Saturday, March 27, 2010

Foster Parents and Politics

I do try to put some effort into understanding what is happening within the political world, albeit from time to time I do tend to jump to "mini conclusions".  Most of the time the conclusions I come to are pretty close to reality, but not always.  In this post I am not going to link the hell out of the various articles and blogs done concerning the Alberta NDP's and Governments dealings with the recent funding issues with foster parents. Instead, I want to comment more about the politics of the politics.

After several days of prodding the NDP for some answers on twitter, I was told that they got news of the issue late Thursday night and the legislature was not sitting on Friday. They had to verify "things" and broke the story (per say) on Monday.  And of course, we all know what followed.

I was told by the NDP twitter person that "in this business it is extremely important to be accurate otherwise you get burnt".  And I can understand that, after all politics is an incredibly dirty game. When you deal in the "public" side of things, you best have the i's dotted and the t's crossed.  But with that said, most people that know something about me, know that I love to think out of the box, rules be dammed, and let's put some common sense into issues.

Had I "been" the NDP, I would have been pounding on Ministers door first thing Friday morning, stating what I had found out, saying nothings been verified, and wanting some answers and insight.  Is this against the politics of being a politician? Is it against the rules?  Well, if THAT'S the case, then change the rules!  Even if those WERE the rules, I would still have pounded on that door.  This would have put the Government on immediate notice of the issue.  Had action not been taken at this point, then by all means take it public. Why wait because it's the weekend?

During the twitter discussions yesterday, I also received a tweet from @CupeAB (we don't follow each other by the way) asking, "Do you also agree with @premierstelmach that foster parents should have spoken up, on Friday?".  Well, that's really a very good question. Put yourself in the shoes of being a foster parent for a moment.  If you are one, then I am sure that you are painfully aware of how frustrating and complicated it is in dealing with the politics of being a foster parent. Do you go running, screaming, and hollering (or any other form of complaining) to the Government, risking getting your hands slapped and cuffed upside the head, knowing that perhaps if you say too much or the wrong thing, that in the end, you might very well be investigated, and have the kids you love and care for, be removed?  Now I am NOT saying that this happens, but I am fairly comfortable thinking that this might very well be what a foster parent would think.

To me, the bottom line here is that you, the politicians that represent the people, seriously need to STOP playing the game of politics. STOP making it a dirty game, STOP with the prissy rules, and get BACK to reality.

I know it can be done when it needs to be done, because I have done it.  When I worked as a volunteer Probation Officer dealing with Young Offenders, I had a situation where a youth under my supervision was in a situation where he had violated his probation, and the potential of harm coming to a baby was potentially a reality. I tried dealing with the police, and was told "you are his probation officer, you need to deal with it". So I did. I talked with the youth, he agreed things were bad and agreed he needed to go back into custody. I took him down to the 'system' in the wee hours of the morning, spent several hours arguing with government paper pushers, woke up the Crown and insisted a warrant be issued, so he could be taken into custody. The Crown *finally* agreed, I signed the warrant, and the youth was taken.  In court, the warrant was upheld, and the youth was able to receive the services he needed.  And as a side note, you will all be happy to know this youth was able to change his ways using that help, and I understand he has been successful in getting on in life.

Thinking out of the box works some times, perhaps those in charge should try doing it a bit more.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

And the winner is...

So Mr. Mandel has decided to run for office again.  Does this mean "third time lucky" for the people of the City of Edmonton? Or are we in for yet another 3 years or so of being smiled at, while behind your back someone is sticking the proverbial knife into you.  There are several little things that I want to touch on, and of course the list is not limited to this, but they are points that maybe people should be thinking about.

A few years back, Edmonton (and many other areas) went through the 'boom period', where housing prices literally double and tripled over night.  And since the amount of tax you pay is based on the value of the property, many people found their tax bills doubling, or more. Certainly a huge bonus for those selling property, certainly a nightmare for those looking to buy property, and outright disastrous for those on a fixed income.  But with that said, the amount of additional revenue going into the City coffers was huge.  Where did all of that (guessing) doubling of income for the city go to?  Perhaps those answers will start to come a little further down.

