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March 2010

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter

Comments? editor@dufferinpark.ca

Volume 11, Nr.2, March 2010

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For an independent community email list service and discussion group, see dufferingrovefriends

EVENTS IN MARCH

SUNDAY March 14: 1 -4 pm: “The great sugar-off” MAPLE SYRUP COOKDOWN, (at the main campfire area). Host: “Not Far From the Tree.”

From organizer Heather Kilner: “Scattered around the city right now are a dozen or so trees, lovingly tapped to collect their bountiful sap. We'd Tap That! has been Not Far From the Tree's pilot project in urban maple syrup production. But as the weather heats up, the sap stops flowing....which means it's time to make maple syrup!

Let us bring the sugar bush to you, and join us for an afternoon of syrup tasting, fun, and learning this Sunday March 14th. We'll be serving up tiny tastes of urban maple syrup in Dufferin Grove Park, graciously donated as sap by homeowners across the city. We'll have activities, games, and storytelling for all ages, and information galore about the wonderful world of maple syrup. Come on out and chat with some of our amazing volunteers about their experiences, and what they've learned through the process.

There will also be live music (weather dependent) and a warm fire. The Zamboni Cafe will also be offering maple-syrup-themed fare (pancakes, beans, and sausages) .
Note: ** This event will go on, rain or shine.

FRIDAY March 19, 7.30 pm – “open-door” Dufferin Grove STAFF MEETING after Friday Night Supper.

Subject: (1) what needs to be changed/cut out for the playground wading pool area this summer? (2) should pizza-making days continue? Park staff will be discussing how the park programs may need to be altered to align Dufferin Grove with city policies. This is a chance for park users to learn more about the details of running the park programs.

SUNDAY March 28, Noon till 3:00 p.m. 12th annual MATZAH BAKE at the bake-oven

From organizer Mitch Davis: “ Join us at Dufferin Grove Park to bake Matzot in the wood burning outdoor oven. See if you can mix, kneed, roll, and bake in 18 minutes or less.

Materials and instructions provided (but bring your own timer if you want to aim for 18 minutes). Everyone is welcome; bring the kids. Coffee will be provided by Ezra's Pound Cafe.  Look for dufferin grove park matzah bake” on facebook. Suggested donation to cover expenses: $5 per family.”

REGULAR EVENTS: FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER

Friday Night Supper is carrying on at the Dufferin Grove clubhouse even though the skating season is over. The current park cooks (Anna Bekerman, Mary Sylwester, Jenny Cook, Matt Leithold) have too many recipes they want to try, they can't stop now. The farmers still have so many root vegetables, the park shelves are full of preserves -- time to enjoy this bounty now, since the future course of events at the park is more-than-usually up in the air.

THE BIG MOVE: TINO DECASTRO IS MOVED TO A BACK OFFICE AT METRO HALL

As was reported in this newsletter and in the media, Ward 18’s long-time recreation supervisor Tino Decastro was moved away from Ward 18, and from contact with citizens anywhere, on February 19. Tino matched local initiatives with the needed support, which accounts for much of what’s different about Dufferin Grove, compared to other city parks.

Most of the city’s recreation supervisors have been moved to other wards since the arrival of the most recent Parks, Forestry and Recreation general manager, Brenda Patterson. The general manager wrote to objectors that supervisory staff have to be moved around to ensure "core competencies, training and skills development, performance, and succession management." However, this management style didn’t play well with park users. Hundreds of letters were sent to city ombudsman Fiona Crean, and a Facebook group (“Dufferin Grove Park needs your help”) climbed to over 1000 members in two days. It’s now at 1800.

Catherine Porter wrote a column in the Star, and the Torontoist, Eye magazine, and NOW magazine published follow-ups. All this activity prompted a response from Councillor Janet Davis, chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee of City Council. Councillor Davis has worked closely with Brenda Patterson on child care issues for twenty years and her letter made it clear that she has no problem with the management device of moving all the supervisors: “I believe that the dynamic life of Dufferin Grove, along with the many parks and recreation facilities across the City, will be sustained regardless of the individual in the position.” City supervisors in other departments say that they are also frequently moved, sometimes as often as every six months. The supervisors who talked to us have a different evaluation of the technique, though. They say it badly disrupts their relations with citizens, in child care, in welfare, in accessibility programs, in youth work. This needs public discussion.

