01 May 2015

Democracy must always be seen

This blog has been very quiet for the past five months. I wanted to give the new Park Board a chance to find it's feet. It isn't easy being a newly elected. When a Board of seven Commissioners has a turn-over of six, it is even harder. I have the advantage of having sat at the table before, so in fact there are 5 new Commissioners.

I may have sat at the table before, but nothing prepared me for the incredible changes that took place over the three years I was away. While the tone and decorum around the table is much improved--the insults and bullying have disappeared--the loss in democratic process more than makes up for it.

The first hint that something was amiss happened almost immediately, with the new Chair of the Board, John Coupar [NPA], cancelling the December meeting of the Board without consultation with the other Commissioners. Other than the inaugural meeting when the new Commissioners were sworn in, the first meeting of the Park Board was not until January 19th, a full 2 months after being elected and 6 weeks after being sworn in.

The next hint was when the Chair (who by convention appoints Commissioner liaisons to the Community Centre Associations) appointed the four NPA Commissioners to 17 out of the 23 CCA liaison positions. Catherine Evans [Vision] was appointed to one, while Michael Wiebe [Green] was initially given one, but later a second when it was found that the Chair had neglected to appoint a liaison to one community centre, and I was give three. So, that is 17 appointments to the 4 NPA Commissioners, and 6 appointments to the 3 non-NPA Commissioners. This was all done without consultation with the Commissioners involved. (When I was elected in 2008, the Chair, Raj Hundal [Vision], asked each of us what our preferences were and worked to accommodate us as best as he could).

By the first meeting of the Board in January something clearly was amiss when all the Chair and Vice Chair positions were taken by the NPA--clearly they were in charge and were not going share any of the responsibilities.

The second meeting of the Board included the initial meeting of the Park Board Committee. The structure of meetings has not ever been explained to Commissioners, despite my asking on numerous occasions to have a workshop. Commissioners from all parties have struggled with the rules and procedures, with each meeting seemingly having new rules added. No one on staff seems fluent in the rules either, with advice being sought from the City Clerk on more than one occasion.

One of the stranger conventions (adopted without consent), is that while staff reports and recommendations come to Committee meetings (which precede the Board meetings on the same evening) and can have public input, Commissioner motions go directly to the Board meeting, which does not allow for public comment and input. Only at the will of the Board can these motions be sent to Committee for public input. So far none of the motions put forward by Commissioners have been sent to Committee despite requests to do so and so none have had public input. At City Council the convention is that if one person (or more) applies to comment in person, the motion would automatically go to Committee. I believe School Board has a similar procedure. I find this very troubling. As one group on the Park Board has a majority, they can prevent public input at their will.

Another convention seemingly discarded is the idea of Notice of Motion, where Commissioner motions have to be put on the agenda ahead of time (usually submitted at the previous meeting) so that the public and Commissioners know what is coming up. Twice now the NPA have brought motions to the table without notice and rammed them through. Despite challenges to their tactics, each time the Chair has ruled in their own favour.

An inauspicious beginning to a four year term. I am hoping that the rules are explained to everyone so that we are all conversant in them. I also hope that the NPA relax a bit and become more magnanimous in their Chairing of the meetings. In the second year of my first term, then Chair Aaron Jasper, in a fit of pique, declared it a "Government and Opposition" Board and all sense of cooperation died. I'm hoping for better this time. The promises made during the election suggested this. The Park Board Commissioners sit at a round table. I believe this is because we are meant to work together. Trust and understanding comes with cooperation.

An old adage that I like very much (and invoke frequently) is that democracy must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done.

1 comment:

  1. More greens for better balance of perspective is required.
    Democracy is not served if one majority is simply replaced with another of equal intransigence.