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He rose faster than the space shuttle.
George Duncan, who until last week was the public works administrator, was promoted to the city administrator's role.
It wasn't the first promotion for the 47-year-old.
Duncan has been promoted five times in his 10-year stint as a city employee. He started out as a regular lunch-bucket worker, rose through the ranks to take the city's top job, and now wears a suit and sits in a large office located next to the mayor.
That's quite the leap from his first job with the city as a maintenance worker.
"I'm no rocket scientist or anything," he said in an interview Monday. "It's not that I'm any boy wonder, it's just that I came in here lower than where my experience and knowledge would have me in the first place."
He took the low level job with the city so that he could spend more time with his three young kids in their new home in South Surrey.
"When I adopted my first child...I just made a decision right there that I would sacrifice the money. So I thought I was taking a lower level job that wouldn't be as demanding, but I kept getting promoted."
He does, however, have plenty of managerial experience. He led a team of engineers at Proctor and Gamble, was a developer, and owned a fitness gym. Duncan takes over at a time when he says morale is poor. A two-year-long restructuring program that saw some jobs axed is ending. And at the same time, the city has to make up for a $3.7 million-cut in provincial grants.
Some more staff could be laid off, he said.
"When you've gone through the changes that we've gone through over the last two years it's inevitable that you are going to have problems with morale," he said. "Some people might be fearful. Some people live with uncertainty and that affects their performance."
And contrary to what some might think, he does not have a plan in his "back pocket" to continue restructuring and laying off workers, he said.
"At this point I would say we are near the end of the job cutting or the efficiencies that we need to achieve for the 1997 budget," he said. "I would say that there will always be the possibility of job cuts due to performance."
Critics have previously said the city has too many highly paid bureaucrats, but Duncan disagrees.
"I know in public works sometimes we have one manager that has managed 75 to 90 staff, whereas in some places (cities) you get a manager with one manager to five or six staff. So I don't believe the bureaucracy here is really top heavy. I have never thought Richmond is fat where we've got three people doing the work that only one could do."
One of George Duncan's first tasks as the new city administrator is to re-write a policy that allowed him to receive thousands of dollars in extra pay.
Duncan confirmed that he received so much extra pay as a duty manager that he had to re-write a policy for on-call emergencies.
"Yes, it looks bad because it looks like `look at this one person, look at all this extra money this person made," Duncan said.
Duncan earned $27,728 in "stand-by" and "call-out" pay in 1995, according to an internal memo dated August 30 obtained by The Review.
"I would have been happy to give it up anytime," he said Monday. "And the moment I had enough people trained that could cover, I did give it up. I'm not even in it (anymore)."
Duty managers are called at all hours of the night when an emergency occurs such as water leaks, electrical problems, floods and broken sewer lines. They aren't allowed to drink alcohol, must be close to a cellular phone or pager, and be able to drive to the city within half-an-hour and at a moment's notice, Duncan said.
Normally, the work would be split up between managers in three divisions. But in the past few years, only Duncan and another manager were available in the public works section, he explained. And when the other manager became ill and later retired, Duncan was the only one qualified for stand-by in that division.
"I have a young family and having to be on stand-by all the time for me was a nightmare," said Duncan, a single parent of three young children.
"You are getting called two or three times a night even if you don't have to come out. You get calls at 2 a.m., 4 a.m., 6 a.m.."
"Every time I was on stand-by I had to pay my child care person to stay overnight in my house so that when I was called out there was someone there with my young kids."
The extra child-care cost him $2,000 more than what he received in pay, he said.
Mayor Greg Halsey-Brandt said the extra pay is acceptable.
"It was killing his private life, but he couldn't say no because he was the manager responsible," he said Tuesday.
"When we saw it we scratched our heads and asked the same questions," he added.
By next week, Duncan said the policy will be re-written so that the three divisions will be merged into one. That will allow more managers, once trained, to be available for stand-by and call-out duties. Each manager will then only be eligible for those duties once every 12 or 13 weeks.
Speed and the lack of a seatbelt proved to be a deadly combination for a Richmond man killed while driving his car on the Georgia viaduct last week in Vancouver.
Craig Stephen Kelsch, 26, was driving a white Mazda eastbound at an estimated 120 km/h when an attempt at a lane change sent the car into another vehicle and crashing into a pole.