ARE DUFFERIN GROVE STAFF IN “CONFLICT OF INTEREST”? (Editorial #1)

Although both the general manager and the recreation director told reporters in February that the current Ward 18 offerings of snack bars, skate rentals, etc. are in no danger of elimination, management pronouncements over the past year suggest otherwise.

Some background: last rink season I was told, and Dufferin Grove rec staff were also told, that staff must find a way to stop handling cash outside of city policies (i.e. at the zamboni cafe, skate rental, and Friday Night Supper). To drive the point home, the recreation manager (the one before Kelvin) sent everyone the auditor's fraud policy. Recreation staff made considerable efforts to adapt the existing, workable Dufferin Rink cash handling system to that of the city. The city's policy is designed for registration and events payments, but it doesn't work well for food or skate lending at all. In March 2009, the staff sent in a detailed report on possible workarounds, but that report seems to have been shelved without comment.

Attempts in winter 08/09 to continue the previous years' involvement at Christie Pits outdoor rink (working with the “Friends of Christie Pits”) were stopped by Recreation supervisor Kim Brown, saying that recreation staff must not handle cash, for food or skate lending.

Then at a meeting in September 2009, Malcolm Bromley, the Recreation director, spent some considerable time explaining conflict of interest to part-time Dufferin Rink staff Sarah Cormier. He warned her that her contributions to the a rink bulletin, recommending improvements for Giovanni Caboto Rink, put her in real danger of being fingered for conflict of interest by the city auditor. He emphasized that he was quoting from a conversation he had with general manager Brenda Patterson. As a follow-up to the meeting, Parks director Andy Koropeski sent me the city's Conflict of Interest Policy: "please see attached 'Conflict of Interest' policy which all members of the Toronto public Service must govern themselves."

And finally, Recreation manager Kelvin Seow told me in late February that he felt the staff were acting in conflict of interest, and that he intended to call them together to discuss this.

Back in 2005, the Parks and Recreation director of the time asked Tino DeCastro to work with Dufferin Grove part-time staff to prepare a report on what these staff do at the park. This report also went unacknowledged when it was submitted. But it’s a very useful document now. It’s time to ask management – again – to highlight those tasks that are against policy and therefore prohibited. That will help clarify the future of the park programs.

MEETINGS ABOUT “CONFLICT OF INTEREST” with Recreation manager Kelvin Seow.

Since the end of February, Recreation manager Kelvin Seow has met twice with Dufferin Grove part-time recreation staff and CELOS. To his credit, he made it clear in these meetings that he didn't mind people disagreeing with him. There have been two animated conversations about what actions of the Dufferin Grove Rec staff might put them in a situation of conflict of interest. Kelvin said that the first problem with Dufferin Grove activities is that staff might be doing work not in their CUPE Local 79 collective agreement. Staff pointed out that part of their job description is "other duties as assigned." Kelvin said that this sentence probably protects Dufferin Grove activities at the moment, but it may disappear when the process of job harmonization is complete.

Harmonized job descriptions for part-time recreation workers are being hammered out between the union and management. The question arises: "what about the third interested party, the public, do they have any input?" Kelvin said no, but "management is the agent on behalf of the public. We advocate on behalf of the public." It did seem very likely that in the new harmonized job descriptions, there may be specific prohibitions against part-time staff preparing food for the zamboni cafe, or Friday Night Supper, or skate lending, or pizza days. Nobody knows for sure (including Kelvin), since the negotiations for job harmonization are being carried on privately. Kelvin says he’ll see if the process can be opened up to the third element, the public.

