Light Rail

Murray: 'I Would Suggest Reading the Email Again'

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 12, 2011

While he was backpedaling from the mid-July email that triggered a controversy over the city's commitment to light rail transit, City Manager Chris Murray told council, "I would suggest reading the email again. Understand that it said that we were going to finish the work that we were asked to finish."

So let's read that email again:

I have made a decision to suspend all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative other than any work activities required to be completed under the agreement [with Metrolinx].

Don't get me wrong: It's encouraging the that City Manager has heard the huge "clamour" from the community and is reaffirming his, and his staff's, support for LRT, just as it was encouraging to see the motion on LRT by Councillors Jason Farr and Brian McHattie.

However, given Murray's decision to "suspend all current direct and indirect activities" the city isn't contractually obligated to complete, made during Mayor Bob Bratina's steady stream of negative comments toward LRT over the summer and the fact that Murray's email came as a surprise even to the rapid transit team, it strains credulity to suggest that it was all just a big old misunderstanding.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 09:28:14

"all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative"

He was very thorough and doesn't even want any indirect activities to continue! So let's consider what an indirect activity would be...perhaps...if the city is reviewing bylaws, creating land use plans, etc. the Light Rail Transit initiative could have shared some of their knowledge and suggested some revisions that developers had passed along (revisiting parking requirements and height restrictions downtown, for example).

But we wouldn't want them to do that, we wouldn't want planning for light rail to "muck up" the rest of our plans for this city (because we probably won't get light rail anyways/we dont' want it) so we're going to suspend all indirect work to keep the light rail people out of that stuff.

Am I reading it wrong? Maybe....

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 09:34:14

I've read Chris Murray's email many times, and the meaning is clear.

What is particularly upsetting is that the City has suspended all work on the vital land use planning that complemented the engineering alignment study, but was not included in the contract with Metrolinx. This study has involved a huge amount of consultation with residents and businesses along the line, as well as potential developers, and was supposed to be presented to Council in March 2012.

Not only is the land use study necessary to get the maximum economic development from LRT by identifying development opportunities and barriers, it would have been useful even if we didn't get LRT because it would allow changing zoning to make mixed-use higher density development more attractive along the Main/King corridor.

On a personal note, the land use study occupied over half the time of the RTCAC (there was even a land-use sub-committee that met separately from the whole committee). This work is now largely wasted.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 09:49:05

Reading Murray's comments of the past 24 hours, I was relieved to learn that the public had no influence over public policy.

We can continue on our merry ways secure in the knowledge that City Hall continues to be ahead of citizens leading from the front and always does the right thing because they were doing the right thing already.

Comment edited by JoeyColeman on 2011-08-12 09:49:26

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By Synxer (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:09:52

I have made a decision to suspend all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative...

and

...to lead a staff team to aggressively pursue all-day GO Service

How could anyone misinterpret this?

Comment edited by Synxer on 2011-08-12 10:10:40

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 19:12:20 in reply to Comment 67919

How could anyone misinterpret this?

I'm sorry... Cherry-picking quotes and then connecting them with the Comment section equivalent of CrazyGlu is specious at best, egregious if I'm feeling pissy tonight...which I am.

RTH and its readers are better than this kind of mob-behaviour-by-way-of-the-keyboard.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the gist of the 'response' to Mr. Murray's email has been grossly mishandled. Hardly befitting the mandate-intentions of those involved.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:11:49

After reading some of the follow up pieces to this debacle, I've come to the conclusion that, yes, there is a strong possibility that this email has been blown a bit out of proportion and that the reshuffling of staff was well known ahead of time to coincide with the end of this phase of the study. Where things have gone wrong, I believe, is with Mayor Bratina. Mr Murray has finally returned from his vacation to calm the waters and provide some measure of clarity, something which the Mayor seemed unwilling to do. Rather, Mayor Bratina responded to the backlash against the perceived diminishing of the importance of the LRT study with derision, condescension, presenting false alternatives (GO vs LRT rather than GO AND LRT), red herrings and ad hominem attacks against "bloggers" and so forth. In other words, instead of providing clarity and calm, the Mayor got his back up and went on the defensive when he should have simply changed the framing of the message being presented on LRT.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:17:28 in reply to Comment 67920

the reshuffling of staff was well known ahead of time

It doesn't look that way:

We [the RTCAC members] were all under the impression that the planning would continue into 2012, and we were indeed asked to stay on another year at our June meeting.

