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City legal department called on to assess park board/city roles

September 23rd, 2009 · 43 Comments

I haven’t had the time to do any independent reporting on the kerfuffle going on at park board (general manager resigns, general manager appears to have leaked an email sent to her by city manager Penny Ballem saying she should hold off on the process to hire her replacement, as city manager wants a role in that; various accusations of city interference; much defensive action by Vision Vancouver park board commissioners and functionaries) so all I can tell is that is seems to have created quite a tizzy among a select group of people, i.e. the 100 or so who know and care about the park board from various political persuasions.

The vast majority of the public has no idea what park board does, much less what the general manager of the park board does or how he or she gets hired, so I’m not sure how this will play out as a major political issue. I continue to be baffled by the Non-Partisan Association’s ongoing efforts to campaign on the slogan of: We want to do all the same things that Vision Vancouver does, but we’re better managers.

However, the park-board thingie is clearly causing consternation.

To wit, the Vision group has gotten the legal department to weigh in on who has what authority at the park board. Here you go, people.

Park Board memo Sept 22 2009

My only comment on this is from a senior city employee who said to me earlier this week, “Does anyone imagine that Ken Dobell and Judy Rogers didn’t have a hand in deciding on Susan Mundick when she was hired?”

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Darcy McGee

    > The vast majority of the public has no
    > idea what park board does,

    While I love that Vancouver has so many parks, the idea of an elected Park Board is just…odd.

    For many it serves as little more than a training zone for an eventual run at city council. There’s no reason the various duties that Park Board performs couldn’t be handled by council.

    In particular the at large electoral system tends to result in a park board that is composed of junior party loyalists, and as such adds little to the political discourse of the city.

    A question I honestly don’t know the answer too: do other British Columbia jurisdictions elect their park board or its equivalent? Do other lower mainland jurisdictions?

  • MB

    Most park boards or commissions in other cities are committees of council with at least one councillor appointed to the board, and with several citizen volunteers making up the rest. Vancouver is the only city that has an entirely elected board.

    I would think being located outside of the city hall campus (in a stunning setting at that) gives the park board a sense of autonomy, or would that be aloofness?, but the real power, of course, resides with the string pullers at city hall.

  • Vancouver’s uniquely- elected Park Board has been part of our city for as long as there has been a city of Vancouver. Our city would never have been as green or livable without their efforts and constant laser focus on our treasured parks.

    Vancouverites may not have a specific idea of what the Park Board does, but any administration that tries to do away with the Park Board or its cherished independence is in for a battle royale. Think back to visceral reaction of the entire city to the wind storms that decimated Stanley Park to give you some idea of the deep-seated attachment we all have for our city’s green spaces.

    And to say, as Darcy does, that the Park Board is only a training ground, or parking place for junior loyalists is to denigrate the major contributions of past park commissioners such as Al De Genova, May Brown, Marty Zlotnik and others too numerous to mention. That may be true for some individuals, but many great commissioners have accomplished great things on that Board.

    Today an independent Park Board has never been more important as development threatens long-promised Creekside Park on False Creek, and as the City seeks to impose secret deals on communities with less meaningful consultation than ever.

    Frances adds a strange comment to this post:

    “I continue to be baffled by the Non-Partisan Association’s ongoing efforts to campaign on the slogan of: We want to do all the same things that Vision Vancouver does, but we’re better managers.””

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Speaking for myself, the last thing I want to do is emulate Vision – I don’t want to politicize the professional staff. I don’t want to hold endless secret, in-camera meetings after campaigning on greater transparency.

    I don’t want to ignore communities and neighbourhood concerns or insult them for speaking up – I want to put them first on the city’s agenda.

    I don’t want to shove the homeless into shelters and pretend that’s a comprehensive plan to solve the city’s social ills. And I don’t want to insult the taxpayers and property owners of this city or make things worse for pedestrians.