In further attempts to define what activities put staff in conflict of interest, Kelvin was asked whether part-time staff involvement in CELOS, researching city practices and writing reports, was on the list of “conflict of interest.” Kelvin said that using knowledge staff have acquired as a city employee was not permitted under the policy. He cited this line in the policy: “Employees may not engage in any outside work or business activity...which use their knowledge of confidential plans, projects or information about holdings of the corporation.”

CELOS researcher Belinda Cole is working on an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to explore how laws, regulations, policies and guidelines may affect citizens’ abilities to shape our public spaces. She countered Kelvin’s interpretation, referring to Malcolm Bromley’s warning to Dufferin Grove part-time staff Sarah Cormier. In Belinda’s evaluation, “Sarah has no confidential information; in fact, she is often not even given the information she requests to do her job well and to keep park users informed about park activities such as scheduled rink clearing, picnic permits, etc.” Conflict of interest policies are an attempt to prevent insiders with power from having undue influence on city decisions, Belinda wrote. “To date, in Sarah’s five years of work for the City, no one in the corporation has ever sought her considerable experience or opinions about what makes parks and rinks work well for the people who use them. She is, in fact, in no position to influence city decisions in any way at all.” Stay tuned.

CITY POLICIES AND COMMUNITY BAKE-OVENS

Catherine Porter, made aware of the “local versus central” problem with Parks, Forestry and Recreation, wrote a second column on the topic on February 25, this time about the use of the bake-oven at Christie Pits. She wrote that the “Friends of Christie Pits” were alarmed that the tighter central control on permits was about to stop their Friday night drop-in pizza-making gatherings. If permit policy meant the park friends were going to be charged for a permit every time they wanted to have a Friday evening pizza gathering around the oven, and that they’d have to cover the staffing cost as well, pizza nights would stop.

The column really touched a nerve. The Star got a record number of comments, most of them angry at the City, and apparently from all sides of the political spectrum. Councillor Davis sent a letter to everyone who wrote to her: “Never, at any time, has the Friends of Christie Pits been asked by recreation staff to obtain a permit or pay a permit fee for the community pizza nights that have been hosted at the park. We consider these events as part of our recreation programming offered in partnership with the community. We look forward to a continuation of this program and can assure you there are no plans to change this arrangement.”

But the back story on the use of public bake ovens is a bit more complicated. The city has four parks with ovens: Riverdale, Alexandra, Christie Pits and Dufferin Grove. Only the oven at Alexandra Park was built directly by the City. That oven – built without consulting any of the people who used the other three – is too small and doesn’t work well. The others are public gathering-places around food, as they were meant to be. However, the Parks department has given signs in the past three years that they don’t want any more ovens. A policy was created, again without any user-consultation, that would have made it much more cumbersome to use the ovens. The policy was then stalled by the protest of oven users who heard about it. Apparently it still sits on a shelf somewhere in Etobicoke.

Neighbourhoods that wanted to add an oven to their park have been told that no new ovens are being approved (even with outside funding) before the policy is in place. And that’s where it sits, three years later. Meantime, from time to time, park supervisors have created rules that make it harder to use the ovens, or have suggested public ovens are unsafe to use.

Catherine Porter wrote to the dufferingrovefriends list: “It seems Janet Davis has not spoken to either the Friends of Christie Pits or the parks staff there. Her source is Malcolm Bromley. I am very sure that the Friends were given this message from the people running the program. Now, whether the people running the program were mistaken, I don't know.... What I do know is the Friends of Christie Pits have since been told they will not need to get a permit or pay for park staff .... That's the good news.” Time to talk about ovens, together.

WHAT’S NEXT: CITIZENS’ HALL (Editorial #2)

The B.C. town administrator and writer Andre Carrel writes that what’s needed to run cities is “Citizens’ Hall” more than “City Hall.” His phrase prompted park friend (and CELOS board member) Jane LowBeer to draw the picture on this months’ newsletter cover. Parks are good “citizens’ halls” because they have no walls, so conversations can happen at any moment, and debates about public space can be observed and joined as people are inclined.