At no time were we told that the Rapid Transit Team would be disbanded and that work would cease as soon as the Metrolinx money ran out. The first we heard about this decision was indeed the email that was distributed by Chris Murray, which came as a complete surprise.

I called Jillian Stephen (director of the Rapid Transit Team) to double-check my impressions of Chris Murray's email and its effect on LRT planning. She confirmed that she was not aware that Chris Murray would send such an email, and will need to talk to him to clarify what he means by essential and non-essential work related to the Metrolinx contract once he returns from vacation.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:58:39 in reply to Comment 67922

I knew I had read something somewhere about staff being aware in advance of this email that they would be reassigned. Ironically, this information came from our dear Mayor in his reply to Nicholas Kevlahan:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/2257/...

While I sympathize with the members of the Advisory Committee, my point about seconded staff being returned to their home departments within the City was more about internal knowledge of the upcoming changes rather than the public being aware. Ms. Stephen's question about clarification on essential vs non-essential work is a separate issue and worthy of some concern.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:14:28 in reply to Comment 67925

My understanding is that Stephen was not aware of this prior to receiving Murray's email - which, it should be pointed out, was waiting in her inbox when she got back from vacation. (Ouch.)

I'll give anyone the benefit of the doubt, but everything about how this was rolled out leads me to be deeply suspicious of a post hoc insistence that it was just a misinterpreted communication.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:16:22

Maybe critics misinterpreted the internal monologue that led to his unilateral suspension of anything beyond the obligatory minimum. That would be understandable – his pre-vacation mental checklist would have introduced a fair bit of pink noise.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 10:19:36

I would suggest not sending a loaded email on Friday afternoon mere hours before vacation. I would also suggest not arbitrarily shuffling the priority order of council-directed projects.

A huge kudos though to Murray for answering questions and being available to various media outlets, not just CHML.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 11:50:08

Can't help being reminded of the saying about how the devil's greatest trick was convincing the world that he didn't exist. LRT opponents' greatest trick could very well be convincing LRT supporters that they support it too. It would certainly save them from having to listen to all that pesky 'clamour'.

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By George (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 13:52:10

It's obvious to me that not only is there a "clamour", but one that is heard and felt.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 13:53:52

It was all a misunderstanding. Our misunderstanding, of course.

Chris did what any professional senior executive would do - write a game-changing, potentially disruptive and highly uncharacteristic email on the eve of his or her vacation and hit send as you run out the door, not to mention gagging the acting City Manager from commenting on the email.

Leaves me wondering if we don't have a full-time "acting" City Manager. From where I sit, Chris Murray continues to show me that he is in over his head in this job. When you stoop to blaming journalists and citizens for being stupid and misreading a perfectly clear, if unbelievably autocratic, email, it's really difficult to have any respect for the man. It was a bureaucratic disaster of his making. Full stop. He should own up to it and apologize for such confusing and ill-timed communication.

It's almost as if he's attended a workshop run by Bob on how to handle criticism.

Nice work Chris. Just what I expect from the Chief Operating Officer of a billion dollar corporation.

What's that they say about the Peter Principle?

Comment edited by H+H on 2011-08-12 13:55:03

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By TnT (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 16:01:40

Oh boy! Is it just me, or do many people have severe comprehension problems. My understanding was this was the death knoll for LRT. Boy do I feel silly now.

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By FesteringAllan (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 18:31:10 in reply to Comment 67939

insult spam deleted

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 22:38:51 in reply to Comment 67952

But wasn't the grassy knoll a death knell for a former US President. I am so confused now.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 18:44:47

Okay politics time. :)

If Mr. Murray is now supportive of LRT and his pre-vacation email was misunderstood, then that is awesome. Welcome back aboard, and how can we help you get it all back on track (puns unintentional and unavoidable).

Sometimes people who occupy a very bright public spotlight make mistakes and redirect their course. I understand the frustration we are all feeling, but it might be politically wise to support Mr. Murray for his change of tack. Holding his feet to the fire to back up his change of heart with action may be better than holding his feet to the fire about what he said.

