Matt Brown: Serious Times, Serious People

(Note: this is the fourth of five blogs on why Matt Brown is our best 
choice for mayor on Oct 27)

London has serious councillors who are deeply rooted in their communities, who have a deep understanding of municipal issues and who are planning beyond the next election with a vision.

London also has councillors who have brought our local government into disrepute. Councillors who are unprepared for meetings, councillors who utter racial slurs in chambers, councillors who disrespect citizens in the gallery and their fellow councillors, councillors who distribute inflammatory literature and councillors who flagrantly violate open meeting laws.

We need to move on, we need to move forward, we need serious leadership.

None of our problems are insurmountable but conquering them is only made more difficult with a city council that doesn’t respect itself or its citizens. A mayor MUST lead by example. Our past mayor certainly was not the right person to do that and his language during the 2010 election race, while folksy, should have been an indicator of that.

Here we are in 2014 we are faced with a race between a folksy, rookie politician using polarizing rhetoric and a serious and thoughtful (but maybe not terribly inspiring) candidate.

London gave “folksy” a shot and unfortunately we landed on the national stage on a number of embarrassing occasions.

So I’m done with divisive rhetoric from my mayor, I’m done with finger pointing, I’m done with antics in council chambers and I’m done with clowns.

A quote The American President seems pertinent: “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.”

It’s time to get serious, it’s time for Matt Brown.

Next up: What London needs.

Matt Brown: Leaders Lead

(Note: this is the third of five blogs that I will publish
over the next week on why I think that Matt Brown is 
the best choice for mayor on October 27th)

I was struck by a statement that one of the mayoral frontrunners made a week or so ago, when asked about his involvement in the community he stated that he donates to a couple of charities but that he gives in private. While I appreciate that this message may resonate with some, this isn’t how a leader leads in my opinion.

There are so many problems with the world today and we need as many people as possible raising their voices, kicking in their cash and rolling up their sleeves to help. A leader rallies people around issues that matter to them, to our city, to our country and to our planet. I think we can all acknowledge that our governments cannot solve all of the issues in the world and that necessitates that we citizens MUST take the lead most of the time. So why would a mayoral candidate not be one of those leaders? Shouldn’t we demand that these candidates play a deep and ongoing role in our communities? (And not just during the election cycle.)

Leaders gather us around, leaders show us the way, leaders teach and leaders sacrifice.

Matt is a leader.

Matt rallies community around a number of charitable causes, Matt rallies council around ideas and solutions and Matt reaches out to his community in meaningful ways outside of the election cycle (I’d argue that the ability to really listen is maybe THE key characteristic in any great leader). Matt reaches out to the community to fund his campaign (which I would submit is an opportunity to build community and to be transparent). Matt doesn’t make a huge deal out of his efforts but he does it all in the open and he rallies others to get involved. Lots of councillors kick back for 4 years and rarely show up for city/ward/community events. Matt is here with us, on the ground, when it counts for the community and not just for him.

When you look at your choices for mayor I ask that you please give some consideration to this question: where your candidate was 12 months ago. 24 months ago? Nobody needs permission to lead, everybody has the opportunity, they just have to pick up the flag and do it. Leaders don’t pop up every 4 years to run for office, leader’s lead … always.

Shouldn’t we demand that leadership from our candidates?

Next up: Rookies have their place.

Matt Brown: Let’s Get Working

(Note: this is the second of five blogs that I will publish
over the next few days on why I think that Matt Brown is
the best choice for mayor on October 27th)

Two and a half years ago the single most important public engagement initiative for the next 20 years was launched. To much fanfare the City of London loudly proclaimed: tell us what you want the future of London to look like, we’re listening. And boy did the citizens of London speak up. In one of the largest (and cheapest) civic exercises of its kind in Canada over ten thousand people spoke up. City planning staff engaged citizens at City organized events, at citizen organized events, at festivals, at workplaces, at Pints & Politics, on the web, on the phone, over email and on social media.

