In his column Civic election post-mortem (SP Oct. 27, 2006), right-wing, anti-NDP radio talk show host John Gormley took issue with a poster that began circulating around Saskatoon in the late stages of the recent civic election.
‘In the last few weeks a poster campaign called "Ditch Atch" took this election to a new and ugly low. Full of half-truths and outright lies about the mayor, the posters were circulated around Broadway Avenue and the university…Somebody owes us an explanation,’ he wrote.
Gormley, a former Conservative MP in the Mulroney government and current in-house counsel at RAWLCO Radio Ltd., did not provide any evidence to back up his claim.
Having seen the poster in question and wondering whether it was indeed ‘full of half-truths and outright lies’ I decided to investigate the matter further. The results are below.
[Note: Passages in bold are the text of the “Ditch Atch” poster.]
In 2004 people from across Canada voted Don Atchison Canada’s Craziest Mayor.
On February 2, 2004, CBC-TV program Rick Mercer’s Monday Report announced that Saskatoon’s Don Atchison, in a nation-wide poll, was voted Canada’s Craziest Mayor.
Set a standard for closed-door meetings on critical issues; shutting out the public from decisions on issues such as development and policing.
– Since Don Atchison became mayor in October 2003 the Executive Committee of City Council, which the mayor chairs, has conducted approximately 22 special closed-door meetings. This is in addition to the committees’ regularly scheduled closed-door meetings and the most ever by a city council in recent memory. The public has no access to agendas, minutes or administrative reports from these meetings.
– During Don Atchison’s tenure as mayor the City has denied the public access to hundreds of pages of River Landing related records, this despite numerous requests under The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
– At City Council’s January 5, 2004, meeting Mayor Don Atchison voted against a motion that would have made public all of the correspondence with the Federal and Provincial governments with respect to the south downtown Community Development Corporation.
After one of the largest police scandals in Canadian history (Aboriginal freezing deaths), fired the one police chief who took accountability for those actions, seriously damaging relations with the Aboriginal community in the process.
– In his column More at stake in Sabo decision (SP Feb. 17, 2006), SP columnist John Gormley wrote that former police Chief Russell Sabo was ‘a good, moral and decent man who never stood a chance,’ and who had ‘begun restoring public confidence in the police, overcoming a sorry history and dealing constructively with race issues.’
Gormley went on to say:
‘Part of the reason that Sabo will likely be sent packing is the legal structure of the police commission itself.
It is a complex body that not only employs the chief, but also has legal and disciplinary powers under the Police Act.
It is no place for local politicians worried about currying favour with cops or personally wading into police labour issues.
Politicians -- at least ones without law degrees, experience in administrative law, backgrounds in labour relations or policing -- do not belong on this police commission.’
Unless I’m mistaken Mayor Don Atchison does not possess these credentials. He operates a men’s clothing store in downtown Saskatoon.
– As a councillor in August 2001, Don Atchison criticized the Board of Police Commissioners for not providing the public with reasons why former police Chief Dave Scott was dismissed. As mayor and police board chair in March 2006, Don Atchison refused to provide the public with reasons why police Chief Russell Sabo’s contract was not renewed.
– Nine days after Justice David Wright released his scathing report on the death of Neil Stonechild, Mayor Don Atchison publicly admitted he had not yet read the whole report because of a busy schedule.
– In a March 3, 2006, news release following the announcement that police Chief Russell Sabo’s contract would not be renewed, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said, “The FSIN is disappointed with the Board of Police Commissioners decision not to renew Chief Russell Sabo’s contract,” says Fourth Vice Chief Lawrence Joseph.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised by this decision, Joseph says, “obviously this is an indication that the city of Saskatoon and city council and the police commissioner don’t consider race relations a top priority,” Joseph says.
The FSIN was pleased when Chief Sabo was hired during a time of danger and turmoil in the relations between First Nations and law enforcement.
According to Joseph, “There haven’t been any frozen bodies found around Saskatoon while Chief Sabo has been chief of police.
Vice Chief Joseph commends Chief Sabo for his achievements during his tenure.
“There have been no reports of Aboriginal people being dropped off out of the cities. There have been no reports of any starlight tours since he started as Chief of Police.”’
– On March 15, 2006, CTV News reported on ‘an emotional ceremony for outgoing Saskatoon Police Chief Russell Sabo.’
‘For the first time in its history - the FSIN gave a police chief its highest honour - an eagle feather. A symbol of valour - for the bridges Sabo built during his term as chief.
