Dispute over Vancouver park board agreement boils over to city hall
Outcry over a new park board operating agreement with community associations boiled over to council chambers today (February 12), as Adriane Carr blasted city manager Penny Ballem for quashing a motion she attempted to bring forward.
Carr said she submitted a motion on February 4 requesting a report to council on any potential impacts to the city’s budget stemming from the park board’s plan to change its operating model for community centres.
According to the Green councillor, Ballem sent her an e-mail the next day stating that the motion would not be on the council agenda, and that it would “put both the Park Board and the City at risk if there was an airing of these issues in regard to impact publicly”.
In a news conference outside city hall this morning, Carr’s lawyer Jonathan Baker, a former Non-Partisan Association city councillor, said the city manager was “acting without authority”.
In a 10-page legal opinion distributed to media, Baker stated that Ballem “cannot declare the motion out of order and simply refuse to deliver it to Council.”
“I have my right to submit motions that come from community concerns, and have them addressed by council—that's democracy, that's my role as a minority councillor," Carr told reporters after trying to address the motion in a point of order at the beginning of today’s council meeting. “If the city manager has the right to say no to my motions, she is thwarting democracy.”
Carr later apologized to Ballem in council chambers after Mayor Gregor Robertson ruled her motion out of order and suggested that the councillor’s comments about the city manager were out of line with the council code of conduct.
“In our code of conduct it’s very clear that...you have no right to attack city staff, and I’ve been very concerned about your comments in recent days and again here regarding the city clerk and city manager and the work that they’re doing to support council,” Robertson told Carr.
“I do apologize if I impugned intent,” Carr responded. “I think that the city manager’s job is to provide under our bylaws advice to city council, and that may well have been advice. It may have felt like intimidation to me, but I believe that it was advice.”
Robertson ruled Carr’s motion out of order on the grounds that the park board is currently involved in “confidential negotiations” on a new operating model with community associations, that the board has jurisdiction to work with the associations on the issue, and that the negotiations involve “complex legal and financial considerations” that could be adversely impacted by council discussion of the topic.
“The park board is ultimately accountable to city council, and once the current negotiations have been completed…council will have an opportunity to review the impacts of the new model,” said Robertson. “At this time, the city solicitor is currently reviewing the matter, including the legal opinion that was obtained by Councillor Carr, and will be providing a response to that into council on a confidential basis, as we do with all legal matters.”
After apologizing to Ballem, Carr added that she would not apologize to council.
“Council has the obligation to receive motions from council and from staff, to debate them and to decide upon them,” she said. “I do disagree with the interpretation that my motion could have been denied from reaching this table.”
Tim Louis, a lawyer and former Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor, also weighed in on the issue at Carr’s news conference.
“I was on council for six years, and never, ever, ever, ever has a city bureaucrat interfered in the political process,” he told reporters. “This is an issue that cuts right across political boundaries.”
Today’s events follow a series of contentious public meetings on a proposed new funding model for community centres that would see the park board collect all revenues generated from programming and rentals.
Last week, the park board voted to move forward on a new “framework”, beginning with facilitated negotiations with community centre associations. A new agreement will be implemented by July.