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Making hay at the park board

August 31st, 2009 · 62 Comments

A current story that is generating lots of huffing and puffing from commentators (here, here and here) is the fact that park-board commissioner Constance Barnes apparently received a $3,000 loan from the board to help with the cost of the $18,000 rehab program she enrolled in after crashing her car into a house and being charged with drunk driving.

I’ve never said more than hello to Constance and I know little about the park board these days, except for secondhand reports I get that it is not functioning very well, with the Vision park commissioners floundering about looking for a coherent direction.

But I really don’t understand the outrage that people seem to be trying to generate over the Barnes’ loan story. Columns and news stories constantly refer to Vancouver taxpayers having to pay for the cost of her treatment and to the fact that the loan was not publicly approved by the board.

But, to my knowledge, the board doesn’t have any authority to approve or disapprove of standard human-resources policies. If the city’s HR policy allows for loans to assist employees with rehab, and the news stories seem to indicate that it does, it’s not something that the board would vote on or even have to be told about. Just like when Peter Ladner got sued for libel by DERA’s Kim Kerr, his legal fees were automatically paid under existing city policy — no vote at council and no announcement made.

Secondly, unless I’m missing something again, it’s a loan. Yes, interest-free. And at today’s current interest rates, even if Barnes didn’t pay back the loan for two years, it would cost “the taxpayers” no more than $300 if the loan were at five per cent. Personally, my line of credit is 2.5 per cent, a rate I imagine the city probably has too, which means that the tax dollars going into this would be no more than $75 a year.

The biggest problem so far seems to be that park-board commissioners themselves acted as though there was something wrong going on and gave obfuscating answers when asked by reporters.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first story in politics where critics — lacking a better story to go after — have focused on a relatively small issue that they thought would generate public outrage, even though they themselves knew it wasn’t a big deal.

But maybe there’s some part of this story I’m missing. If so, please tell me and the rest of the public what it is.

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