During the last four years - Sabo has been close with the aboriginal community. The FSIN says Sabo has won their respect by dealing with issues others wouldn't touch.
Lawrence Joseph/F.S.I.N. Vice Chief - Justice: "Police Chief Russ Sabo went to the public and said yes we have something to fix, yes we have drop offs, yes we have the blue veil. Of course this is what happens - they let him go."
Sabo's contract was not renewed - a business decision says the Police Commission.
Mayor Don Atchison: "I certainly applaud the FSIN for recognizing the Chief for his hard work and efforts along the way. The fact is we still have lots of other issues as well we want to deal with, and we're just moving forward."
Lawrence Joseph/F.S.I.N. Vice Chief - Justice: "His rationale for letting this great man go, it's what can you say, it's laughable. It's not good enough."’
Tried to pay for a traffic interchange for the second East side Wal-Mart with public library money.
– At the June 27, 2005, city council meeting Mayor Don Atchison voted against instructing City Administration to negotiate with FirstPro that 50 percent of the overpass located at Clarence Avenue and Circle Drive be paid by FirstPro. The developer has agreed to pay only 20 percent.
– At the February 27, 2006, city council meeting Mayor Don Atchison voted in favour of dedicating incremental municipal and library property taxes on the FirstPro Shopping Centre property for 15 years to help finance the construction of the Clarence Avenue and Circle Drive overpass. The Stonegate Retail Proposal will include a big-box Wal-Mart.
Threw out a $125,000 third-party publicly-funded development study and chose to listen to Wal-Mart’s developers for advice on Saskatoon’s growth.
On December 16, 2002, City Council authorized a Regional Retail Study in the 2003 Capital Budget (project 2035).
In February 2003, the City of Saskatoon contracted the services of Rob Dee and Associates (Ontario), in association with Fast Consulting (Saskatoon), to undertake a Retail/Service Space Needs and Distribution Study for Saskatoon.
On February 9, 2004, City Council received the Retail/Service Space Needs and Distribution Study as information.
At the meeting Mr. Mike Gilman, First Pro Shopping Centres, advised Council that their application for development has been put on hold for over a year waiting for the Retail Study to be completed, and expressed concerns with some of the aspects of the Study.
Against the recommendation of its administration and consultant City Council rejected ‘that the introduction of new, major retail locations into the Saskatoon market occur in a phased approach over time, as warranted demand for retail space grows city-wide.’ The vote was 10-1. Mayor Don Atchison was one of the ten that voted to toss the $120,000 taxpayer funded report.
“We need to send a message to the private sector that Saskatoon is going to become the most business-friendly city by 2006,” said Atchison, referring to a resolution passed by a previous council. (City council opts for flexible plan to develop retail SP Feb. 11, 2004)
In Retail development hits uncharted waters (SP Feb. 11, 2004) civic affairs columnist Gerry Klein wrote, “There is no other jurisdiction in North America that allows unchecked development in any sector of its economy and it’s a stretch to think council would allow big box retailers – or any developer – to set up shop wherever they please.”
“It’s one thing being business friendly and quite another being slap-happy,” said Klein.’
Interestingly, only ten days earlier in Council to see retail expansion road map (SP Jan. 29, 2004), Mayor Don Atchison said he’d like council ‘to take one or two months to consider the implications of the Robin Dee retail report and recommendations.’
Ignored citizen concern about riverbank development, privatized a key piece of riverbank property (Gathercole Site) and sold it off for half of its market value.
One need only recall the packed City Council chambers between December 2003 and February 2004 and the countless letters that council and The StarPhoenix received from the public protesting the City’s decisions.
The City’s appraised value of the 2.43-acre spa hotel site on the former publicly owned Gathercole property was $2.9 million. The City sold it to Remai Ventures Inc. for only $1.6 million.
In a deal approved by City Council on December 12, 2005, Remai Ventures Inc. will receive a total of $3.1 million in tax incentives from the city over the course of the spa hotel’s construction and its first four years of operation. This, after Mayor Don Atchison had said there would be no tax breaks or subsidies on the hotel site and that the city must receive every dollar of the land’s value.
In a deal approved by City Council on December 7, 2005, Persephone Theatre will receive a five-year tax incentive under which the non-profit theatre will pay no taxes in its first year of operation in the new building, with discounts of 80, 60, 40 and 20 per cent in each of the following four years. The theatre will be exempt from property taxes during construction.
