, weekends and summers – at the Central Library, Maker Space and Community Centre with some programming provided through partnerships like the University and College. Now THAT would be an engine of economic development and innovation!
These are just the outlines of a Twenty Year Vision that I support – and undoubtedly there are elements that have been left unsaid. But a picture should come into focus of a City built on smart investments based on the five pillars of:
- Fiscal Prudence
- Economic Development
- Quality of Life
|ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_||IREK VOTED||COUNCIL VOTED||TYPE OF ITEM|
|1 – AMO’s Policing Modernization Report||Yes||10-0||Presentation|
|2 – 2015 Request from WUC for WRAP||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|3 – Bulk Collection – Keep Status Quo||No||6-5||Delegation|
|4 – Site Plan Forest Glade Park||Yes||10-0||Regular|
|5 – Combined Heat and Power||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|6 – Utility cut restoration||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|7 – Lou Romano and Little River upgrades||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|8 – Hawkins Drain||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|9 – Fairbairn Cemetery||Yes||10-0||Delegation|
|10 – Conversion of street lights to LED||Yes||10-0||Delegation|
|Report No. 312 – AP Plasman CIP||Yes||10-0||Consent|
ITEM No. 3 – Bulk Item Waste Collection: The motion on the floor at City Council on Tuesday was to maintain the Status Quo, which means that the City of Windsor would continue a 30-year policy of not conducting street-side large item waste collection including mattresses, appliances, sofas and chairs etc.
I voted against the Status Quo – which is a “do nothing” motion which ignores two significant facts:
- Quality of Life matters very much to residents of Windsor, and illegal dumping of garbage is a real issue that diminishes the quality of life of all Windsor residents – not just those who are forced to live next to dirty yards and dirty alleys – and also tarnishes our city’s image.
- We need to come up with a plan to address one of the lowest waste diversion rates in Ontario. Windsor diverts only 38 per cent of our waste from the landfill. We can and we should do better than that. The provincial target is 60 per cent and many other Ontario cities are well above the 50 per cent mark.
By the way, here is a sampling of 16 Ontario cities that have bulk item pick up from residents’ front door:
- Toronto is
- Niagara Falls
- Richmond Hill
- Durham Region
Windsor is in a minority of Ontario municipalities without bulk item collection.
Here are my thoughts.
Out of the recommendations put forward by Administration, the most appealing recommendation was Option “D” – which would have asked Administration to include bulk collection in the next Request-for-Proposal (RFP) for Waste Collection Service Contract which is up for renewal on November 30, 2017.
Not only would that provide us with the most competitive pricing – communication with cities such as Newmarket indicates there would be no additional charges to the City for bulk collection save for increased tonnage – but it would also provide us with two years time to seriously study the issue, get more information and consult with some very important community partners.
Yes, consult with partners such as Habitat-for-Humanity, Salvation Army, and Goodwill which depend on their own bulk item pickup programs as a revenue generator in order for these critical non-profits to have the funding to stay in business.
Although I voted against the status quo, I have serious concerns about a city-run bulk item pick up exactly because I fear it would compete with and seriously undermine the social enterprise business-models for non-profit organizations such as Habitat-for-Humanity. Before the Council Meeting, I called the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, and he shared with me those same concerns.
Furthermore, a city-wide bulk item pick up program would not only add costs, but it would also make it more challenging for our city to improve on a woeful 38 per cent waste diversion rate because it would provide a disincentive for residents to reuse, recycle and resell their bulk items through Kijiji and organizations such as Habitat-for-Humanity. A city-run program would send too many reusable items directly to the dump.
I believe the issue of illegal dumping is real and undermines our quality of life and our city’s image.
I believe we have a duty to consult and work with community partners to solve this issue in a way that does not hurt important community organizations carrying out vital community programs such as Habitat-for-Humanity.
I believe we can and should do better than a 38 per cent diversion rate – and hence we should avoid programs that move us farther away from that goal.
But I don’t necessarily agree that a city-run city-wide curb-side large item pick-up is the solution – and it might actually present some challenges.
In conclusion, I believe in a pragmatic middle ground, one that moves the ball forward on making bulk item collection more practical and convenient for residents while also helping build up important organization such as Habitat-for-Humanity and their existing bulk item collection programs which they depend on to keep the lights on in their operations.
