NPA park commissioner Melissa De Genova shuns perks
A park-board member promises not to consume taxpayer-subsidized sandwiches and vegetables after the Vision Vancouver majority voted against her motion to eliminate this benefit.
NPA commissioner Melissa De Genova declared at the June 11 park-board meeting that the “optics of catered briefings” with senior staff are “awful”. She also opposes “spending thousands of dollars eating on the taxpayers’ dime”, and claimed to have seen commissioners take some goodies home.
“I’m sorry that my colleagues are so embarrassed by this because they obviously want to keep the perks for themselves,” De Genova said. “So I will say that I won’t be eating at any of the staff briefings.”
Her comment elicited groans from Vision commissioners. One of them, Niki Sharma, responded that it’s “not an unreasonable thing” to provide a plate of sandwiches and vegetables for staff after working hours. Trevor Loke had previously characterized De Genova’s motion as “embarrassing”.
Prior to the vote, De Genova pointed out that the park board has already cut maintenance in parks and slashed 900 hours from community centres. “Now it’s time for us to take a look inside to the board and look at areas we can cut back,” she stated. “And catered briefings for commissioners is one area that can be achieved.”
Former COPE commissioner Tim Louis appeared before the park board to urge commissioners to support De Genova’s motion. “Look after the pennies, and the dollars will look after themselves,” he advised commissioners. “Many years ago, the park board cut out catered park-board dinners. They didn’t replace that perk—park-board dinners—with a different perk, catered sandwiches. They didn’t replace the large perk with a smaller perk.”
Vision park-board chair Sarah Blyth, a single mother, questioned Louis’s capacity to empathize with low-income people like herself. “I run from my work sometimes to go get my son, and then I run to bring my son somewhere else,” Blyth said. “I’m a park commissioner because I love being a commissioner. There is sometimes…really, literally one plate of vegetables and one plate of grapes. I am just wondering if you can identify with that.”
Louis responded that he was “working poor” when he was on the board. “I set up my law firm with no line of credit, no money in the bank, and waited for the phone to ring,” he said. “I came down to park-board meetings and lived as you do on a park-board salary—a very small salary. A perk is a perk.”
Another speaker, West End resident and former park-board candidate Jamie Lee Hamilton, claimed that De Genova’s motion might discourage low-income people from running for public office. De Genova then asked Hamilton if employers are obligated to buy meals for their staff.
Later in the debate, De Genova suggested that the board is “almost in violation” of a motion brought forward by a previous board.
“The last thing I’d like to add is there are city staff who work 12-hour shifts—who are first responders—and they don’t get fed,” the NPA commissioner said.
Vision commissioner Aaron Jasper accused De Genova of “grandstanding”. He also suggested that she should have discussed her motion in advance with staff and commissioners. “I think going forward, I would urge my colleague—if there are other motions that she feels passionate about—that there’s a better way to process these,” he said. “Sometimes things don’t necessarily have to come to the board.”
Jasper added that at least $300 of staff time was spent debating the motion—about a third of the annual expenditures on sandwiches and vegetables. De Genova had earlier pegged the annual cost at about $2,000.
In De Genova’s final salvo, she revealed that she had, in fact, raised this issue a few weeks ago with commissioners John Coupar, Blyth, and Jasper when they went out for beers. “Commissioner Jasper at the time seemed to think that we should all be given a raise,” De Genova claimed. “I can’t believe that my fellow colleagues think that things should be done in the backroom instead of here at the board table.”
Coupar was the only other commissioner to vote in favour of De Genova’s motion.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.