Threat to Park Board rallies the troops

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Park Board storm troopers preparing for possible battle with City Hall

It's been a very fast moving file, but Vision's attempts to strip the Park Board of its independence this week may be hitting a brick wall. Earlier today, Sue Mundick, General Manager of the Vancouver Park Board, was called into the City Manager's office for a little heart-to-heart conversation. We're told the meeting lasted about 25 minutes with "most of the discussion being quite one-sided."

A number of Vision caucus members are now getting a serious case of cold feet about Ballem's plans to restructure (a.k.a dissolve) the Park Board as we've known it. A number of them have been very busy on their cel phones figuring out how they're going to get themselves out of this very sticky situation now that Mundick has announced she's packing her bags.

The NPA's Suzanne Anton and Ian Robertson can sniff blood. They realize that any attempt to dismantle the Park Board will be met with resistance. In fact, word tonight is that a number of former Park Board commissioners (both NPA and COPE) have been working the phones to determine if there is anything they can do as a group to help save the Park Board.

One of those former commissioners called to say they were prepared to work day and night to fight city hall. There is even talk of an all-party news conference being planned which would demand Ballem and the Mayor's office publicly commit to supporting the Park Board's independence.

Late today, the NPA dusted off their fax machine and issued a rare news release condemning Vision for their interference in Park Board affairs. Here is a copy of that release:

Vancouver—NPA City Councillor Suzanne Anton is calling on Mayor and Council to reaffirm the independence of the Vancouver Park Board after an email from City Manager Penny Ballem surfaced last week.

In a late motion to council, Councillor Anton makes it clear the elected Park Board has been an independent advocate for parks since 1886 and the General Manager of the Park Board has always been hired by the Park Board independently of the City. The motion asks council to “affirm the independence of the elected Park Board” and “confirm that the elected Park Board has unfettered jurisdiction to choose the next General Manager.”

“The Park Board has a long history of advocating for our parks, our community centres and our sports and recreation facilities,” says Anton. “Up until this board, they were a very strong, independent voice. Unfortunately, this Mayor and Council seem to be trying to gut the Park Board and centralize control of everything in the Mayor’s Office.”

Anton goes on to say that the Mayor and Council have no mandate to make such a significant change to the Park Board’s governing structure: “There has been no public discussion of this. Vancouver residents are passionate about their parks and have a strong interest in being involved in this discussion. An edict from the Mayor is not good enough.

The motion was provoked after Park Board general Manager Susan Mundick’s ‘retirement’ was announced on Monday. In an email that surfed on Wednesday from the City Manager to Mundick, it is clear that the City Manager is trying to control the actions of Mundick who, theoretically, answers to the Park Board. In the email, City Manger Ballem writes to Mundick: “The general manager of parks and recreation has a line of accountability to me…” and “I will work with Raj [Chair of the Park Board] and the other commissioners to support this work in relation to choosing your successor.” Ballem finishes with: “Any new appointments you might wish to make will put the city at risk if we have to reorganize again and therefore it is not appropriate to undertake anything like this.”

NPA Park Commissioner Ian Robertson is also concerned about Ballem’s interference. “The City Manager’s actions are despicable,” says Robertson. “She is undermining the authority of the elected Park Board.” Robertson adds, “This email confirms our suspicions about why so many experienced and talented people are leaving City Hall.”

I suspect there will be a lot of Visionistas burning the midnight oil this weekend asking themselves how they got themselves pinned into this corner.

That's because within the next couple of weeks city staff will be facing the real threat of layoffs while Park Board supporters raise the heat on Vision. At the end of the day, it is looking more likely that Ballem's core services review will be put on the back burner while the political strategists figure out an exit strategy from this self-imposed SNAFU.

Strap on your seatbelts, the next few weeks might make for a really bumpy ride in Mayor Robertson's Happy Planetville.

**Answer the poll question: Should Vision Vancouver phase out the independent Park Board?


dear go i hope they get rid of that waste of money park board. What an entirely incompetents bunch of power drunk (literally drunk too) money wasters!


I am all for cutting out redundancies and agree this board is incompetent.

However past Vancouver Park Boards have built one of the best urban park systems in the world. Fold them into general city and they will be fighting engineering et all for funds.

We need some leadership and we’re not getting it from this Vision Van lot.

I would have thought you'd be happy that Council was being aggressive about eliminating possible redundancies at the Park Board since you yourself seemed to advocate it's complete eliminiation by Council only a few months ago:

"I've been advised it would take one simple motion of Council to wipe out the Park Board and amalgamate the Parks Department into the overall operations of City Hall. That's right, with a stroke of a pen, Council could completely eliminate another whole level of bureaucracy and save taxpayers a bundle to boot."

