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Parks and Rec Restructuring Diary
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Jutta's Parks Restructuring Diary:
Parks and Rec New Management Approach

Parks and Recreation is about to put into place a new structure that we think puts an end to the idea that a park is first and foremost a neighbourhood meeting place. Instead, there will be what they call a "functional approach," taking apart all the elements of a park and managing each separate element centrally. As the "functional approach" begins to take over, we'll keep a diary of the difficulties the new centralized structure creates (we have asked the General Manager to please exempt Dufferin Grove Park [ed. see An Open Letter to Brenda Librecz, the General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation] but no response yet).

- Jutta Mason, Editor

Latest Entry

August 18

Farmers' market day again. Partway through the market, the by-law enforcement officer returned. He went around to make sure that the vehicles on the grass were really vendor's vehicles. He was very displeased. I asked him to show me the vehicles that concerned him. Indeed, there were four cars parked on the grass that didn't seem to have produce in them. Anne, our market manager, came over. The officer said: "there were at least thirty vehicles parked on the grass illegally today. One man told us he's been parking there for four years when he buys at the market. What's going on here?"

We said -- the market's only been going for two years.

The officer said that next week there would be $105 tickets for everyone except the vehicles with a city permit in their windshield. We said, certainly no one should be parking here unless they have produce in their vehicles. We'll talk to everyone again, send out market list e-mails, put up a sign right on the grass.

The officer said: you can't put up a sign! If you put a pole in the ground for a sign, I'll give you a ticket! Only the parks staff can put up a sign!

I said, I know that. I meant I would ask the parks staff, and we'll get a stake-out done, and then a permanent sign can go in.

The officer looked unsatisfied. I guess if no one parks on the grass illegally anymore, there won't be any tickets to write: lost revenue for the City.

Anne went around and checked the four extra vehicles. They all belonged to the vendors' sales help. We got them to repark across the street. Now we'll get windshield signs made, and also put a big sign on a sandwich board at every market, warning people to park properly. From our point of view, our goal is to stop all customers from on-grass parking before they get a ticket. From the officer's point of view, he has to generate revenue. Our market is like the fish that got away -- that first day (August 4) when the officer saw a huge number of vehicles, no official permit, a $105 fine each, all that extra City revenue, oh my!

And then to find out that the City actually encourages and protects farmers' markets, and a permit suddenly materializes....maybe that's why the officer looked so grim. He's got a job to do, and we're standing in the way.

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posted August 12, 2005 from the August Newsletter

On Thursday August the 4th, a city by-law enforcement officer came to the park. He was shocked to see the farmers parking on the grass inside the park (beside their stands) and gave them a warning. The next week, he said, he would be back at market time, and would give them each a $105 ticket if he saw them even driving up to unload.

The officer then went down to the wading pool and said the food cart was illegal, the cob courtyard was probably illegal, and when he found out we have campfires in the park, he said that was illegal too. He also said that there had been a complaint about the food cart. Someone had reported that it was run by an (unnamed) private individual.

The by-law enforcement officer wasn’t much interested in our explanations. He described all that he saw to his supervisor on his cell phone, and told the park staff that his supervisor was “hopping mad” at what he was hearing.  

The officer summoned a public health inspector from another district, on an emergency basis. The inspector arrived and walked all around with the park with our staff person Mayssan. Then he wrote “unwarranted complaint” on his inspection form and left. The by-law enforcement officer left too, saying he’d be back.

The friends of the park have received a lot of support from park managers over the years. We called West Region manager James Dann, and described the situation.  It seemed clear that the problem here was a misunderstanding – the by-law enforcement officer had not heard of a park like ours, and assumed that we were getting away with murder.

James called the by-law enforcement supervisor and reassured him. He confirmed that we have had regular contact with Public Health, and the friends of the park work in close collaboration with Parks and Recreation.  It emerged that the main problem with the farmers’ market was the lack of a farmers’ market permit. (Since there are only two markets in Toronto parks, such permits are not a standard item.) So James arranged for an official city permit. That means the by-law enforcement officer will not come back next week and fine each farmer $105 after all.  

