The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brooms sweeping top dogs out of 510 Main before civic election

What's going on?

First, Winnipeg's top bureaucrat announces he is leaving the big city to go back to Hooterville.

Then, yesterday, the head of the Winnipeg Parking Authority took time from polishing the award he got in May, for doing such a bang-up job here, to deliver his resignation.

It was Biebermania for big folks when Glen Laubenstein was hired in 2008 to be Winnipeg's Chief Administrative Officer, the man responsible for turning the levers that make the city run. Councillors swooned in his presence. They wrote poetry over his plans to rewrite the book on running a city.

And then....poof. Gone. From reading multi-million dollar contracts he's reading the bus schedule to Wood Buffalo (nee Fort McMurray), Alberta, population 64,000 counting coyotes.

And what about the parking authority's Dave Hill. Four months ago he was collecting the award for "Parking Professional of the Year," at the International Parking Institute Convention & Expo in Las Vegas.

"It's the Academy Award of parking," he said at the time.

Today he's Lindsay Lohan. Two weeks notice before they black out his name on the marquee and replace it with TBA.

St. Boniface Councillor Danny Vandal mused that Winnipeg is just a dysfunctional city that makes it impossible for city administrators to thrive.

Or is it that the city administrators are too dysfunctional to make the city thrive?

Lest we forget that Laubenstein was the bureaucratic power behind the Disraeli Bridge Fiasco and the New Stadium Disaster, projects that are going to wind up costing us tens of millions of dollars more than expected.

City councillors gave Laubenstein carte blanche authority to handle the job of replacing the venerable Disraeli Bridge. By the time he got through with it, the public's wishes had been flushed down the toilet and the final design reflected the opinions of a tiny lobby group that somehow got his ear. And the cost was, well, unknown ---but somewhere far, far north of the most expensive option specifically rejected during the farcical so-called "public consultations."

Exactly how big a hole Laubenstein left in the budget won't be known until the bridge is built in a year or two.

By then we may also know the size of the stadium disaster. What we know so far is that the city is a partner to a facility nobody can describe being built at a cost nobody knows. But we've agreed to pay millionaire moocher David Asper millions of dollars in profit for his construction company to build the thing even though he's reneged on his promise to cover all cost overruns and wants to stick the Winnipeg taxpayer with the bill.

You can understand why Laubenstein doesn't want to stick around for that cheque.

Dave Hill, also known as the man who thought putting parking meters in residential areas was a peachy idea, was supposed to be raising money to pay for Laubenstein's follies. But to do it, he got "creative."

Like when he ordered tickets for parking on Saturday after 3.30 PM, and on civic holiday Mondays. When people complained that weekend parking was free, he sneered 'It's a custom, not a law.'

So is tarring and feathering, but the public has restrained itself so far.

The decapitations at the top of two of the city bureaucracies may be a signal that the working model of the city is under review.

You have to look beyond the trees to see the forest.

Under Sam Katz, the city was slowly being decentralized. The running of the city was being spun off from City Hall to obscure independent agencies.

Dave Hill ran the parking authority. There's a transit authority. Council last year approved a water authority to handle water and sewer services, and a garbage authority. And goodness knows how many other "authorities" there are and what they do.

We know what they're supposed to do---take the heat off the city councillors. So the transit authority would set bus rates, and the water authority would determine your water bill and the garbage authority would ultimately decided how your garbage was picked up and how much it would cost you, because, don't kid yourself, pricing garbage removal is the ultimate goal.

As these decisions were farmed out to "independent" agencies, city councillors couldn't be held accountable. Just like the Disraeli Bridge fiasco.

What, exactly, would be role of city councillors under this model? Sitting around and pontificating about "vision" or "the big picture?"

Puh-lease. Between the pet projects of the Aspers and Sam Katz's grandiose plans electric trains we're already being bled dry.

Hooterville looks better every day .

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