So now there was a massive increase in what the City was bringing in, and along the way, the amount of tax people are paying continued to climb.  So lets get creative!  We can keep the tax "increases" lower (as in you are still going to pay more tax, but just not as much) by doing "this".  Well, one of the "this" things was "Hey, lets take garbage collection out of the tax base, and add it on to your utility bill!".  This change came about, if I recall correctly, so that in January of that year, garbage (collection) charges appeared on a separate bill. But if you think about it, the City double-dipped that year, because taxes are due I think around the April mark or something.  So the taxes you paid that INCLUDED garbage collection, were not given back, but the City got several extra months of revenue by charging you twice for the same service.  And now this 'fee' is around $30 per month, or $360 per year... and your taxes STILL went up on top of that.

Then we have the Consultants scandal. In just one area examined, many millions of dollars were wasted in paying consultant fees.  I even wrote to the City Council suggesting there were issues with Consultants long before this came out, and Mandels response was that of a shuffling off rather than wanting to know more. Only one member of City Council wrote back to get more information.  Bottom line is that the City pays for consultants and programming needs that exceed multi-millions of dollars, when the same services can be provided "in house" for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is the Airport issue, where the urgent need to close the airport and sell off the land seems to be going against the wishes of the citizens of the city, at least from reading many of the comments posted in the Edmonton Journal's article about lawsuits over closing the airport.  I have to wonder WHY this has been pushed as hard as it has been by Mr. Mandel?  Many people seem to think there are issues with some friendly pocket-type-padding-potential as one reason.  I would think that this election time should be the perfect opportunity to add this item to the civic vote so that it is CLEAR what the citizens of Edmonton want. And this must be done before any contracts have been signed.

Let's not forget the Indy as well.  Sign a contract that pays people a huge amount of money so we can host the event, because we can make a profit from it and it will be SO cool to have!.  Opps.. it turns out that someone made a mistake and it ends up costing us millions of dollars instead.  But hey, we signed a contract so too bad so sad, right?  How many more contracts are we going to sign, that in the end, it ALWAYS ends up costing more than we were told, but of course it's too late to do anything about it, because after all it WAS a contract, right?  Remember that when you talk about LRT and EXPO2017. (Note that I am not personally against these ideas, but I am suggesting that we are being blind sided yet again on the truth of the matter.)

And of course, the famous downtown arena. People and polls everywhere have said "no" to tax payer dollars, but the impression I get is that Mr. Mandel seems to be pushing to find a way for this to happen, and continues to appear to ignore what the citizens have been saying.  Some people have even suggested that the reason for this push has to do with the huge donation Mr. Katz has made in the past to Mr. Mandel.  I can only shrug my shoulders and wonder why.

Recently, there were media stories on the completion of a bridge project, and the "requirement" to spend $600,000 on "art", because "city policy" says you have to.  I am not opposed to "the arts" by any means but sheesh, don't you think it's time for that policy to be reviewed? Six hundred thousand dollars... for a freaking bridge! *sigh*

Now we are told there is a substantial surplus left over from the last budget, and guess what... our taxes are going up again.  And it makes me wonder why those who are in charge have not stepped up to the plate and done something to fix this.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Puffballs and Seals

Most know I am not politically savy, but I am trying to learn.  A recent article in the Edmonton Journal about puffball questions made me a little curious.  If the idea of the Question Period in the Alberta Legislature is to bring forth questions to the Government, then I guess in theory, all MLA's should be able to ask questions.  As with many things in life, "in theory" is a very subjective term.

I would like to think that the 'order' of those questions should be from any opposition parties first, and the time allowed for those questions should be greater than those of the ruling party.  I am kinda thinking that isn't the case, and thats pretty sad.

Question Period only works when you have good questions being asked, but then what defines a good question?  Certainly the folks that communicate with their MLA would think their question is a good one deserving an answer, even if their MLA was in the ruling party.  So how do you decide what should be asked and when?  As I said, I'm far from politically savy, so I don't know what a good answer would be.

What I do know, is what flippant and snotty is.  Questions asked with respect should be answered with respect. And of course, if you are not in the ruling party, the trend seems to be that of bashing.  When you have a government that tends to be non-responsive, questions of that nature seem to appear more often than not, which is of course another issue to resolve.

