Monday, April 28, 2008

Transit Pandering Or Journalistic Favoritism?

This Editor has had enough of what one has to wonder is perhaps just obvious political posturing and/or misdirection being thrown around by those who are suddenly transit advocates and wannabee transit heros!

It’s bad enough that Langley Township has had a Mayor who sat on Translink’s Board until it was dissolved this year (and who was obviously there when Translink came out with its grand plan to not even look at rapid transit south of the Fraser until after 2031) and who only now is saying (now that he’s no longer on the Board) the sooner we get rapid transit to Langley the better. How opportune! Let me hazard a wild guess here – there’s a municipal election this year so someone (not mentioning any specific names) better get with the public program if they hope to get re-elected.

However, reading the Langley Advance musings and reporting of reporter Mathew Claxton in last Friday’s paper (April 25, 2008) just finally took me over the top.

How in heaven’s name is it possible that rookie Langley Township Councillor Jordan Bateman has now come to be described by Mr. Claxton as: “a light rail advocate on the council”? How is it that Cllr. Bateman is now the quoted “go to” person by this particular reporter and his paper on every transportation issue?

What about Councillor Bob Long, who first created and championed the Langley Transportation Committee? Cllr. Long’s committee recommended improved transportation, increased transit and bike lanes in Langley? Why has Cllr. Long, with his extensive committee expertise and research in this area been conveniently overlooked by the Langley Advance?

Why is a rookie Councillor’s opinion on transportation in Langley more important than that of an experienced Councillor who has served three terms? (And, by the way, the experienced Councillor is very well regarded by his Metro-Vancouver peers. Councillor Long is Chair of the Metro-Vancouver Labour Relations Committee, President of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, member of the Executive of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, and past Board Member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities). Does Cllr. Bateman even bother to attend any of these?

One has to ask: Is it perhaps just because rookie Cllr. Bateman used to be a reporter at the Advance? Are there generic media releases churning out from a generic website such as ‘Get Moving BC’ which makes a local reporter’s job easier? Or is it just pure and simply strategic marketing and product positioning of the political kind (especially now that we’re in an election year)?

Look at all of the facts very closely, folks. Just look back at our previous postings in LFP that asked some tough and still unanswered questions about the real background and backing of the so-called “grass roots” Get Moving BC transportation website, which, by the way, just happens to involve a certain rookie Langley Township Councillor!

This Editor has watched with much amusement how the Langley Advance has been steadily promoting its former reporter. Open any Langley Advance edition and you can’t miss his name in at least one article, if not more. Now apparently, the Langley Advance believes that Councillor Bateman’s transportation advocate position is more important than Councillor Bob Long’s and is now consistently promoting Cllr. Bateman’s attempt to be the local transportation guru.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, remember Bateman’s much reported on suggestion of running LRT up 200th Street and how he would be bringing this idea to Council. He never brought it to Council to vote on. But he did get good local press coverage out of it. And just how valid is that? If you say you’re going to do something, and you get the local media to cover it, don’t you think you should at least bring the idea forward to be voted on? Or is this all just about getting media coverage?

Then there was Cllr. Bateman’s whole idea about protecting children from grow-op abuses and how this idea of his was going to go to Council. Again, to our knowledge, he never brought it to Council to vote on. However, it sure generated a lot of local and regional press coverage, especially for something that never happened.

Now, Cllr. Bateman is apparently promoting a circle transit route around Langley. Let’s place a bet – will this too never make it to the Council table because all it was ever intended to do was get media coverage in time for the next election? (Bet’s on that once Cllr. Bateman reads this, and I sure he will, will there will be a flurry of notices of motion to Council to cover gaffs in this regard? Just pay attention to the dates.)

Meanwhile well meaning real “grass roots” groups like the Valley Transportation Advisory Committee (VALTAC) are just trying to get acknowledgement and a single, reasonable and certainly not off the wall east – west route LRT rail system in.

VALTAC is a true “grass roots” transportation advocate group which was born and bred in Langley in 2006. Since then, it has grown and now serves all of the Fraser Valley communities fighting for rapid transit solutions. It is not a fictional or a fake fa├žade so-called grass roots group.

VALTAC does not hide behind a generic website. It consists of many well-informed, well-recognized and well-meaning community residents including Sonya Patterson, a local School Trustee, Roy Mufford, a local historian and realtor, Terry Lyster, former Director of Township Planning, Eric Bysouth, a community activist, and Bob Epsin, member of the Langley Water Management Resources Advisory Group, to name a few.

For the past three years, VALTAC has held public information and education sessions with expert transportation guest speakers. Their most recent education session was this past Saturday (April 26, 2008) at Township Hall, which by the way, Cllr. Bateman did not bother to attend.

