Thirty years ago, my brother Andrew and I began school in Windsor at St. Jules elementary on Norman Road where–among an incredibly dedicated faculty and staff that included Principal Sr. Doreen Park, Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Caspick, Mr. Veitch, Madam Wong, and Mr. Goggins–there was a custodian named Mr. Janisse who all the kids absolutely adored. Funny thing, you see, that the person who welcomed me to my first ERCA board meeting last week was none other than Mr. Janisse…..Councillor Janisse of Lakeshore.

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robotics st. clairI was honoured to join St. Clair College President John Strasser and students representing 13 high schools across Windsor Essex–including St. Joseph’s H.S. and Tecumseh Vista–at the Ford Centre for Excellence in Manufacturing where St. Clair College announced a $1000 sponsorship for each one of our 13 Robotics Teams.  In addition, St. Clair College assigned a technician at the FCEM to serve as a liaison with all high school robotics teams who require a machine shop for their machining.  Earlier this year, St. Clair College also established a $1000 scholarship for every high school student who competes in our upcoming Windsor Essex Great Lakes Robotics Regional (April 3-5, 2014).

Here is an article from the event: click here.

And here is a link to video from the event: click here.

Here is my speech from the ceremony:

Good Morning,

Today is about tomorrow.

President Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”.

This is what FIRST Robotics is about, and St. Clair College is once again looking beyond the horizon and demonstrating its leadership in preparing our young people for a future that is more and more dependent on technology, robotics, and innovation.

Over the last six weeks, students across 13 high schools in Windsor and Essex have been working hand-in-hand with engineers, skilled workers and programmers from companies such as Valiant, CenterLine, and Chrysler to design and build 120 pound robots.  These students are also working together with mentors from the University of Windsor and St. Clair College.

In Windsor, we know how to build.  We are the Automotive Capital of Canada.

But what St. Clair College is demonstrating here today, is that we have community leaders like President Strasser and his team who know how to build the kinds of partnerships we need to build our region’s future.

Education is economic development.  And today is about tomorrow.  It is about cultivating the next generation of engineers, skilled workers and technology entrepreneurs who will drive our economy forward well into the 21st century.  It is about industry stepping off the sidelines and into our schools.

In just over a month, thirteen high school robotics teams from Windsor and Essex will join 1,500 high school students from across North America for a three-day robotics competition at the University of Windsor.  This program would not be possible without the support of St. Clair College.

It is my sincerest hope that others will follow the leadership St. Clair College has demonstrated today and come onboard this remarkable program.

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It’s encouraging to read that our ‘open window’ policy of transparency and accountability on Forward 7 is being received positively in the press, but the credit in the opening paragraph of this article has to go to the folks working twelve-hour shifts to clear the roads of snow under the challenging conditions of this year’s difficult winter. Thanks guys!  To read the article, click here.

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Recall I voted against spending $35 million on a new City Hall until at least we know where we stand with negotiations surrounding Chrysler’s future in Windsor.
Here is an interesting article in today’s National Post called Chrysler Requesting Unprecedented Government Subsidies for Windsor Plant.  Click here.
Key quotes: “and the threat of the automaker vacating the Windsor plant is very real”.
“…she said part of the advantage U.S. jurisdictions have over Canadian ones is that the municipal governments in the U.S. has more flexibility in what they can do to court investments including tax breaks, cash and land grants, and other incentives”
“Mexico has also coordinated all three levels of government in a way that Canada has yet to do, which has given it a competitive edge”.
I could be getting way ahead of myself, but it seems to me that in the not-too-distant future Canadian municipalities may be asked to play a bigger role in courting investment and the Chrysler negotiations may instigate that change sooner than we think.  The City of Windsor has to be ready if we are called to bring resources to the table to secure Chrysler’s long-term future in Windsor.
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Item # and Description Irek Voted Council Voted Type of Item
1 – Acquisition of an easement Yay 10-0 Consent
2 – Newspaper vendor boxes Yay 10-0 Delegation
5 – Asset planning work plan Yay 10-0 Consent
6 – Close portion of Twin Oaks Dr. Yay 10-0 Consent
7 – Disposal of land policy Yay 10-0 Consent
8 – Construction of curbs and gutters Yay 10-0 Consent
9 – Provincial grant for sewer retention Yay 10-0 Consent
10 – Construction of curb and gutters Yay 10-0 Consent
11 – Purchase of vacuum truck Yay 10-0 Consent
12 – Bridge rehab of CASO overpass Yay 10-0 Consent
Report 204 – Central Park Athletics Yay 5-5 Delegation
Report 202 – Close of alley b/w Giles and Erie St Nay 0-10 Delegation

Homegrown entrepreneurs–James and Leigh-Ann King–came before City Council to present their plan to build the third phase of a $17 million Central Park Athletics centre that will include two ice pads, gymnastics facilities, outdoor sports fields and an indoor soccer field that would be also used for football and baseball.  They requested from City Council tax relief in the form of:

(a) roughly $300,000 in Development Charges

(b) roughly $60,000 per year (over ten years) of additional taxes they would be charged for doubling their current square footage during Phase III

In short, the Kings are building a $17 million recreation facility and are NOT asking taxpayers to contribute a single penny to the construction or operation of the facility.

