16 February 2010

A BAH in the Park

Today is budget day at Toronto City Hall and we are being told that it costs money to run a city like Toronto. Yes, that's true, especially when one realizes that BAH is far more expensive and less efficient than UCaPP, and the fair City of Toronto is a Bastion of BAH. Here is a small microcosm of a much larger organizational and management problem that pervades the tiny minds of the City bureaucracy. It concerns the rink at Dufferin Grove Park, and how City managers went out of their way not only to destroy a healthy, (UCaPP) emergent community organization, but to impose such utter stupidity in the name of BAH.
Parks and Recreation management is making it move to homogenize its offerings. Management says: No community boards of management for arenas. And in the case of outdoor rinks, the message this year has been getting ever more insistent: No campfires. No skate lending. No mini-pizzas. No woodstoves. No zamboni cafes with cheap food. No easy collaboration between rink staff and rink friends. Rink staff are cautioned: “you are in conflict of interest. Your responsibility is to the Corporation of the City of Toronto.” No visits to other rinks to give those other rink-friends suggestions, or answer their questions. Stay in your zone, and in your assigned place in the city hierarchy.

Lines of communication are strictly laid down. The recreation supervisor is told to stop working with his on-site rink staff directly. On-site staff are told to work only with the “recreation programmer.” If rink users ask the rink staff when the zamboni crew is coming to resurface the ice, rink staff are not allowed to ask the crew directly -- they must call the Recreation Programmer, who calls the Recreation Supervisor, who calls the Parks Supervisor, who calls the Zamboni Foreperson, who radios the crew and then calls the Parks Supervisor back, who calls the Recreation Supervisor, who calls the Recreation Programmer, who calls the rink staff. Yes, really. Every time.

The supervisor himself is cautioned about being in conflict of interest. His job is: to follow policies laid down by management, sometimes backed up by council vote, often not. If he wants to support special activities put on by rink friends, he has to ask the Permit Office, which asks for permission from the Parks Supervisor. If permission is given, Customer Service enters the information into the central permit system. If the rink supervisor is seen to be helping rink volunteers avoid paying a permit fee or insurance for community events, he is warned.
It's interesting that the phrase "conflict of interest" is bandied about. Whenever a bureaucrat seeks to reproduce his/her system of means as their main organizational goal (in the words of Manuel Castells) they create a huge conflict of interest, one for which we, the citizens of Toronto, pay dearly. It is little wonder that both the politicians and bureaucrats of City Hall seek to control, regulate, and punish rather than facilitate, encourage, and reward grassroots initiatives and things that just make sense. Not surprising that City Hall attracts raw ambition, power-seeking, and narcissistic self-righteousness irrespective of one's political bent, throughout both its elected and non-elected ranks, and among its associated agencies and services.

It's a sad state of affairs (and no, that's not meant to be a Giambrone punchline, but case in point...)

(Thanks, Michael!)

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