VALTAC’s education sessions have been well-attended by the public. VALTAC has also gone out into the community at most local and regional community events. They have set up tents and administered questionnaires to the public. They are a hard-working and sincere volunteer presence in our community. Now, have you seen Get Moving BC do anything similar? Have you even seen Get Moving BC? (Maybe there’s a reason for this).

VALTAC’s idea of a simple east/west route people rail transit solution has been embraced and endorsed by all those they have talked to at their many public functions. People like the idea of convenient and accessible public transit that will take them throughout the South Fraser and Fraser Valley.

Why can’t this idea be accepted and embraced by politicians? Why are some rookie councilors trying to muddy the waters by going off on tangents which they talk about but don't deliver on (like 200 Street rapid transit)?

Why muddy the waters indeed?

A skeptical person could wonder whether Cllr. Bateman (who is a very active Provincial Liberal as VP of Rich Coleman’s Fort Langley-Aldergrove constituency) is helping the provincial Liberal cause by becoming the Langley transportation ‘media darling’ advocate complete with a so-called grass roots website? Doesn’t his contrary promotion of alternate rail/transit routes (i.e. 200 St. only to a Langley circle transit route) just help confuse and muddy enough the transportation priorities of Langley and the South Fraser?

Also curiously, why is it that most motions made by Councillor Richter to support VALTAC and to seek its input on transportation issues over the last 3 years were not supported by Cllr Bateman? This seems very strange especially if Cllr. Bateman was really serious about improving access to improved public transit in Langley.

You decide what’s really going on here. But in this Editor’s opinion, if we don’t rally behind VALTAC nothing will happen and your alternatives will be $2.00/litre for gas or crappy public transit south of the Fraser.

My advice to the local media: Forget about your advertising budgets and your alumni. Your job is to inform the public in a real and meaningful way about what is going on this community. You should not play political favourites.

Look at the actual history, not what has been recreated for your consumption by those who know how to play you.

Specifically, look to the real volunteer community groups, like VALTAC, who are trying to set the parameters for a better life for the next generation. Honor their work, their vision and their commitment to what’s best for this community in the long run.

They are what Langley has always been about.

...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Vecchiato's Voice - April 24, 2008 - Musings On Homelessness, Bureaucratic Dialogues, Surrey's Campbell Heights Sucks & Nationalism

HOMELESSNESSAn angry letter to the editor about the new Salvation Army facility probably echoed a lot of people's feelings. I'm not particularly keen on their new location and the recommendation of the old Apex site would have been far better.

But I think we get myopic when we view others' situations from afar.

My 50-year-old brother is homeless. When he's not homeless, he is in a correctional facility in Arizona. If he sneezes on a street corner, they pick him up. He looks like the sort of man who would really annoy cops (and his mother). Think it doesn't get cold in the mountains there? It snows. When you see people riding their bikes with bags of cans on their bike, that's my brother.

When he was 21, he rolled his car off a cliff near Baghdad, Arizona, where my dad has procured a job for him at a basalt mine. My brother stayed in a coma for two months, and when he awakened, a halo supporting his neck, he opened his mouth and asked the nurses, "What are you doing in my f***ing room?" Obviously he missed his epiphany. That was 29 years ago.

Substance abuse and brain injuries aren't disabilities people necessary seek. Starting to drink at age 12 is the ultimate case of arrested development. There are people, too, who can't live nor work within a fixed environment. I think it' is something like social claustrophobia.

I just finished a memoir by Jeannette Walls called The Glass Castle, where ultimately, she and her sister and brother end up successful and their parents are squatters in an abandoned building in Manhattan. The parents like it that way. They can't function within the system.

I knew another man who lived in Langley but suffered from mental illness. The guy was brilliant and read the Greek philosophers, but his ability to function within this world would never change. He walked into the river with stones in his pockets on a cold March evening. Why, you might ask? If you knew his story, how the neighborhood kids used to stick firecrackers in his ears and light them, you'd see how people become damaged goods and end up beneath the cold surface of river waters. .

I once went to the Armory in San Mateo, California, which opened as a shelter when a blast of cold gusted in from the Arctic. One young man lived there or in his car, showered at the gym, and went to work every day. He couldn't afford rent because he had to pay child support and alimony.

It happens. Everyone spins a different tale as to how they become the guy on the bike with the cans, the philanthropist, or the customer service rep at Telus. Ninety-nine percent of the people on probation have a substance abuse problem. Instead of condemning, maybe the solutions have to come earlier rather than after the sordid fact.