The accident happened last Thursday (March 6) at 10:40 p.m. Police released the name of the driver Tuesday.
Not wearing a seatbelt, Kelsch suffered massive chest trauma when he hit the steering column on impact. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A passenger - who was wearing a seatbelt - broke a collarbone and suffered no other injuries.
Police suspect liquor was involved in the crash. Toxicology results are not expected for several weeks.
Just as actors in movies find their roles based largely on their appearance, opera singers are cast based on the sound of their voice.
As a mezzo-soprano, Richmond High grad Charlene Pauls gets to choose from an unlikely combination of roles: cranky women, crazy women and young boys - such as Cherubino in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro."
"It keeps me going - I'm never bored," laughed the Richmond native in an interview with The Review yesterday.
Pauls was in town this weekend from her adopted home town of Winnipeg, to sing in an oratorio (soloists and a choir) at the Orpheum theatre last night (Friday) as part of a Trinity Western University concert series.
Pauls, 30, is busy building a singing career that has so far taken her to Germany, France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, as well as Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
Most recently she sang during the CBC-Radio's broadcast of Schubert's "Mass in E Flat Major," conducted by Robert Shaw whom she calls a "musical patriarch."
"I sent him a tape of my singing and he invited me to be the soloist - it was a real honor."
Finding operatic roles as a relative unknown is a matter of publicity - the more you're known the more you'll work.
Pauls says life so far has been very good - she sang recently in Germany while pregnant, has travelled across the country in the company of her five-month-old daughter and is in the process of producing a compact disc of her work which should be available later this spring.
While Europe is an easier venue because Europeans are more comfortable with opera, Pauls would like opera made more accessible to young Canadians.
"Nosferatu," the enticingly gruesome story of Dracula, has been told from the perspective of Dracula's daughter in a modern opera composed by Pauls' Winnipeg friend Randolph Peters.
That kind of modernization, says Pauls, is the way to attract a new generation of opera-goers.
"Older operas can be archaic and politically incorrect. A feminist can walk out of there feeling not very good about herself," Pauls says. "Modern operas can make issues more relevant."
Her own school days are somewhat far away, but Paul credits singing in the school choir while she attended Mitchell elementary as having helped develop her love of music.
Many years later, that love has grown to a passion - one that has her travelling and singing and living out a dream.
"It's neat, yes, and it's difficult. But I have a real love for this."
Five local members of a local Taiwanese gang, who allegedly tried to force Richmond secondary school students to join their ranks, were arrested by Richmond RCMP this week.
RCMP Cpl. Steve Wills, head of the gang section, said a four-day investigation led police to arrest the gang members, who used violence and threats of violence in forcing students to join their gang.
The intimidated students were forced to pay initiation and "loyalty" fees, police said. In some instances, victims paid between $400 and $800.
Charged with assault, extortion and theft are Wei Hung Daniel Tseng, Chi Shun Jason Lo, Hsien Jen David Tsao, and Shu Hung Steven Wang, all 19 and from Richmond. A 15-year-old Richmond youth was also charged, but cannot be named under provisions of the Young Offenders Act.
After a nine-month delay, Richmond's frozen school projects are being thawed, and for good measure the provincial government threw in some unexpected bonuses.
Four badly-needed school construction projects were put on hold last summer. On Friday, Education Minister Paul Ramsey announced work can proceed at Hugh McRoberts secondary and that the new MacNeil high school for the city centre is going ahead. Planning for renovations at J.N. Burnett and R.C. Palmer highs will also go ahead, he added.
He also gave the go-ahead for two other projects, not caught up in the recent freeze. Construction at Matthew McNair secondary and planning for renovations at Tomsett elementary will begin during the 1997/98 school term. Ramsey's announcement does come with a condition, however, and it could be a tough pill to swallow.
"We have to consider extended days in order to get the projects," said Richmond school trustee Chris Evans (RNPA).
Extended days is when students attend classes at different times, reducing the need for more space. It's a popular idea with the Education Ministry because it reduces the construction size - and cost - of projects, Ramsey told The Review. Five of the six projects announced are tagged with the extended days condition. "It's not something that we can ignore," Evans said. "I don't think we have a choice. In some ways, we have to implement extended days."
