08 February 2013

Is it time to phase out Vision's Penny?

There is at least one penny a growing number of people in Vancouver would be happy to see taken out of circulation. That would be Penny Ballem, Vancouver's city manager.

Vancouver Vision operatives insist it's nothing but NPA political blarney to believe that the whole mismanaged assault by the Vancouver park board on the city's community centre volunteer boards of directors is being driven by Ballem.

Her Vision Vancouver political masters may eventually pay the price for this appalling behaviour. But community centre board members from across the city note it was Ballem who kept turning up like the proverbial bad penny when she joined her direct report, park board general manager Malcolm Bromley, in a series of meetings a few months back. Community centre presidents and their boards were told the park board would, in a new Joint Operating Agreement, be taking control of all community centre revenues. And that was "non-negotiable."

More recently, on Tuesday evening while Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr was sitting in a public hearing at city hall regarding a contentious West End development, her cell phone rang. It was Ballem. Carr would get back to her at the next beak.

It turns out that on Monday, Carr, following city council procedure, filed a notice of motion to ask staff essentially this: given the park board's intention to take over the revenues of community centres which would most likely dampen future fundraising efforts by community center volunteer boards, what was the city's estimation of the funding shortfall this would create for the park board? And, given that the park board is a department of the city from whence it receives its budget, what contingency plan does the city have to make up for that funding shortfall?

A reasonable request based on a reasonable assumption, no?

But it's also reasonable to assume we will never find out. Because according to Carr what Ballem phoned to say was this: Carr's notice of motion would never see the light of day. Carr says she was told that her motion asking for information could jeopardize the "negotiations" now going on between the park board and the community centres.

When I emailed Ballem and asked about her extraordinary move to muzzle an elected representative, her communications machinery spit out an elaborate "no comment."

Incidentally, the public hearing Carr was sitting through Tuesday night under city hall rules ended at 11 p.m.. It would continue at a later date to hear the rest of the 50 or so speakers. (The rule says hearings must end at 10 p.m. but can, with a unanimous vote of council, be extended by one hour.)
Nothing so civilized was contemplated across town the night before. That's when 74 people lined up to speak in a packed room at the West End Community Centre. This was at an "emergency meeting" called for by what is an increasingly inept and disrespectful park board to hear from the public on the board's plan to have their way with community centre funds. For decades, these funds had been left in the hands of volunteer boards to be used for everything from renovations to the creation of new facilities. That was ending.

The approximately 30 pages of material for the meeting was not available until 11 that morning, which meant that most board members who work for a living didn't see it until an hour or so before the meeting started.

As you may already know, the meeting started at 6:30 p.m. and clattered on for nine hours, which made it 3:30 in the morning with members of the dwindling audience repeatedly asking for an adjournment only to be rebuffed.

It finally reached a sorry state of frustration because of the lateness of the hour and the vast majority of the speakers opposing what the park board was up to, frequently pointing out significant errors in the material being presented. I was long gone by the time the Vision majority blithely passed the motions to support what they had intended to do all along and cops had to be called in to restrain those who were left.

This passes for what Vision Vancouver calls citizen engagement.


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