* * *
A DIALOGUE WITH THE MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT FIELD OFFICE

I was in the midst of drafting a letter in response to the glaring clear cut on 200th and 29th. It's just one of many. The national anthem of Brookswood is the chainsaw, and I've adjusted to it in the fall and winter; however, when nesting season begins, no one seems interested in species protection, which is actually legislated provincially and federally. So I called the provincial hotline and the federal CWS pager to guarantee the numbers were current . A field officer called me back from the regional office Tuesday morning and told me that the five acres in questions was private property and they could do what they wanted. (I'm thinking, This guy's a conservation officer?)

I said, "I was under the impression that nesting birds are protected regardless of where they are."

No, he countered, adding that only eagle and heron nests are protected. He told me that, of course, there would be animals in the trees and that the ministry was dealing with huge logging sites. I mentioned that the combined amount of clearing in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford equalled a logging site, and also that I believed pileated woodpeckers were blue listed. He didn't know, and said that just because someone sees a woodpecker doesn't mean there's a nest. I told him my report came from upset residents on the adjoining lot (who are going to be royally creamed with wind throw in the winter.

Finally, I said, "Then we must be reading two different pieces of legislation or you've changed the Wildlife Act where it states that you cannot harm a nesting bird or its egg."

He begged to differ, so I said, "OK, then I'll call Barry Penner's office, even though he never calls anyone back."

I was told Penner was really busy.

I got my American gut going. "When I needed assistance and called my U.S Congressman Tom Lantos; he had a staff member call me back right away, and I think a U.S. congressman is far more important than Barry Penner."

Five minutes later he called me back to report that yes, nesting birds are protected. I have to give the guy credit for getting back to me. His inability to know the provincial legislation followed on the heels of the planning staff member at Township Council who did not know when nesting season began.

****
CAMPBELL HEIGHTS SUCKS

If you've ever been to an open house hosted by developer's consultants, think: slick marketing. Such was the case with High Point and most recently Campbell Heights Business Park. The consultants, Binnie & Asssociates, had great displays; you'd think it was a Sierra Club presentation with promises of habitat and streams. People like to say that Stokes Pit and Latimer Lake were man-made, which is true; however, they've had over 60 years to regeneration the ecosystem to the point of it being classed as an Environmentally Sensitive Area #1.

The attendees I liked best were the residents from the local trailer courts and the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Clubbers, who have been fighting this for decades. What is proposed is a mere anorexic strip along 196 that even an overweight raccoon would have to suck in his stomach to traverse. The verdant gullies and hills that lead to the actual site of the Campbell River are particularly small, just enough, in fact, to satisfy fisheries.

The problem I see has numerous edges. One: What Surrey does impacts Langley and vice versa. Industrial and commercial pay for themselves while residential does not (iddn't your taxes just go up?). Surrey gets the industrial, and we'll get East Clayton-style 3500 square foot homes that are not praftical nor affordable. Two: Many people agree that 192 and 24th was a bad spot for an industrial park: no public transit, not near anything resembling pavement, and just reflects the sprawl mentality of development. the City of Surrey erred mightily when it allowed the amount of clearing done, resulting in a virtual wildlife cull. Even the guys from Progessive were sick about it, or so it was reported. They drown trapped all the beavers, diverted the renaturalized channels and put in new ones without any shade so they could take the parking lot run off. River experts say that a lack of shade makes the water too warm for salmon. Surrey also allowed the water table to be lowered by one meeting, this drying up Latimer Lake that looks like a huge cesspool in the summer. And because our aquifer is unconfined, there are water issues at stake.

Unfortunately for the new stakeholders, they are picking up the pieces of a botched job. I'd rather see them build where they've cleared (a huge amount of barren land land with services installed already along 192) and do a land swap at one of the fill sites or gravel pits in the area. It could work, if there is a will.

Oh, and the consultants claimed that it is sustainable. There are two words I want banned from all newspapers: green and sustainable. If you say a word often enough, it loses its power. Try that with four letter words. It works.

*****
NATIONALISM
I talked to a border agent today who used to work the Vancouver Airport. On the day the U.S. invaded Iraq, his 7 year old's teacher had the boy come to the front of the class and was asked to explain why his country was killing people. I am wondering how the teacher ever completed five years of university, especially knowing that the dad worked for the U.S. government.

Perhaps I feel guilty about saying Barry Penner is less important than recently deceased Tom Lantos, who represented part of San Francisco and the Peninsula. Maybe I'm older and less self absorbed, but I notice things more, and what I feel is an absolute contempt by government for the public. Of course, it's often not different in the States, but here it seems so blatant that they must think we are all stupid.

I love people who write letters to the editor, like the woman today who said the anti Gateway to Hope people were called assholes by city Council. Isn't expressing yourself great?

