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Columns: George Peary The Company Man
By Mike Archer. When George Peary ran for mayor it was with an impeccable resume of what people paid by taxpayers like to call â€˜public service.â€™One thing that must be said for George Peary is that his tenacity and commitment in creating, building and managing the Career Technical Centre (CTC) left an impressive and lasting mark on the community.
The School George Built provided opportunities for young people in Abbotsford, who are not university bound to be able to learn a trade and find meaningful employment. For that he deserves a heartfelt thank you from the young people and the families of the community.
His years as mayor will not be remembered so fondly.
Years of getting paid from the School District budget and running Abbotsfordâ€™s first trade school gave George an insiderâ€™s look at how the public sector game works. So it was with some skepticism we watched him campaign on the Obama slogan every politician embraced â€“ time for a change.
If anything Pearyâ€™s three years as mayor have proven to be more of the same and anyone who was expecting a new outlook and a new direction from him has found out that George is, for all intents and purposes, a company man.
Supported and financed by the political elite and the bureaucracy, George has been nothing if not a bureaucratâ€™s mayor and a darling of the developers and powerful interests which tend to call the shots outside of council meetings.
George Pearyâ€™s Deal
The first major sign that nothing had changed was his announcement of a ten-year revenue guarantee to The Abbotsford Heat owners which fundamentally promised that the taxpayers would bail out the owners of the team and protect their investment for ten years.
Taxpayers were soaked for $450,637 in year one of that sweetheart deal and no one seems to know how much the rich local owners intend to lose as the ten-year deal unfolds.
On Friday, taxpayers were given the news [Abbotsford News: Taxpayers Lost $1.3 Million On The Abbotsford Heat Last Year] that this year’s yab was a whopping $1.3 million. The Heat owners claim it’s $1.4 million, but what’s $92,000 between friends?
Pearyâ€™s track record on the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC) and the taxpayer subsidy of our hockey team has been one of secrecy and doubletalk and, with his help, Abbotsford taxpayers are now more indebted than they were before he became mayor and more committed to financially supporting the private sector failure of a bad business plan.
That boondoggle is already well over the $500 million mark in terms of the taxpayers’ costs and commitments on the whole deal. The paltry $3.4 million in annual economic benefits created by the arena has only benefited a few local businesses – most prominently of course, the Ramada Inn, owned by Lane Sweeting, one of the local owners of the Abbotsford Heat who is already benefiting from Peary’s largesse.
For every Abbotsford Heat game you subsidize most of the players stay at Sweeting’s hotel. Why are we protecting his decision to buy a hockey team and why did we agree to have taxpayers the other teams’ travel costs?
Pearyâ€™s track record on dealing with the water and sewer crisis in Abbotsford has been one sorry saga of backroom politics and temper tantrums when things havenâ€™t gone his way. The last council spent all the money we could have used to fix our water shortage and upgrade our sewage treatment plant on a hockey rink.
But Pearyâ€™s solution has been to sidle up to the federal conservatives and buy into the Public Private Partnership (P3) approach (one the majority of residents seem to oppose) and to fight with Mission â€“ the community whose support and permission we need in order to access their water for our taps.Faced with opposition to his plan, Perry got mad. He threatened the District and the people of Mission and has relentlessly pursued a financing option that would see a private company develop and manage our water supply and cost more than simply borrowing the money through the municipal financing authorities at preferred rates.
All of this against the backdrop of the real reasons behind our water shortage in a rain forest – our water and sewer pipes have not been upgraded in over a decade and can’t handle more water, even if we had more water.
Why would Abbotsford taxpayers support a P3 deal when:
a) Borrowing the money through regular municipal banking and loan channels would be cheaper
b) City officials have been less than forthcoming in answering questions from Mission-Abbotsford Water Watch and others about the legality of their secret meetings and decisions.
c) The voters remember all to well the bill of goods they were sold in the last referendum when we were asked to allow them to borrow $55 million for Plan A.
Moreover the secrecy and duplicitous manner in which decisions have been made so far about our water crisis – in camera meetings of the Abbotsford Mission Water and Sewer Commission (AMWSC), missing minutes from the AMWSC – are proving far too familiar as this mayor’s modus operandi when it comes to public consultation.
It is unlikely voters will be fooled again on the P3 water referendum, no matter how many survey’s Frank Pizzuto pays for with our money to tell us how we feel.
Annual Tax Increase
Pearyâ€™s performance during the annual tax increase dance has been laughable. In what has become an embarrassing yearly performance, the bureaucrats ask for a 10 percent increase; public hearings are held where citizens are allowed to yell at the bureaucrats; councilors and the mayor say they wonâ€™t put up with such nonsense, and we all end up with the annual five percent increase they were planning all along.
Peary has added a new twist whereby he asks the bureaucrats to provide a snapshot of just how many services, facilities and programs on which taxpayers rely would have to be removed if council were to insist on a zero percent increase. The bureaucrats respond gleefully with a list of the dire consequences of not giving them more money and council relents, upping the budget and your taxes.
Why ask our top swivel servants the ramifications of saving money? They are last people in the organization with anything to gain by cutting budgets or taxes.
