Notes from the Rafters: This Week’s City Council Meeting Recap

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MONEY FOR STUFF!

For once I won’t bury the lead. The city announced its capital grants for 2017. This $500,000 is parceled out to various community groups for building and infrastructure projects/improvements. These groups, in Deputy Mayor Ellsworth’s words “are all partners that work with the city … If they weren’t doing what they are doing, we would have to do it ourselves.”

There were representatives from the Salvation Army in chamber in anticipation of this announcement. Cllr. Hann explains that the Salvation Army “are working hard” to raise lots of money to build a facility in downtown St. John’s to look after “the most vulnerable in our society”.

It will be an “ultra modern facility” with housing, chiropractic, medical, and mental health facilities. According to Hann they are “just about half way there” in fundraising. In addition to the grants themselves, city permit fees are waived for all of these projects. In the case of the future Salvation Army centre on Springdale Street, this should be worth roughly $150,000 to the organization.

Cllr. Tilley (and most of the other Councillors) also went on record repeating the exact amount the city is giving to the Salvation Army. I suppose in public service, we can expect (and forgive) the occasional grabbing-of-the-pieces-of-the-generosity-pie. Everyone needs a win sometimes.

This is not the Common Ground Co-working venture of which Councillor Dave Lane is the executive director. This non-conflict of interest is disappointing from the perspective of Scooby Doo style investigative journalism (the kind where I get to follow super obvious clues and produce a big reveal with 20 minutes of research … all while simultaneously eating multiple sandwiches), but reassuring from the point of view of responsible governance.

Cllr. Lane commented that this project is a “special story” involving our “economy and our heritage”; about “how we were able to settle here” and, more recently, about the family that fought to save historic Thimble Cottage. This project will address food education, teaching children where our food comes from, food security, and access to healthy food. He failed to mention that there will also be ponies. Ponies!

Don’t worry, He didn’t forget to point out that “it is also good for [city]tourism” as it is right in St John’s. “Ward 4!” added Cllr O’Leary. Reminding us that Our Dear Ward 4 might contain more than complaints emanating from and directed towards Kenmount Terrance or various paving projects around the mall.

  • St. John’s Tennis Association – $100,000
  • Newfoundland Drive Community Multi‐Purpose Track & Field Project – $50,000

Both of these awardees, Cllr. Hickman praised as examples of cooperation between schools and neighbourhoods in a model of “community and school joint use and sharing.”

Cllr. Collins commended this award and “explained” (by which I now and forever mean “mumbled in a barely audible rumble-smear”) that the money was for a stage as “there were a lot of things [they]didn’t allow for when [they]put it up there and [so they have been]trying to raise money through bingo” and other means. I have heard the bingo games up on The Brow are deadly.

The process for awarding all these grants has evolved. As our council has become more budget conscious and ever edging closer to a longer view, they have established the consistent $500,000 limit. In the past, there was no limit.

The initial assessments are now done by a staff committee and then brought to council where, according to Ellsworth, they have “a broader discussion of opportunities and [of]where we want to see supports.” So far I cannot find any public minutes from these discussions. I have reached out to some members of council to ask about the transparency of these discussions.

Cllr. O’Leary praised the awards this year as being “overall a great cross section across the board.”

Mayor O’Keefe followed up with these being, “a good cross section.”

Sometimes I wonder if the reason he gets snappish with O’Leary’s verbosity is that she inevitably uses up all the sound bites first.

Like in class, when you have had your hand raised forever. Like way before Ashley Riggs had her hand raised, and then the teacher calls on Ashley first, because, well, she always gets called on first, and then she says exactly what you were going to say and gets all the credit. Like that. But mayorial.

The Revolution Has Begun

Mayor O’Keefe took a moment to call attention to our Chief Municipal Planner’s bright green tie, “a little late for St. Patrick’s day, but Ken O’Brien has a good Irish tie on.”

At which point O’Brien, in a boss move, stood up and unbuttoned his jacket to reveal the pink and white on the tie’s tip.

O’Keefe, mildly taken aback, confirms his allegiance to Canada by retorting “well … we will have to agree to disagree on that.”

O’Brien explained after the meeting that he likes to support local business and got his tie from Midnight Tailors. A small home-based business that apparently caused a little kerfuffle in council when they were applying for their permit a few years ago, for what has turned out to be, in O’Brien’s words, “a very low impact” and entrepreneurial business. I mean, they sew through the night like the shoemaker’s elves of yore! What’s not to love?

Score one for the Pink White and Green.

Other (lesser) Building News

The first floor of of 279 Duckworth St. is allowed to switch from commercial use to residential. I was inside there earlier in the year and, man, they have a cool front entrance hall. It looks like a roomy version of the classic red British phone boxes. 

Pending a one week deferment requested by Cllr. Collins, council is likely to approve a variance to allow the Topsail Road Mary Brown’s (Corner of Burgeo St) to put in a drive-thru. Which means I will no longer have to get out of the car on my way to see movies alone at the dirt mall.

Economic Update

It is sort of heartbreaking in a really tiny violin way to watch our second-most-optimistic councillor have to finally state what we all knew already: our economy is as chilly as the winds off the ice pans. Cllr. Lane reports the New Housing Price Index is down .7% from December 2016. Unemployment is up 1.6 points to 8.9%. 

But we are still having trouble filling intermediate and skilled jobs. In an effort to bring in more skilled labour/population The Atlantic Canada Immigration Pilot Project (AIPP) is now accepting Permanent Residency applications from international students and/or from employers who can’t fill their job openings with someone already local. 

The YYT authority has approved a 10 year expansion plan to accommodate two million passengers annually. This is because… tourism. It will be funded with an increase of $5 in passenger fees. 

WISE 50 over 50 awards celebrates late stage entrepreneurs. Nominate someone if you want. 

Cllr. Tilley, not usually in the top 3 optimists on council, listened to the economic update and said incongruously, “[the City is]doing extremely well with home based and regular business approvals.” There were, in this quarter, 7 home based and 4 standard business permits approved.

Garbage (yes, again) 

Most of the rest of the meeting was councillors making sure their squeakiest constituents knew they were listening as they all reeled off complaints received about strewn garbage since the start of gross-old-blankets-and-rotten-nets-mandated-over-garbage season (also known as really?-how-did-anyone-ever-think-this-would-foil-crows-and-gulls season) has begun. 

This led to plugs for the new automated garbage 2018 roll out. It also led to a wonderful tangential discussion of the new system for picking up compostable yard waste (must be in a paper bag and then you call 311 or use the “curb it” app to schedule a free pick-up) where Mayor O’Keefe waved his hand and said, “Why not just put it in the garbage? There will be trucks running around everywhere looking for it.”

Cllr. Breen tried to explain (not for the first time) “the whole idea is to deflect it from the landfill…” and when the mayor cut him off to not understand some more, Breen very smoothly brought the whole awkward episode to a close by using the Mayor’s standard line “I believe you are reflecting on a motion!” which is, of course, verboten. Everyone laughed and Breen managed to look super generous and politic as he saved the mayor from himself. 

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Emily Deming

Emily Deming is involved in a love affair with St John's so deep it extends to attending plays, poetry readings, and dance festivals.

5 Comments

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      “the monks became aware of a strange presence”
      synonyms: ghost · spirit · specter · phantom · apparition · supernatural being · spook · shade

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