It was truly inspiring and wrote a new chapter in the citizen engagement playbook in our city.

After a year of crunching all that input, looking at best practices around the world and talking to world renowned planners  we now have a draft plan called The London Plan.

Matt Brown is the only candidate standing up for that plan. Is it a perfect plan? No. Past City Councillor Sandy Levin has pointed out a few areas of the plan that require changes, clarification and fine tuning. This plan represents the vision of thousands of Londoners who invested tens of thousands of hours in the plan and this alone demands that the plan be treated with respect.

One of the candidates has gone so far as to call The London Plan “a very painful fantasy”. I can scarcely imagine a more disrespectful thing to say to those who invested their time and energy at night and on weekends into this document. I was there in the room with these people many times and can tell you that the vast majority of the feedback was realistic and attainable (and being done TODAY in cities across North America and around the world).

It has been said that “Politics is the art of the possible”, well I can tell you that nothing in The London Plan is impossible. Is it ambitious? Hell yes and so it should be. If we want to move forward as a city then we have to aim high and figure innovative ways to get there.

Some will say “We have so many other issues that we have to deal with first” and to that I say we manage to do hundreds of things as a city simultaneously today and building our future should be in the mix. Treading water isn’t ever a viable option.

Matt is the only one talking about moving forward. The other guys are running on a platform of treading water (and, in one case, on doubling down on the bad infrastructure that is keeping us here).

The city has listened to the citizens, the city has a draft plan, let’s finish it and let’s get working.

Next up: Lead out loud.

Matt Brown: Better Together

Note: this is the first of five blogs that I will publish 
over the next week on why I think that Matt Brown is the 
best choice for mayor on Election Day, October 27th.

I’ve given a bunch of money, tweeted my support at great length, have a lawn sign and done a canvas in support of Matt but why am I backing this guy? There are 5 main reasons and each deserves a bit more room than Twitter has to offer so here we go …

Matt finds a way to move forward, not with a bulldozer but with understanding, compromise and negotiation.

Let’s face it, Joe Fontana was a subtle as 25 tons of high explosives. There was no middle ground for Joe. On day one he gathered seven allies (Joe Swan, Bud Polhill, Sandy White, Stephen Orser, Paul Van Meerbergen, Denise Brown and Dale Henderson) and rammed every issue that he deemed important through council against all logical argument, against all public input and against all advice from experts. This was democracy in the dirt. It was a disgusting mess and we deserve better.

During his freshman term on council Matt has been attentive, eloquent and composed in the face of this. Matt has done his best to build bridges while Fontana  was busy burning them down. I didn’t always agree with the deals that he struck but he was always looking for the middle ground.

Even during his campaign Matt has refrained from throwing mud, even in the face of 3 fairly nasty opponents. While Matt has defended himself against a pretty steady barrage of attacks (especially from the Caranci camp) I have yet to see Matt throw the first punch.

The other guys (and how sad is it that all of them are guys?) say they will bring council together with one breath and quite literally bash each other with the next breath. Put this one at the top of the list of reasons that democracy is broken (and the main reason that we need ranked ballots in my opinion).

Finding balance is the single most important role of a mayor. We need someone who can set aside special interests and their own ego and find a way forward that we can all live with. Matt is the only candidate that has the record to do this and he’s the only one that’s walking the talk.

The other guys are busy promising while Matt’s busy delivering.

Next up: Ready, aim, fire.

A Little Incentive

This was supposed to be a blog about a little fundraiser but I guess it’s going to be a blog on leadership.

Earlier this week I launched a little Twitter fundraiser, it was a quickly concocted idea and imperfect in a couple ways. Yes, there was self-doubt and hesitation but I did it anyway and in a few short hours 14 people had raised well over $800 for Matt Brown (a mayoral candidate in London) and $400 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF).