This is where Pearyâ€™s lifelong experience managing with other peopleâ€™s money is a disservice to Abbotsford taxpayers. Having spent his working life in the government world where 30 percent of your time is spent justifying your existence and another 30 percent of your time is spent trying to justify a budget increase, (the other 40 â€¦ weâ€™re not sure) Peary has no idea how to go the other way â€“ reduce costs, budgets and taxes.
That’s why his only successes have been in getting money from other levels of government to pay for big projects like overpasses and airport improvements.
He only knows how to ask for, and get, more; not manage with less.
Pearyâ€™s Tough-On-Crime Agenda
The central plank of Pearyâ€™s platform when he ran for mayor was a tough-on-crime approach to the gangs which have invaded Abbotsford. While police efforts on the ground, combined with the removal (through arrest, prosecution or murder) of the top gangsters in Abbotsford have helped reduce the very visible and highly negative PR of gangsters gunning down other gangsters, the Drug War goes on unabated and the amount of gang activity continues to rise.Pearyâ€™s efforts have mostly centered on PR campaigns, newspaper headlines, posters, slogans, and meaningless surveys while he has done nothing to explain why the cost of policing in Abbotsford, which takes up almost half of the municipal budget, just keeps going up.
It would be dishonest for Peary to claim responsibility for the declining crime rate (which has been going on for years) or arrests, prosecutions, and murders in which he played no part.
Again; he knows how to spend money. He just doesnâ€™t know how to save it.
What Peary does have to answer for is the Cityâ€™s continued blank-cheque approach to the Abbotsford Police budget. As chair of the Police Board, Peary has had three years to do something concrete about reigning in the police budget and has done absolutely nothing about it.
Of course, it would be hard to get any support at all from the police on his â€˜Get-Tough-On Crimeâ€™ re-election campaign without giving something back to the police.
More electioneering youâ€™ve paid for.
Abbotsford Airport Expansion
One project that has continued under Pearyâ€™s leadership is the expansion of the Abbotsford Airport. As a long term strategy it has always been Abbotsfordâ€™s intention to build out our airport as a driver of future economic activity and the strategy continued under Peary.
There has been concern expressed about the individuals, companies and developers involved in the decisions surrounding the airport lands. The makeup of the Abbotsford Airport Authority and the Abbotsford Economic Development Commission have both included too many developers, hotleiers, political insiders and others who have much to gain from the decisions being made on behalf of Abbotsford citizens â€“ who own the airport.
In this context Pearyâ€™s penchant for secrecy and backroom decision-making is disconcerting and the number of private sector fingers that have been allowed to insert themselves in the taxpayersâ€™ pie is worrisome.
Same Old Same Old
What is perhaps most disappointing about George Pearyâ€™s tenure as mayor is the fact that, with all of his years inside the system, one might have expected he would use that experience to change things on behalf of the taxpayers and citizens of Abbotsford.
Instead we have been treated to the most indebted and shackled mayor in the cityâ€™s history – indebted and shackled to the bureaucracy and the political class who have benefitted the most from the Abbotsford taxpayersâ€™ cash.
Instead of providing a regime where saving money and cutting costs is the order of the day, Peary has simply let the incompetent and money-wasting bureaucrats continue to ask for, receive, and spend more money every year.Instead of looking at less costly and more palatable alternatives to the water crisis, Peary has simply done the politically expedient thing and tied our horse to Stephen Harperâ€™s P3 option while alienating our neighbours in the process.
Instead of protecting the taxpayers from the multi-million dollar money-losing hockey team we now seem to own, he merely got us in deeper.
Instead of looking at smart alternatives to our residential and commercial growth strategies Peary has simply continued down the old path of giving tax breaks to developers who built more strip malls and high rises and he has let the Development Cost Charges (DCC) fund to dry up.
Instead of creating an administration that is business-friendly he has simply allowed the incompetence at the Economic Development department to continue and has a simple and single message for the business community â€“ pay your taxes and live with our decisions we built you a couple of overpasses didnâ€™t we?
Instead of finding ways to charge taxpayers less for the reduction in programs and services we enjoy, all Peary has come up with is a plan to borrow millions of dollars to solve a problem which has been staring us in the face for over a decade.
Borrowing more money just as the international debt crisis is threatening to stall the economy and make it even harder for Abbotsford taxpayers to pay this year’s increase may be inevitable if we are to solve the water crisis but getting the private sector to do it for us and borrowing money at higher than necessary rates seems a silly way to go – the mayor’s tantrums notwithstanding.
For those who provided his financial support things may look different, but ultimately Pearyâ€™s term as mayor will be seen as a major disappointment from the point of view of the taxpayers, residents and businesses from which he drew his political support.
The only reason he has so far provided for running again is that we need to solve the water crisis. Not only is this crisi not new – the problem been left by successive council’s who were more interested in building million-dollar Friendship Gardens and paving our forests with the Discovery Trail – George has been more of a hindrance than a help on the file and, judging by the taxpayersâ€™ mood, it is a pretty poor excuse for an election platform.
He will undoubtedly come with more reasons and more planks to his platform before the election but so far, his record is not something on which he should be running if he intends to get re-elected.
More of the same is something we can simply no longer afford.