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Monday Outdoor Rink report #11, February 1, 2010

1. Flying-squad schedule: this was received on January 28, and it was very helpful. If this was the intended schedule all along, it's interesting to see that at Wallace Rink the mid-day resurfacing from January 1 to Jan.28 took place during the scheduled time (between 1 and 2 pm) on 11 days and was at a different time (or none) on 17 days. The evening resurfacing took place at the scheduled time (between 6.15 to 7.15pm) on 9 days, and at a different time (or none) on 19 days. Although the schedule allocated an hour to each resurfacing visit, the resurfacing visits ranged in duration from 13 to 35 minutes.

It's wonderful to learn that this state of affairs will now change, beginning in the last third of the rink season. We will log the changes.

At Campbell Rink, the evening rink resurfacing was at the scheduled time (between 8 and 8.30 pm) on 8 days, at a different time (or none) on 18 days, and the rest are undocumented.

More generally, it appears from the schedule that the east crew morning shift only works from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and the afternoon crew only from 3 to 6.30 pm. We note that Kew Rink was left off the list, so that may partly explain away the short shift. The central crew also appears to have very short hours. As well, the time allocated for the resurfacings varies for unknown reasons, and as mentioned, does not correspond closely with the actual time taken.

Since the weather has been remarkably stable in the first two-thirds of the outdoor rink season, we assume that equipment failure or employee illness account for most of the missed or rescheduled ice maintenance sessions. We'll document these sessions as well as we can for the remainder of the season, to offer an aid in next season's scheduling.

2. Flying squad communication protocol: it's very encouraging to hear that a new protocol will be attempted next week, in which on-site staff will get a call if the schedule is disrupted. Let's see how it works.

3. More buildings open while the rinks are open: it appears that at least in Toronto/EY this is an ambitious new plan, more radical than we envisaged. We will try to visit as many rinks as possible in the mornings, when they are unattended, to see how it's working.

4. The bulletin boards are also an encouraging innovation, especially if accompanied by a change of direction to building staff, allowing the immediate posting of all reasonable neighborhood notices, without requiring a prior consultation with supervisor. Objectionable notices can be removed when the supervisor sees them later.

5. Greenwood Rink: the proper sizing of the matting on the steps has helped. Rink users report that there are still holes in the pavement under the matting at the bottom of the stairs, making it likely that soon a skater will turn his/her ankle. If this can't be repaired, two pylons would be good there.
- the rink-side campfire has now been approved, although it's still unclear whether Recreation will support this activity as a program. The recreation manager said he was worried because of the collective agreement for the part-time recreation staff, preventing them from giving campfire support.

6. What work PT Recreation staff can do according to the collective agreement: I contacted the union (CUPE Local 79) and confirmed that the PT workers' job description includes a catch-all: "Other duties as assigned." This can include any recreation program duties as assigned, including campfire support, school liaison, preparing and serving hot chocolate, lending skates, working with youth who use the rinks, supporting families, etc. The rink staff don't have to just sit in the office watching TV or talking to their friends; they can do good work. This work can include better trash removal and putting in work orders to fix water-fountains (good!) but it doesn't have to be limited to that.

7. Flexibility of staff: at Greenwood Rink last Saturday morning, the skating lessons were only on half the pleasure-skating rink (small attendance), but the rink coordinator directed the staff to remove two mothers and their young children from the other half of the rink. These mothers had to leave the rink and go home. Better training and better judgment are needed to prevent staff from frustrating the rink users and diminishing their number.

8. Family Day: It's good that the rinks will be open at least 8 hours. It would be even better if the double-pad rinks were open on that morning, for the benefit of families with young children. At Dufferin Rink such families come early in the morning and stay until nap-time. Dufferin and Wallace rinks can accommodate those families on the holiday morning by using volunteers. But it would not be very costly to open the other double-pad rinks with only PT recreation staff. CELOS would like to offer a donation to the city, to staff Rennie, Giovanni Caboto, Harry Gairey, Hodgson, and Greenwood Rinks from 9 to 12 on February 15. Estimating a cost of $30 per rink if only one PT staff is used at each of those rinks until noon, CELOS is prepared to donate $150 to the city, plus the benefits cost. Please let us know if the city will accept this, or if more is needed.

9. Helmet policy: it's good to hear that city staff (both policy and program) are consulting with Risk Management. We look forward to hearing whether the question has been asked, and what the answer is.

10. Auditor staff visit: Jerry Shaubel, one of the three directors in the Auditor general's office, visited the rink with a colleague on January 27. In a wide-ranging and candid conversation lasting two hours, a number of issues were discussed. The main ones were: the auditor's PF&R capital projects report, the MacGregor Park field house stimulus funds project, cash handling at the rinks, the Dufferin Rink change-room renovations, the auditor's concerns about value-for-money, and conflict of interest.