Regarding stupidity, a recent report in The Vancouver Sun's business section read, "Energy companies expect to announce windfall profits" and subtitled "Analysts say firms need to figure out best way to use high-than-expected earnings." The report, which was out of Calgary only confirms the fact that not only politicians think we are stupid.

Cathleen
Cathleen Vecchiato has been an outspoken environmentalist for many years. She is a very well recognized champion of the environment and a community activist in Langley as well as in other adjoining communities. Cathleen formed and leads the Langley Conservation Network. Editor-LFP...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Susan Semonick On Schools - Trustees Board of Education Meeting Report of April 15, 2008

The School Board meeting overview is available to view at the school board’s website and the Langley Times comments on the board meeting are viewable in their recent articles on-line and in print.

It seems that some recent Board meeting comments has pushed at least one trustee to the edge. A Trustee leaving the Board office after adjournment of the meeting was still overheard commenting on some of the statements made at the board meeting.

Some trustees may be comfortable in claiming that the remarks made were simply as a statement of what has happened in the past. But in the view of many of the people in the gallery, many comments were not considered to be constructive or helpful at all. People are told to move on, but then in turn patronizing comments are made that stir emotions up.

Any after the fact comments essentially characterizing poorly on the conduct and attitude of those parents who have been speaking out with concerns about what this board has decided to do with HD Stafford Secondary and the surrounding elementary schools is not high road in my opinion.

The question I have to ask is: Is the ability of taking the high road missing from this School Board’s leadership toolbox?

On other matters,

Concerned citizens still have not received the answers to their questions. In response to questions asked during Question Period, they were told that the answers could be found at the Budget Open House on Tuesday, April 22, 6:30 pm to 8pm at the school board office. I hope that Mr. Greenwood will be able to direct people to the proper part of the binders that will be available for viewing as per Chair Burton’s statement that it would be available to the public.

Just after the budget presentation, Mr. Burton made the following statements (taken from recorded transcripts). My general observations about his comments follow each statement.

Burton: "Would we like more money from the Provincial Government? Yes, we would.”

Susan: They need it for the automatic raises they will get again in December to top up the 34% raise and another 9.5% raise they have had since 2006.

Burton: “Was it easy to close five elementary schools and reconfigure Stafford? No. It would have been easier to do nothing, like some of the other districts and to cater to a vocal minority and let other students quietly go without added resources. "

Susan: Like when they made their decision to expand the fundamental program too soon.

Burton: “We could have left students in a split 5/6/7 class. We could have left some high schools to deteriorate so that they were not sustainable.”

Susan: Now they are likely to be split 3/4/5 classes. What is the difference? High schools - as they have done with Aldergrove Secondary? Will it be the next school closing or will it be another elementary? I suppose he meant sustaining DWP, as it was never included in the review.

Burton: “We have again this year decided to spend a large portion of the surplus on more services for special needs students.”

Susan: Why do they bother consulting anyone further about budget? Sounds like they have already made up their minds.

Burton: “We must however be careful of a trend in society and our community where special interest groups lobby only for their narrow focus.”

Susan: Special Interest Groups - isn’t that what environmentalists, anti-smoking campaign, parents of children with autism, anaphylaxis, etc. were called once? Isn’t that democracy in action? Haven’t society’s priorities changed for the better because of some of the SIGs? Aren’t they sometimes the conscience of society? What is he telling students?

Burton: “We as a board must continue to focus on all our students’ needs. That’s why I am proud of this budget and our long term planning as we are focused on the entire district."

Susan: Until they cap their indemnities when closing schools, I do not believe this is true of their focus no matter how proud the chair is.

Board Chair Burton also made some comments about the budgets of the City and Township in comparison to the budget of the Board of Education. Does he perhaps wish to see a similar reduction on those councils if the Board of Education was to be reduced by two trustees, considering the size of the budgets each deals with? That may be a thought, or better yet make the Board of Education regional. This move would save us millions in tax dollars that could be put into classrooms and health care. Would that be the best move for our students and community? That is left to be seen. It appears many of the politicians in this community are afraid to even discuss these items in a public forum.

The Board does spend a major amount of our tax dollars. That is why it is important that you have a board that listens to its public, not criticize them every chance they have. Not one of the trustees has yet publicly stated an individual objection to the amalgamation of the electoral ballot though. Perhaps this is the one issue upon which there is consensus on the Board? Wouldn’t that be ironic?

