Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cash Payment to Legal Firm for Campus Resident Articles

Recently the UNA Board passed a motion to provide consulting fees for research on leasehold property values.  The request came from Jim Taylor, former long serving UNA Chair and Legal Counsel to the UNA.  Taylor solicited support for a series of articles(link to pdf of request) that he is writing for the Campus Resident (the first of which is published on page 4 of the December 2012 Campus Resident).  Taylor explains that the money is not for him, but is for two researchers (one who works in his law firm and the other who is connected to UBC Properties Trust).  The $15,000 is approximately 50% of Taylor’s proposed budget, the remaining half to be solicited from UBC.

The recommendation to approve the cash payment for writing a series of articles came from the closed door Standing Committee on Operations and Sustainability.  As the proceedings of the UNA Standing Committees remain cloistered I am not at liberty to comment on what may have been said during the closed door private meeting. 

In the December 2012 Campus Resident UNA Chair Richard Alexander is quoted saying:
“It is in the interest of the UNA, owners and the university that leasehold property values remain high. The quality of the lease for UNA properties is considered very good. However there can be a significant impact on the value of the lease if leases in surrounding areas are not as good” (see brief story bottom right page 2). 
Thus, the series of articles are designed to somehow maintain lease hold properties for UNA building owners.

At the December UNA Board meeting I raised two concerns with paying former UNA Chair Jim Taylor’s firm cash to fund his series of articles: a question of equity and transparency of the UNA and a question as to the appropriate role of the UNA to attempt to interfere with the real-estate market..

A question of equity: There is currently no transparent process by which any person can fairly apply for similar funding.  Currently there are many residents who have and who may in the future consider writing articles for the Campus Resident.  Many of these articles have and will rely upon research and expertise.  Yet we have no publically accountable process to determine which such proposal should be turned down and which should be funded.  I wonder if this means we will now provide research funding for every series of articles that might require background research and the hiring of research assistants?  I suspect not.  So unless we have a transparent public process in place for community members and or other writers to apply for research funding making this cash payment raises an issue of potential or perceived conflict of interest; a situation that is complicated by the close relation between the author and the UNA.  Absent of a public competitive process independently adjudicated it strikes me as inappropriate for the board to fund research assistants to provide background data to support the writing of this series or any other series of articles.

Role of the UNA.  I find it difficult to reconcile the UNA’s purported role as local governance with that of real estate property value booster. The UNA is supposed to represent residents – not owners.  While many of us living in the UNA own leaseholds, a great number of us also rent.  Is it really the UNA’s role to promote or provide context for the maintenance of property values.  Is this the proper role of local governance to provide mechanisms for maintaining and augmenting property values?  Clearly for some residents and the majority of the UNA Directors maintaining and augmenting property values does appear to be a key role of the UNA. The beneficiaries of such a policy, however, will be properly property holders as a class, not UNA members in general.

I have no disagreement with the idea of writing articles about lease values.  I do find the process of allocating this payment problematic in terms of issues of equity and that the focus on property values lies outside of the UNA’s proper role as local government.

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