This is another example of the problem with centralized structure (management by function). Officials come from elsewhere in the city and find us confusing. They make a panic and the whole business takes so much of everyone’s time. We’ve asked for a meeting to discuss the real world of farmers’ markets, with City managers. We also hope that the Parks, Forestry and Recreation general manager, Brenda Librecz, will find a way to have our park administered locally, not centrally (see “Open Letter”).

The by-law enforcement officer who came to our park seemed just as appalled by what he saw here as the City’s Health and Safety rink inspectors were in December 2003, when they said that ours was the worst rink they had ever seen. You have to wonder: what would their ideal park look like?

For more stories of the effects of the City Parks and Recreation Department's centralized "functional" management approach, see "Jutta's Parks Restructuring Diary".

posted on August 12, 2005
August 4, 2005

Farmers' market day.

Park staff called me to say that a city by-law enforcement officer had arrived and had told the farmers that as of next week (first he was just giving a warning) he would ticket all farmers whose vehicles are on the grass behind their stands because there is no permit for a farmers' market at this park. He said the tickets are $105 each.

Then he walked down to the wading pool. He said that there have been complaints about the food cart because it's reportedly run by an (unnamed) private individual, and that he was sending a public health official out there right away. My sprained ankle made it hard for me to get down there but I suggested that park staff get this public health inspector to call the regional parks manager, so the manager could give some context to what happens at this park.

The by-law enforcement guy saw the fire circle and said fires in parks are illegal. He also said the cob courtyard was probably illegal. He was on his cell phone a bunch, and he told park staff that his supervisor is "hopping mad" about all our infractions.

Later the public health inspector showed up, not our regular inspector but another one called as an emergency. He looked at the market and the food cart and then he wrote on his forms: "unwarranted complaint." I called the regional parks manager and told him the story. He said he'd try to get us an official permit, so the farmers wouldn't be fined for having their produce stored in their trucks behind the stands.

One of the farmers pointed out later that one reason they have their produce in their trucks is because public health doesn't want them to store stuff in boxes on the ground.

posted on August 12, 2005
August 5, 2005

I heard from the regional park manager that the by-law enforcement officer came to the park as a result of a complaint - someone had called to say they'd seen a guy selling dairy products out of the back of their car at the park. I have asked all around and not a single park friend or park staff has ever seen any person selling any dairy out of the back of their car at Dufferin Grove Park. The only impromptu selling I've seen at the park this year is an Angolan lady who came once to sell children's books that promote racial understanding. That was it. So that dairy incident must have happened in an eyeblink, if at all.

posted on August 12, 2005
August 6, 2005

It turns out that Parks and Recreation had budget approval in 2004 to put upwards of half a million dollars into hiring 8 new by-law enforcement officers "to deal with parks-specific offences." The new staff all got shiny new trucks, but I'm not sure they have enough to keep them busy. An officer was going through park garbage for a few weeks in June to find evidence of private trash being dumped in parks. But she told me she only tracked down one or two people who were doing that.

So now this by-law guy has discovered our farmers' market and other crimes. But the regional manager called to say he talked to the by-law supervisor and to Permits, and once we get the piece of paper, we won't be violating any by-law.

Besides the half million dollars to hire the officers, the new by-law unit evidently generates plenty of work for other City staff. Our park in-charge staff spent at least two hours walking around with by-law guy on Thursday, trying to explain what we do here (to no avail), and then another hour to reassure the farmers. The regional manager had to put his other work aside to call all around, ditto for the public health inspector. All that costly staff time for suspicious activities at our park: a food cart running for six years, fire permits (from the fire department) in their 12th year, and a farmers' market that's been going for over two years.

posted on August 12, 2005
August 8, 2005

I got a call from the park staff saying that the by-law enforcement officer was back, this time using his digital camera to photograph the garbage bags in front of the rink house. He said there was too much garbage there, and that he was going to call the maintenance staff and tell them to take it away.