I voted to support this motion.  Consider, for a second, that over the last five years taxpayers have been asked to cover 100 per cent of the cost and 100 per cent of the risk for such local mega projects as:

  • an $80 million recreation facility–the Aquatics Centre and Family Water Park
  • a $70 million WFCU Centre and recreation facility
  • a $23 million MRO airport facility
  • even the $3 billion DRIC parkway, bridge, plazas etc.  puts taxpayers on the hook for 100 per cent of the cost and 100 per cent of the risk

Today, we had two homegrown business-owners from Windsor–not London, Toronto, or Europe–come before Council who are willing to build a $17 million recreation complex that will benefit our community, and these private developers are assuming 100 per cent of the cost and 100 per cent of the risk of this project.  This is the type of economic development model that we should be supporting–where private investors “step up to build up” our community and assume most if not all of the costs and the risk, and where the City is only asked to play a minor supplementary supporting role in the project.  With the Central Park Athletics, the City is only being asked to contribute 5 per cent of the total value of the project in tax waivers while not contributing a single penny in direct funding.

On a personal note, as an Immigrant kid we didn’t have a lot of money for sports like hockey that required expensive equipment, so we played a lot of outdoor sports like soccer where all you had to pay for were a pair of cleats (usually second-hand).  There are thousands of kids registered in soccer across Windsor (18,000 by one estimate!) and I bet a tonne are like me who played soccer in part because we could afford it.  With this indoor soccer park, kids now have the option to continue playing in the winter time.  Same goes for baseball and football, not to mention gymnastics.

The Central Park Athletics complex is a recreation complex that will provide tremendous good for the community for decades to come, with no cost and no risk to the taxpayer.  Sign me up.

 

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Item No. & Description IREK VOTED COUNCIL VOTED TYPE OF ITEM
1 Hard-sided containers Yay 10 – 0 Consent
2  New Bridge Plaza technical support Yay 8 – 0 Delegation
3  Security services contract Yay 10 – 0 Consent
4 Sale of surplus fire apparatus Yay 10 – 0 Consent
5 New city hall – delay until Special Committee Yay 9 – 0 Delegation
Striking Committee – Reinstate Councillor Maghnieh to committees NAY 7 – 3 Committee report

*Consent items are non-controversial items that are mostly administrative issues—housekeeping—that are adopted without debate.  For example: City Council accepts the Mobile Update Strategy report

**Minority and dissenting votes are in bold.

BRIEF SUMMARY & NOTES ON HOW I VOTED

Item#1 – I voted to delay the roll-out of the bylaw that made hard-sided garbage containers mandatory in order to provide more time to listen to concerns from residents and also to better communicate the benefits of this program.  We spend $250,000 every year on a skunk removal program.  That is funding that could be going towards maintaining facilities like the swimming pool at Adie Knox, sprucing up our parks, fixing roads and sewers, or simply paying down our debt.  By introducing hard-sided containers, we expect to reduce the skunk & rat problem and hence the need to spend a quarter-of-a-million dollars on skunks.

Striking Committee to Reinstate Councillor Maghnieh – I voted against Council’s decision to reinstate Councillor Maghnieh to Council Committees. Recall, Councillor Maghnieh was removed from committees and boards last year stemming from his actions as a Director of the Windsor Public Library.  Simply put, my predecessor—Councillor Hatfield—made the informed decision last year to remove Councillor Maghnieh from committees and boards with the benefit of extended consultations with constituents.  During my canvassing—and in my brief time on Council to date—I have not received any information or requests from residents or elsewhere that would lead me to change that decision.

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SALTA photoWe had a wonderful meeting this evening with Members of the Shores of Aspen Lake Townhome Association (SALTA) over coffee and cookies.  Many thanks to the gracious hosts and to Stacey, an engineer from the City of Windsor, who took time “after work” to answer some planning questions.

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Item # and Description Irek Voted Council Voted Type of Item
Item 1 – New City Hall Nay 9-1 Delegation

At the Executive Committee Meeting, Council voted tonight 10-1 to build a new City Hall at a cost of $35-million after a two-hour discussion.  Over the last few weeks, valid arguments were put forward by both proponents and opponents to the construction of a new City Hall as well as by those who argued that a major retrofit or renovation was the way to go.  Here’s an example from Thunder Bay to support the last option: click here.

