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Vancouver park board abolition 'not an exercise in service, work reduction'

City staff gives update on work to bring parks, recreation under control of city council.
Deputy city manager Sandra Singh updated council Wednesday on steps staff is taking to accommodate Mayor Ken Sim’s proposal to abolish the elected park board.

Deputy city manager Sandra Singh told council Wednesday that Mayor Ken Sim’s move to abolish the elected park board “is not an exercise in service reduction or work reduction” for parks and recreation employees.

If the provincial government approves Sim’s proposal, Singh said any changes to the organizational structure of the park board will be done through reassignments, attrition and vacancies.

“That is an assurance that we have made,” she said. “It doesn't mean people might not have a role change that they might not have foreseen for themselves. But we are really trying to keep to that commitment.”

What Singh couldn’t commit to is where “millions of dollars” would be saved in the transition — a promise Sim made in December when asked by reporters about reasons for bringing parks and recreation under control of city council.

Singh said determining where savings might be found is being hampered by a directive from the majority of the current elected park board that instructed park board staff not to participate in the transition.

“We can see some potential for some immediate opportunities, but we wouldn't want to finalize those or unnecessarily put out numbers or ideas until we've had a chance to talk to our park board colleagues,” she said.

“As a matter of good management, we try not to have our staff hear about things in the public before we've had a chance to talk with them.”

$20K legal opinion

The majority on the elected board is comprised of three former ABC commissioners — Brennan Bastyovanszky, Laura Christensen, Scott Jensen — and Green Party commissioner Tom Digby.

The four commissioners also successfully moved a motion Monday to unlock $20,000 to seek an independent legal opinion on the mayor’s move to abolish the board — a move that ABC Coun. Peter Meiszner questioned city manager Paul Mochrie about in terms of its effect on the transition.

Meiszner: “I'm just wondering what staff’s view is of this taxpayer-funded lawsuit slowing down the transition process?”

Mochrie: “From a staff perspective, that's not inappropriate [to seek independent legal advice]. Our law department is not in a position to act for park board in this case, given that there is potentially a conflict between their two clients, which are both park board and city. So to the extent [park board] needs legal advice, it does need to be independent. In terms of any claim that might follow, that is speculative for us at this point in time.”

Singh said the mayor’s proposal, which was supported by seven ABC councillors in a formal council vote in December, also gives staff an opportunity to “look broadly at the interconnected and related work across the whole of the city's departments and services.”

“This is not just about parks and recreation services,” she said. “We believe that a unified governance model, if implemented, would enable us to look more holistically at city services and public experiences.”

For the mayor to achieve his goal to abolish the elected board, the provincial government has to approve amendments to the Vancouver Charter. The government’s spring session is scheduled to run from Feb. 20 to May 16.

More details on the proposed transition can be read here.