Part of the Journal story also has a comment from Rob Anderson, who jumped ship.  I've had the unfortunate pleasure of watching QP on TV from time to time, and I've seen Rob work.  He makes it quite clear he is not happy with his former party, which I guess is his right.  But the arrogance he shows in the gestures and body language is "hey, look at me... you guys suck and my shit doesn't stink".  This seems to be backed up by the snotty remark about back benchers and others being seals.  And that leaves me wondering what kind of bait his leader is holding over his nose, and how often he flaps his flippers and barks for his trainer.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Alberta Government out-sources IT

According to a story in the Edmonton Journal, our provincial Government has decided to clean up and standardize their computer desktop systems at a cost of $70 million dollars, over a period of 7 years.  Simple math tells you that is $10 million dollars a year.

Rather than hiring more IT staff to deal with this, they have decided to reduce the size of the IT department, touting "oh look we are cutting back" and then turn around and (most likely) pay a lot more than they would have saved, by farming out the work.

There is a time and place for consultants and contractors, of that there is no question.  I would suggest to you, that this is not one of them.  The "odds" of the cost of this contract going UP in price is huge.  The classic example would be the Federal Gun Registry program, that went from some "millions" of dollars originally (which was beyond absurd to start with) to over a billion dollars.

As the old story goes, you can pay me now... or you can pay me later.  Paying me now, means having employees who work for a resonable wage, and will deliver performance.  Paying me later means letting someone else do the same work, and guess what... paying a lot more in the end to get the job done.

I for one, am getting pretty tired of the lip service.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sanity in recycling

Some twitter discussions today raised some intersting questions about parties and policies, and what if all parties had similar policies.  Certainly an excellent question to debate.  I am making this post from the seat of my pants, and I would have to "dig" to get the referencing links, so this example is more to show that just because you have a good policy, the way you use it may not be the smartest.

About a week ago or so, the Edmonton Journal had an article about changes the Alberta Government was looking it, with respect to "left overs" from the construction industry, and how they wanted to make a new section that would deal with charging developers a fee of some sort, and then giving them back a portion of that fee depending on what made it into the land fills etc.  Again, do note that I am going from memory here and this may not be "exact" in nature...

While the concept of the idea, of reducing landfill is certainly in the right direction, I can see this as being nothing more than a waste of money, and here is why I say that.  It will cost a huge amount of money to set this up and maintain it, and there will be fights over the fees, and additional costs not only to the developers who build, but also to the folks buying new development (housing, office space etc).

Would it not be better... if the larger "leftovers" were donated to one of the building recycle locations, so that others can buy them at reduced prices... and for the smaller ones, why not hold a "come get free pieces to finish your construction projects" event, so that folks who only need a couple of chunks of 'this or that', can swing by at a monthly event (example only) and grab a few missing pieces?

I am sure that places like Habitat for Humanity would love this...  Course, what do I know.. maybe I'm way out in left/center/right field...

And the money went to...

Warning.. if you are a "consultant", you probably won't like some of what I have to say...

I've been in the "computer industry" for about 30 years now, my links going all the way back to a Commodore PET 2001, with a cassette drive for backup and loading. Building, fixing, support... being a programmer, systems, and business analyst.  When I program, I write really good code, and generally speaking it works the first time with minimal bugs (if any).  So when I started working for the City of Edmonton several years ago, I thought I found my dream job and I could offer some really great apps combined with years of knowledge in support and setup of systems. 

And I did.  Often completing programming requests in 2 weeks or less, sometimes even in a couple of days.  The largest project was a re-write of an existing application that, I was told, originally took four people two years to create.  This re-write took me just shy of 3 months to do, all by myself... and had probably 10 times the features of the original program.

With out a doubt, the biggest "eye opener" I had while being with the City, was the use of consultants and the incredible cost and waste of time that was within the consulting process.  There was one consultant in particular, who had acquired their MCSE by reading books and then taking the tests.  They were being charged out at a rate of $70 per hour.  I was often approached by this consultant, and asked "how do I do this?" and I would explain the process, even at times assisting with creating the code.  I saw their little project when it was done and to say the functionality and design was about as equivalent to a first year programmer with zero experience is.. well.. being polite.  Basically a 3 or 4 day job at best, took about a month.  And the department was more than happy to pay for it.