Turn that frown upside down!

I worked as the Communications Officer at the Vancouver Park Board for over 35 years and there a few salient truths I have learned in that time. The general public can seem uninterested in the Park Board until it is threatened. So watch out if that comes to pass based on some new "all encompassing model" that the new City Management may be pondering. Vancouver is renowned world wide for its park and recreation facilities and that is no accident. Having a staff dedicated, I dare say, devoted to the principles and goals of park land and recreational facilities is what makes all the difference and the elected board is the underpinning foundation of that model. City staff may be envious, for whatever reason, of the seeming overlap in services provided by the Park Board but trust me, after taking thousands of complaints and listening to a myriad of residents and their genuine concerns during my decades of service, the public is better served by a separate body. Actually I am amazed at the current political situation at the Park Board. I have seen dozens of Commissioners elected thru the years that came in on a one party push with majorities at City Hall, School Board and Park Board but it never took long for the line to be drawn in the sand at 2099 Beach Avenue. Once the Commissioners truly understood the depth and reach of the venerable institution they were now making policy for, they seemed to answer to a higher calling. They may have been COPE, NPA or TEAM but they usually became colleagues in league for a greater purpose. What happened this time regarding this trend is a mystery to me but one thing is certain. If the City tries to dissolve the Vancouver Park Board they will awaken a sleeping giant and that giant is the general public, not the envious and uninformed or politicos who think they know the pulse of this great city. Please remember too that the first resolution of the first City Council was to petition the Federal Government for what was to become Stanley Park. The second resolution was to create an independent Park Board to manage it. They had the good common sense to know that building a city could conflict with preserving, protecting and advocating for parks and recreation. Let's just hope that common sense prevails in the 21st Century because so much hangs in the balance.

Excellent call-to-arms, Terri! This situation has the potential to make "frenemies" of a whole lot of disparate goups: preservationists, sports groups who use playing fields, community centre advocates---and maybe even John and Joan Q. Public. They may not be plugged into the politics of the situation, but they surely understand that not having advocates pushing back at City Hall on behalf of parks and recreation will be a recipe for disaster. If your kid has LESS time on the field, or flowers aren't planted every year(we locals like the displays as much as the bloody tourists!) or hours of operation at community centres are cut back, you can bet that people will be howling. Does the City intend to take dollars from Park Board and move it to other areas or to top up wages of other city workers?

I have seen the passion people from all parts of the city have for their parks. Woe betide any politico who thinks that edicts that go against park policy or operations will be easily swallowed by the populace.

Dare I say that going down this road won't be "a walk in the Park" for City Hall??

Thank you for your coverage about the demise of the parks Board.
If they get rid of Park Board, there will be no stopping rampant densification, probably building on top of Stanley Park where they just put a huge parking lot!!! Already, I hear that all the land around all the Canada line stations will be rezoned for densification, to accommodate big residential and commercial towers. BIG CITY - with no parks or green spaces or recreational facilities, here we come!

Well said Terri Clark! It is refreshing to hear from someone that actually knows the history and context of the present circumstances.

What a mess though! I think things are about to get really ugly. One of the main criticisms of Judy Rogers was that she became too powerful, had too much authority. The centralization that is presently underway @ City Hall and the arrogance conveyed in Penny Ballem's email to Sue Mundick, is nothing short of an absolute power grab. I am not seeing any signs of public process, goodwill or authenticity to what is happening.

I think the Mayor and Penny are acting more like Lord and Lady MacBeth!

If the review eliminates the duplication nonsense of multiple purchasing, payroll, planning, garbage, grounds keeping, trades, departments it is a worthwhile exercise.

Park's budget is determined by City Council and the Finance department. It seems that the elected Park Board commissioners serve as flack catchers for council much like Translink does for the provincial government.

With all due respect to the above comment, the City Finance Committee and Council do not decide the actual budgets of the Park Board. Over 2 decades ago the City and Park Board agreed that the Board would be allocated a "global budget", more or less a percentage of the tax pool dollars, to be spent independently by the Park Board. The Park Board is as well subject to budget cuts etc as are City departments. Bread and butter operations such as purchasing, human resources and payroll are all related and co-mingled with the City's overall systems but with 'on the ground' staffers in Parks interfacing with park and rec people delivering a special expertise. As for things like Street Trees, as an example, highly trained Board staff deal not only with the over 200 park arboriculture duties but as well look after the City's over 150,000 street trees. It actually all makes a lot of sense. I am positive a report on efficiencies will reveal some bits and pieces but at what expense to one of Vancouver's most precious assests. As Dave Barrett used to say, "Knowing the cost of things is easy but realizing their true value is another story."

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