In Curtain call for theatre (SP Dec. 8, 2005), it was reported that ‘Persephone will buy a parcel of land at the corner of Second Avenue and Saunders Place for $30 per square foot, or about $888,600.
Mayor Don Atchison said that’s the appraised value of the land, not a reduced price.’
What Atchison did not mention, however, was that the land was originally valued at $32.50 per square foot.
On December 5, 2005, the City advised Persephone that it had obtained a fresh appraisal that differentiated between the values of the north half and the south half of the River Landing cultural block. The north half was valued at $30 and the south half, being closer to the river, was valued at $36. Accordingly, the City reduced Persephone’s cost to $30 per square foot, and that was the price reflected in Persephone’s purchase agreement.
Politicized the Saskatoon Police Board by removing its chair and installing himself as its overseer.
During the 2003 civic election Don Atchison said, “We need a police commission with the Mayor as the Chair to make the commission accountable to Council directly.”
The Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners does not report to City Council. The police board is an independent board that is not supervised by City Council. The supervisor of the Board is the Saskatchewan Police Commission, and ultimately the Minister of Justice – not City Council. The purpose of an independent Board is to act as a buffer or insulator between the police and City Council. Atchison seems to have failed to understand this important concept.
At the time of the 2003 civic election the chair of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners was Leanne Bellegarde Daniels, a citizen. It did not take long for new mayor Don Atchison to challenge her position.
In the November 5, 2003, StarPhoenix Atchison made it clear that “come Jan. 1, I certainly intend on being the chair.”
Atchison was confident that he would get the necessary votes from commissioners to assume the helm. “I ran on that and I think that carries a lot of weight,” he said. “The mayor is ultimately responsible for the actions that occur in the city. If that is the case, the mayor should be the chair.”
On November 6, 2003, Bellegarde Daniels resigned her position as chair of the police commission. Given Atchison’s “zero tolerance” policing philosophy and bullying, intimidating attitude who could blame her?
On November 20, 2003, the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners named Mayor Don Atchison as chair. Next was the matter of citizen appointments to the board. Atchison had campaigned on cutting those back.
On November 28, 2003, The StarPhoenix reported on a recommendation to city council by its executive committee that the number of citizen appointments to the police board be reduced from four to two.
“Elected officials will be accountable for decisions now. Before, when you had four non-elected appointees, they could control the board,” said Atchison.
City council adopted the recommendation on December 1, 2003. The mayor’s position on the police board now had the power and control that Atchison seemed to crave. All that remained was to wait until Chief Russell Sabo’s contract came up for renewal.
Bumped the East-side Stonegate big box development ahead of the West-side Blairmore development. Overdeveloping the East side, while neglecting the West side.
The Rob Dee & Associates Regional Retail Study (January 2004) recommended that the West Sector and Stonebridge locations be developed in two phases. Phase 1 (2006 – 2011) would involve 15 of 30 acres on each of the sites. Phase 2 (2011 – 2016) would comprise the remaining acres.
City Council tossed the report in February 2004.
In City council opts for flexible plan to develop retail (SP Feb. 11, 2004), Mayor Don Atchison said he ‘supports a new sequence for completion of the four giant projects, with completion of Preston Crossing remaining top priority, followed by the Stonebridge shopping centre at Circle Drive and Clarence Avenue, the same developer’s proposal for the west side and finally the city’s own serviced land in University Heights. That project was originally slated to proceed simultaneously with Preston. “I don’t foresee a huge glut of retail dropping upon the city all at once,” Atchison said.’
On June 27, 2005, city council rammed through the four bylaws needed to rezone and redesignate land for the Stonegate shopping centre. According to Council OKs contentious big box development (SP June 28, 2005), the 41-acre development ‘includes a 134,000-square-foot Wal-Mart with room from expansion, a second anchor store, restaurants and as many as nine stores of 10,000 square feet or less – a concession the city never granted Preston Crossing.’
‘Construction of the small stores will be phased in under a construction schedule, with no more than three built per year between 2007 and 2009.’
Mike Gilman, project manager for FirstPro Shopping Centres ‘told council before its vote that he doubted FirstPro would have a “real appetite to continue” trying to build the mall, if its terms weren’t accepted.’
Mayor Don Atchison is on record as having voted in favour.
On February 27, 2006, city council approved funding of the overpass at Clarence Avenue and Circle Drive clearing the way for FirstPro Shopping Centres to begin building a giant Wal-Mart before the interchange is built even though city administrators and council had previously insisted that the interchange be finished prior to the opening of the first store.