The next day a guy on Twitter jumped on me for not raising the money solely for the CBCF. I knew criticism like that was a risk from the start (remember those self-doubts that I mentioned?) but did it anyway. Why? Because no idea is perfect, no car is perfectly engineered, no software is without bugs and no house is without flaws but at some point you just have to “ship it“. And, as much as I *HATE* to wear it, the decision to “ship it” – the decision to move forward and to try to bring others with me on a mission – makes me a leader.

It took me 3 minutes to type the last four words of that last paragraph, I agonize over typing it. Like many people I struggle with the concept of donning the mantle of leadership, even long after others have pinned the title to us. Leadership is the willingness to step forward and do something (often an imperfect and inadequately planned thing) and to face the vulnerability in having others join you in the effort and to deal with the terrifying prospect that something you create is going to matter (or not matter) to people.

I’m surrounded by leaders (and it’s very likely that you are too). Here are just a few that I brush up against on a regular basis:

(I could go on and on but here’s a Twitter list of a bunch more).

Four years ago I sat in The McKellar room at UWO watching a TEDxToronto satellite broadcast. I had tried, and largely failed, to get people to come out to be inspired. The day stands out in my head for one reason; that I saw a talk by Drew Dudley (video & transcript) that inspired me to think about leadership differently. My lizard brain just as immediately told me I was crazy/unworthy/an idiot and a sucker for believing the guy.

I WAS an idiot. I was an idiot for not letting it take hold, for not believing in myself, for not recognizing the lizard brain at work and for not quieting it.

If it’s in me … a flawed, vulgar, thoughtless, undisciplined, over the hill, hopelessly optimistic, computer geek … then it’s in you too.


An Empty Box

See bottom of post for important updates.

Two men are planning a camping trip and decide to go shopping for new knives.

Matt cracks open the box for his new Swiss Army knife and says “This is so versatile, I don’t need another tool for this camping expedition”.

Roger then presents his knife box and says “Look! It was designed in London”.

Matt says “Very nice! Show me all the cool stuff that your knife can do.”

Roger looks blankly and Matt and blushes a little “Well I just bought the box. Did I mention that they made it locally?”

And so goes the campaign. In today’s Metro London mayoral hopeful Roger Caranci took aim at Matt Brown’s campaign website. I’ve been in the website business for 13 years now and there are a number of HUGE issues with Roger’s take on this issue so let’s break it down:

  1. Roger has a website and Matt has a campaign platform and that is an important distinction. Roger’s site is basically a brochure for his campaign: a very nicely designed and executed website, but that’s all it is. Matt’s campaign uses a platform called NationBuilder which does newsletters, canvassing maps, volunteer management, signage management, donation management, social media management, etc, etc. Roger’s site is a marketing person and Matt’s site is a campaign team. Roger’s site likely cost less than $10,000 and Matt’s cost in the hundreds of thousands (if not millions). Roger bought his and Matt is leasing a service. Aside from the very surface they bear no resemblance to one another at all. So the very basis of the attack is judging a book by its cover.
  2. Roger either:
    1. knew about NationBuilder and attacked anyway – so much for a different kind of politics.
    2. didn’t know about NationBuilder and attacked out of ignorance – his office is in the middle of tech alley and he did hire a top-notch web consultant so this would be inexcusable.
    3. didn’t think that the average voter would know any better so why not attack? Which is beyond insulting.
    4. lacks the willingness to figure out the difference between NationBuilder and a website before taking cheap shots in the media.
    5. lacks a competent campaign team to advise him on such matters (or, in the worst case, has a campaign team that goes for the cheap shots).
  3. Roger’s website is actually built on top of the WordPress which was made by Automattic based out of San Francisco. The “skin” of the website was Made in London (by the excellent team at Inspiratica) but the guts are open source and made (primarily) in the USA.
  4. Roger’s site is hosted in the USA (there are London options available but he opted to host elsewhere). So he’s being a bit of a hypocrite here.
  5. When you compare functionality and look at getting the most out of your team (which I would hope would be the NUMBER 1 job of a leader) NationBuilder is a far more cost effective solution than a stand-alone WordPress site.
  6. Roger has openly pondered the idea of outsourcing the City of London IT Department. With such a basic lack of knowledge or an unwillingness to understand technology why is he even floating this idea?
  7. Roger knows that, should he be successful in his mayoral bid, the city is obligated to go with the best bid on the best solution and often that will come from another city. The internet knows no borders and that has made the digital media pace in London successful. The time for mayors who think about borders before opportunities is long past.