The Board seems to believe that it can shoot off letters to universities to tell them what to teach our teachers, but when it comes to advising the Minister of Education about what would best serve their public, the Board states that this is not within their mandate. Strange isn’t it, that when the rubber hits the road, how flat this board has become. It is time for a tire change people. Remember, even if you reside in the City you can run in the Township for a trustee seat and vice-versa. Many people are saying ‘enough is enough.’ Let’s do something about it. Get the public out to the polls. Make sure everyone l8 yrs old and over gets their voices heard. Better yet, go to http://members.shaw.ca/amalgamateschoolboard/ and sign the petition. Or, let us know where you stand with amalgamation, yes or no -- reduction of two trustee seats, yes or no - via e-mail at amalgamateschoolboard@shaw.ca.

The changes this board makes determines the future of our children. Voters should realize the impact the Board of Education can have and make the changes necessary at the ballot box to get a board that actually represents its people.Thanks to this board, a growing number of the public are becoming even more critical of trustee actions than ever in the past. It is looking like it is only their personal opinion that trustees are interested in addressing. One trustee felt it necessary to cover their face in an act to show total frustration when some members of the public asked questions. That trustee should reconsider their decision to re-run. It seems the four who made the difficult decision on reconfiguration are done. Are they perhaps burnt out and should they take a long-deserved break and let others make the decisions for our youth? It seems that the long speeches they are making now in an attempt to substantiate their recent decisions only serve to infuriate the public who do not want to waste time on politicking during time allotted for district business.

Update from last report
I received the information I had requested in regards to the March 28th meeting. Apparently, the particular trustee’s e-mail was not working at the time although other board members did receive the email request. I thank Mr. Greenwood for his expediency in sending the pertinent information during a time when he is swamped with the budget.

Building for the Future report for North Langley
Mr. McAvoy’s report can be read here.
I will wait to comment until after the June 17th board meeting when the district staff reports back to the board with their recommendations. There was mention of middle schools, new schools, and expansion of REMSS. Now we wait to see what Senior Management comes up with out of this report. James Kennedy Elementary parents might want to be on the watch for a boundary change on the east side of its catchment area.

Special Needs Follow-up
There was a lot of talk about what the district is doing to meet the needs of the identified special needs students. Needless to say, the various partner groups have differing opinions on this. The report can be found here.

Proposed budget
An interesting note - apparently I failed to realize that we must add to the cost of a trustee, Canadian Pension Plan contributions to the tune of $7,279, which comes out to 1,039.86 per trustee. I think that amounts I stated regarding the saving from reducing the number of trustees is closer to the reality of $50,000 for two trustees.

Other News
Student Appeals Process
It appears that there could be a motion to delay consideration of the Student Appeals motion until the June meeting in order for partner groups to have adequate time for input. Good idea and parents should take note. Much like policy 1204 which not many took notice of until too late, this policy could affect many families and needs to be scrutinized to ensure student and parent rights and obligations are made plain and simple. The parameters should be clearly defined in understandable language. A preliminary look at the draft policy suggests that further work needs to be done to achieve this.

Respectfully Submitted.
Susan Semonick

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Susan Semonick Presents Efficiency Savings Proposal to Langley School Board

At yesterday's Langley School board meeting Susan Semonick, vocal school board critic, LFP columnist and former DPAC (Langley school District Parents Advisory Council) President formally presented her case for obtaining effiencies in reducing the quantity of school board trustees on the Langley School Board. She will report on yesterday evening's school board meeting herself very shortly on LFP. Stay tuned for Susan. Just above is a partial picture slideshow of part of the evening. To view Susan Semonick's actual documents, mouseclick Susan's slide presentation and also it's accompanying Susan's slide presentation transcript. Langley Times Reporter Natasha Jones has excellent coverage on Susan's presentation in today's Times too. If you agree with Susan go see her petition site and sign up.
Photos courtesy of Bob Richter

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Democracy, Openness & Free Speech You Say?

Speaking about anonymous letters, 24 HOURS columnist and CKNW weekly commentator, Bill Tieleman, could certainly speak to the subject in detail as a result of receiving three death threats over his covering China's human rights record. See Bill's blogsite and here too for complete details and further links.

SPECIFIC EMAILED THREATS...

- I can kill you. you are wait!!!!!!!! (sic).
- I am in CKNW, I am normal Chinese. I must kill you and your family.
- Kill you! you clean your neck (sic), enjoy your last day, just wait, you will pay for this!

"Democracy, openness, free speech, free editorial opinion (serious or satirical as we oft practise on LFP as well) is a valuable commodity that should not be whittled away or sequestered in any way, shape or form, from you the public, by self-serving politicians or by anyone else! Bill, please keep up the good cause." - LFP EDITOR

Monday, April 14, 2008

Whistle-Blower Protection Sought for Langley Township Employees By Councillor Kim Richter

At the April 14,2008 special council meeting Councillor Kim Richter put the following notice of motion forward to be discussed (hopefully) at the April 21st, 2008 council meeting:

“Whereas all Township staff should have the ability to bring matters to Council’s attention without fear of retribution or job loss;

Therefore be it resolved that staff develop a whistle-blower protection policy and mechanism for council’s review and approval.”