Just sayin'

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted August 13, 2011 at 11:35:21 in reply to Comment 67954

I understand and support the intent of your comments, but Chris Murray has not yet in any way indicated that he has changed his tack.

Staff allocated to the LRT file has still been reduced by 80%. Saying that his email was misunderstood, while at the same time instructing people to re-read it is not the same as reversing his earlier decision. Reducing staff by 80% on any project cannot be viewed as a sign of support. It sends signals that will not assist Hamilton with the provincial government. Metrolinx board members and local MPP's have said as much. Not to mention creating a resource poor team of one.

We can choose to "use" his post-vacation comments as a sign he is back on track, but I think we would be making a mistake, both politically and strategically.

I understand the idiom of "attracting more bees with honey rather than vinegar", but when you get stung anyway, maybe, just maybe, it's wiser to keep up the pressure until the desired actions are evident versus just half-hearted statements of supposed support? Leaving 3 of the 6 staff Murray has removed from the file would be a signal of support. Passive aggressive commentary from Murray just doesn't cut it for me.

Comment edited by H+H on 2011-08-13 11:36:21

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 14, 2011 at 21:22:24 in reply to Comment 67976

Not only that but staff morale has to take a dive when the team gets broken up like this. I went to a couple of public meetings and you can tell staff really believe(d) in what they're doing, this kind of political crap results in people who really care eventually leaving for greener pastures.

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By Libertarian (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 19:09:57

I think Chris is taking a bullet for Bobbo Bratina....he is backpeddaling but so what...

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 19:10:36

Chris,

I would suggest TYPING the e-mail again.

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By AETHERMAN (registered) | Posted August 13, 2011 at 01:10:01

"IF" LRT ever becomes a reality, I'll bet those BIA LRT advocates and normal business owners along LRT routes will WHINE OUT LOUD about increased property taxes, having a much harder time selling their buildings, experiencing rattling windows and vibrations that will knock products off shelves and walls, make apartment tenants complain, etc. when LRT's pass by many times every day of the year! Steel wheels rolling on gapped steel rails send out infrasonic vibrations! Rubber tires on Buses don't do that! (db)

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2011 at 21:40:54 in reply to Comment 67967

Aetherman: Vibrations are a real issue in LRT planning. And significantly so on the soft fill substrata that comprises most of downtown.

Such factors are rarely of significance in an 'angst' driven approach to transit planning which we see in Hamilton.

This is the down side of uninspired activism.

A similar issue is at stake in Haldimand county viz the proposed wind farms, where such concerns are brushed aside with authority by green energy enthusiasts. Technology will take care of that with 'dampers' may well be the prompt reply that you may have already heard. But will it?

To understand the significance of vibrations on buildings and on the human mind itself via the ear - it is important to be open to thoughts such as these from those who spend their entire lives studying such issues.

Such intellectual openness may help plan for a more tempered and respectful society - if that is indeed the end game of green energy & compact urban-form activism.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 14, 2011 at 21:19:47 in reply to Comment 67967

Enough of the FUD please, this is nonsense. Try actually going to a modern LRT system somewhere and seeing how it works and what it's like.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted August 15, 2011 at 09:07:26 in reply to Comment 68009

Actually ZJones, your post is more nonsense than the one you're making reference to. The OP obviously has knowledge about LRT. If someone goes and uses an LRT system and 'sees' how it works, it does nothing to understand the complicated world of infrasonic vibrations. It's like someone saying "smoking causes cancer" and then you replying "nonsense, try smoking and see for yourself".

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2011 at 10:25:03 in reply to Comment 67967

I heard that in Toronto it's impossible to sell property near the subway/streetcar stops and even harder to rent units out near transit because of this very problem. The lowest property values and rents are in the areas closest to the rail transit stops actually!

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted August 15, 2011 at 15:17:45 in reply to Comment 67997

I'm sorry, but this is patent nonsense. I was a Realtor in Toronto for two years in East York and the Beach, and properties near subway/streetcar routes commanded a hefty premium over homes even a 15 minute walk further away. I dealt with both Rental and Sale properties.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted August 15, 2011 at 15:27:53 in reply to Comment 68028

Whoosh

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 15, 2011 at 11:22:24

The OP obviously has knowledge about LRT.

The OP obviously is just posting the same list of anti LRT talking points on a bunch of articles here.

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