I was never a huge fan of Roger. His record on council speaks for itself mostly and, in spite of his “new leaf” public relations push, he’s still the same old Roger and will take us down the same old path.

Let’s vote for the person that brings the right tools for the job and throw away the empty box.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that Matt’s site design was done in the US as well. There are no NationBuilder designers or freelancers in London. I speak from 13 years in the industry and you just can’t get any designer to design for any platform. It’s a lot more complicated than that and anyone telling you differently really has no grasp of the industry.

UPDATE 2: I’ve since been told that the template for the site was a stock template (basically an empty container) purchased some time ago and only slightly adapted for the VMB campaign. All content and graphic design work – all of the strategy, imagery and copywriting that make the website meaningful – was put together by volunteers here in London. Not only isn’t there any fire here, there’s not even that much smoke.

UPDATE 3: I had it mostly correct. Here’s an update from Ian Patrick Hines, the theme developer:

UPDATE 4: And to lay this whole stinking mess to rest, it turns out that Roger Caranci’s website was built on a theme built by based out of Queensland, Australia (see below). So while the surface design may have been done locally by Inspiratica, all of the guts of the site was developed by foreign companies (not that there’s anything wrong with that … Roger made a stink out of this after all).

To restate; as much of Roger Caranci’s site was done here in London, Ontario as was Matt Brown’s site. There’s no story.


A Thank You Note to Denise Brown

Hi Denise,

I wanted to thank you for taking the time to take the hard road on Fanshawe tonight.

You earned my respect tonight, not because you switched your vote but because you did your homework. It would have been easy to sit back and run with the opposition but you obviously did some serious legwork on this, legwork that many didn’t or wouldn’t do.

I can’t really appreciate the amount of time that you spend doing this job but I do hope that, in the case that you are successful in your reelection effort, that you will embrace more opportunities to educate your constituents on issues like this. Most of us don’t have the time or energy to spend researching these things and a little outreach from you can go a long way.

I’ve been tough on you on Twitter (I’m tough on many people) and this letter isn’t trying to make up for any of that. You’re my representative and I hold you to a high standard and tonight you did your ward (and the city) proud.

Thank you again,

Shawn Adamsson
Ward 11 resident. Ward 13 business owner. Proud Londoner.

Now or Never …

There are less than sixty days until the election and things are about to kick into high gear on the election trail.

So this is it, if you care about the future of the city it’s time to step up.

How? There are lots of great ways:

  • get informed – find out where candidates stand on issues important to you and your neighbourhood
  • volunteer – door knocking, flyer drops, erecting signs – it all counts
  • donate – council runs cost $10,000-$20,000 and mayoral runs cost upwards of $100,000
  • spread the word – talk to everyone who’ll listen and talk up your candidates

After a lot of consideration these are the candidates that I’ll be supporting (donation amounts noted as well for transparency):

Mayor: Matt Brown – Donated $750
Ward 1: currently none
Ward 2: Nancy McSloy (support withdrawn Sept 5)
Ward 3: Mohamed Salih – Donated $250
Ward 4: Jesse Helmer – Donated $284
Ward 5: Kevin Labonte – Donated $100
Ward 6: Mike Bloxam
Ward 7: Josh Morgan – Donated $516
Ward 8: Paul Hubert
Ward 9: Anna Hopkins
Ward 10: Virginia Ridley – Donated $100
Ward 11: Stephen Turner – Donated $500
Ward 12: currently none
Ward 13: Tanya Park – Donated $100
Ward 14: Jared Zaifman

