Sunday, April 7, 2013

First Ever Resignation of UNA Director. What to do: follow democratic process, or act expediently ?

Shaohung Wu recently elected UNA director has had to resign his position.  He and his family are moving out of the UNA areas and thus he is no longer eligible to hold his position as director.  Shaohung’s resignation has precipitated a debate over the appropriate course of action to follow.  This is apparently the first time in the UNA’s history that an elected resident director has resigned mid-term.

The UNA’s bylaws allows that Board to appoint a replacement themselves without consultation or public engagement.  However, I personally have concerns with this provision in the UNA’s bylaws.  I have long maintained that our democratic deficit cannot be solved by expediency.  Thus I have this opposed any direct appointment of a replacement to the board.

I must commend Shaohung on his actions leading up to his resignation.  Realizing that he would no longer be eligible to hold his Director’s position once he moved off campus he consulted with other elected Board members and active community members.  He was advised of the UNA’s bylaw provisions and, working with supportive community members, found and suggested a very able and accomplished replacement. A person that I would be honoured to campaign for if and when they run for elected office to the UNA.  Shaohung’s recommendation was brought to the Standing Committee on Governance (SCG), which I chair.

At the SCG the board discussed the issue and decided that all things being equal it was ultimately best not to appoint the one candidate presented.  At this meeting I suggested that we hold an informal election immediately and that the Board would then appoint the candidate with the highest votes.  I suggested the informal election because the UNA bylaws provide no feasible process for holding a by-election.  At the end of the discussion the SCG ultimately decided in favour of not appointing the recommended replacement and would defer replacing Shaohung until the August election.

Community members who have been lobbying to have a replacement appointed state as their key issue that we have an obligation to fill all of the  resident directors immediately.  Points raseid by several commentators include: (1) appointing a replacement is consistent with the bylaws (2) the bylaws were democratically voted upon [though I do not beleive this is really accurate since the original bylaws were approved by a UBC appointed committee.  Only bylaws that have subsequently been changed at a formal general meeting can be said to have been democratically approved], (3)  what is explicit in the bylaws constrains the UNA -thus we can't hold an informal election, and (4)  we have an obligation to keep all of the resident director’s positions filled.

The idea of a speedy informal election has been rejected.  In it’s place some community members propose the board advertises in the Campus Resident for volunteers for a temporary UNA Director position. Each applicant would submit a resume.  The UNA Board would interview the applicants. The board would select one of these people and appoint them. 

If we were merely a community association or a recreational club or a non-profit society of some sort then I would have little concern with what is being proposed.  However, the UNA purports to be a governance body based on democratic principles.  Several of the elected resident directors have run and been elected on platforms that are critical of our current democratic deficit.  Resorting to a process whereby the current Board appoints our own hand picked candidate, no matter how accomplished or competent that individual is, strikes me as a backward step on the road to real democracy in our community.

I have been sent many pages of rational and detailed explanations for why appointing someone is not anti-democratic.  They boil down to three basic arguments: (1) the bylaws say we can do it (2) that Metro Vancouver can appoint a replacement Electoral Area A director, and (3) that residents want all resident director positions filled.  Aside from point 1 none of the other arguments, in my opinion, actually addresses the issue of democratic practice.

Ultimately I feel that the greater good is represented and respected by honouring principles of democratic practice.  In four months we will be holding elections for three new resident directors.  In the space between then and now there might be three meetings of the UNA Board.   Is there really an urgent matter now that compels us to appoint a person to the board rather than waiting to hold a fair and open election in August? I don’t think so.  But if I’m wrong and there is a serious matter that would compel us to set aside democratic practices, let me know and I’ll endeavor to be as expedient as the next director.  

1 comment:

Thomas Beyer said...

Appointing a suitable candidate makes sense. The question is:
a) how to do a call for action, say via Campus resident or email blast, and how much time for such an application process ? a day ? a week ? a month ? 3 months ?

b) If we have more than one candidate, how to pick one. Presumably through a vote. So if 3 director favour person A and 2 directors person B person A gets appointed.

c) should the appointed directors (AMS, UBC) also vote or abstain ?

d) shodul we do it only if sufficient time is left to next election cycle, i.e. if someone resigns (or dies) in June with a usually slow summer does it make sense [I'd say "no" in most cases here ]

e) should we have an alternate director from the get go, and we always appoint this person if someone resigns (or dies) ? And if so, how do we arrive at this person ? We could amend the by-laws at the next AGM, or appoint someone (back to a, b and c)