    And unlike Vision, I’m not trying to take credit for the NPA’s years of hard work to build the most social housing of any administration in the city’s history.

    The NPA consists today of one councillor, Suzanne Anton, and one Park Board Commissioner, Ian Robertson, along with two school board trustees – Carol Gibson and Ken Denike.

    They are honourable individuals of integrity, passionately committed to making the city a better place to live.

    Why Frances feels it’s appropriate to parrot Vision’s talking points to attack our party now that we’re out of power is hard to explain. I realize it’s easier to beat up on the defeated than to speak truth to power, but with all respect, I expect more from a columnist of Frances’ stature.

    A little less partisanship would go a long way in this city.

  • Frances Bula


    Why is it that when I’m critical of Vision, no one says a word, but if I’m critical of the NPA, suddenly I’m just a partisan hack parroting their talking points.

    Daniel Fontaine has made the same point I have about the NPA doing little to distinguish itself from Vision except by claiming to be better managers.

  • Hi Frances,

    First, I’ve never used the words ‘partisan hack’ except in reference to Porter Goss when he was appointed to the CIA.

    Second, I have a great deal of respect for you as a reporter and observer of the city’s life political.

    But I’m afraid in this instance, the observation you made is a basic Vision talking point and I think it’s perfectly permissable for me to point that out, while respecting you and your point of view.

    It’s also true that Daniel has made similar points, but whenever he has done so in print, we have also engaged in what is often characterized as “a frank exchange of views.” Nonetheless, I also continue to respect him as someone passionately committed to a livable city.

    Back to you, being critical of the government in power is your job as a journalist. Slamming a party that has already been soundly defeated at the polls seemed gratuitous and distracted from the main issue of your story – the threatened independence of the Park Board.

  • spartikus

    Noting a CoV employee comment that Judy Rodger/Ken Dobell might have been involved in Mundick’s hiring is “slamming” the NPA?


    Good. Grief. I know the right-wing loves to “work the refs” and scream the media has a left-wing bias (as do, according to Stephen Colbert, the facts), but that is silly.

  • Hi Spartikus, you may have missed it, but my objection was no to a C of V comment but to the following specific observation by Frances in the article above that: “I continue to be baffled by the Non-Partisan Association’s ongoing efforts to campaign on the slogan of: We want to do all the same things that Vision Vancouver does, but we’re better managers.”

    And I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m not to be found in the right wing of anything. You must be confusing me with someone else.

    I also said nothing about media bias, and I didn’t suggest Frances is biased. To the contrary, if I honestly believed Frances was biased, I wouldn’t have bothered writing to correct what I consider a mistake. A mistake, as I correctly suggested above, that has distracted from the real issue – the long-established independence of the Park Board. Something everyone who loves this city should support.


  • spartikus

    I stand corrected on the details, but even with this I still find the characterization “slamming” to be silly and thin-skinned. And the “working the ref” strategy is applied to those you don’t rightly or wrongly believe aren’t particularly biased.

    You lost an election, but you are still an appropriate subject for scrutiny. Should we not study the NDP or federal Liberals with the same careful eye as the parties in power?

  • As I noted in a post regarding the same memo:

    “The Park Board has now been granted the right to make a final decision on hiring a General Manager, which as this legal interpretation indicates, should be an sign of the health of the relationship between the Park Board and City Council/City Manager.

    Once again, where exactly is the controversy?”

    Bottom line is, Ballem has the legal authority to manage the administrative aspects of the Park Board, has handed the commissioners the final say on the hiring of the new GM.

    There is little more to say on the matter.

  • We have to agree to disagree on the bias issue, but my point still stands. Instead of focusing on the independence of the Park Board, which has traditionally been a non-partisan issue, we’re distracted and divided by a gratuitous slap (if slam is too strong for you) at the NPA.

    I’d rather focus on the elected Park Board’s autonomy which is under a very real threat.

