Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New Year's Greetings and Old Year Review

I greet this year knowing that my second term as a UNA Director is coming to a close.  Three and a half years on the Board.  It's a rather short time yet it feels like so long ago when Richard, Shoahong, and I were first elected in 2012.  I recall the excitement we felt on winning election - we really thought that we would make a change.  I can only speak for myself but it would seem to me that we have accomplished none of the goals that we started with.

Three and a half years ago the OUR slate claimed that we would bring real and effective community representation into the UNA.  One small idea was that we would open up more of the decision making processes of the UNA to public scrutiny. All these years later we are no closer to a more open democratic process then when we started the process.

I can take some solace that we finally had a Board vote on opening up two of our standing committees to public observation.  However the vote split 3 to 3. Menzies, Cottle, Omassi (AMS appointee) voted in favour.  Zhou, Zhang, Jolie (UBC appointee) voted against. As acting chair Zhou cast the deciding vote against expanding transparency.  Apparently another consulting firm is busy working in the background to prepare a report on how the UNA can be transparent (or perhaps to suggest that the UNA is transparent enough).

What is so complicated about open decision making and transparency?  I will confess to confusion and incomprehension that anyone operating honestly would have any concerns with an audience watching their elected (and some appointed) officials debate, discuss, agree/disagree, and make decisions. What I do understand is that I have failed to carry out my promises to make the UNA a more open and democratic agency.

As I reflect back over my three and a half years as a UNA Director my biggest regret is that I believed the propaganda. That is, I actually believed that the UNA had the potential to be a real municipal-like agency. Even though I have always felt it better that we had an independent municipality here, I did believe what the UNA staff, UBC Administration, and local advocates like Jim Taylor would say: that the UNA had real potential to act as a representative body. I am no longer burdened with that false consciousness today.

There are some very positive aspects of the UNA.  I have had a chance to meet and get to know (at least a little bit) some folks I would not normally interact with.

As a professor I meet students all the time. However, being able to meet with student leadership in an arena that is not directly about student affairs provides a refreshing and different perspective.

As an employee of UBC I occasionally interact with management, but typically on the academic side. Getting a chance to sit at the same table with folks like Ian Burger, Nancy Knight, Andrew Parr, Lisa Colby, and Carole Jolie is really informative.  These are folks who were at one time (or currently are) UBC appointees during my tenure as a Director. They come from all aspects of UBC's middle/upper administrative management.  Their membership on the Board is at the request of UBC.  It is interesting to here the different perspectives of elements of the vast administrative apparatus at UBC. On a personal level I have (for the most part) really enjoyed getting to know these colleagues better.

As a resident community member it's nice to get to know neighbours that one might not meet during the course of our regular day.  For the five elected directors we get a special experience of meeting residents from different social worlds.  This is, I think, the most positive aspect of the UNA experience.  I get an opportunity at least twice a month to meet and learn about my neighbours first hand as we debate community centre policies, discuss volunteer programs, and try and figure out which division of UBC can best answer resident questions.  Though much of what we do takes place behind closed doors, let me assure you it is a very rewarding experience and a privilege to get a chance to better understand the many social worldviews that comprise our residential community.

Recognizing limits and managing expectations is something that (usually) comes with age. When I began this journey my expectations for what I could change clearly exceeded the limitations of the UNA/UBC structure. The UNA is a creation of UBC's BoG and it's development wing. UBC has delegated certain responsibilities and a small bit of authority to the UNA. Effectively the UNA manages two very nice community centres. The UNA is also the conduit though which a portion of resident service levies pass through to pay for services that UBC has committed to manage and deliver.  The UNA is not and can never ever become an effective representative body with real governance capacity.

As will likely become more and more apparent in the near future the UNA has no real control over anything remotely municipal-like.  Half our taxes go to the province directly through rural property taxes (very little of which is controlled or used locally). The calculation for the service levy is outside the control of the UNA and is set by being bench marked to Vancouver's tax rate.  Major municipal services are not actually controlled by the UNA but are either part of Vancouver (Fire Protection, Schools), the province (Policing & roads),  UBC (most community amenities excepting the two UNA community centres), and Metro (waste management rules, water, parks).

I suspect that at some time in the future 5, 10, 15 years from now this area will be part of the City of Vancouver.  The decision won't have come through the UNA - it will be UBC, the Province, and Vancouver that will make that deal.