Mayor Don Atchison voted in favour of this as well.
In Rushing ahead with interchange cause for unease (SP Mar. 1, 2006), The StarPhoenix editorial board wrote ‘Atchison and others are on record saying that no shopping centre would be opened unless an interchange is in place to avoid traffic snarls and for safety reasons. Now, it appears that a big box shopping centre expected to generate traffic of 2,500 vehicles an hour during Saturday peaks could open with just a temporary traffic control light.’
Later, when the Blairmore Regional Retail Site was being considered, StarPhoenix civic affairs columnist Gerry Klein wrote ‘city council’s decision Monday night to allow the rezoning of the proposed Blairmore big box centre was really made last year when it allowed FirstPro Shopping Centres to jump the queue with its proposal for the similar Stonegate centre south of Circle Drive.’ (Retail expansion risky business SP May 10, 2006)
There is little doubt that Stonegate was fast tracked ahead of Blairmore.
The perception that the Westside of Saskatoon is treated differently than the eastside has existed for many years.
The City’s Community Services Department report Future Growth of Development of Saskatoon (December 2005) seems to support that perception. It shows that seven major retail sites are currently under development – five on the eastside and two in the westside.
Preston Crossing – 47 acres
University Heights Suburban Centre – 23 acres
8th Street – 17 acres
Lakewood Suburban Centre – 11 acres
Stonegate – 41 acres
Block 146 – 4 acres
Blairmore – 32 acres
That’s 139 acres of retail development on the eastside versus 36 acres of retail development on the westside.
Watched as the city centre’s last remaining grocery store closed, leaving thousands of seniors and poor people without accessible healthy food, and offered no solutions.
The Extra Foods on Third Avenue in downtown Saskatoon closed October 9, 2004.
According to Last downtown grocery store to close its doors (SP Sept. 2, 2004), ‘There are about 1,200 elderly people living in the immediate vicinity of the Extra Foods location, estimated Jim Wasilenko, general manager of the Saskatoon Housing Authority, which operates five residential buildings downtown aimed at low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
City Coun. Elaine Hnatyshyn, whose ward includes downtown, was shocked about the closure. “That is such a short-sighted decision with all the development going on,” she said. “I will be pushing the mayor and city manager to actively recruit one of the other grocery chains to open a downtown location to service that population. It is very much needed.”
There are about 4,000 people residing downtown, estimated Terry Scaddan, executive director of The Partnership.’
In Big demand for downtown grocer (SP Sept. 30, 2004), ‘City of Saskatoon statistics show that there are 2,470 people living in the central business district, and another 4,305 in City Park.’
The same statistics (City of Saskatoon 2003 Neigbourhood Profiles) show that the neighboring community of Riversdale has 2,145 residents.
In Waiting game over, mayor says (SP Dec. 27, 2004), Mayor Don Atchison said Saskatoon was poised for better things in 2005. A new grocery store downtown, though, was not among the things mentioned.
In Policing, development mayor’s top issues (SP Aug. 4, 2005), Mayor Don Atchison outlined his goals for 2006. A downtown grocery was not on the list.
In Mayor looks ahead to year of change for city (SP Jan. 3, 2006) Mayor Don Atchison said ‘Saskatoon’s centennial year will be a time of unprecedented construction and growth, and a year of remarkable change.’ A grocery store for downtown residents was not mentioned.
North Prairie Developments Ltd. bought the former Extra Foods property in April 2006. The building was demolished in July 2006. It has remained a parking lot ever since.
During the 2006 civic election Mayor Don Atchison hinted that ‘a private company has "supposedly" bought the King George Hotel and is planning to open a modest grocery on the main level.’ (Mayoral forum at U of S creates spirited debate SP Oct. 19, 2006)
Olstar Developments Ltd. bought the King George Hotel but has not disclosed its plans for the building. It appears The StarPhoenix did not follow-up to confirm Atchison’s claim that a “modest” grocery store will be opening on the main level.
Neglected existing roads and infrastructure in favor of urban sprawl.
“Priority for public funding must be given to City services such as policing and fire, public transportation and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, sewer and water. This is the business of a city. It must come first.” (Don Atchison 2003 mayoralty campaign brochure)
Since the October 2003 civic election the city’s capital budget has risen 173% while the operating budget has increased 17%.
The 2004 operating budget ($192.8M) contained no cuts in services, but no improvements to things like street and sidewalk repair either.