The school district's reluctance to include extended days was one reason why the four projects remained on hold. Richmond's school trustees have hesitated with extended days because it increases operating costs and apparently doesn't relieve over-crowding.
Regardless of the condition, Richmond trustees are "thrilled" that the previously-frozen projects are now going ahead, Evans added.
The spending freeze was a headache for everyone, Ramsey said. But in the end, he said, the government found ways to save $187 million in various projects across B.C.
Ramsey also noted the ministry has spent $144 million upgrading local schools and created 5,200 new spaces in recent years. School projects given the green light Friday include:
Wanted: taxi drivers with new cars, who dress smart, are pleasant and know their way around town.
That's the ideal cabby in the eyes of the Vancouver International Airport Authority. The problem is there aren't that many of them, so new rules were introduced this week to help produce better taxi service.
When asked why the new rules were issued, Airport spokesperson Earle Weichel replied: "Have you ever taken a taxi from the airport? The average age of the taxis is 9.5 years and some are 17-years-old."
"We felt that we owed it to our customers to make sure taxis are safe and clean," he said Thursday, adding there have been complaints.
The single largest source for taxi fares in B.C. is at the airport.
Taxi operators were consulted about the changes more than a year ago, he said.
Several cabbies found milling around an airport service road Friday morning had yet to hear the full extent of the new regulations. A few yards away workers were seen setting up an information tent to help inform them of the new rules.
The cabbies had a list of complaints, mainly that the airport was stinging them with new, higher fees. While the airport is going to chop taxi licences from $1,440 to $300 a year, a new $1-a-trip fee will cost them thousands, they said.
If a cabby makes an average 18 trips a day from the airport, the fee would cost them about $540 each month, said cabby Indermohan Sohi. In a year, that could top $6,000, he said.
"That's very hard. It's very, very expensive," Sohi said.
Added cabby Paul Dhaliwhal: "We work on minimum wage, on 13 or 14 hours a day, just to make a living. How are we to save any money?"
That will be tough, particularly when cabby owner-operators and taxi companies will have to buy newer cars. By April 1998, taxi vehicles can't be more than seven-years-old, and by 2000 not older than six years of age.
One cabby said he shelled out $10,000 for his white 1991 Chevrolet only eight months ago. He now has to replace that taxi in two years if he wants to collect fares at the airport.
They also complained that they were not consulted.
"They (airport) want to make money and don't care about others," Dhaliwhal said. "They never came to us, they never asked for our opinions."
The cabbies did, however, approve of some regulations such as a new dress code and installing power windows and air conditioning in taxis.
Peter Ho, operations manager for Richmond Cabs, said he does not know yet how the new regulations will effect his drivers or the company. He also said his company was not consulted about the changes.
The airport also wants to get out of the taxi-management business. A local business will be allowed to take over the taxis operations by October. The new airport taxi regulations include:
Despite no substantial outcry from locals, the city has managed to convince the Ministry of the Attorney General to forgo plans to move Richmond's criminal court operations to downtown Vancouver.
The city announced Wednesday that it entered into an agreement with the ministry to waive rental fees at the city's courthouse facility on Minoru Boulevard, next to the RCMP detachment. The agreement will save the ministry an estimated $515,000 over a two-year period.
The announcement has the mayor of Chilliwack - also fighting to keep its courthouse - more than a little miffed.
John Les calls the ministry's proposal to consolidate courthouses throughout the province "blackmail" because it's forcing city's to offer free rent to keep these services in place.
After learning of Richmond's agreement with the ministry, Les said Chilliwack also offered to waive its rental fees, a saving of $2.1 million over five years.
But less than two hours after making the proposal, the ministry called back to reject the offer.
"We were turned down flat in a matter of hours. It certainly has us wondering what is going on. Based on the Attorney General's reaction, they seem to be firmly set in their ways (but) the community is not going to take it lying down."
Unlike Richmond, which has relatively easy access to downtown Vancouver, Chilliwack has only a "rudimentary transit service" and residents there will be harder hit if forced to travel to Abbotsford, he said. The cost of moving the Chilliwack criminal court to Abbotsford are in the same neighborhood as Richmond's projections.
Richmond councillors Bill McNulty and Lyn Greenhill said Friday that they have heard little or no public outcry against the proposed move in Richmond.
"I would say there wasn't a large public outcry," Greenhill said, adding that Richmondites probably didn't fully understand the implications of the move and the way it would affect them.