I budgeted $2000 for municipal donations this year and it’s all gone. Yeah that’s a lot of money. Yeah we could have gone on a nice vacation or bought a big screen TV. Yeah it hurts. Campaigns don’t run on only good people with good ideas. They need money. Period. (Update Aug 16: I blew the budget with a donation to Mo in Ward 3 – Update Sep 22 – one FINAL donation to Josh Morgan to support the AdvanceVote app – Update Oct 2 – so much for final eh? Donated $100 to Virginia Ridley)

If you’ve watched the debates over Fanshawe downtown, food trucks, Reservoir Hill, PenEquity, bike lanes, library funding, public transit you’ll know how I got here. These folks don’t line up with me on every issue but I don’t sense any of the polarizing behaviour that we’ve seen over the past four years either.

It’s your time London. It’s time to step up in whatever way you can to help make change.

The Fanshawe Downtown Expansion: An Open Letter to Joe Swan

Councillor Swan,

If you read nothing else in this letter please read this:

For an additional $9 million investment spread over 10 years (already budgeted for economic development so no new taxes or levies will be required) the City of London is leveraging a $40 million project into an $86 million project.

How did I reach that conclusion? Here are the numbers (please feel free to point out any errors):

Fanshawe downtown campus project (original scope):

College promised:
1000 students a year

Funding from province: $6 million
Funding from Fanshawe: $14 million
Funding from City of London: $20 million
Total funding: $40 million
Per student City of London investment over 10 years: $2000

Fanshawe downtown project Phase 1 (construction complete):

College delivered:
400 students a year

Funding from province: $6 million
Funding from Fanshawe: $4 million
Funding from City of London: $10 million

Fanshawe downtown project Phase 2 (original proposal):

College promised:
600 students a year

Funding from province: $0
Funding from Fanshawe: $10 million
Funding from City of London: $10 million

Fanshawe downtown campus project (revised scope):

College promises:
2000 students a year

Funding from province: $25 million
Funding from Fanshawe: $31 million
Funding from City of London: $29 million
Funding from Downtown London: $1 million
Total funding: $86 million
Per student City of London investment over 10 years: $1450

Fanshawe downtown project Phase 1 (construction complete – repeated from above):

College delivered:
400 students a year

Funding from province: $6 million
Funding from Fanshawe: $4 million
Funding from City of London: $10 million

Fanshawe downtown project Phase 2 (revised proposal):

College promised:
1600 students a year

Funding from province: $19
Funding from Fanshawe: $27 million
Funding from City of London: $19 million
Funding from Downtown London: $1 million

To reiterate: For an additional $9 million investment spread over 10 years (already budgeted for economic development so no new taxes or levies will be required) the City of London is leveraging a $40 million project into an $86 million project.

Indeed, if you look at the total investment from each party again:

City of London: $29 mil – Province of Ontario: $25 mil – Fanshawe College: $31 mil

You will see that this is a three way partnership and does not have London bearing significantly more burden than either of the other two major partners. It’s also worth noting that the province provides 50% of Fanshawe’s funding.

Quoting from Emerging Leaders’ excellent post on this issue “Brantford’s Post Secondary Economic Impact Study showed that students attending post-secondary institutions spend approximately $26.8 million locally on an annual basis for such items as accommodation, transportation, food, clothing and entertainment, or $6,033 per student, while estimated construction and renovation costs over the next five years will support a temporary increase in income up to $110.2 million”. A four-fold return is, without doubt, an excellent strategic investment in the heart of our city.