Why is that?  Well, the answer is pretty simple.  Meetings and discussions... lots of them... over coffee... and chatting with people in the hallways. 80% socialization, 20% work.

Now there is the Canadian Taxpayer Federation saying that the money spent on the City website was (my words) "excessive".

When you look at the site, it is pretty, with lots of graphics and videos.  But with todays RAD (rapid application development) tools, the time it would take for an experienced web programmer to build this application is pretty short.  Guessing perhaps at a couple of months, and maybe a wage cost that's certainly less than $50,000.  Hell, even having 2 people working on the project, that would be $25,000 each for a couple of months of work.  Something we all wish we could make, I am sure.

So why did this project cost so much?  I can only guess... and I think if you apply the above situation, you will see how the City uses those tax payer dollars, way too often.  I for one, would love to see the true cost break down on the time spent, what was paid and to whom, the cost of the graphics, equipment, etc.

Of course, this is not the only example of waste, because when you think about it... this is exactly the process that drove the Federal Gun Registry program from what should have been at best, 3 to 5 million dollars... into something that I believe was well over a billion dollars.

Don't you think it's time to clean up this waste?  I do...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jaffer gets a wrist slap...

Quoted from the Edmonton Journal Jaffer pleads guilty
Former Alberta MP Rahim Jaffer plead guilty on Tuesday to one count of careless driving and was fined $500 in an Orangeville, Ont., courtroom.
Jaffer, 37, was initially charged with cocaine possession, impaired driving and speeding stemming from an incident last September in Palgrave, Ont., about 60 kilometres north of Toronto. Those charges were withdrawn Tuesday by the Crown, who said that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
"I'm sure you can recognize a break when you see one," Judge Doug Maund told Jaffer before fining him.
Well, isn't this just wonderful news!  One has to wonder... if you were charged with cocaine possession, then certainly the officers making the arrest would have some form of "substance" that was found.  What was the quantity of that, and was it tested?  Will those "facts" ever be made public, or are they going to be buried as part of a political coverup?

Seems to me, the door is now open for everyone charged with this offence to qualify for exactly the same treatment given to Mr. Jaffer.  And he certainly has been one very lucky person too.

After all, who else can arrange for a friend to pretend to be him on an open-line radio talk show (630 CHED), and then claim that it was him and not an imposter, and then say "ya ok so it wasn't me... tell someone who cares" and not get charged with fraud?

Who else can retain their MP seat when fraud was clearly the intent of the deception?  Who else can be called "the laziest politician in Canada" and still get a pension of over $40,000 a year.

Methinks some extreme make-overs are needed within the political system... and it can't happen fast enough for me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Directional Changes

A few years back I created a registered Society, in the hopes of promoting common sense values and to assist people in need that have been caught between the cracks of life.  I have had the opportunity to "walk a mile in your shoes" in many areas, some of which were a lot more fun than others.

I won't bore you with those stories, simply because most of you would gasp from the shock of how one person could survive such travesties of life.  I will however say that I have been blessed in knowing that I have been able to help a few people.

Sadly, the original funding request made through the Alberta Lotteries Commission was turned down, and a request to have the application reviewed received only a canned email from the Minister, that didn't even bother to address the questions and comments I was asking about.  But I am a stubborn person, and I forged ahead to do what I could.

I am not the type of person that can just ask for money and donations.  My "marketing" skills are certainly lacking.  Despite those issues, I did what I could.  The money to fund this venture has ... simply put... vanished.  Considering it all came from my own personal account and from a line of credit, I think I did not bad!  I am proud to have been able to help where I could, and naturally, privacy issues dictate that I can't tell you who was helped.  The folks who were, know... and that's all that is really important.

With all of that said, I can no longer afford to maintain the registered society, website, post office box, telephone, etc.  On March 21st, the domain will expire... and shortly after that the website hosting service will also expire.  But this really is not a "bad" thing, because I have learnt a lot, especially from the great folks who are in twitter, and social media in general.  I will continue to strive towards standing up for those in need, and to promote more accountability, honesty, and transparency from those in charge.