Something in between the status quo and a full-on city-run bulk item collection program is the path forward.
That is why after the motion was passed, I asked a Council Question directing Administration to report back on the feasibility and cost of partnering with Habitat-for-Humanity, Goodwill, and Salvation Army on a Big Bin Pilot Program in Ward 7 modeled after the successful City of Edmonton program.
Each summer the City of Edmonton partners with Goodwill of Alberta to organize a dozen Big Bin drop off locations in different locations across the city on separate weekends. Many take place in community centre parking lots etc. In 2014, over 11,400 Edmonton residents took advantage of Big Bin weekends to dispose 1,825 tonnes of large waste – much of it recycled and resold by Goodwill who is on location with their pickups.
The point is, rather than residents having to lug their bulk items to one central collection depot far from home, we bring a temporary depot to residents to make disposal easier. Our partner organizations would collect and either resell the items or transport the unusable items (dirty mattresses) to the landfill. We help them. They help us.
On these weekends, the City and its media partners can carry out a marketing campaign to promote the program, promote waste diversion and actually build community by encouraging residents to be neighbourly – for example, inviting residents to help seniors on their street dispose of unwanted bulk items by offering the use of a pick-up truck.
It is a middle ground solution. It moves the ball forward, builds community, and it is also less costly than a city-run and city-wide street-side bulk item collection program.
ITEM NO. 9 – Fairbairn Cemetery: For thirty years, Ted Ure, George Fairbairn, Thomas Weir and Robert Lajoie looked after and maintained the Fairbairn Cemetery that is almost 100 years old. It was not their legal nor professional responsibility, but they did so out of a feeling of loyalty to their families, friend and neighbours who have found their eternal rest in that little wedge of land on Baseline Road. This great love and sense of duty is a beautiful story with a powerful lesson for an increasingly disposable society.
I admit I was moved by this story of commitment. We owe these gentlemen a big Thank You.
The Windsor Star published an Op-Ed written by Yvonne and myself on the remarkable heritage of Windsor as a place of innovation and entrepreneurship, with many local businesses developing products and services that authentically put Windsor on the global stage.
As the auto capitol of Canada, it is widely recognized that the City of Windsor knows how to build things. But we should also recognize and spread the word that we know how to innovate and invent things.
We are not just an auto town, we are an auto and ideas town.
We are a true Maker City.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
To lift a line from a recent Chrysler commercial, we are born makers and inventors.
One hundred years of Windsor-based innovation tells us that building partnerships and platforms that support our homegrown entrepreneurs is a good investment.
That is a vision we can all rally around.
If you want to read the entire article, CLICK HERE
At the Executive Committee meeting of City Council on July 27, 2015 – I questioned the wisdom of changes to the PwC Audit Plan specifically Key Update to the Plan #6 which states Replacement of Oversight of Major City Projects and Initiatives … deferred indefinitely. The Windsor Star picked up on the line of questioning and published the following followup article: CLICK HERE
Here’s an extended excerpt from the article:
“Windsor has undertaken a number of large construction projects and we’re hosting some major sporting events, such as the FINA (25-metre swimming) event, that cost over $10 million, and I do believe that having an extra pair of eyes is a wise investment,” Kusmierczyk said. “There were audits conducted on the WFCU Centre and the 400 building and there were lessons learned and controls tightened.”
Kusmierczyk still believes in having an auditor general — a position the City of Windsor did away with in 2012 — since he says an auditing firm essentially only digs into what the city wants.
“I am in favour of an auditor general,” Kusmierczyk said. “An auditor general would have more autonomy and would dictate what they’re actually looking into and what documents they’re studying, as opposed to the current auditor, which looks at documents the city provides.”
