A politicized PNE board worries Rand Chatterjee. Matthew Burrows photo.
A Hastings Park advocate believes council’s new PNE board structure will result in a “slugfest”.
“It will be, and I don’t see how not, because you’ve got people with competing interests sitting on the board,” Hastings Park Conservancy president Rand Chatterjee told the Georgia Straight. “And that’s not the way you put a board together.”
At the May 21 meeting of the city services and budgets committee, council approved the dissolution of the current interim PNE board in favour of an 11-person board with four slots for senior city staff, one for a park board commissioner, and the position of chair for Vision Vancouver three-term councillor Raymond Louie. The other five slots are to be filled by appointing three members from the business community, one local resident, and one city-resident representative “with a labour-relations background” to staggered two-year terms.
Chatterjee said the 6-5 majority the city will have on the board is “strange” and could lead to further politicization of the PNE, which was created as the Vancouver Exhibition Association in 1907. The city took over operation on January 1, 2004.
“It’s already pretty politicized, but I think, absolutely, it’s going to be a lot worse,” Chatterjee said. “When a city governs a nonprofit charity—which is what this is—it’s a very strange thing. It’s unheard-of, partly because, as I explained, you cannot have a charitable organization managed, governed, by the body that also regulates it. It’s a conflict.”
When he addressed council on May 21, Chatterjee said he wondered how often senior city staff would vote against the wishes of the chair—Louie, who is also their boss at the City of Vancouver. This was a concern shared by COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth.
“It’s certainly a politicization,” Woodsworth, who voted against the appointment of Louie as chair in a 6-2 split, told the Straight. “That’s one concern. My other concern is that it seems to be setting a direction for commercialization rather than greening of the park.”
In her May 25 e-newsletter, lone NPA councillor Suzanne Anton—the other no vote—scathingly referred to Louie as “king of the PNE”. Anton also claimed that “City senior staff board members will have a tough time making decisions which are different from their political boss.”
In reply, Louie told the Straight “Coun. Anton is advancing a nonissue”.
“It’s based on two false premises,” Louie said. “One, that I would, first, bully, and second, that these senior staff—educated and long tenured with the city—would allow themselves to be bullied. Which I think are both false premises that Coun. Anton has created in her mind in order to advance her position. It is significantly different than that, and Coun. Anton has her right to her fictitious world.”
When asked if this meant autonomy for city staff on the PNE’s new board, Louie said: “They have a fiduciary responsibility, when they sit on that board, to the organization and not to the chair. I don’t know how I can make it any clearer than that.”
Chatterjee said he still foresees problems.
“What happens if there’s a problem at the fair, say through a bad doughnut or a problem with the safety of the rides?” he said. “Who’s responsible? What’s the issue when the engineering department at the city, which is responsible for those rides, is sitting on the board of the entity they are trying to regulate?”
Louie said each one of the board members, when conducting their duties, “has blanket exemption, I guess, from those liabilities”.
“There’s indemnification that’s granted to those people—it’s standard practice at the city.”
Louie said he does not foresee a slugfest, based on his six years as councillor.
“I’ve said that it will be the same productive, cordial relationship that I have with senior staff here at City Hall,” Louie said. “After six years on council now, I have yet to have a slugfest with staff. I might lose to some of them.”