  • First the argument was that there was no authority for City Council and the City Manager to intervene on staffing for the Park Board.

    Now that that interpretation has been turned upside down, critics are talking about the threat of the Park Board’s independence being lost. However, as Raj’s comments from the other night point out:

    “…ultimately, and I want to be very clear about this, the final decision on hiring a new General Manager will be made by the Park Board.”

    So, I am very curious as to what the next tactic will be to allude to conflict and controversy that does not exist.

  • Michael Phillips


    If you believe the Parks Department’s independence is under threat, I’m curious how you think a Parks Manager should be selected. The original Ballem memo quite simply stated that Mundick should desist in attempting to unilaterally nominate her own replacement as Parks Manager, and instead opt for a process involving the City Manager and the Board. How is this out of the ordinary? Certainly an outgoing Parks Manager shouldn’t nominate their own replacement, just as a City Manager wouldn’t nominate their own replacement when they left. The Parks Department isn’t a monarchy.

  • Hi Michael,

    How about the way it’s always been done in the past? By the independently elected members of the Park Board entrusted by the voters to “Provide, preserve and advocate for parks and recreation services to benefit people, communities and the environment.”

    The City itself is the largest land owner, and ultimately the largest developer in the city. That can place City Council in direct conflict with the mandate of the Park Board.

    There are many Mayors in the past that may have wished the Park Board weren’t so independent, but no City Manager in living memory has told the Park Board they couldn’t choose their own manager. Until now.

    Dr. Ballem’s Memo to the outgoing Park Board Manager states: ” The general manager of parks and recreation has a line of accountability to me … Secondly I understand that you are contemplating some organizational restructuring and potentially naming a deputy general manager. I would like to ask you not to proceed with these plans.”

    So that establishes the very real and clear threat to the independence of the Park Board from City Hall.

    And finally, this is happening in the context of other changes at city hall that led even a usually sympathetic Allen Garr to label Dr. Ballem a nanomanager –

  • Sean,

    Mundick retired on her own accord.

    Therefore, a request that she does “not proceed with these plans” to name a deputy general manager (a brand new position) is entirely reasonable.

    Once you signal your resignation or retirement, reforming the organization that you are leaving is not within your purview anymore.

  • Paul Lehry

    Hi Sean,

    First of all, I also have a source who told me that the infamous Ken Dobell and Judy Rogers had their fingers in the hiring of the GM of Park Board. The source tells me, that the Park Board Commissioners decided who it should be the next GM, but the City Managers signed off on it.

    In terms of the hiring of a replacement, it is outright irresponsible for a lame duck GM to conduct organizational changes, especially during the vancouver Services Review taking place.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Sean, stop wasting your eloquent and articulate thoughts and words here.

    Frances has NEVER written in a supportive way about the NPA and that’s just a matter of history, notwithstanding the histrionics and hysteria in rebuttal. Mind, in many cases she hasn’t had much positive material to work with.

    spartikus and phillips are both blind, partisans, deep in the tank for Vision, and little Johnny Ross, like the class dunce, who momentarily catches the prom queen’s eye in PE, only because she needs another stick of gum, is doing his best Josef Goebbels, in the errant hope that anything he has to offer will be seen beyond the wasteful, totally inaccurate propaganda it is.

    This blog was, sadly, hijacked long ago, and is now held ransom, by the left wing loons and extremists, who aimlessly litter the blogosphere with brainfarts and cranial belches, design to create “momentum” and “broad support” for Vision, whose policies have split them and separated them from the independents they will need to get back not to suffer significant losses.
    Why do you think they have little Johnny to bump for them about anything and everything on his blog? Remember how I told you last year that citycaucus would spur an equally negative response?

    Sad, but all true.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Sean, as a classic example of little Johnny’s confusion:

    1) Mundick was perfectly within her right to assist in a transition. This is no different from any other transition made at Parks Board. They operate differently from council and even city staff from Silly Hall, but such information would require some genuine research and an ability to leave the spin aside and proffer some honest reporting.