Kusmierczyk doesn’t suspect any wrongdoing. He just likes the idea of greater transparency for such things as a $39-million new city hall. The new Aquatic Centre, for instance, has never been deeply audited.
|ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_||IREK VOTED||COUNCIL VOTED||TYPE OF ITEM|
|1 – Action Plan for PwC – WDTC||Yes||9-0||Communication|
|2 – Action Plan for PwC – WECHC||Yes||9-0||Communication|
|3 – Q2 Status Report PwC||Yes||9-0||Communications|
|4- Status Report – compliance applicable laws||Yes||9-0||Communication|
|5 – Summary of Hotline issues||Yes||9-0||Communication|
|6 – Windsor Fire & Rescue Q2 variance||Yes||9-0||Communication|
|7 – PwC Internal Audit Report WDTC||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|8 – PwC WECHC||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|9 – ITS internal audit||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|10 – Annual Budgets audit report||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|11 – Executive summary internal audit||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|12 – City internal performance audit||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|13 – Concerned citizen hotline||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|14 – 2016 proposed budget timeline||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|15 – PwC Manage ITS changes||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|16 – PwC Action Plan – annual budgets||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|17 – Acquisition heavy rescue vehicle||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|18 – 2015 Q2 budget variance||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|19 – 2014 consolidated financial statements||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|20 – Information Management System||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
|21 – Delegation of Authority summary||Yes||9-0||Administrative|
Item No. 6 – Windsor Fire and Rescue Services Q2 Budget Variance: The long-and-short of it is that the City and taxpayers will have to find $1.45 million to plug the holes in the Windsor Fire Services budget – a significant portion of which is tied to a provincial arbitrator’s recent ruling, which resulted in a reduced staffing ratio that leads to significant overtime payments as well as increased hourly rates that are 31 per cent higher than the previous contract.
It is concerning that on average over five (5) firefighters are absent from the firehouse on their scheduled shift as a result of non-vacation related reasons e.g. sick, workshop etc.
What is more significant is that Fire Chief Bruce Montone testified that the changes in the built environment e.g. presence of older fire-prone buildings, construction of large buildings such as aquaics centre, university of Windsor downtown campus, nursing homes, and a potential mega hospital etc. – means that there will be significant additional pressures on the WFS to add staff in the next five years.
Fire, Police and Ambulance now eats up 45 per cent of the City’s budget – and those numbers are going up.
Item No. 7 – PwC Internal Audit Report Windsor Detroit Tunnel Corporation: The report pointed to five (5) items that are a cause for considerable concern which include:
- No evidence of documented strategic plan
- No evidence of a review of outsourced provider’s contingency plan
- Significant amount of time spent reviewing DWT invoices by Tunnel Financial Officer
- No noted provisions for fraud reporting in the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA); and
- The age of the Joint Operating Agreement
Considering the importance of the Detroit Windsor Tunnel – an economic impact calculated at 150,000 jobs and $13 billion of economic development – it is concerning that the JOA has not been updated in 17 years, nor has the Co-Ordinating Committee tasked with providing governance met in the last five years.
These gaps in governance open up additional vulnerabilities and exacerbate an already unstable environment stemming from the American side of the tunnel operations resulting from (a) bankruptcy of the owner – Detroit (b) bankruptcy of the tunnel operator – American Roads (c) conflict between the owner (Detroit) and newest operator (Syncora) over the bankruptcy proceedings (d) the financial challenges of the new operator – Syncora – exacerbated by the fact they were Detroit’s largest creditor with $400 million owing and receiving only 14 per cent of those debts from the restructuring plus Syncora’s significant exposure to the financial crisis in Puerto Rico. It is in this context that the City must protect its interest by tightening up its governance.
Item No. 11: Executive Summary Internal Audit 3 Year Rolling Internal Audit Plan: I have an issue with Key Update to the Plan #6 which states Replacement of Oversight of Major City Projects and Initiatives…deferred indefinitely. Surely with a slate of large projects on the horizon (e.g. $40 million new City Hall, $14 million FINA diving competition etc.) we should have an additional pair of eyes helping administration make sure our processes are water tight.
|ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_||IREK VOTED||COUNCIL VOTED||TYPE OF ITEM|
|1 – Waiver of Fees for Tour di Via Italia||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|2 – Vacant parcel of land Cataraqui||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|3 – Motorola communication system support||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|4- Site plan for WFCU Pool||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|5 – Site plan of UofW School of Creative Arts||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|6 – Landscaping right of way||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|7 – Market Comparison – NonUnion employees||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|8 – Devonshire Road Tender||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|9 – PAYGO Reserve Fund transfer WPS||Yes||9-0||Consent|
Today was a very good day. The City broke ground on the construction of the new East End Community Swimming Pool at the WFCU Centre. Look around the nearby McHugh-McNorton corridor and you will see row-upon-row of new home construction. The East End is a growing community – a community with an increasing number of families, seniors and youth. Investing in stronger neighbourhoods and in the quality of life, health and well-being of our residents is prudent.