Township Council Votes To Put The Anonymous Letter In-Camera And To Refer It To The RCMP and Township Lawyers

This Editor has been advised by our publisher, Kim Richter, that Township Council today put the matter of the anonymous letter and anything pertaining to this letter in-camera (closed non public meetings) and that the matter has now also been referred to the RCMP and to the Township lawyers. This referral motion (moved by Councillor Charlie Fox & seconded by Councillor Jordan Bateman) , was released today from in camera by the council. As such the publisher has requested this Editor to remove all materials relative to this letter from LFP's website while the matter is in the RCMP's hands and in-camera. I have done so.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Vecchiato's Voice - April 13, 2008 -DEAD BIRDS AND CODE OF ETHICS: AN INCONGRUOUS COMBINATION

A respected Langley businessman suggested the following: bring a hammer and two live birds,a chickadee and a killdeer for nesting diversity and present them to council. Ask which councilor would choose to kill them first.

A rush to the hammer would be ludicrous, but little haste was present in the approval of an application by agent BFW to rezone almost 65 acres east of 208th and south of 80th. In the approved rezoning process, carte blanche was granted to clear the land, including the removal of all 660 significant trees, regardless of nesting or non-nesting season.

The issue of nesting season was poorly addressed by a BFW-hired arboreal consultant who stated his case that drought has weakened cedars, thus sabotaging the ability to salvage them. His declaration of tree death due to lower rainfall and warmer temperatures sentence every Western Red Cedar in the lower Mainland. I mean, this is an expert opinion, isn't it?

In response to nesting season, the consultant (remember he is paid by the agent for the development) said that we can't put everything on hold (just because of nesting season). With regard to other wildlife, which have settled in these re-naturalized 65 acres, I cannot help but think of the 119- and 143-paged township commissions studies on the Willoughby Habitat Status Report, painstakingly compiled by PhD candidate Elaine Anderson. Township paying for such intricate and valuable reports is a paradox in light of township council's decision to wipe out every living entity for the sake of development and poor land use. The reports recommend wildlife corridors, none of which are included in this proposal. A meager referral to wildlife corridors south of the development works well if we can effectively communicate to shrews, raccoons, killdeer, chickadees, nuthatches, robins, among others, to head south. If the bulldozers come in the midst of breeding season, we can always distribute hammers to council to make the immobile young perish quickly.

A dichotomy exists in this discussion as I peruse Al Irwin's report in the Langley Times and consult the Code of Ethics as prescribed by the Urban Development Institute. The Institute holds respect for the land, stating, "Each parcel of land is a precious, distinct and irreplaceable. We will treat the land with the respect ..." They commit themselves to being a"responsible corporation," recognizing "wise, efficient and productive urban land use." The rhetoric, although honorable in areas, also appoints itself as a trusted entity that will "use our professional knowledge and expertise to further the enhancement of the land." When present at the public hearing, I saw no compromise, biased expertise that discounts habitat salvaging, elimination of carbon sequestration sources, and the construction of grid-pattern sterile housing whose individual behemoth sizes violates reasonable land use principals touted by SmartGrowth and any organization using the word sustainable (a word I've come to loathe). These mazes of wide streets, sidewalks, and treeless nightmares currently spreads from 120th Street to Abbotsford, with an occasional graceful intermission of agricultural land (which, of course, can be cleared and filled with clay soil dumping at any time).

The issue reeks mightily like dead birds and financial greed, and it appears that the majority of our council and mayor cannot see outside the monetary box. Nesting birds should not be dead but should be protected in accordance with both provincial and federal law. The international migratory bird act states (rather ambiguously) that "due diligence" be shown to protect active nests.

An arboreal consultant who states at a public hearing that we can't stop everything due to nature's seasonal cycles brings to mind a situation in Wyoming during an ARCO shale oil project overseen by Fluor Mining & Metals. Because migratory cranes used this area as mating grounds, the oil giant had to issue a stop-work order to respect the necessity of species propagation.

So how do a three-man consulting firm and a local developer/agent of small proportion in global context evade any consequences?

It is my belief that council fails in its decision making and relies strictly on staff input, doing no homework of their own. Generally speaking, we have a well-educated council and mayor, but whose positions and status have dwindled due to the temptation of big bucks and keeping the development community happy.

So who is unhappy? It's not just me. It's an issue with almost every private conversation I have with residents not just in Langley but in Surrey and Abbotsford as well.

