A lawyer and former NPA city councillor representing Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr describes the hierarchy at city hall as similar to that of the popular TV series Downton Abbey.
Jonathan Baker told a crowd gathered at a press conference at city hall Tuesday that all municipal governments are made up of two tiers, the downstairs workers called civil servants and the upstairs elected officials. Baker was at the press conference to give his legal opinion regarding a notice of motion Carr attempted to bring to council last week that was quashed by city manager Penny Ballem before it could be presented. Baker, who served two terms on city council in the 1980s, and Carr both argued a “downstairs” city employee has no right to tell an elected “upstairs” official what to do.
Former COPE councillor Tim Louis also spoke in support of Carr, saying Vision Vancouver is “emasculating the park board.”
Carr is attempting to weigh in on a proposal by the Vision Vancouver commissioners on the park board, as well as Ballem and park board general manager Malcolm Bromley, to centralize 23 of the city’s community centres. The proposal, approved in principle last week, also includes changing the financial model used by the centres’ associations, which if approved will see these non-profit groups forced to pool revenues.
Carr wants the city to get involved because she says the move will eliminate thousands of volunteer hours, as well as government grants the associations receive each year to run programs at affordable rates. Carr is worried the move will have a financial trickle-down affect, so her motion asks Bromley to report back to council within two months on the potential impact to the city’s budget.
After Carr submitted her notice of motion, Ballem told Carr in an email, “It would put both the park board and the city at risk if there was an airing of these issues in regard to impact publicity… For this reason the motion is out of order and I will not be allowing it to go on the agenda. I have reviewed this with the city solicitor and the clerk.”
Carr argues the city and park board have discussed the proposal publicly through meetings, so any “airing” of the issues has been done.
Last week, Ballem told the Courier in an email, “Under the Vancouver Charter, and authorities delegated by city council, the city manager is responsible, along with the city clerk and the city solicitor, to manage the business of council. It is not appropriate to discuss conversations with councillors about the management of council business.”
Carr’s motion was denied twice during the Feb. 12 council meeting. Carr was pressured to apologize to Ballem for her comments, but refused to apologize to her Vision Vancouver counterparts as was also suggested.