The 2005 capital budget ($165-million) included ‘more than $20 million to develop new neighbourhoods in the east, west and south – Willowgrove, Hampton Village, west sector and Stonebridge.’ (Civic budget breaks ban SP Nov. 26, 2004).
According to City crosses $200M mark with budget (SP Apr. 1, 2005), ‘Saskatoon’s (2005) operating budget clears the $200-million mark for the first time, but includes no improvements to core services such as snow removal and street and sidewalk repair.’
The 3.94% tax increase in 2005 was the biggest in four years.
According to $188.8M wish list (SP Nov. 24, 2005), The 2006 capital budget included funding for new neighbourhoods: ‘$15.9 million to service lots in Willowgrove, $4.1 million to continue developing Hampton Village and $6.1 million for roads and sewers in the new neigbourhood of Stonebridge.’
In the Blairmore area ‘the city will spend $19.2 million developing land and launching construction of a civic recreation facility and designing a new pool complex.’
According to City pitches tiny tax hike (SP Mar. 23, 2006), ‘The $213-million (operating) budget represents a 6.2 per cent jump in spending by the city, though service levels are expected to remain the same in most areas.’ The 2006 operating budget included no improvements to core services such as snow removal and street and sidewalk repair.
In Candidates debate city’s growth (SP Oct. 4, 2006), ‘The past three years under the current mayor and city council have coincided with rapid expansion of Saskatoon’s southern, western and eastern edges. Seven new neighbourhoods – mostly consisting of single-family homes with near-identical designs – are under development, along with two big-box shopping centres.
That’s a serious issue for about 20,000 university students who primarily live in central neighbourhoods…says Alice Collins, external vice-president of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union.
“The City of Saskatoon is currently is a phase of supporting and even encouraging urban sprawl,” Collins said in a statement to local media outlets on Tuesday.
“This has created a lack of essential services, such as grocery stores, within areas that contain high student populations.”
Where…Collins see(s) urban sprawl, Mayor Don Atchison sees balanced and sensible growth.
“We’ve taken a stance that’s very proactive,” Atchison said of the current council. “Yes we have new neighbourhoods springing up, but we’re certainly attempting to look after our downtown and core neighbourhoods as well.”
Proof of that balance is evident in the progress at River Landing, construction of the Galaxy movie theatre and several condominium conversions underway in the downtown and warehouse district thanks to tax incentives from the city, said Atchison, who is seeking re-election.
“People want to see new homes, they want to see things happening in their community,” he said.’
It remains unclear how a luxury spa hotel and movie theatre complex addresses the lack of essential services, such as grocery stores. As for the residents of downtown condominiums they will likely travel to the outlying malls and power centres to do their shopping, grocery or otherwise.
Atchison fails to mention that he said there would be no tax breaks or subsidies on the spa hotel site. The public was told that the development would stand on its own and that the South Downtown Concept Plan 2004 was viable.
Furthermore, the reason why Cineplex Entertainment built their Galaxy Cinemas downtown was because city council forbade them from building it in their preferred location – the Preston Crossing big box centre. The city changed the zoning on Block 146, where the theatres are located, from Direct Control District 1 to regular downtown B6 zoning, which may explain why the exterior of the building is so hideous. Cineplex also received tax incentives.
Meanwhile, neighbourhood roads and sidewalks continue to deteriorate.
Suggested that anyone serious about talking to him wear a shirt and tie (presumably purchased from his menswear store?).
– On November 4, 2003, Mayor Don Atchison instituted a dress code for those visiting his office. It was rescinded on November 5, 2003.
According to Saskatoon mayor rescinds dress code for visitors (CanWest News Service, Nov. 6, 2003), ‘Atchison said he changed his mind early Wednesday morning after reading the story and receiving a few calls from concerned citizens.
"Gee, you sound awfully arrogant in the paper," Atchison said one unofficial adviser told him.
"I guess what I thought was a good idea perhaps wasn't such a good idea," Atchison admitted, adding he also never intended to come off as arrogant, as someone striving to sell more suits and ties or as someone seeking to exclude people from his office.’
– At City Council’s September 19, 2005, meeting Mayor Don Atchison told councillors there would no debate on the proposed River Landing Destination Complex. They could speak only once and were limited to five minutes. The arrogant heavy-handed tactics meant there was no chance for rebuttal. Mayor Atchison also arbitrarily reserved the right to speak last, which Councillor Tiffany Paulsen described as an “abuse of process”.
Regularly treated any citizen raising concerns about council’s decisions with contempt.
