Who's to blame for the Park Board's sorry state?
The talking points from Vancouver Kid's desk are now in the hands of Vision Vancouver's defenders (see here & here), and if we are to believe what Kevin says, the cock-up over the Barnes affair was driven by mean-spirited media baddies and not by the incompetence of Vision's Park Board caucus. It's truly a puzzle that when Constance Barnes drives drunk we should all cut her some slack and let Constance get her act together. But when the Premier parties and gets behind the wheel the same people calling for compassion are, uh, less charitable.
The problems of the current Park Board run much deeper than the fracas stirred by one of their members getting liquored up on a public beach, then driving her car into someone's house. Vision Vancouver are largely to blame for assembling a slate that is being referred to by Park Board staff as one of the worst commissions in a generation. Even reporter Frances Bula, who takes pains not to be critical of the fledgling Vision team says of the Park Board, "it is not functioning very well."
Observers both inside and outside of the current Park Board have wondered for months where it went wrong. Perhaps it's the complete lack of leadership exhibited by members of the governing caucus. Meetings chaired by Commissioner Raj Hundal spin out of control with no attempt to rein in speakers at public hearings. Worse, no one wants to take any responsibility for tough decisions the Board is forced to make.
In one awkward moment reported by sources who attended a Park Board staff briefing, when it was revealed that a potential major program cutback might happen in late December, Park Board Chair Hundal quipped aloud, "Good. I still won't be chair then, someone else will have to wear it."
Lone NPA Commissioner Ian Robertson says he's been frustrated by the lack of leadership. "I see that there are dark days ahead for the Park Board unless someone is willing to stand up to City Council," comments Robertson. "You just don't see that happening with this Vision board. Their performance to date, with minor exceptions, has been a disappointment. They're abiding by their marching orders from City Hall."
One of the most dogged fights facing the Vancouver Park Board has been the decision, years in the making, to close the aging Mount Pleasant Community Centre and pool. For months leading up to last November's election, Vision made political hay by claiming to be on the side of residents wishing the facility would remain open. Once elected, reality kicked in, and the Vision gang are now having to explain the flip-flop.
The biggest budget slash in the Park Board's history happened without so much as a whimper from those who were elected to defend Vancouver's park system. Observers feel that it simply cannot go on this way for long.
Robertson suggests that Vision might take a back seat for at least a year, and opt to install members of the opposition to lead the board. "I'm not naive to suggest that Vision would install an NPA commissioner as Chair," he says. "However, I would fully endorse the decision to put Loretta Woodcock as Chair, and Stuart MacKinnon as Vice-Chair. Loretta brings formidable experience and a passion for parks, and I feel that Stuart has learned a lot on the job this year and could ably manage our meetings."
Board meetings begin anew after the summer break. Not many are expecting an improvement in performance over the first half of the year. Vision may try to explain away the Park Board's problems with the help of their media pals, but they can only stick their heads in the sand so long. This group has no option but to stick up for Vancouver's parks.