There were certainly lots of garbage bags, as is usual on Mondays after a hot busy weekend full of picnics and events. The maintenance crew came and took the trash away a few hours after the by-law officer called them - i.e exactly at the time when they always take the trash on Mondays. So what was the point of that by-law officer's presence?

posted on August 12, 2005
August 9, 2005

I started the morning with a phone call at home from a Central Permits staff person, saying that there was a concern that I might have violated privacy rules/laws by e-mailing the Midwives' Collective about their planned client picnic at Dufferin Grove Park.

I had responded to a mass e-mail invitation that the Collective had sent out to their client and ex-client list, many of whom I know. One of them forwarded me a copy, because she realized there was a scheduling conflict (the park's cob courtyard party for all the volunteer builders was scheduled on the Midwives' Collective's rain date). Although Central Permits say it's their policy not to issue a permit until they've checked with the relevant park supervisor, it seems that the Permit staff's park supervisor list was several years out of date. They sent the query to a supervisor who was transferred two years ago. I guess the e-mail got lost and Permits staff didn't wonder why they got no response. They just went ahead and approved the permit and took the money.

The Central Permit staff person said that because of Privacy legislation I must never again contact any group directly about any plans they may have for a picnic at Dufferin Grove Park. She also said that I should not be saying "our park" when I talked to her. This is not your park, she said. This park belongs to the City of Toronto.

Regarding the privacy laws: as far as I know, any message I send, on any subject whatsoever including the park, is not within the jurisdiction of the City, i.e. none of their business. I sent an e-mail asking the Central Permits head to confirm this. I'll be surprised if they answer. I may have to ask the City's Corporate Access and Privacy office for their clarification. One of the interesting things about rights laws is they tend to twist into a straightjacket very quickly.

posted on August 12, 2005
August 10, 2005

The area parks supervisor called to say that the farmers' market permit is ready. The market is allowed to be at the park every Thursday for one year, except for Thursday August 18. I asked why. The supervisor called Central Permits to ask.

It turns out that next Thursday there is already a permit, for Clay and Paper Theatre to perform their puppet show. I e-mailed the supervisor: " Happily, the park is fourteen acres in size and Clay and Paper perform on the east side, whereas the farmers' market is on the west side. No connection or conflict."

Clay and Paper Theatre have their own permit troubles. They intend to perform their play from Thursday through Sunday, but for Saturday their permit was denied because there is a prior permit that was booked through Central Permits. I don't know the organizers but I'm told there will be men wearing high heeled shoes, doing a walkathon around the park exterior, so they can feel the discomfort of women walking in high heeled shoes and express solidarity with them that way. The event may also involve amplified music, which is why park staff asked that they put their stage down in the Garrison Creek gully where the sound is swallowed up a bit.

Since Clay and Paper Theatre perform their play on the east side of the park, once again there is no conflict. It may be that Central Permits hasn't got any maps of the parks.

posted on August 12, 2005
August 11, 2005

The supervisor tried to explain -- it's not that the farmers' market is denied a permit. It's just that the CLASS system (one of the Parks and Rec computer systems) would not allow the booking. I guess it hasn't been programmed right. Maybe it's hard to program right. The CLASS company are generous in sponsoring park trade shows, but there may be some day-to-day problems in using the system.