    2) Ballem’s memo was a precursor to broader plans to gut the Parks Board. This has been the plan Vision has had for some time. Problem being that the braintrust has no respect for the amateurs in Vision Parks caucus, and they have even less time for little Johnny, even though they appreciate the spinning, feeble and not particularly honest as it is… An additional problem is that I caught them with their pants firmly planted on the ground. No they say? Well then, why all the vitriolic hyperventilation by little Johnny to support his pal Raj? Why the backtracking by Raj? I’ll tell you. Because Vision was SWAMPED with backlash from their own bailiwick. Even Loretta Woodcock, in the Vision witness protection program, told Raj to tell Penny “to back right off”. But the dunce still asks where the controversy is…it is because intelligent folks recognized the writing on the wall, and wanted Ballem to go away.

    3) When I broke the story on Ballem’s micromanaging in this case, and others, the list of “Sam Sullivan era departures” included scheduled retirements and change in careers, with Estelle Lo being the only exception: She was emotionally drained and did not like how the OV fiasco was handled, either by the NPA or by Vision during the election.

    4) Sue Mundick was NOT scheduled to retire for at least another year, Her departure was hastened by the fact that raj Hundal and Aaron Jasper and others were in contact and met with Penny Ballem on issues that were the purview of Mundick. She read them the riot act twice in the past and they ignored her.

    As one high ranking Visionista put it to me recently, “We sure could have done a better job picking Parks candidates, that’s for sure”…

    So, my dear Frances, that’s why there is so much attention being paid to Parks. It’s a place Vision thought they could score an easy goal.

    Ended up being an own goal…

  • NPAJoke

    I am killing myself laughing that Mr. Sean “stand up for the people” Bickerton (the election is still a couple of years away) is defending Sue Mundick’s attempt to covertly hire a Deputy Park Board Manager as the standard that would prove the parks board independence. Ballem did nothing short of what a good manager should do and that is preventing a retiring manager from attempting to anoint their successor. I fail to see how Ballem did anything but strengthen this hiring process, Mundick tried to pull a fast one by trying to set up a candidate to succeed her and got called out on it—good on Ballem.

    The NPA on this issue has shown to me it’s just the good old boys club everyone suspected it was.

  • SV

    Don’t feed the troll people.

  • Michael Phillips


    Judging from your column, you are not the one to make judgements about eloquence and articulation.

    Hi Sean,

    I agree totally with an organizationally independant Park Board, it was one of our City’s great early acts of wisdom. However, I highly doubt, like the senior city employee Frances mentionned, that the City Manager hasn’t in the past participated in the process of selecting a new Parks Manager.

    I would hate to think that the way in which the $60 million dollars that City Council gives to the Park Board each year is spent is 100% up to 7 Board members making an 8 or 10,000 dollar stipend, who generally must keep other jobs, and a Parks Manager that they unilaterally appoint. It shouldn’t be entirely up to the City Manager whom is appointed either, but the source of almost the entirety of the Parks Board budget should at least have a say, and a Parks Manager playing the lead role in selecting her own replacement is out of the question.

    Similarly, given that the overall financial direction of the City and its budget is set by Council (and executed by the City Manager), a Council-mandated hiring freeze applies also to the Parks Board and going so far as to create a new position without consultation is a no-go. The City Manager should be able to expect to be consulted on the hiring of the Parks Manager and expect the Parks Board to abide by a hiring freeze policy without everyone talking about the end of Park Board independence being nigh.

  • Frances Bula


    Just one question. (Well, more really, but I’ll save them.)

    You say Sue Mundick was not scheduled to retire. But both citycaucus and I have been hearing since approximately Dec. 15 that she was high on the list of people likely to want to leave under the new administration. When she finally did go, the response from most people was: What took so long?

