“Following advice from someone who’s spending your funds.” is strategically unwise.

The OED, like all other city departments, is judged by its success. And in a civil service environment, success is measured by spending. Never by cost-savings, nor by merit; but by spending. The more a department spends, the more ‘productive’ (successful) it is deemed to be.

 The OED proposes the following uninspired recipes…

  • The purchase of banners to ‘brand’ the BIA.
  • The purchase of street assets such as benches, followed by flower planters (which need flowers); which need a provider for the flowers and then a contractor to water the flowers. (Maintenance – an important detail never emphasized)
  • The next stage is to engage in a streetscape project – which usually is the installation of street lighting and installation of lampposts (which means digging up the sidewalks at an exorbitant cost and then paying for sidewalk restorations).
  • Thereafter, the next project is usually a ‘Gateway’ project which uses funds for no benefit to the members but pretends to brand the BIA territory – as if any passer-by really cared.

All these initiatives are ‘managed’ by staff at the OED. This staff is not business-oriented. A business-oriented approach would prioritize cost-effectiveness and mitigation of waste. Businesses are intended to produce a profit – cost savings help the bottom line. However, in the halls of civil service administration, the most effective yardstick is spending, which is is a measure of productivity.

The OED staff are civil servants who do not exercise any degree of diligence in order to protect the city’s interests or the BIA’s. This staff deals with the various contractors in a mutually-supportive arrangement, rarely subjecting the contractors to severe or on-site oversight.

This attitude tolerates cost overruns and the staff always approves such extras. That’s the approach and attitude that prevail. There is no thought to challenge a contractor, who once awarded the contract, has no fear from competition for ‘unanticipated exigencies’.

The staff at OED is wired to accept extra costs as “business as usual” and these costs burdening the taxpayer are given no consideration. Their attitude is the typical civil servant approach which is – ‘if extra money is required, increase the tax levy’.

This attitude is endemic in almost all civil staff – there is no promotion or merit attached to saving money – in fact, it’s the opposite metric… the more money spent, the greater the appearance of success. After all, if ten million is spent on economic development, then twenty million must be twice as good. The extra ten million might be a total waste – but that’s not the way it’s seen and interpreted.

The OED has their success measurements totally flawed – and that’s due to bad management and lack of diligence. And they sucker the local BIAs into engaging in these questionable, and often wasteful, projects.

The OED staff additionally deceives the Boards by claiming these “projects” really improve and enhance the mercantile environment and neighbourhood – but at no time are there any statistical analyses made available to support these claims. No statistical analyses are ever researched, created or revealed to the BIAs. No proof of improved prosperity is seen or shared. Their claims are all smoke and mirrors designed to ‘guide’ the Boards, whereas they’re actually manipulating the unsuspecting.

The irony is that few Boards which have been burned ever complain! It’s someone else who foots the bill. There are no personal out-of-pocket losses from any BIA Board members. This means there is little incentive to exercise oversight and contain costs. Certainly no incentive to complain because, (by revealing their gullibility), the victims will be blamed for their own stupidity. As for the OED, any mistakes it makes are simply overlooked because there is no accountability. And the staff is not likely to come forth and confess to making errors or lacking diligence – it evolves into CYA time.

Due to a high turnover of Board members, those members who have seen the error of their decisions usually are not around after a few years. And a new Board, which is vulnerable to manipulation since the new members have not learned from past mistakes, is ‘provided help and support’ by the OED staff.

If any Board should oppose or object to OED manipulation, then word goes out that they are ‘dysfunctional’. The Board is threatened or intimidated into quiescence. Any troublemakers are isolated and targeted by OED staff.

What I would do if I were a conscientious BIA member…

Conduct a survey of property owners and merchant-members as to whether they are pleased or supportive of their local BIA. Invite comments. Do not swallow the hogwash about how the OED represents 45,000 members.

That nonsense is also trumpeted by TABIA, which is a phantom and useless organization claiming to represent 82 BIAs and all their businesses. Most BIAs pay fees to TABIA because they presume it is a requirement. They are unaware that it is entirely voluntary. This misconception is another deception supported by the OED.

Find an outside agency to review and analyse the past 10 years of contracts undertaken by the OED with the BIAs. (Not available through Freedom of Information). You will discover such mismanagement and waste that will spin your head. It will also justify any action you choose to avoid being manipulated.

BIAs outside Toronto are much better off…

The first BIA legislation in the world was created in Ontario in 1970 through an agreement between the province, the City of Toronto and Bloor West Village. There are now almost 300 BIAs representing more than 55,000 Ontario businesses in small towns and large urban centres. Thankfully, the non-Toronto BIAs are not being exploited in the manner that is applied to the 83 Toronto BIAs.

BIAs initially consisted of mostly small retail businesses. Today’s BIA membership includes a wide variety of businesses: professional and creative services, high-tech, light industrial, restaurants, entertainment, and so on.

Non-Toronto BIAs are loosely represented by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) at the OFB roundtable. The association’s current membership represents more than 100 part-time staff and about 150 full-time staff who work for BIAs in Ontario. These BIAs have a combined budget of more than $40 million that is spent on enhancing Ontario communities.

In 2014 – Some key facts about BIAs

  • There are almost 300 BIAs across Ontario — employing over 250 part-time and full-time staff
  • More than 55,000 businesses in Ontario belong to a BIA
  • BIAs represent a combined budget in excess of $40 million.

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