Public outcry would likely have started once the move was made, she said.
Greenhill also pointed out that the vocal opposition from the bar association and victim services was key in keeping the courts here.
The city felt that even if the criminal court operation were moved to Vancouver, they would eventually have had to move it back to Richmond in light of the city's size and recent growth.
"I think (the Ministry of the Attorney General) forgets there's 148,000 people in Richmond and we're growing every day."
Les said he's puzzled that Richmond will keep its courthouse despite the lack of public outcry, while a similar announcement in Chilliwack sparked an immediate reaction.
"We've done exactly the same things (as Richmond). I'll certainly be calling (Richmond Mayor) Greg (Halsey-Brandt) to find out what's going on over there."
The impact of the announcement of Chilliwack's courthouse closure was heightened by the fact that the city was preparing for a new courthouse. "It just caught everybody by total surprise."
It's Thursday morning, the janitors are about to leave and from a distance the inside of Rooster's Country Cabaret in Pitt Meadows appears new and flawless.
"Here, look here," says Macky Banns, one of Rooster's owners, pointing to the carpeting and wooden flooring.
On closer inspection, it's obvious where patrons are putting their cigarette butts now that the cabaret has removed all ashtrays in order to comply with the new Pitt Meadows smoking bylaw that required all public facilities to be smoke-free as of Jan. 1.
Rooster's opened in October but already the carpeting and floor are riddled with cigarette burns.
"During the last three weeks, since we took the ashtrays away, they've been throwing their cigarette butts on the floor, gum too."
Banns isn't sure of what can be done to deal with the situation. He said he will continue to comply with the bylaw and is working with council in hopes of finding a solution.
Patrons are reminded by the bouncers, disc jockey and band that Rooster's is smoke-free. "It's hard to control the crowd, they're mingling around."
Cigarette burns are also visible on the booth seating and on top of toilet paper dispensers in the women's bathroom. Empty beer bottles have become known as 'Pitt Meadows ash trays.'
"Our glasses come back full of butts and our dishwashers get plugged up," says Banns. "I think the municipality is on the right track but they just got ahead of themselves. If all of B.C. had a no-smoking bylaw then people would know."
Greater Vancouver Regional District municipalities, including Richmond, have adopted a variety of no-smoking bylaws but Pitt Meadows is among the first to adopt an immediate smoking ban. White Rock and North Vancouver have also declared themselves smoke-free in public places, and most other GVRD municipalities plan to follow suit by Jan. 1, 2000.
"If we tell them don't smoke, they're just going to go somewhere else," says Banns adding that once patrons are asked to leave they won't come back again.
But Rooster's isn't alone in walking the fine line of trying to obey the bylaw while not losing customers.
China Kitchen owner Alan Tong couldn't say just how much the bylaw has affected his business but is sure he's lost 30 customers since Jan. 1. They left when told they couldn't smoke.
"We feel a little bit upset Pitt Meadows went ahead with it before the other municipalities."
Perhaps nowhere is discontent with the bylaw more visible than at the Jolly Coachman. It's 3 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon and at least two-thirds of the patrons have a lit cigarette in their hand or mouth.
The Jolly Coachman is phasing in the smoking ban but manager Rick Wong won't say how long that phasing in period will be. The downstairs seating is smoke free, as is 70 per cent of the upstairs seating.
All of the patrons are sitting in the smoking area near the bar. "So, what does that say?" bartender Carla Schmuul asks rhetorically. "If we go non-smoking this place will be empty and a lot of people will lose their jobs."
Robin Neill, a regular, sits by the bar with friend Tony Cooney. "I don't smoke, I haven't smoked in five years. But this is my local pub, most of my friends smoke and it doesn't bother me," says Neill.
Cooney adds that if a 100 per cent ban is enforced he'll go somewhere else in Maple Ridge or Port Coquitlam. Neill says he'll follow because "all my friends are going to go somewhere else.
B.C.'s liquor laws are already permissive enough for most local government leaders in the province, according to a new survey.
Three in four mayors and councillors are against licensing pool halls to sell booze and oppose allowing more entertainment and games such as Club Keno in restaurants.
The results were part of an informal survey conducted by the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The information has been sent to B.C. attorney-general Ujjal Dosanjh, who is reviewing the province's liquor laws following widespread complaints they are overly strict and archaic.
