Saturday, July 7, 2012

An Open Letter to the Chair of the UNA

The rules that elections operate under are critical to ensure democratic practice.  An ongoing puzzle with the UNA has been a history of changing election procedures and a reluctance to publicly post and share past election practices.  In the lead up to the current UNA Board elections it has become apparent that new rules might be on the way, rules that would seriously change the playing field in favour of incumbents.  I hope this is not correct.  However, the UNA Board Members package for the upcoming July 10th meeting has an agenda item for new election rules but now details in the package!  If new rules are coming why has the UNA not had a full open and public discussion?  Perhaps the staff are overworked - that is always a possibility.  Nonetheless, democratic practice must rely upon openness.  Openness around elections are critical.

The following is a letter that I have sent to the UNA Chair, Prod Laquain.
Dear Prod,

I have just reviewed the current posted UNA Board Members meeting package to review the proposed election guidelines for the fall.  However, all that I can find in the current package (as of today’s date) is an item listed under the agenda heading of “C. New Business,2. UNA Election Campaign Rules, Mankee Mah.”  The package does not  have any of the proposed rules  included in it.

I will first say, to be clear and open, that I am planning to run for a seat as an elected director and have made my intentions known publicly since early May posting via twitter, my own blog, email lists, and face to face to people that I know and meet in our community.  I will also be cooperating with two other candidates in this election.

My concern is that the UNA is not providing any public consultation or advanced notice of the UNA plans in terms of campaign rules.  That being the case, and in the principle of fairness, I will assume that there will be no significant changes to any of the procedures for this election.  Any changes from past practice at this point and without having notified all members would further erode confidence in the democratic function and capacity of the UNA.

Through out the nearly two decades that I have lived in what we now call the University Town I have advocated for open and transparent democratic practice in our governance systems.  A core principle of democratic practice involves acting in a way that does not give rise to perceptions of conflict of interest.  A second is the concept of inclusivity.  One of the best ways to ensure that these two principles are upheld is to ensure that rules around elections are clear, open, and public.  Ideally elections are governed by arms-length agencies not under the direct influence of elected officials.  At the very least any plans or proposals should be developed openly and prior to the UNA board making a decision that might alter past practice.  All residents have the right to know what these proposed regulations are prior to them being enacted.

Our UNA Bylaws stipulate that notification of the general meeting at which the election of directors will take place needs to be communicated to members in written form at least 60 days prior to the meeting – that would be July 26th at the latest for a notice to go our, if my understanding is correct that September 26th is the date of the election and AGM.  

Given that there are at least four or five declared candidates now in the race for UNA Board of Director positions it seems that the only appropriate action for the UNA board to take at this time is to reaffirm the rules used in the past and not introduce any new rules or make any significant changes to the historical precedents that have governed UNA elections up to this date.  To do otherwise would raise questions of unfair practice.

With warm regards,

Charles Menzies
Declared Candidate for Elected UNA Director

A Storm is Brewing!

There is a growing wind for change blowing through the university town.  Recently a new resident's association, OUR, formed.  OUR's objective is to advocate on behalf of local residents and to make certain that our local governance becomes a real democratic government.

OUR's Mission.

  1. Providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and dissemination of information about the unique UBC residential community.
  2. Promoting and representing the interests of residents in decisions and actions affecting the community, including all campus plans in residential areas and other areas of campus affecting residents.
  3. Seeking full democratic representation for residents on community issues with UBC, UNA, other municipal government agencies, the Provincial Government and other government agencies. 
  4. Encouraging residents to become more engaged in local government, planning and development, community affairs and related municipal matters.
I've been a long time resident of the University Town, was a member of the original advisory committee that planned the Old Barn Community Centre, was the chair of the UNA Schools Action Committee, and was a Hawthorn Place Resident member on the parking advisory committee.

I'm now planning to take my involvement one step further and will be putting my name forward to run in the upcoming UNA Board election.  

From the very start I have found the imposition of appointed board members in the UNA to be a form of paternalism of the worst sort.  Where else in the democratic world, outside of archaic appointments of privilege,  does one find appointed politicians who can exert so much power?  The time for change is now.

The lack of real, effective, local government has many serious consequences for residents living in the University Town.  One very crucial one is that during the campaign to ensure that our children had proper schools we found it hard to get a real hearing from any of the levels of government.   The regional and provincial governments would only speak with UBC who did not adequate represent community interests, placing their interest in increasing real estate development profits and housing density above the concerns of local residents and families.  One of the results has been overcrowding of our local schools, busing of our children, and ultimately new schools that won't be able to accommodate all of our children.  Appointed university representatives are bound to represent their employer, UBC.  They don't represent residents and the proof is in the way in which UNA policies have been shaped over the years.

The UNA election rules are posted on the UNA website and are reprinted below exactly as they are on the website as of July 7, 2012.

UNA Election Rules

The UNA election is held every year to elect the resident directors on the UNA Board.  Unless otherwise stated, the annual election is for two resident directors for a two year term each.

Voter Information

All UNA members are eligible to vote at the annual election. Apply for UNA membership. Voting details will come as the election date is selected by the Board.

Running for Election

All UNA members can stand for election.  A call for nomination will be announced prior to the election.  10 nominees are required for each candidate. Nomination details will come as the election date is selected by the Board.