(Updated 2 pm) On October 2, 2012, a City Councillor will present a motion in Vancouver City Council to create yet another Task Force — the Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force (Engaged City Task Force, 2-Oct-2012, motionb4). The public should say “No thanks.” We’ve seen enough of Mayor’s task forces and committees, and the public should be concerned about what we see. The Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability (report in Council Oct 2) is another example of how politically-appointed task forces operate in Vancouver.
Disclaimer: This article is in no way a criticism of any individual who generously and in good faith volunteers on any task force or committee. It is an indictment of the current culture dominating Vancouver City Hall and how it plays out in some advisory bodies created for political purposes. Read on to see what one community experienced.
The Province newspaper editorial hit some good points, questioning the merit of City Hall creating yet another Mayor’s task force. Excerpt: Vision Vancouver’s plan to tackle the city’s perceived happiness deficit, while noble in intent, has to be one of the silliest notions to come out of city hall in a long time and that, of course, is saying something.
Further below, CityHallWatch summarizes the West End’s experience with the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (2010 — 2011, may it forever rest in peace). If this is how City Hall runs task forces and advisory committees, the public should have two words for the Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force: No Thanks.
The public’s recent history with task forces and advisory boards has been problematic. All of these problems below occurred with WEMAC and are probably not unique to that body.
- Vague terms of reference
- Political friends and special interests invited and appointed through non-transparent selection processes
- The “funnelling” of the selection of members into a certain demographic makes it likely that recommendations will have certain pre-determined outcomes
- Closed meetings inaccessible to the public
- A lot of spin and hype for political gain and image benefits
- City finances and staff resources are provided to the body
- Questionable methodologies which then get incorporated into official council decisions
- When methodological flaws are pointed out, they were not rectified. Any questions get sent to staff and never again see the light of day.
- Abuse of rules on in-camera meetings to keep public out and to keep meeting content secret. In this regard, see http://www.surreyleader.com/news/171253231.html, regarding an ombudsperson’s audit proving this point.
- Outcomes just happen to benefit the political interests that created the body
Below are some facts specifically related to the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee, which was purportedly created to be (“responsible for communicating community priorities to the City in its planning and policy development and for helping to communicate City policy initiatives that may be of interest to residents in the West End.” See text in PDF Motion 3B,West End Commty Advsory Ctee, Terms of Reference, 8 July 2010) . Much of this was in the context of a petition signed by 13,000 residents against spot rezoning and calling for a comprehensive plan in the West End. One of the lightning rods for community dissent was a rezoning of the St. John’s Church site at 1401 Comox in the West End, to make way for a 22-storey tower, with a 500% increase in permitted floor space — what the community considered to be a major disruption and violation of existing rezoning guidelines.
- The announcement of the creation of WEMAC was made just a few days before the motion went to Council on July 10, 2010.
- When several residents went to City Hall, waiting eight hours for a chance to speak for five minutes to Council about the need for more time to revise the Terms of Reference, the Mayor’s disparaging comments into a hot microphone after the meeting resulted in what is now known as his “F-Bomb.” (See YouTube below.) The citizens’ comments were completely ignored, and Vision Vancouver passed the motion without a single revision. (The Engaged City Task Force, if created, should start with Mayor and Council reflecting first upon the current culture of steadily removing public access to decision-making at City Hall.)
- Political friends of Council-dominating Vision Vancouver party were individually contacted and encouraged to join. Several of them were political donors and supporters — seen previously at fundraisers and promotional events, for example. In mid-term, one member even stepped down as co-chair of WEMAC to run for public office (Parks Board) under the Vision Vancouver slate — and won. (Another former co-chair is looking forward to real estate developments in the West End for a care facility.) (Incidentally, at least two of the members have moved out of the community already — one in mid-term, and one shortly after WEMAC ended.)
- Elected officials on City Council other than Vision Vancouver members received no information about the applications received to be on the committee, no explanation of why certain persons were selected, and no briefings about proceedings. It appeared as if all decisions and processes relating to the committee were controlled by the Mayor’s office and his party members.
- Task force or committee members appear to get goodies as rewards. For example, a motion later adopted by Council actually encourages City staff to facilitate meetings between WEMAC members and provincial officials.