Several weeks after the public hearing, I participated in a guided tour of the remnants of Stokes Pit and Latimer Lake, a re-naturalized lake once stocked with trout and home to red-legged frogs and fish-hunting herons. Now, long vertical strips of bulldozed hills, dead trees brittle with lack of water because the City of Surrey lowered the water table by one meter, and stagnant channels without any shade bear water that seeps into the Little Campbell River, the temperature too warm to enhance movement of salmon.

Now we can add dead salmon to the list. Hammer anyone?

Cathleen Vecchiato has been an outspoken environmentalist for many years. She is a very well recognized champion of the environment and a community activist in Langley as well as in other adjoining communities. Cathleen formed and leads the Langley Conservation Network. Editor-LFP...


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Susan Semonick On Schools - April 2, 2008 - Trustees Board of Education Meeting Report (March 27, 2008)

For the Board’s synopsis of the meeting please go to this link at SD 35:

Here is what is not included in the district’s Board News (in no particular order)….

TRUSTEE CANDIDACY

Hattie Hogeterp announced she would be running in the next election. I understand that she no longer works for the Community School Programs at Shortreed and ACSS. At least there will not be a question of conflict of interest on that point this coming election. There is a BCCPAC resolution being discussed with the Ministry dealing with situations such as this and a request to expand the definition of employee.

DID A TRUSTEE REALLY ADMIT LACK OF AWARENESS?

A trustee openly admitted during Trustee Comments that she was obviously not aware of what she voted on to approve at least at one of the Board meetings. After listening to my presentation on the 2008/09-budget proposal, in which I suggested the elimination of a trustee allocation for computer equipment, she openly stated she was not aware that she could be reimbursed for a computer she had just purchased. Clearly, the board minutes of June 20, 2006 record Trustee McVeigh’s motion regarding the automatic trustee raises in December of each year as well as the technology allocation. Scary, is it not, that someone would approve something that they have no complete idea of the content or ramifications that such approval would have on the budget? Sound familiar folks? In my opinion, it appears that one could extrapolate that perhaps some trustees make decisions without knowing what the cost of raising their hand will be. This is what was approved at the June, 20 2006 board meeting ………….

1. The indemnity rate effective July st, 2006 be increase to
Trustee $13,000..As of December 1st 2007 Trustee Indemnity was increased to $16,886Vice-Chair $14,000...........................................$17,886
Chair $15,000....................................................$18,886
One-third of indemnity rate is non-taxable expense allowance as per the Income Tax Act.

2. (a) The Trustee indemnity rate be adjusted every December 1st to be the average of eight lower mainland School Districts, including: Abbotsford, Delta, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminister, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver and Langley.

(b) Every three (3) years the trustee indemnity rate be reviewed to ensure the current value is comparable with school districts of comparable size.

3. As required, trustees be provided with technology resources deemed necessary by the Board. Any technology equipment provided by the District would be returned to the District, upon termination of their role as Trustee. There was a claim of at least $1500.00 according to Mr. Greenwood. I wonder if the Board Member is not re-elected how quickly items will be returned?
4. (a) Starting at the beginning of the next term for elected trustees, access to School District Health Plans be available to trustees with individual trustees assuming full cost of the premiums.

(b) The current trustee cost-sharing of Health Plan premiums ( 25% Trustee, 75% School District) be phased-out over the balance of the term:

June, 2007 50%Trustee/50% School District . At the budget open house last year it
appeared that the reduction was still not applied it was stated it would be corrected.Wonder how they process that refund back to the district?

June, 2008 75% Trustee/25% School District.

Is this perhaps another thing that voters might want to consider before marking their ballots come November?

This board also believes that this has no relation to the current policy #1400 in existence it apparently is unrelated. How that can be when it is about Indemnity has me questioning their ability to conduct simple business.

It states: “ The annual trustee indemnity may be reviewed each year at a public meeting in June.
The indemnity shall normally be paid on a bi-weekly basis with two-thirds (2/3) considered indemnity and one-third (1/3) considered as expense.
A Trustee who resigns prior to completing his term of office, shall refund on a pro-rated basis any indemnity received for his unexpired term of office to the Board.”

If this is related to the same topic, has this Board acquired raises by side stepping change of policy procedures to attain major raises before their end of term? All this while they are closing schools to create revenue.
REDUCTION OF TWO TRUSTEE SEATS

One trustee wanted to get to the “truth of the matter” about my proposal to reduce two trustee seats on the board. This of course is my favorite subject and I have spent obviously more time analyzing this than any person challenging my numbers although they are the ones making decisions - how sad.

To the surprise of few people used to dealing with the school district, there is a difference between how they calculate cost and how “regular folks” determine cost. They just spew out the figures for the trustee indemnity and budgeted trustee expenses. Like most other people, I include all expenses reasonably attributable to having an extra trustee, regardless of which budget line item it is included in – after all, there is only ‘one envelope’ as the Board is so fond of saying.