    Granted, the Vision crew might have done more to encourage her to stay, given the leakage of senior staff at a crucial pre-Olympics time, and clearly that didn’t happen.

    But what is your basis for saying she had not planned to retire for another year?

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Phillips, pls run off and write yet another incoherent letter to the Editor of my paper, pls go on. It provides us great laughter.

    Ballem is NOT your ordinary CM. She has shown herself to be a leader in the politicization city staff. Judy rogers (whose power I do not like) was a rank amateur compared to Ballem’s running roughshod through the bureaucracy at Silly Hall.

    But you keep breathing the rarified air of Gregor’s gym shoes, there Mikey.

    And I have an addition to make. While I think civicscene is simply an answer for citycaucus, if none of you have read Ross’ posting about the VPL’s bad decisions, specifically where he notes one Jew hater allowed space, then you shoudl go read this posting, every word of it.

    Because it’s superb.

  • A. G. Tsakumis


    Sue Mundick had no plans to leave for at least a year. One of my very best sources in Silly Hall, who actually voted for Vision (and now regrets it) simply asked her. And that was the response.



  • Frances Bula

    And of course what people say when asked a very sensitive question, one where they don’t want people to know what they’re actually thinking of doing, is always the complete and utter truth.

    That’s why Dave Rudberg, Jody Andrews and James Ridge went around telling everyone they were planning to leave for weeks before they did. Not.

  • spartikus

    Because it’s superb.

    LOL…this significantly undercuts your theory that Jonathan Ross is mentally ill, but I digress…

  • Michael Phillips

    I assumed from reading your column that 24Hrs had no Editor, I thought that’s why it could afford to be free.

  • Hoarse Whisperer

    Now, children.

    Apparently, this council is allowing the UFC to bring its bone-breaking show to town. Don’ t get me started on that one. Yet.

    Shall I register you all to engage in and show off your MMA (Master Mouth-off Activities) skills when the Big Show comes to town? Ladies & Gentlemen, in this corner…

    Just remember—I get 10% of each one of you…

  • Otis Krayola

    @Hoarse, are there corners in an octagon?

    @A. G. T, this is the second time in a week that you’ve trotted out the story of Vision PB Comissioners meeting or ‘in contact’ with Dr. Ballem behind Mundick’s back.

    How do you know? What do you know? When did they meet/contact one another? What was discussed? You hint a some sinister cabal, but provide no details.

  • Marcus

    Park Board staff are concerned if the changes as predicted, shifting from Board to Department of Parks and Recreation do occur will our work sites become as poisoned as they are inside City Hall?

  • Just Passing By

    Frances, Frances, Frances. I am very disappointed in you. To remove my innocent post altogether is an outrage, it showed for a short while in between AGT’s #16 #17 posts. And what did I say? That Jonathan R and Michael P are hilarious(to themselves), to stop circling the wagons ( City Hall) and keep it FUN. Oh, and I said that we all know how Penny was… appointed, handpicked, anointed, etc. you name it but not HIRED!!! And that I do not consider her competent at all, YES, may I have that opinion of her? Gee, I don’t know, did I break any rules of engagement here??? Oh, stop the presses, she is good at something, lots of stamina and determination when she is reading aloud those Power Point presentations made TO GO. Outrageous! It turns out more and more that Alex G T starts making more sense on this blog than your sidekicks will ever make. There, another reason for you to delete this one as well. I am out of here! 🙂

  • Frances Bula


    Sorry, the nastiness of the posts was starting to get me down and so I just didn’t put some up and unapproved others. I’m feeling more resilient today and this one is marginally less of a personal attack than the other, so here goes.

    By the way, I realize it suits some people to put everyone in two camps, people who agree with me and partisan a–holes, but just for your information, I have also removed or not approved posts that were personal attacks, some of them libellous, on the following people: Jody Andrews, Christy Clark, Judy Rogers, our dear friend Alex, and others I can’t remember at the moment.