Dufferin Grove Park is one of Toronto’s current hot spots for the contest between centralized control versus local shaping of public space. Working this out is not a matter of professional mediation between two squabbling parties. Nor is it a matter of people using their imaginations to devise an idyllic park. Nor is it a matter of constructing a local bureaucracy to pick between centrally-pre-digested options: would you like this blue plastic slide or that red plastic teeter-totter?

It might be a matter of centralized power winning over local resistance, but that’s still up in the air.

There are some complicated issues in public spaces, and people who want to participate in a “citizens’ hall” need to learn the details. Judging by the letters that went to the ombudsman (many are posted on the clubhouse bulletin board), popular understanding of the way this particular park works is already diverse and interesting. The participants in the discussion are park users of all ages, local park staff, local and citywide politicians, Parks, Forestry and Recreation management staff, reporters, the ombudsman, CELOS researchers, friends of other parks, neighbours who don’t like what happens at this park, candidates for all levels of government, academics, Facebook users....a crazy-quilt of actual and virtual discussants.

The weather’s getting warmer, the park will soon be green, nothing has yet been forbidden, and Tino DeCastro’s removal has tripped the switch. This is the summer for public discussions, little and big, at Dufferin Grove. Several years of general warnings and raised eyebrows need to be made explicit enough that they can be debated, by people enjoying the shade of those big trees, sharing a meal beside the bake ovens, or pushing a swing. Policy documents developed in distant meeting rooms need to be held up to the light and examined by the people affected. “Citizens’ Hall”..... maybe it will work, and there will be some energetic, engaging arguments, and enough plain talk to make it fun. Might as well try it.

Park bulletin boards are fair game for contributions too, and the virtual bulletin board of the dufferinpark.ca website. (Send comments to mail@dufferinpark.ca, so that Aseel Al Najim can post them.)

FUNDRAISER FOR THE HAITI AND CHILE EARTHQUAKES:

SATURDAY MARCH 13, STARTS AT 7 PM AT THE AMSTERDAM BREWERY, 21 BATHURST STREET

A group of the Dufferin Rink shinny guys are holding a fundraiser in collaboration with park friends at Amsterdam Brewery, with backing from the Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS), to help raise money for ShelterBox.

ShelterBox is a charitable organization that is providing tents and shelter supplies to survivors of the Haiti Earthquake and the Chilean Earthquake. Each ShelterBox contains a dry shelter, warm bedding, light and heat, clean water, cooking aids, and tools for TEN PEOPLE. Each box costs $1200, and they're aiming for a minimum of 5 boxes. For more information about ShelterBox, visit their website: http://www.shelterbox.ca

There will be Haitian food, Dufferin Grove bake-oven bread and spreads, live bands, a DJ, performers, a cash bar, and much more. At the Amsterdam Brewery, 21 Bathurst St., beginning at 7 pm. For more information: Daniel at: d_cayley@yahoo.ca If you can't make it but you want to donate: mail@celos.ca (charitable receipt will be issued).

DUFFERIN GROVE FARMERS’ MARKET, EVERY THURSDAY 3 TO 7 PM

As the weather warms up, more and more of the market will be set up along the outside walls, as well as at the inside tables. Here’s an excerpt from one of the March market e-newsletters, from Jessie Sosnicki: "Well, we’re certainly taking advantage of this awesome weather and we are seeding, seeding, seeding! We are not fooled, as it can get cold again and even snow, so we'll be ready to protect our sprouted and germinating crops in greenhouse. “

IS THERE AN ECONOMIST IN THE HOUSE? CELOS NEEDS YOUR HELP

The little research organization that started at the park, the “Centre for Local Research into Public Space” (CELOS), is trying to figure out many details of the city’s Parks, Forestry and recreation budget, as they affect parks. We have a lot of numbers, but we need some help. In particular, we need someone who can calculate the real cost (in administration) of charging fees for programs and permits. Is there an economist in the neighbourhood? Please come and talk to us: 416 533-0153.

Credits:

Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer

Published by: CELOS

Web sites: Henrik Bechmann, Aseel Al Najim celos.ca, cityrinks.ca

Park phone: 416 392-0913

Park web site: www.dufferinpark.ca

E-mail: mail@dufferinpark.ca


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