Whether it’s big box stores, crime and policing, tax increases, the South Downtown, 57% pay raise for councillors, the prayer breakfast, traffic bridge, downtown transit terminal, disclosure of election contributions, broken election promises, industrial development north of Silverwood, annexation of the Akzo Nobel chemical plant or the infamous dress code, controversy never seems far from Mayor Don Atchison.
Over the last few years many residents appear to have had their concerns discounted, or were offended and at times ignored by the city altogether. Land developers and business interests, though, seem to fair far better.
The mayor is the CEO of the City. Don Atchison has often said that the buck stops at the mayor’s desk. Consider the following:
– In his first state-of-the-city address on December 10, 2003, Mayor Don Atchison appeared to insult Saskatonians concerned with the city’s built heritage when he said, “Those who wish to live in the past can, but for those of us who want a community to be vibrant and exciting we’re moving on for the rest of Canada to see.”
– With the election of Don Atchison as mayor in October 2003 brought the return of the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. The event was held on February 14, 2004, at the Centennial Auditorium (now TCU Place). During the proceedings it appears the mayor offended a good number of people. In Breakfast evangelism narrow-minded (SP Feb. 18, 2004), SP civic affairs columnist Gerry Klein wrote:
‘It’s one thing to hold Christian views – even strong Christian views as any minister must – and quite another to use one’s office to propagate the faith. This is something one expects from fundamentalist regimes, not in liberal democracies such as Canada.
And it’s hard to imaging the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, which took place last weekend, as anything but an evangelical effort.
The program didn’t include one prayer from another major religious group and, although it did have an invocation of prayer done in a First Nation language, it – like all the others – was a Christian prayer.
It was sponsored by Leadership Ministries and Campus Crusade for Christ and designed for a Christian audience.
This battle to separate church and state has been going on for more than two centuries yet there seems to be a push, of late, to turn back the clock.
And the fight sometimes gets ugly. Earlier this month, the pilot on a passenger jet crossing the United States told his Christian passengers to raise their hands – then told them they were right and the others on the aircraft should be made to find the “truth.”
Although he used different words, Atchison very nearly did the same thing Saturday morning.
“If you don’t believe in God or if you don’t believe in a Supreme Being, I honestly don’t know how you can go anywhere in life,” Atchison told the crowd at the Centennial Auditorium, presumably referring to those who weren’t there.
In his campaign to become mayor, Atchison made it clear there was no place in Saskatoon for those who didn’t respect law and order. Given his officially held view (it was the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, not Atchison’s), one wonders how welcome are those who don’t hold his beliefs.’
“I don’t forsee this ending,” added Atchison, who was honoured to be a part of it. (Mayor’s prayer event ‘elitist’: critic SP Feb. 17, 2004)
The event was held again on March 12, 2005 and March 25, 2006.
– At the February 23, 2004, City Council meeting I feel Mayor Don Atchison set a new low for contempt, not only for the public but also for one of council’s own advisory committee’s, which are comprised of community volunteers.
In Gathercole’s east wing also to face demolition (SP Feb. 24, 2004), ‘City council plans to start fresh in developing south downtown, voting to demolish the entire Gathercole building, against the wishes of a gallery filled mostly with objectors.
Council declined to act on recommendations of its heritage advisory committee to hold off on demolition of the old technical collegiate, voting instead to include the east wing in demolition plans for the rest of the landmark this spring.
The mood in council chambers was tense from the beginning of the Gathercole debate. (Councillor) Fortosky attempted to challenge (Mayor) Atchison’s decision to call speakers on the building’s future after it had received as information recommendations of its heritage committee.
The move essentially meant council declined to hire a consultant to consider the building as a municipal heritage site or forestall demolition. The gallery applauded Fortosky’s opposition to Atchison, leading the mayor to bang his gavel for the first time in his term.’
There were 24 speakers at the February 23, 2004, City Council meeting two of which were the chair of the City’s municipal heritage advisory committee and the president of the Saskatoon Heritage Society. They wanted to speak to the advisory committee’s report prior council considering it, which is the process council usually takes, but Mayor Don Atchison would not allow it. As chair, the mayor said the report would be dealt with first, and then the speakers would be heard, which, of course, rendered their comments and concerns moot. I feel the mayor’s behaviour and contempt for the public that evening was inexcusable. It was an abuse of process.
