Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

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Extra! Extra! 

I’m pleased to announce a new joint-venture with Tim Bousquet’s Halifax Examiner.

As of July 1, you will be able to subscribe to both The Examiner and The Cape Breton Spectator for $15 a month — a $5 savings off the regular price. (And yes, you may upgrade your regular $10 Spectator-only subscription for the deluxe two-paper model — email me and I will make it so.)

If you’re not familiar with the Examiner, you’re in for a treat — paid membership means access to the work of writers like Stephen Kimber, Erica Butler, Linda Pannozzo, Jennifer Henderson and Katie Toth. Not to mention Tim’s own investigative pieces, like “Dead Wrong,” which won him an Atlantic Journalism Award this year.

Independent journalism has never been so necessary in Nova Scotia, now that Chronicle Herald owners Sarah Dennis and Mark Lever have bought most of the print newspapers in the province (including The Cape Breton Post). This cooperation between the Examiner and the Spectator represents the first step towards some kind of counterbalance. And who knows? Perhaps it will inspire others to join us.

It will also result in increased content, because the publication receiving the subscription with keep the first $10 but put the remaining $5 into a fund from which we’ll finance freelance pieces of interest to all our readers.

You can hear us discuss it in detail on today’s Examineradio podcast, which will be posted around 4 PM today (Friday) on the Halifax Examiner home page.

I’m so excited, I may subscribe myself…

 

United Way of Cape Breton

I realized this week, reading a Cape Breton Post story about the United Way of Cape Breton rejecting a funding application from the Glace Bay Food Bank, that I don’t really know much about the United Way.

Educating myself about it, though, proved remarkably easy.

As a registered Canadian charity, the United Way of Cape Breton has to make public a great deal of information, which you can access via the Canada Revenue Agency website.  The information available includes data like these from 2016:

 

And that’s just the beginning: you can find (for the years 2012-2016) detailed financial information, a list of directors, a summary of fundraising methods and a list of ‘gifts in kind.’ Most importantly, you can see a detailed list of all the donations made in a given year, and I mean detailed. The list for 2016 ranges from larger donations like these:

Whitney Pier Youth Club — $41,260

All Kids Early Intervention Services — $39,467

Elizabeth Fry Society — $27,429

Family Services of Eastern Nova Scotia — $25,956

YMCA Port Hawkesbury — $20,996

To smaller donations like these:

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of Canada — $129

Doctor’s Without Borders — $85

Loaves and Fishes — $85

Centre for Craft & Design — $55

National Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselling Association — $44

I think a case could be made for more transparency around decision-making criteria — especially given the agency is sometimes asked to distribute public money, as it was after the Thanksgiving floods, when the province tasked it with evaluating needs and distributing $500,000 to victims. The description of the United Way of Cape Breton’s allocation process from the local website, for instance, is not particularly helpful:

The process of allocating dollars to community programs is a challenging task – every year, funding requests exceed the amount of money available for distribution. This challenge falls to the Community Investment Committee.  The volunteer-driven allocation process ensures that every dollar is distributed to where it will do the most good.

In the case of the Glace Bay Food Bank, its plan to hire a coordinator for its garden program certainly sounds like it would fit into United Way Centraide’s “food security” column:

United Way is working to provide everyone with access to enough nutritious, affordable and appropriate food – from community gardens, to school breakfast programs and food banks.

I would also like to know more about this “e-CImpact” software the organization uses in making its funding decisions and monitoring “outcomes.”

But when it comes to documenting and reporting its operations, the United Way of Cape Breton is certainly transparent and accountable. In fact, it makes you wish certain local non-charitable organizations were subject to similar standards.

 

Positive Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

the positive change jar

The Positive Change Jar

I promised, way back in October, that I’d monitor CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s progress in implementing the “100 More Positive Changes for CBRM,” he’d promised when running for mayor. I was to check in on a monthly basis to see how things were coming along.

Ironically, I failed to live up to that promise, which means I must climb down from my moral high horse and be a bit more understanding of the Mayor should he, too, have fallen short.