Fanshawe has told us all a couple of important things that don’t appear in your talking points:

  1. They are facing a space crunch and will be in a crisis by 2018. So when you keep saying that there is no urgency here you are misrepresenting the situation (three years for a project of this scale is not an abundance of time). Moving these students into a new facility is imperative to free up space at the main campus to accommodate projected growth.
  2. Fanshawe stated in Council Chambers that they have already evaluated 20 properties in the core and Kingsmill’s is the location most suitable to their requirements. Your continued assertion that there are plenty of other options is simply incorrect.

In addition, the square foot cost that you continue to spread of $660 covers not only construction, renovation, preservation and land acquisition costs but also includes all of the chattels that are required for the school. If you have visited the new downtown campus you would understand that those are not insignificant. Fanshawe builds state-of-the-art campus environments and that comes at a cost. Council trumpets our world class education facilities all the time; those don’t happen by accident or on the cheap. And let’s not forget to include the additional costs associated with having buildings attached to both sides of the structure and that we’re talking about a hospitality program which is going to require five industrial kitchens and major structural work. Fanshawe has sought the counsel of a professional 3rd party to validate its cost estimates and they agreed that the numbers are good. Do you have reason to believe that these costs have been misrepresented?

While we’re on the topic of expert opinions though, we have heard overwhelming praise for this project from heritage conservation experts (LACH), downtown merchants (LDBA), Mainstreet London, the London Chamber of Commerce, the City of London’s own planning staff and City Manager, Art Zuidema. Nobody in this city is in a better position to judge the viability of this project than these individuals and groups. The depth and breadth of experience here is simply undeniable and yet you continue to disregard their advice.

And finally, I have heard you float the idea that other suitors for the Kingsmill’s space may be waiting in the wings. This would be wonderful news if it is true; however, we have heritage buildings throughout the core that have sat vacant for years. Fanshawe has momentum, Fanshawe has a proven reputation to deliver, Fanshawe has scale, Fanshawe has a plan, Fanshawe isn’t theoretical, Fanshawe is at the table right now. I challenge you to point to another project that will have anywhere remotely close to the same impact.

Mr. Swan, I’m addressing this to you and copying my ward Councillor as you seem to be leading the charge to ensure this Fanshawe deal is scuttled. Your talking points have become their talking points and there’s so much misinformation and obfuscation in this discussion now, largely as a result of your contributions, that writing you directly seems to make more sense.

I would ask that you reconsider your position on this matter. Short of that I ask that you stop disseminating incomplete and incorrect information in the hopes of rallying public support to kill what is clearly a project that is in tight alignment with this council’s goals of heritage preservation, youth retention and economic development.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

Shawn Adamsson
Ward 11 resident, Ward 13 business owner and proud citizen of London.

Gimme Hope: An Open Letter to Matt Brown

Hi Matt,

You’re a very likeable guy and that makes these words tough to write but this needs doing.

You were first to throw your hat in the ring and it’s looking like you’re going to be the only serious progressive candidate running in the 2014 municipal election. There were rumbling of your decision long before January and I was concerned.

Is it because you won’t make a good leader? No.
Is it because you don’t have a good grasp on municipal issues? No.
Is it because you won’t work hard to build consensus? No.

It’s because I didn’t sense passion in you … for the job or the city. But at the behest of a bunch of very smart people I didn’t say much. I know that ramping up a mayoral campaign is tough and I was hoping that passion would take hold and we’d all start to see it. But it’s not happening Matt and, with only 100 days left until the election, time is running out.

I’ve given you money and you’ll probably get my vote but goddamn it Matt you’re not making it easy.

Where’s the fire in your belly? What is it going to take to feel that energy from you? The mayor is more than just a single vote on council, the mayor sets the tone for our community and London is in serious need of hope.

Today Joni Baechler donned the mantle of Mayor and, make no mistake, she will raise the bar on that office. You have to find your passion, you have to tell us why you’re running and you gotta make us believe it. Make us aspire to something better.

Give me something to fight for Matt.

Give me hope. Do it.