- Despite repeated written requests to the Mayor, not one single meeting was held for the public in the West End. They were all held at City Hall. The public never had a single chance to address the committee in an open meeting. Individuals could attend but only observe the meetings at City Hall. And the committee never once presented its findings back to the residents.
- WEMAC went beyond its mandate to get involved in specific development projects (publicly and formally endorsing demolition of the church at 1401 Comox, making way for a controversial rezoning).
- A few WEMAC members ended up publicly speaking in favor of rezoning. A WEMAC Co-chair went so far as to make the effort to be the first speaker at the 1401 Comox rezoning public hearing in July 2011, with his written submission and positive scorecard for the project distributed to Council. Another WEMAC member made the effort to be the final of over 70 speakers, late at night, at the very end of a long meeting. Both were in favour of the rezoning, and both shook hands with the rezoning proponent for 1401 Comox immediately after the meeting.
- When members of the public pointed out methodological problems and flawed conclusions of a WEMAC survey of residents, City Council ignored the errors, referred the questions to City staff to be reviewed and any errors rectified. City Hall took no further action to rectify the errors, and no report ever went back to Council.
Video below shows citizens speaking to Council after waiting eight hours for a chance to say WEMAC terms of reference needed more work, followed by disparaging “f-bomb” remarks by Mayor Gregor Robertson.
YouTube link below (note — image below is just a photo, doesn’t run YouTube, so you must click the direct link) shows WEMAC in 2011 violating the City Procedures Bylaw, with an elected member of City Council present and even justifying the motion to abruptly go in camera and close the meeting to observers. Is this a sign of a culture at City Hall of abuse of in camera meetings to hide discussions from the public?
Disclaimer (repeat): This article is in no way a criticism of any individual who generously and in good faith volunteers on any task force or committee. It is an indictment of the current culture dominating Vancouver City Hall and how it plays out in some advisory bodies created for political purposes. The origins of the problem are the initial intent and design of the task forces and advisory bodies — as embodied in the terms of reference. Thus, the proponents of these bodies are the source of the problem — not the individuals who volunteer of their precious time to serve their communities. This is why no personal names have been stated here, except for elected officials.
More Mayor’s task forces and advisory committees? If the past is a sign of the future, No Thanks.
Text of motion Engaged City Task Force, 2-Oct-2012, motionb4
Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force
MOTION ON NOTICE
Motion 4. (October 2, 2012) Engaged City Task Force
MOVER: Councillor Andrea Reimer
SECONDER: Mayor Gregor Robertson
1. Vancouver City Council has a strong and demonstrated commitment to bringing
the community into City Hall by engaging citizens, and soliciting their ideas,
input and creative energy;
2. It is desirable to have the highest level of resident engagement, matching the
demographics of the city as closely as possible, in City processes and resource
3. Recent research by the Vancouver Foundation found a strong correlation
between low neighbor to neighbor engagement and low engagement with
4. The Vancouver Foundation research further shows social isolation was the
single largest concern for residents in the Metro Vancouver region;
5. The Community Summit that took place from September 18-23, 2012,
generated a number of ideas for action on increasing engagement, both with
neighbours and with government;
6. The City has been a recognized leader in Open Data initiatives and is thus wellpoised
to expand these efforts to better engage citizens online and through social media.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Vancouver City Council establish an Engaged City
Task Force as a Type D advisory committee with the terms of reference attached in
Appendix A entitled “Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force”; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Councillor Andrea Reimer be appointed to the Task
* * * * *
Start December, Final Report by June 2013
The Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force will be composed of Mayor Gregor Robertson, one Councillor and sixteen (16) individuals with broad experience, expertise, and interest in community engagement.
In light of the Vancouver Foundation research on belonging and inclusion, particular
attention will be paid to recruiting individuals with expertise and experience with
engaging individuals 25-34 years of age. In addition, the task force will seek to
recruit individuals with experience and expertise in effective use of social media for
The task force will be supported by staff from the Mayor’s office, City Manager’s
office and corporate communications.
Members will be appointed using an open call nomination process.
Scope of Inquiry
Making Vancouver a more engaged city will require progress on the following priority
1. neighbour to neighbour engagement
2. increased literacy of, and opportunities for engaging in, City processes and
3. enhancing how the city engages with citizens, and vice versa
The Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force will issue a final report on what’s working,
what needs improvement and what’s missing