November 1, 2012, The Province by Stuart Mackinnon
It will be, arguably, the single biggest change in governance in Vancouver since the decision at the first meeting of the city council in 1888 to create a park board. A fundamental shift in governance is happening behind closed doors that some say is a money and power grab by Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem and others say is the only path to equity within our recreation system. And you don’t know anything about it.
Community centres in Vancouver are jointly run by the Board of Parks and Recreation and community centre associations, or CCAs. The terms of this management structure is set out in the joint operating agreements negotiated with each of the CCAs. The partnerships set out in the agreements have been in existence for more than 70 years in some of the community centres.
Volunteers at each centre have worked hard to make their individual communities better by volunteering countless hours fundraising and writing grants to keep the cost of programs affordable. The park board set out to renew and renegotiate the joint operating agreements some time ago and have met with little success. The sticking point is who gets to keep the revenues that community centres generate.
The associations by and large run the programming at the centres and say that they should keep the money they make to invest in equipment, programming and facilities in their neighbourhoods.
The park board says the revenue should come to the city to be equitably redistributed between “have” and “have not” areas of the city.
A stalemate for many years has resulted in frustration on both sides. Enter city manager Penny Ballem, who, it has been reported, has told the associations that now they have no choice in this — the money will flow to the city.
The idea that the city manager would be dictating terms to what has always been the purview of the park board is as big a shock as the change to the joint operating agreements. Vancouver has an independent park board with elected commissioners so that the city does not meddle in the operations of parks and recreation.
Where are the elected commissioners in all of this?
Whether one thinks that a new fiscal arrangement between community centres and the board is needed or not, is it not the park board, through its staff and elected officials, who should be doing the negotiations?
Why is the city manager — who takes her direction from the mayor’s office — meddling in park board affairs? Why is the board rolling over by this power grab by the city? And why is the public not in the know about this? Change happens. Circumstances change, as do fiscal realities. Equality is a noble goal.
No doubt the joint operating agreements need to be updated, but this updating should be a matter between the community centre associations and the park board.
Board staff, along with the elected commissioners, should be negotiating with the associations. The negotiations should be done in good faith without threats or ultimatums.
Vancouver’s Charter ensures that parks and recreation are in the hands of the citizens through their elected commissioners.
The city manager should keep her hands off of our parks and recreation.
Stuart Mackinnon was a Green Party Vancouver park board commissioner from 2008 until last year. He continues to advocate for parks and public spaces and writes about city issues at Betterparks.org