11. Conflict of interest: I asked Mr.Shaubel whether the Recreation director's conflict of interest concern last November (about Sarah Cormier's involvement in the Giovanni Caboto proposals) was a concern for the auditor. He said that the attention to conflict of interest came out of the MFP inquiry, and that their office had never intended for it to be applied to staff proposing improvements. He also said that if staff undertake initiatives that were not approved by management, that is not an issue involving the auditor, it's a management issue. I take this to mean that if management wishes to discipline staff who undertake non-approved work, management cannot cite the auditor as the reason. In the case of rinks, management will have to cite other reasons to explain its reluctance to make improvements such as those proposed at Giovanni Caboto.

12. Value-for-money: Mr.Shaubel was interested in whether 8 hours of rink staffing yields 8 hours of work. I am so used to the fact that a designated zamboni operator might do two ice resurfacings on an eight-hours shift, that this practice was not on my list for discussion. But in the course of our walkabout in the park, Mr.Shaubel asked about the rink work allocation, and he seemed to be quite concerned. As he pointed out several times in the conversation, the auditor has to address issues in a budget of $8 billion, making it harder to track smaller details such as how $3 million is spent to run outdoor rinks. However, having noted the work allocation at the rinks, Mr.Shaubel said he wants to know more, particularly about the zamboni drivers. On the whole, it seemed to me that his concern was less about staff roles being too broad (a frequent objection raised by management about on-site rink staff e.g. "staff are not supposed to make hot chocolate") and more about too little work being assigned.

13. Cash handling: I described (to the audit director) our efforts to apply the experiments at Dufferin Rink in a more limited way to other rinks like Wallace and Campbell rinks, including the food and the skate loans. I mentioned our month-old request to work with Peter Lam (sp.?) to try out integrating these elements with the city's cash-handling procedures, at Wallace Rink. Mr.Shaubel said that he found it hard to imagine how receipts could be issued for every cookie and every box drink. But he seemed to have no objection to an effort to specifically adapt the cash handling procedures to the outdoor rinks. I mentioned that I had repeated my request to the Recreation manager the day before.

12. Web information: I am aware that the city's website has problems beyond updating the rink schedules, but I note that the Ramsden Rink women's beginner shinny time is still incorrect.

13. Getting information: Direct requests for some outdoor rink information got such non-specific responses that CELOS applied to Corporate Access for the same information, this time in detail. The response to our limit of five requests was: in the case of outdoor rinks publicity, outdoor rink resurfacing equipment, and outdoor rink staff ice maintenance training: one month was too short to gather this information, so staff have requested a 30-day extension. In the case of the rink renovations involving funds from MLSE, the information cannot be released until MLSE agrees. CELOS will discuss these delays with Corporate Access and may appeal them.

14. Corporate Security and rink safety: outdoor rinks are vulnerable to take-over attempts by people who want to drink alcohol, bully, take drugs or make their power felt. Addressing such problems is part of the work of good rink staff. (In the old days, zamboni drivers have told me, they just used to hide in the garage.) Sometimes it takes a while for a group to escalate their behaviour, which is what recently happened at Dufferin Rink over a two-week period. Increasing complaints by rink users, and staff warnings ignored, led to several calls for a Corporate Security staff person. Corporate Security staff directed the offenders to leave the premises. The problem-people ignored that direction. Corporate Security called police, but for two days running, this request did not bring police. When problematic rink users see the lack of backup, they intensify their behaviours, and the problem gets worse. Police have rarely been interested in responding to the ordinary behavioral problems at rinks. When called by rink staff for support, Corporate Security needs to alter its practices to include arresting problem-people at rinks who ignore their direction to leave. This well-established practice would make their Security practices conform more closely to those of other Security agencies, and it would move the problems much higher on the police priority list. It would also remove the necessity for the other rink users to address the problem directly, see This situation needs in-depth discussion and follow-up by management.

15. Special events at outdoor rinks: A lot of time has been spent trying to sort out whether Recreation can collaborate with rink users to do some local events at rinks. The city's special events policy does not seem to work well citywide, since Permits reports only 6 special event permits at the 49 outdoor rinks over the past five years. The policy needs work, and it is also inequitably applied -- in some cases it may look like a cash grab. For instance, the annual bike couriers ice race, in its eighth year at Dufferin Rink, was forced to get outside insurance despite its low injury record and its standing with the community. But even when the insurance was settled, the couriers received a bill from the city, for $378.50 "to cover this Devision's cost" [exact quote]. There is no extra staffing required, and no extra equipment -- i.e. there is no extra cost. The community may need to be consulted on the city's approach here.

16. Squandering staff talents: The Ward 18 outdoor rinks are known throughout the city, and they are very well used. Dufferin Rink is often too crowded with skaters coming from other parts of the city, while some other neighbourhood rinks are dreary and underused. It would seem good management practice to build on the ways these three rinks attract families, youth and older adults, and try to make a few more rinks important winter social centres. Instead the response of management has been to challenge the on-site staff at Ward 18 outdoor rinks about "conflict of interest" and now to remove the Recreation supervisor under whose direction the rinks have flourished. At what point this management approach will be a step too far, for Toronto's rink users, is uncertain, but squandering staff talents is never a good idea.

Jutta Mason

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Content last modified on November 15, 2010, at 09:38 PM EST