    But please don’t let my manipulative attempts to seem reasonable deter you from thinking dark thoughts.

  • Sorry Frances, with all due respect, how does AT comparing me to Josef Goebbels pass the “reasonable” test of what gets posted?

  • FBT

    Wonderful, this post has turned into a discussion on who/what Frances should screen and what she shouldn’t.

    Some of those here need to learn how to let go of the apron strings but I guess when you pose as the mother to the children on the left side of the sandbox that’s what you get.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Phillips, you spend an INORDINATE amount of time wailing away at how I’m so illiterate, in this blog and others, and how I’m a horrid, mean and beastly fellow, but seem addicted to reading my EVER column. STOP READING IT.

    It’s an insult to have you as a reader. Today’s column has an error in it. It can be an imprecise business sometimes, but you’re such a godamned genius that you figure it all out without us peons bothering you, eh?

    You are absolutely comical; tragic, but comical.

    Ross, here’s something you’ll rarely get from me; your spinning about Mundick’s unscheduled departure due to intimidation notwithstanding: I apologize. The comparison to Goebbels style of propaganda churning (and NOT a direct comparison) was well below the belt and totally offside on my part. But your propaganda efforts would seem far less ridiculous and more palatable if you admitted that your blog is no more credible than citycaucus in the bias dept. Still, I felt badly about it, enough that I was going to write a note here today, but was running my kids all over town to soccer and dance class etc. When a mistake is made an apology is necessary. So, again, I’m sorry, it was well beneath me and absolutely unfair to you.

    Krayola must think me a clod! Let me get this straight, you want me to give you details of when mtngs between Vision parks caucus and Ballem happened or key conversations took place so that it MIGHT be easier for some of the them who read this blog like a Bible to have a better idea of where I got my info???

    Krayola…you might have worn your “colour” to a knub…but I’m still all here buddy.

    Good weekend to all.

  • Darcy McGee

    Sigh. This always happens. A nice place to play until the wannabes do nothing but start taunting each other.

    Jealousy rears its ugly head.

  • Knub? I knearly did a spit take. I would have kneeded a knew keyboard. Was going to kneedle Tsakumis but decided to hit the dictionary to double check. Turns out AGT is just rockin’ some wacky but perfectly acceptable variant spelling. Awesome. Alex made me LOL. I’m knever going to spell it any other way from now on, just to trip up spelling Knazis like myself. Maybe we can play knice for a change? For the children and all?



  • Michael Phillips

    Well, in the spirit of AGT’s apology to Ross, I have to point out that “knub” is infact a completely reasonable alternative spelling to the word “nub” and has been in use variously since 1594 AD.

  • Umm, yeah, that’s what I just said. Didn’t you knotice?


  • Michael Phillips

    That’s what I get for skim reading -1

  • Hoarse Whisperer

    Tsakumis apologizing?? Michael Phillips making light-hearted banter???

    Merry Christmas, in keepin’ with the situation!

  • Hoarse Whisperer …. now that’s my kind of city!

  • T W

    The Parks Boaard carries out public policies in the public interest, using money raised by taxation, from block grants and user fees.

    The city may well delegate the running of the Parks Board to other elected officials but these secondary elected officials are still answereable to the city elected officials and the taxpayers. At any time, the city can, in theory, take back the direct control of the Parks Board unless it is specifically deemed independent by statute, not merely used as a farm team for local politicians.

    Other cities have advisory committees look at recreation policies and do not create a fresh overlapping bureaucracy.

    Why should Vancouver be different.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Because TW, if that was Vision’s plan, and that would be quite a departure at that, then they should have ran on it.

    Bet you not one of their Parks lackeys would have been elected.

    Not one.

    Except for Loretta Woodcock, who would have straddled both sides of the issue and, typically for her, adopted the mood of the public only when it was blatantly obvious–pretending that she was of that same frame of mind all along.