Proud day at Monday’s City Council meeting for all the Councillors involved with Windsor Essex Youth Advising City Councillors (WEYACC) – an innovative program that engages our youth with the decision-making process at local government. A year after it launched with no funding – WEYACC made it on the Agenda with a pretty big idea: the Blue Dot movement which seeks municipal support in convincing upper tiers of government to adopt the Right to a Healthy Environment as part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For information about WEYACC or how to apply for the upcoming intake visit: WEYACC
|ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_||IREK VOTED||COUNCIL VOTED||TYPE OF ITEM|
|1 – Waiver of Fees Tour di Via Italia||Yes||10-0||Deferral|
|2 – 1630 Bruce surplus land||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|3 – Environment Canada memorandum||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|4 – CAO objectives 2015||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|5 – Vacant lands on Edward St.||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|6- Vacant lands on Hickory St.||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|7 – IESO FIT 4.0 program||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|8 – Bylaw for 10th Concession Drain||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|9 – Old School Car Show||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|10- RFP snow plow and salter equipment||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|11 – Sandwich demo exemption||Yes||10-0||Withdrawal|
|12 – RFP – ITS for Transit Windsor||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|13 – 20 Year Vision||Yes||10-0||Presentation|
|Report No. 274 EnviroTransportPublic Safety||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|Report No. 271 EnviroTranportPublicsafety||Yes||10-0||Delegation|
|Report No. 307 SociaDevelopment HealthCulture||Yes||10-0||Delegation|
Item No. 13 – 20 Year Strategic Vision: The City of Windsor took the first steps towards defining a 20 Year Strategic Vision by passing a draft document which provides a very high level overview of some of the challenges, opportunities and strengths the City will be working with.
The document is light on substance – and one expects that meaningful community consultation and further Council deliberations will put some more meat on the bones. Otherwise, this will be a superficial exercise with little impact.
It is my sincere hope that this process will also bring to life a new platform where our industry leaders – with names such as Solcz, Beneteau, Zekelman, Rodzik, Boscariol, Tayfour, Quiring etc. – will have the opportunity to inform and guide policy direction at the local level. Job Number One for the City of Windsor is to create jobs – and that means creating favorable conditions for job growth, cultivating a competitive high-skilled workforce, and supporting our own homegrown entrepreneurs and innovators. That job is simply too big for 10 Councillors and 1 mayor alone. It’s time for an all-hands-on-deck approach. It’s time to bring in the folks who have first-hand experience and deep knowledge of what it takes to succeed in this economy – and I emphasize this economy: not the economy we hope to have, nor the economy we had, but the economy we have today and tomorrow and all its challenges and opportunities.
There are models that exist which could be copied. I am thinking of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) – which counts over 60 CEOs of the largest companies and community stakeholders such as the university, college and hospitals as its members and who advise local and state government on policy – not just economic policy, but health, education, quality of life which are integral components of vibrant economies and vibrant cities.
We need a Windsor-Essex County Corporate Partnership (WECCP) – and the 20 Year Vision offers us an occasion to bring such a body to life.
Moving forward, if you want to see a good example of a Strategic Vision – I encourage you to visit The Way Ahead – which is the Strategic Vision of the City of Edmonton up to the year 2040. You can find it here: The Way Ahead
Turn to page 20 where you will find a list of 12 Outcomes, 26 Measures, and 26 Targets. It is crisp. It is clear. It provides the basis for accountability, progress and ultimately a proper measure of success.
It’s a good guide.
Two weeks ago the Windsor Star published an Opinion piece I co-authored with fellow WEtech colleague Deborah Livneh about the promise of economic diversification – with a focus on the opportunity for Windsor to build upon its manufacturing capacity to include the manufacture of medical devices. Here is the article: