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Hillcrest community centre sees battles erupt inside and outside board

April 15th, 2014 · 18 Comments

What a mess.

The two groups of board directors from Hillcrest Riley Park were at B.C. Supreme Court most of yesterday (somewhat to the bemusement of Judge Anthony Saunders, who had been called in from New Westminster to deal with this pressing case) with tales of directors being ousted from the board, unexplained spending, charges for membership going through to a charity affiliated to president Jesse Johl, and much more.

In the meantime, back at the centre, there have been huge fights over releasing association money for Halloween and Easter activities to the park-board staff trying to plan things. Local residents are irate. Park-board staff are feeling harassed. Et cetera.

This is all with a backdrop of Hillcrest being one of the most vocal associations fighting the park board over its plan to get all its centres to sign on to a single-membership deal and to share the money they take in from their programming with have-not community centres. While all the associations have concerns about the park board’s plans to change everything, six associations decided to fight it in court rather than negotiate privately.

As far as I know, most of the other associations are backed by their communities, Kerrisdale and Killarney in particular. But something seems to have gone amiss at Hillcrest, where the board (which has a high number of people with NPA affiliations), is fighting among itself as well as with the park board. Former NPA council candidate Ken Charko is leading the faction of those who’ve resigned or been voted off the board. One-time NPA candidate Jesse Johl (who was actually dumped by the party before the election) is the board president and head of the remaining group.

Hillcrest was not always so at odds with the park board. In fact, the board and the association collaborated extensively over the plans to replace the old Riley Park community centre with the one that was used as a facility for the 2010 Olympics.

The volunteer associations that co-manage the city’s community centres with the park board have, in the past, often been outstanding partners. In fact, it was always my theory that the park board was able to build such lavish centres, using the city’s best-known architects, because they had the backing of the community associations. And most of them are still working well, as far as I know. (At least, I’m not being contacted by irate members, as I am with Hillcrest.)

But when things go wrong with these little organizations, which often consist of a small group of hyper-involved people who don’t get much attention from the broader community, boy, can it go wrong.

My story on the current state of things is in the Globe here. But that’s barely the surface. I’ve attached various court documents below.




My Globe story:


One of the city’s highest-profile community centres has become so bogged down by infighting and political battles that the city’s park board has had to step in and pay for some of its traditional popular activities – such as the annual Easter egg party – because of the gridlock.

The centre’s board of directors are fighting each other in court.

And residents are starting to complain that leadership of the Hillcrest Riley Park Community Centre Association has been hijacked by people with a political agenda who are spending a big chunk of the association’s million-dollar reserves on legal fees to fight the Vision Vancouver park board.

“It’s all anti-democratic. The board has been taken over by a small group and their interest is in litigation, not programming,” said Art Bomke, a University of B.C. professor emeritus who is a long-time member. He said a number of residents are organizing to try to challenge the board’s activities.

Hillcrest, a former 2010 Olympics venue visited by 1.6 million people annually, has been front and centre the past year in a battle with the Vancouver park board, along with five other centres, to prevent the board from imposing a more centralized membership and money-sharing system.

The park board, linked politically to the Vision Vancouver city council, has come under harsh criticism, accused of trying to push around well-meaning groups of volunteers.

But the association’s directors – many of them with affiliations to the city’s other major civic party, the Non-Partisan Association – are now fighting each other after agreeing unanimously to fight the park board.

They spent the day at B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, after one group said they’d been kicked off the board illegally and accusing other directors of violating the B.C. Societies Act on numerous fronts.

Along with all that, there were allegations in court filings and during the proceedings Monday that local residents’ association membership fees have appeared on their credit-card statements as charges to a charity headed by board president Jesse Johl – a one-time NPA candidate and current organizer of an obscure party called Vancouver First – and that the board approved a $250,000 contract for outside services, even though board members were told there was no contract for them to view.

Mr. Bomke, who has lived in the midtown Riley Park area for 40 years, said the community-centre associations have always been somewhat vulnerable to being dominated by a small group of people who have their own ideas about how to run things.

But the current situation, which includes $300,000 in legal fees spent recently, is unprecedented and highlights some systemic problems.

“This centre takes in $800,000 a year. It’s sitting on $1-million. It really calls into question whether an association with this kind of income can function with a part-time volunteer board.”

Even the judge hearing whether to force a postponement to the centre’s annual general meeting, scheduled for this Friday, was mystified by the intense, and intensely complicated, fight.

“This reminds me of what [former U.S. president] Woodrow Wilson once said about a battle at Princeton University: ‘The reasons why the politics of the academy are so vicious is because there’s so little at stake,’ ” said Justice Anthony Saunders, who had been called in from New Westminster for the case.

Mr. Bomke said some local residents are trying to mobilize to get information and control. That had been made extremely difficult by the decision of the current board (now reduced to only five, from 12, after a number of directors were either voted off by the others or quit) to hold an annual general meeting this Thursday with little notice.

The battling board directors, led by former NPA candidate Ken Charko on the side of those who had been kicked off or left, and Mr. Johl’s group reached a settlement late Monday that deferred the annual general meeting and provided for an agreement about reasonable bylaws.


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