More thoughts on Vision Vancouver's reaction to Melissa De Genova's sandwich motion
Late last week, Vision Vancouver commissioner Aaron Jasper called with concerns about my article on the so-called sandwich motion.
Jasper felt that I had given too much space to NPA commissioner Melissa De Genova. She argued that park commissioners and staff shouldn't be stuffing their faces with sandwiches, fruits, and vegetables bought by taxpayers in advance of after-hours briefings with the board.
Jasper also said that I didn't subject her comments to sufficient scrutiny, because she had eaten this food in the past.
I responded that in a longer online-only article, there were three videos featuring Vision commissioners commenting, versus only one video of De Genova's remarks. Jasper himself received nearly three times as much airtime as De Genova.
Vision commissioners have tried to frame this issue as a matter of good employee relations.
This argument would have some merit if it were only the low-ranking employees—and not commissioners and senior managers—who were gobbling free food.
Vision politicians have also tried to portray this as a case of average workers getting their due respect. The reality is that their bosses are undoubtedly present at many if not all of these briefings for the board.
And some of these managers collect generous salaries. The general manager, Malcolm Bromley, earned $216,989 last year, according to the city's annual statement of financial information.
Deputy general manager Peter Kuran was paid $170,027 in 2011. The director of planning, Dana Djurkovic, collected $147,374. The director of recreation, Thomas Soulliere, pocketed $132,089 in 2011. The manager of communications, Joyce Courtney, earned $111,205.
Do taxpayers really need to top this up with free sandwiches, fruits, and vegetables for these plutocrats overseeing Vancouver's parks?
Park-board staff buy these treats at a local supermarket for meetings that take place once a month. Each catered briefing costs approximately $100 for seven commissioners and between four and eight staff, according to the communications department. That doesn't include any staff time spent by a park-board peon who might have to run down to Denman Street to collect the goodies (if this, in fact, occurs).
By my calculation, at least half of the free food is being consumed by politicians. Of those staff who are present at these board briefings, I would bet that at least half if not more of them are earning more than $100,000 per year. And according to De Genova, some of this leftover food has been taken home by an unnamed park commissioner after the meeting.
It's a small amount of money, but this whole affair speaks to the imperial attitude of Vision Vancouver politicians in how they frame issues for the public. Rather than admit that they like eating free sandwiches at the end of the day with the managers, they claim that it's all about respect for the staff.
The reality is that managers make enough money that taxpayers don't have to buy them sandwiches. This is especially so, given that a previous park board passed a motion opposing free catered dinners for commissioners and managers prior to board meetings.
The other reality—which nobody wants to discuss in public—is that the commissioners themselves are underpaid. With their expense allowance, they make about $12,000 a year.
That's $1,000 a month to oversee a budget of more than $100 million a year. To do this job properly requires spending time listening to the public and conducting extensive research.
I say give the commissioners a $4,000-a-year raise and stop the practice of catered briefings for the politicians and senior staff.
And quit trying to justify this as good staff relations if it's really a case of taxpayers buying free sandwiches for a manager who's already receiving $216,918 per year from the public purse. If this is in fact what's happening, Malcolm Bromley should be paying for the food for the commissioners—and not the other way around.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.