– Contempt of city council itself does not appear to be out of bounds, either. In Transit shuttles need tweaking (SP Sept. 14, 2005) civic affairs columnist Gerry Klein wrote, ‘Another issue in which (Councillor) Birkmaier was correct but which received little attention last week was over a letter Mayor Don Atchison was charged with writing to the CRTC advising that council has no objection to an application by the CBC for a local FM licence. The CBC wants to improve the reception for its programming in the city.
Although council agreed to the letter on Aug. 15 – with a deadline of Aug. 31 – Atchison received a letter from Vic Dubois, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Broadcasters, a couple of days later asking the city not send a letter.
Without seeking the advice of councillors, Atchison decided he would ignore the wish of council. As Birkmaier pointed out, by doing so he subverted the wishes of council. It may seem a small thing, but councillors and citizens should have the confidence that when they pass a motion, it is acted upon. Failing that, the mayor should have personally contacted his colleagues and made sure a majority supported his change of heart.’
It should be noted that the letter from Vic Dubois to Mayor Don Atchison was dated August 19, 2005. It was received by the mayor’s office on August 22, but not by the city clerk until August 31. It appears the mayor’s office held onto the letter for nine days.
The original August 8, 2005, letter from the CBC to Mayor Don Atchison was received by both the mayor and city clerk’s office on August 9. In its letter the CBC indicated that the deadline for submissions to the CRTC was August 25, 2005, not the August 31 deadline stated by SP civic affairs writer Gerry Klein. It does not change the fact, however, that Mayor Atchison subverted the wishes of council.
– At a civic election public forum held at the First Nations University of Canada on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006, Mayor Don Atchison was alleged to have uttered a racial remark and to have said something that offended a fellow candidate.
In Mayors' race turns ugly (SP Oct. 21, 2006), ‘According to several witnesses, Atchison came under fire from spectators who demanded a further explanation for the decision made earlier this year by the board of police commissioners -- of which he is chair -- not to renew former police chief Russ Sabo's contract.
Mayoral candidate Ron Kocsis says the incumbent eventually responded to the questions by telling the forum Sabo was "too aboriginal-friendly" for Saskatoon.
Those were Atchison's exact words, Kocsis said in an interview Friday.
"Everyone was just shocked. I think he just slipped up and spoke his mind." But Atchison said in a phone interview Friday he never suggested Sabo's departure was linked to his friendliness toward First Nations, he said.
'He-said, she-said' "I'm not getting into any he-said, she said.
Other candidates and observers said Atchison's response was less inflammatory and more like his previous explanations for Sabo's departure.
City Park community association president Tom Wolf, who was seated in the front row, said regardless of Atchison's word choice, his comments appeared to be taken by most people in the room -- Kocsis included -- as a suggestion that Sabo was let go because he had a strong focus on the aboriginal community.
Kocsis says Atchison later made a disparaging remark to him while they were sitting next to each other at the debate table during a closing speech by Lenore Swystun. Kocsis says Atchison gave him an up-and-down stare and said, "A guy like you wants to be mayor?" followed by a derisive snort.
"I don't know what he meant -- is it because I'm First Nations that he would say that?" Moderator Daryl Oshanek confirmed Kocsis interrupted the proceedings after Swystun's speech to demand an apology from Atchison, and Atchison refused.
Oshanek and Wolf said they saw an exchange of words between Atchison and Kocsis just before Kocsis demanded an apology, but they could not hear what was said.
"Strong offence was taken by Mr. Kocsis, and it was palpable. We were shifting uncomfortably," Wolf recalled.’
A half truth is generally defined as ‘a partially true statement intended to deceive or mislead’. For Gormley or any other media person to level this charge against someone would seem hypocritical. The StarPhoenix editorial board and its columnists, along with local radio personalities, are certainly not above appearing biased or publishing and reporting half-truths themselves.
As for outright lies, please – an absence of some fact-checking or at least showing an attempt to do so, perhaps. But intentional lies meant to mislead people I don’t believe so.
A lie is generally defined as ‘a false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood or something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.’
This from wikipedia.com: “Depending on definitions, a lie can be a genuine falsehood or a selective truth, a lie by omission, or even the truth if the intention is to deceive or to cause an action not in the listener's interests.”
I think it would be difficult to name one media outlet or politician in Saskatchewan that has not, on at least one occasion, stretched the truth to some degree.
In his column Gormley wrote, “As expected from any drive-by smear, the posters were anonymous.”