Although I agreed with my Council colleagues that there was a legitimate need for a new City Hall, I voted against the motion because I felt at this time we needed more information on three fronts:

1. I felt it was important to organize upfront public consultations to bring residents into the decision-making process at an earlier stage.

2. I felt we should delay making a $35 million purchase until we know for sure where we stand with regards to Chrysler’s future in Windsor–one of the City’s largest employers and one of the largest taxpayers–and also keep our options open in case we are asked to come to the table with major incentives. Chrysler will make a decision by the Spring whether to invest $2 billion in Windsor.  The CEO of Chrysler stated last week that this investment is contingent upon government coming to the table with significant incentives.  Needless to say, this will be a historic decision that will have a significant impact on our city’s future.

3. A delay allows City Administration to look into the cost-and-energy saving potential of using Geothermal Heating, Ventilation and Cooling (HVAC).  For example, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana recently completed the largest Geothermal District Energy system that will allow BSU to shut down its 4 aging coal-fired boilers, halving the campus carbon emissions by 85,000 tons, and will result in 2 million in annual energy savings.   Check out the geothermal case study at Ball State: click here.  For Windsor, adopting geothermal energy would be good for the environment by reducing CO2 emissions, good for our health by reducing emissions that cause respiratory illness, and in the long term geothermal would save our city significant energy costs.  Such a move would underscore Windsor’s identity as an innovative, bold and forward-thinking city.  Furthermore, with our existing green energy manufacturing (Unconquered Sun, CS Wind), a geothermal project would cement our identity as a Leader in Clean Energy.

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I picked up my collectible Fitz the Fox plush toy from the Motor City Community Credit Union this morning with proceeds supporting young cancer patients.Irek w7 motorcity

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Item No. & Description IREK VOTED COUNCIL VOTED TYPE OF ITEM
1 – CAO accomplishments Yay 9 – 0 Presentation
2 – Municipal accomplishments Yay 9 – 0 Consent
3 – Devonwood Trail sale of parkland NAY 8 – 1 Delegation
4 – Roseland Golf & Curling Yay 9 – 0 Consent
5 – Wyandotte road rehab Yay 9 – 0 Consent
6 – Tender of Lauzon Road improvement Yay 9 – 0 Consent
7 – Waiver Property Taxes – Spirit Excellence NAY 7 – 2 Delegation
8 – Annual temporary borrowing Yay 9 – 0 Consent
9 – Annual report card on strategic plan Yay 9 – 0 Consent
10 – Interim property tax bills Yay 8 – 0 Consent
11 – Municipal finance internship program Yay 9 – 0 Consent
12 – Penalties & interest on unpaid property taxes Yay 8 – 0 Delegation
13 – Request for extension of property tax exemption for JCC NAY 7 – 2 Delegation
14 – Essex Windsor Solid Waste Authority plan Yay 9 – 0 Presentation

*Consent items are non-controversial items that are mostly administrative issues—housekeeping—that are adopted without debate.  For example: City Council accepts the Municipal Accomplishments report

**Minority (dissenting) votes are in bold.

BRIEF SUMMARY & NOTES ON HOW I VOTED

On three occasions I was in the minority by voting “NAY” including my first 8 to 1 decision where I was the sole dissenter – The Devonwood Trail issue.

Item #3 – Devonwood Trail—brought forward several home owners who wanted to purchase a twenty-foot deep parcel of City-owned parkland to the rear of their homes.  The land was appraised at $128,300.  The home owners offered the City $24, 057 which represents a discount of 81% of the appraised value.  Therefore, I could not support this transaction on two grounds.  From an environmental standpoint, we should protect every inch of parkland and green space in the City rather than sell it.  From an economic standpoint, the offer proposed by the home owners is far below the market value of the parkland.

Item#7 – Waiver of Property Taxes for Spirit of Excellence (SOE)—brought forward a non-profit community organization that operates in the Ford City area.  Due to a decision by MPAC–a Provincial body–the SOE was forgiven its taxes and penalties/interest owed from 2007 onward.  Subsequent to that decision, the SOE requested that Council forgive its taxes/interest/penalties from 2005 and 2006.  I voted against that request.

Item#13 – Please see my earlier post titled “Extension of Tax Exempt Status” dated January 15, 2013 which explains my decision to vote against extending tax-exempt status to additional adjacent property the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) was looking to purchase.  In short, I believe that the path to tax-exempt status must be equal for all community organizations, and for all organizations that path leads through MPAC–a Provincial body–not City Council.

 

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