Here goes my version of what is fact. The base indemnity is currently $16,886 of which one-third is tax-free. Trustees also have a $1,800.00 expense allowance for which they must supply receipts. One trustee overspent her allowance by three times in 2006. There seems to be an individual allocation but it appears that if you don’t spend it another trustee can spend it for you – a communal pot so to speak - nice. Therefore, the basic cost of one trustee is approximately $18,686.00 using simple math and information easily accessible. For two trustees the basic cost would be about $37,372.00, or as the Secretary-Treasurer stated about $35,000. Funny how it seems when the District gives costs they round down instead of up.

Then you have the other costs, which the district does not seem to recognize as costs of having a trustee, perhaps because they are included in other budget departments. These are:

Conferences $350.00 x 3 per year on average for each
Photocopying/ Office $100.00 / Trustee / year
Courier $500.00 / Trustee/ year
Meals during meetings $100.00 / Trustee/ year covers about 5 meetings per year
Retirement dinner $30.00 per plate
Staff time paper work (cheques) instruction, research estimated cost --- 2,500.00

They also have Mileage coverage of .50/km Average distance traveled 14 km per meeting one way.

Meal allowances while on district business of Breakfast $10.00 Lunch $12.00 Dinner $20.00 Full Day $50.00 Overnight allowances or miscellaneous incidental expenses $8.00/ night.

Hotel costs covered when they attend conferences.

The above are estimated and included in other budget line items like Pro-D, office expenses, superintendent’s budget allocation, etc. but I believe my estimates are reasonable and generously low, based upon the figures provided in the proposed budgets that I have seen and comments from trustees who explain that trustees attend an average of three conferences a year. Trustee packages are photocopied and couriered to them each Friday. Periodically throughout the year, meals are brought in for trustee meetings.

Then there is the possible raise they will receive in December 2008 that I estimate reasonably to be about 4.5% considering that their last automatic increase this past December 2007 was close to 9.5%. This would be approximately $760.00 at 4.5% and about $1604 at 9.5%.

Then you would have to add the cost of any technology equipment that I would estimate could be about $1,400 for a computer and software. Although, as noted above, if trustees do not know what they voted for, perhaps the district could save some money.

There are likely other incidentals embedded in other departmental budgets that I have not gotten around to figuring out yet. So, my $50,000 estimate Calculated in September 2006 isn’t that far off is it? Had they reduced the number of trustees before the refurbishment of the Boardroom, the district could have also saved the cost of two extra microphones and two new comfortable executive chairs.

Regardless of what the final figure may be, let us see that potential annual savings going to the students. I, for one, will admit a mistake (error) if one has been made, unlike others.

Numbers about the size of boards of educations, student enrolment, and geographic area in other districts, were thrown about by one trustee. I will have a more comprehensive report about this at a later date. Suffice it to say at this time that the district and I do not share the same analysis of the data available.

There you have it. I don’t even receive an indemnity and have figured this one out. Maybe if the focus were on giving the facts and not trying to discredit someone, it would make more sense.

Now back to what matters. This is truly, one way in which any district could direct more money into the classrooms. This is not debatable - it is a fact. At any given time I would rather see fewer politicians if it meant better education for a student. Overseeing a school district is a complicated business and requires more than the simple math some trustees seem to be doing. This does not make for good decision-making. Electing fewer, better educated trustees is more palatable option than having a greater number of trustees with less than stellar accounting skills and common sense – quality over quantity, as is being demonstrated in other school districts.

BUDGET OPEN HOUSE

The Budget Open House will be held on April 22 from 6:30 to 8 PM at the School Board Offices (see calender at the bottom of this blog for map & details). Please attend this event so you can see for yourself what the base cost of a trustee to date is.
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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Blogscape Changes Dramatically In the Langleys Over Night !

News Flash
Rumours are unconfirmed as to whether the Langley Blog mogul Richter family acquired long term competitor LP by hostile or friendly takeover. The over-the-top $12.69 share purchase price would indicate that this very rich buy-out of both shares was friendly indeed. Unfortunately both LFP & LP Editors were casualities of the merger with new Editor, Bee Albertz, being quoted to say, "Good riddance to them both!". The new Editor's editorial focus is rumoured to be purely classical and boring trivia like the odd tree planting on Arbour Day to prove that their new "Working Together" logo will remain just that...words!
Happy April Fools Day From All of us at LFP!

FLASH - LFP Goes International in Partnership With LP! - Local Langley Joint LFP/LP News Correspondent Has Break Through Iraqi Insurgent Interview


Happy April Fools Day From All of us at LFP!