In the afternoon four young folks from the park took a basket of our still-warm bake-oven bread (it was market day) and a card and a couple of newsletters down to the Parks and Rec general manager at City Hall and left it with her receptionist. The card repeated the request in our open letter "Please meet with us." Later on the general manager called the park to leave a friendly phone message thanking us for the bread. She followed it with an e-mail, saying that her assistant would help us set up a meeting to discuss "our Neighbourhood Service Model." So I guess that's what the restructuring is called. But calling the moon "green cheese" won't make it so.

posted on August 12, 2005
August 12, 2005

The supervisor sent a suggestion about how to avoid scheduling conflicts in future. I wrote back: "In this proposal, a group wanting a permit in the central or east area of the park would (1) contact the permit office and the permit staff would (2) contact the manager and the manager would (3) contact the supervisor and the supervisor would (4) contact Dufferin Grove Park rec staff and, working backwards now, the rec staff would (5) return the call to the supervisor and the supervisor would (6) contact the manager and the manager would (7) contact the permit office and the permit office would (8) contact the group. If there was an existing program that prevented the group from having the date they wanted, the group would (9) suggest a different date to the permit office, and the permit office would (10) contact....(etc.)" Centralization is very expensive in staff time.

posted on August 15, 2005
August 14, 2005

I got to see the new manager chart. There are managers of standards and innovation and of strategic and service planning and of diversity and of agenda coordination and service integration and of partnership development. There are 36 managers, among them five managers of management services. There are between 12 and 15 managers that will make decisions affecting our park (and at the same time many other parks all over the city, so they'll always be busy putting out fires somewhere). It's mind-boggling.

A reporter named Dale Duncan is doing a story about the park for Eye Magazine. It started off as a story about "how to do Dufferin Grove Park at your local park," but then the reporter got interested in the restructuring. She called up Brenda Librecz, the Parks and Rec general manager, on Friday to ask her some questions. Apparently Brenda told her that I seem to have misunderstood the restructuring, that my concerns are unfounded.

I've asked to go see Brenda to get an explanation of what I've misunderstood. What is it about 12 to 15 managers that I'm not grasping?

posted on August 17, 2005
August 17

There was no power for the playground food cart this morning, so I cycled across the park and unlocked the main circuit breaker box to have a look. All the switches had been turned off. There was a City vehicle parked on the grass nearby so I went and talked to them.

They were there in response to a call from me. About a week ago I had called for a City plumber, because the stream of water that shoots up in the park's little native-species marsh fountain, and then cascades down three bowls, had become too weak to reach the top bowl. Gene Threndyle, the artist/ landscaper who created the marsh and the fountain for free eight years ago, had looked at the pump, told me we need a new level regulator. He also called the City's trades supervisor to discuss it with him. We turned off the switch to the fountain, because low waterflow would damage the pump motor.

Instead of sending a plumber, the trades supervisor sent City electricians. They checked out the fountain and decided there was nothing wrong with it and turned it back on. Nobody told us, and nobody noticed until Gene drove by on Dufferin Street, saw the low flow, and called the park staff to turn it off again -- and they did.

So I called the trades supervisor back and he sent two electricians out again. These were the folks sitting in the City truck eating their lunch when I went to check the switches in the power box.

They told me that they had been thinking of disconnecting the wires so that no one could use the power box at all until the fountain had been fixed. But they had settled on taping over the fountain switch and turning all the other switches off too, which is why the playground outlets weren't working. I asked -- why would you even think of disconnecting the power completely? They said -- that way none of you could switch the power on and damage the fountain pump before it's fixed.

They added, there's no electrical problem, so we've called the plumber.

Price tag for central servicing so far: 1. call trades supervisor; 2. electricians come, don't find any electrical problem, maybe damage pump by restarting it; 3. call trades supervisor again; 4. electricians come again, don't find any electrical problem again, but switch off park power.....$400 down the drain and counting?

posted on August 19, 2005
August 19

I had sent an e-mail to the head of the Central Permit section, asking him to check whether the City's privacy rules do indeed prevent me from responding directly to a group like the Midwives' Collective if there's a park scheduling conflict (August 9). This reply came today:

"After consultation with the Privacy Office it is understand that the staff person's interpretation of this privacy issue was not correct. I have subsequently addressed this with her. Thank you again for bringing this issue forward and to my attention."