I’d calculated that 100 changes over four years worked out to about one every 15 days, so we should now be looking at roughly 16 changes. I emailed Christina Lamey, the mayor’s spokesperson, to ask which changes had in fact become reality and she told me (in an email that carefully avoided any use of my name and was timed exquisitely to miss my Wednesday noon deadline):

Hello

An update will be available in the fall and communicated as part of the 2018-19 pre-budget consultations.

But I can’t wait until the fall, I have promises to keep, so I decided to go through the list (in order) and see what changes the Mayor hath wrought. As it happens, the first section, (“Accessible”) contains 15 items, so I started there:

1. Council will host a public meeting annually with Members of the Legislature and Members of Parliament to report on progress on the One Nova Scotia (Now or Never) report goals. 

No.

2. Applications made by the municipality to the provincial or federal government will be listed online with status updates.

No.

3. All Mayor and Council expense claims will be posted online quarterly. The $140 weekly allowance will be replaced by a standard mileage system used by the provincial government.

Sort of and no. The Mayor’s travel expenses for the most recent quarter, Q1 2017, have yet to be posted although today is the final day of Q2. If Councilor expenses are reported, I can’t find them. The $140 weekly allowance for travel has not been replaced.

4. Twice annual online updates to the community from the publicly accountable boards of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation and Business Cape Breton.

I haven’t seen anything fitting this description from either of these “publicly accountable” boards.

5. Improvements to CBRM’s Public Participation Process and the adoption of a new, clear policy that allows the municipality flexibility in applying an appropriate process to public consultations.

No.

6. A new “Open Data Portal” will allow public access to CBRM databases on transit schedules and stops, zoning boundaries, solid waste collection data, taxation area rates, fire zones, GIS data, etc. Our portal will be similar to Halifax and Province of Nova Scotia.

No.

7. Budget meetings will continue be held in all districts annually. In 2017, the meetings will also include the development of a community “Priority Plan” where the participants articulate the top priorities for their district as well as the broader CBRM.

Anytime you use the phrase “will continue to be” you know that what you are saying, by definition, does not constitute a “change.” As for the “Priority Plan,” I don’t think that happened. Did that happen?

8. The annual performance goals and strategic plans of each CBRM department will be published with the spring budget and the outcomes reported annually. These goals will reflect the priorities of this document and annual community Priority Plans. All senior management will undergo performance reviews related to the completion of their department’s goals.

I’m pretty sure none of this happened. Certainly, there is nothing under “Budget Documents” on the CBRM website that looks anything like performance goals and strategic plans.

9. Build careers for the next generation in our creative economy. The CBRM will create a Creative Economy Growth Plan and restructure to make creative industries an economic development priority. The One Nova Scotia report recommends “Expanding Creative Enterprise” and suggests a “need for a more strategic approach to grow the sector”. 

The CBRM paid the Vibe Creative Group  $48,430.00  to undertake a Creative Economy Study, and though I can’t seem to find a copy of it on the CBRM website, it was presented to Council in June, so I’ll give this one a YES.

10. Establish a Major Events and Tourism Task Force with government and industry partners to improve our competitive position for conventions, major sports and entertainment events. Strengthen our working partnership with Destination Membertou for an integrated and coordinated approach.

I’m thinking…no?

11. Renew the award-winning ARTirondack chairs project in partnership with Haley Street Adult Services Centre, Artpreneurs, YouthART Connect and Centre for Craft and Design

That is not a change.

12. Renew the SmART Spaces project to temporarily transform empty storefronts into public art spaces across the CBRM.

Neither is that.

13. Live music downtown. The municipality will initiate a special student hiring stream for young people with performance skills. These talented young people will provide live music on cruise ship days and other tourism-related events and opportunities across the CBRM.

No, although hire-a-student season is just beginning so I’ll be listening for them.

14. Create a production fund for developing and showcasing local performing arts at public parks. i.e. theatre, dance and music.

No.

15. Expand the Making Waves Concert Series from July only, to July through to October, at venues across CBRM.

It’s been expanded from July through to August 3 but it’s all taking place in Wentworth Park. However, it’s such a good event that even having the Mayor attach two unfulfilled promises to it can’t drag it down.

 

 

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