About half of B.C.'s town and city politicians responded to the survey. On other issues, 58 per cent of respondents said government liquor stores should not be open on Sundays and holidays, and 52 per cent said they should not allow the use of credit cards.
Another 72 per cent were against licensing household 'U-Brew' hobby breweries to sell booze to restaurants and clubs.
Sample comments from the civic politicians included: "As a taxpayer I am tired of paying for the negative consequences of behaviors related to gambling and excessive drinking."
Attorney-general spokesman Brent Thompson said no decisions had been made as of early March.
What it lacks in legal teeth it makes up for in clout, says Richmond's mayor.
The new Fraser Basin Council, a 35-member group that monitors the health of the Fraser River basin area, doesn't have the regulatory authority to make changes, Greg Halsey-Brandt said. But it does have plenty of representation from leading members of the federal, provincial, municipal governments as well as business groups, First Nations and community groups. And that means the health of the basin will be in the public eye, he said.
"These are people who are on the levers of power," he said this week. "It's quite a significant group of people around the table."
Richmond city hall has yet to sign on to the river council. The cost to do so is $14,500 a year.
"We should give it a go for a year," he said, noting a new flood-management program will be of interest for Richmondites.
The council is the successor to the Fraser Basin Management Program, the group known for its environmental report cards. FBMP executive director David Marshall said the council will continue to iron out the bitter differences between user groups.
"There had been tremendous polarization for the last 50 years, and now we have everybody sitting at the same table," he said.
Air BC pilots will decide this weekend whether they will sign on to a new deal that would end their two-month long strike.
The pilots, members of the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association, will vote Sunday to ratify a new three-year deal.
Pilots at four Air Canada regional carriers - Air BC and Air Nova, Air Alliance, and Air Ontario - hit the picket lines in January after lengthy disputes over seniority and wages went unresolved.
The two sides reached an agreement last week on pay hikes, but failed to shake hands on the contentious seniority issues, said CALPA's local representative Dennis Murray.
The tentative contract reached earlier last week includes a three-per-cent raise over three years, as well as a six-per-cent retroactive pay hike to the beginning of 1996. A guarantee has also been reached barring pilot layoffs.
The main issue that went unresolved was the pilots desire to keep their seniority if they get new jobs with the airlines' parent company, Air Canada, a plan that management opposes.
Murray said he hopes fellow pilots will approve the tentative deal, but he conceded "some of the guys felt we should have stayed out longer to pressure them (on seniority)."
Air BC spokesperson Angela Mah declined to discuss the details of the package, but did say the airline hopes to be back in normal operation within weeks if the deal is ratified.
While the two sides didn't resolve the seniority issue, the pilots' group hopes to tackle that at a labor board hearing in late April, Murray said. That hearing will decide whether Air Canada, which solely owns the four regional carriers, is also the sole employer, a decision that could pave the way for discussions on the seniority issue.
Air Nova is the only other regional carrier to have reached a tentative deal.
Your local MLA will get a raise April 1.
An increase of almost $10,000 per year has been approved by an all-party committee of MLAs in Victoria, making B.C.'s provincial politicians among the highest-paid in Canada.
The committee approved the recommendation of a citizen panel that pay be hiked to a fully taxable $69,000. That replaces the current $49,200, one-third of it tax-free. The net increase is about $9,850.
The changes make B.C. one of only three provinces whose MLA's pay are fully taxable, according to a 1996 report by the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. That was the key point for the CTF's Troy Lanigan, who applauded the removal of "tricks" like the tax exemption.
"Now taxpayers can look at the compensation level of their MLAs in a straightforward, transparent way," Lanigan said from his Victoria office.
The CTF report also shows the new B.C. rate as one of the highest, although comparisons are difficult because of differing formulas used in each province. For example, Manitoba pays its MLAs a fully taxable $57,065, while Alberta pays $54,630, one-third of it tax-free. Other provinces allow smaller tax-exempt portions, including the highest-paying province, Ontario, which pays $84,965, about nine per cent of which is tax-free.
Other changes to B.C. MLAs' pay packages include:
The only recommendation from the panel of citizens that was not accepted by the politicians was a proposal to lift the cap on free travel between Victoria and members' ridings. MLAs are still restricted to 52 round trips per year.
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