Really. What then of the large advertisement that appeared in the October 21, 2003, StarPhoenix the day before the civic election asking citizens to “Take Action Now” and “Vote for Change”. The ad claimed that “The current City Council has FAILED the Citizens of Saskatoon and we do not want to waste 3 more years with lost opportunities and no direction.” It cited policing and community safety, south downtown redevelopment, world university games and infrastructure – bridges & roads as areas where council ‘failed’. The ad was ‘Sponsored by the Coalition of Common Sense Politics’. The names of those belonging to the group were never revealed. I don’t recall Gormley or The StarPhoenix taking exception to it.
I think the “Ditch Atch” poster certainly could have used some double-checking of certain facts and better word selection. For example, the former chair of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners, Leanne Bellegarde Daniels, was not removed from her position, she resigned. Former police Chief Russell Sabo was not fired, his contract simply wasn't renewed. These errors are unfortunate but do not negate the underlying claim that relations with the aboriginal community were damaged and the police board politicized.
Overall, I feel the poster’s content, though inflammatory, is pretty much on the mark.
Civic election post-mortem
Mayoralty forums had little to offer
Special to The StarPhoenix
Friday, October 27, 2006
As the dust settles on civic election 2006, the pundits were fairly accurate. The easiest call -- the re-election of Don Atchison as mayor -- unfolded as it was anticipated.
The vacant city council seats of Ward 2 and Ward 7 were filled by ex-NDP cabinet ministers Pat Lorje and Bob Pringle.
Less a partisan vote than name recognition, both Lorje and Pringle have wide experience. And as both have had significant fallings out with the NDP apparatchiks in Regina, it should be interesting to see where they fit on a council that has been responsible for Saskatoon's most progressive growth in a generation.
The two most politically vulnerable councillors, Ward 1's Donna Birkmeier and Ward 6's Elaine Hnatyshyn, were defeated by Darren Hill and Charlie Clark.
While Hill remains a bit of a dark horse, Clark's deep roots within the NDP, along with Lorje and Pringle, may significantly alter some of the political balance in council chambers, depending on the issues.
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The most annoying parts of the election campaign were the mayoralty forums, where little constructive debate was had. Small wonder.
There was no time, once all the candidates were given an equal length of time, to lumber through the issues. Unfortunately, because of a minimal deposit of $100 and only 25 nominator signatures, any jackass can run for mayor.
Given the sheer number of candidates -- four of whom did not have a sniff of a chance of winning and several were capable of doing silly things for the cameras -- if the law doesn't have stricter entrance criteria, at least the debate organizers should have had the courage to limit the number of participants.
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Although Atchison's re-election was expected, the campaign by left-wing, anti-development activist Lenore Swystun was impressive for its organization, signage, web presence and ability to wrap itself in generalities such as boldness, engagement, transparency and dialogue.
After losing her council seat in 2003 and subsequently failing in petition attempts to save the Gathercole building and go after big-box zoning, Swystun has not been on a run of good luck.
But as in life, perseverance in politics often distinguishes people.
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In the last few weeks a poster campaign called "Ditch Atch" took this election to a new and ugly low. Full of half-truths and outright lies about the mayor, the posters were circulated around Broadway Avenue and the university.
As expected from any drive-by smear, the posters were anonymous. But in the past several days a number of people received an e-mail imploring them to be "educated" about "what Don Atchison and the current city council have been up to for the last 3 years."
The e-mail talked of the damage that has been done to Saskatoon by Atchison and said voters should "not make the same mistake of re-electing a poor civic government."
The e-mail attached a "Ditch Atch" poster and asked the reader to "print off some copies of this poster and put it up wherever you can. Forward it to people you know and who care about this city."
Somebody owes us an explanation.
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Now that the campaign is over, expect some legal manoeuvring on the fate of unsuccessful Ward 5 candidate Sandy Preston, who tried to unseat Coun. Gord Wyant.
Just days before the election, someone obviously thought it was a good idea for the SilverwoodHeights community association to send a "newsletter" to every home in the Silverwood neighbourhood with a "volunteer profile" write-up and photo on the back cover featuring, you guessed it, candidate Preston.
Besides being a cheesy attempt to influence voters, this brochure didn't come from bottle drives and volunteer fundraising. It turns out this community association got a handout of your tax dollars from city hall to fund these pamphlets.
And because every council candidate has a spending limit of $10,000, it is only right that Preston should have to attribute to her campaign expenses the cost of the publicity from this brochure.
If, as a result, Preston's campaign goes over budget, one should assume that the appropriate legal steps will follow. The Silverwood Heights community association shouldn't get a free pass either.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006