In this space, the Rose City Politics panel will analyze, breakdown, and critique a local political issue that affects each and every Windsor resident.
For July 2021, the Rose City Politics panel opines on what should be city council’s top priority for reform of city politics and administration post-covid.
Doug Sartori: Last week at council there was discussion of the startling growth in the Mayor’s Office budget. I compared this budget item for Windsor to other Ontario cities. Details in thread but the tl;dr is that Windsor spends far more per-capita on the Mayor’s Office.
The City of Windsor’s 2021 operating budget included a $550,000 increase in spending for the Office of Mayor Drew Dilkens, bringing the total to $1,455,705. This is a big increase, and not the first in recent years: in 2019 it increased by more than $400,000.
This budget line has tripled in just four years. In an era of modest budget expansion this growth sticks out like a sore thumb. I was curious to find out how Windsor stacks up against other large Ontario cities.
I reviewed Ontario’s 20 largest city budgets. 9 don’t break out the Mayor’s Office in their budget. Of the remaining 11, Windsor’s expense is the 2nd highest. Ottawa, Hamilton, and Mississauga spend hundreds of thousands less on their Mayor’s Offices. Only Toronto spends more.
This raises important questions about the activities of the Mayor’s office and residents’ value for money. The City’s budget provides few details about how this money is spent. More than two-thirds of the Office budget, $991,500, is categorized as “miscellaneous expenditures.”
I reached out to the Mayor’s Office. They said this item is largely “made up of the Economic Development funding that has been approved through several different Council resolutions over the past few years and is presently earmarked towards Windsor Works implementation measures.”
That’s fair enough, but it doesn’t explain why the cost of the office almost doubled in 2019. The biggest other visible activity of the Mayor’s Office is communication with the public.
We’ve seen an increase in the frequency and quality of communications coming out of Mayor Dilkens’ office. Slick videos, a Mayoral website and copious social media have helped establish the Mayor’s preferred narrative with the public.
The city has a well-staffed communications department. What public interest does it serve to duplicate this work in the Mayor’s office? How does it benefit the community to fund economic development staff in Dilkens’ office?
If Windsor needs a dedicated ec dev office, shouldn’t it be part of city administration? Perhaps that money will be moved as part of the implementation plan for Windsor Works this fall. It should be.
Council should question this expense and carefully consider whether arming the Mayor with a vast budget for taxpayer-funded political communications benefits the City and its residents.
Doug Sartori is a political observer and organizer. When he’s not recording podcasts or getting people out to vote he runs Parallel 42 Systems, a technology consultancy in downtown Windsor.
Jon Liedtke: Post COVID19, city council needs to set it’s top priority for reform of city politics and administration on addressing systemic issues which have hampered meaningful municipal growth.
Prior to COVID19 we know things weren’t working for everyone who lived in a city. COVID19 showed those living in poverty and without proximity to social supports were disproportionately affected by the virus. Underserviced areas, densification without amenities, design that reinforced segregation and racism, city management, planning, or even city building have all contributed to this problem.
Moving forward, there are five key priorities city council needs to set their sights on:
- Poverty and homelessness: With a backlog of 5,000 families on the waiting list for social or affordable housing in the region, continued investment is not only necessary but warranted. With $22-million provided for Meadowbrook in 2019 and a pledge to spend $170M for social and affordable housing earlier this year, the outlook is better today than years past but there is still work to be done.
- Windsor Works and City of Windsor Master Plans: The City of Windsor has not only commissioned the Windsor Works report but also numerous masterplans, whether it be transit and active transit, culture, or sewers. Focusing on implementation should be key as significant time and resources have been spent on development. We have the roadmap, now it’s time to follow it.
- Transportation and Active Transportation: City council needs to implement the very ambitious Transit Master Plan and the Active Transit Master Plan as soon as possible. There are no dedicated bike lanes on city roads yet, a travesty in a city the size of ours. City council needs to realize that active transportation is not only for recreation but is also the sole means of transportation for many residents.
- Livability and the downtown core: We need to continue downtown revitalization and focus on what makes an area a neighbourhood or community. Greenspaces and parks, patio culture, and festivals can help provide a sense of place and belonging. Focusing on core residential densification through a CIP has accelerated this process and what has been learned from downtown can be applied throughout the city.
- Meaningful public consultation: For too long what has passed in Windsor for public consultation has been a process of simply checking a box on a spreadsheet to move onto the next phase. If city council wants to truly have the buy-in of the community they have to actually seek their input, consider it, and then vote. Faux-consultation only breeds cynicism and skepticism, and rightfully so.
Jon Liedtke is a co-host and producer of Rose City Politics, a business consultant focusing on cannabis and marketing, an occasional reporter and writer, and a member of Windsor’s The Nefidovs.
The Rose City Politics panel includes Doug Sartori, Pat Papadeas, Don Merrifield Jr., and Jonathon Liedtke.
Rose City Politics broadcasts Wednesday nights at RoseCityPolitics.ca and is available on all your favourite podcasting and social media apps.