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Carving a new way forward for our Community Centres. Why fear and hysteria didn’t win.

Roundhouse Community Centre

As most are acutely aware of by now a public meeting was held last night at the West End Community Centre to present and solicit feedback on the most recent recommendations to replace the 1979 Joint Operating Agreements between Community Centre Associations and the Parks Board.  Some say the meeting was hastily called, with little respect for Vancouver residents to have time consider and respond to the content of the report released only yesterday as if this was going to be the only opportunity for the public to provide input.  How I viewed it is that we were having an opportunity, on the very day of the release of the report, to have the content presented with a mechanism to provide direct feedback to our elected Parks Board on the report content as a first step in flushing out the details of a new agreement. Truthfully it only took about 20 minutes to read the report and come to an initial, informed position.  I had hoped that the public hearing would help to fill in the blanks, to understand how such animosity has built between Community Centre Associations and the Parks Board incoming to terms of a new partnership agreement.

The recommendations being presented included negotiating detailed terms of an already generally agreed upon framework. Many speakers were too emotionally invested in their positions to consider that months, if not years, of work had resulted in a committment to further consultation and negotiation led by both the Community Centre Associations and the Parks Board.  I heard stories of fear that community centre volunteers would no longer be engaged, that funding was being stripped, programs being cut, seniors being disenfranchised, and children being tossed from day care.  I wondered if I was given a copy of the report that was different from others. None of what I was hearing from speakers was actually being considered or presented by Parks Board staff. Instead, we all sat through 9 hours of rhetoric and political posturing, based on mis-information and the refusal of many to acknowledge that the very key piece being looked for, was right in front of us. An opportunity to be heard.  At 3:00 AM the Parks Board chose to move forward with approving the staff recommendations. The crowd was hostile and whether the decision was taken then or a week later, common sense was not going to prevail. At the end of the process, the fear mongering and hysteria achieved only a result confirming that the relationships between Community Centre Associations and the Parks Board is flawed and that many refuse to work collaboratively to find solutions. The exact reason we need to change, not to stay rooted in the past.

It is clear to me that the current inequitable patchwork of services and management structures of our community centres is unacceptable going forward.  This is not to discount that immeasurable hours have been spent by community volunteers planning and carrying out vital programming for our communities.  But it is now time to move forward. Clearly, financial accountability is lacking.  Millions in public funds are going to non-profit associations to deliver programs, and some of these associations have no interest in allowing their major funder, the Parks Board, which is really all taxpayer money, to expect meaningful, measurable, and accountable results.  Results that provide equity across our network of community centres, providing access for all Vancouverites, all which can only be accomplished through a new financial model.

Those who claim that a final community partnership plan has been rammed down the throats of Vancouver residents by the Parks Board, have not read or clearly understand what was recommended last night by the Parks Board. What we did get was a commitment to negotiations, including a revised financial model, equitable access to services for all residents, and confidence that our community centres are sustainable and accountable to the taxpayer and those who pay to access the services of our centres. It is now time for all Community Centre Associations to come to the negotiating table with the Parks Board. Change is required and coming. The choice is to be part of shaping our future or ignoring it. The latter is not likely what Vancouver residents expect of our elected Community Centre Association Boards or our Parks Board.

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The principles approved by the Park Board in 2010 to guide a new partnership.

1. Equity Among Community Centres

All Vancouver citizens have access to a core set of programs that lead to healthy living and ultimately, to healthy communities.

2. Access to a Network of Community Centres

System that allows for a universal membership or other system to be used for all rinks, pools, fitness centres, and core programs across all community centres.

3. Access For All Citizens

Single policy and process that respects confidentiality to ensure all residents have access to basic recreation programs and services regardless of income.

4. Operational Sustainability and Accountability

An operating relationship for community centres that is sustainable,accountable and transparent.

Recommendations approved by Parks Board on February 4, 2013

1. That the Park Board endorse in principle the key elements for the proposed framework for a new partnership agreement as described on page 20 of this report.

2. That staff be directed to continue the process and complete the negotiations with all the community centres interested in moving to a new Partnership Agreement based on (1.), and take any steps necessary to prepare for its implementation, effective July 1 2013.

3. That staff initiate a consultation across the city, working with the Community Centre Associations, to share with residents the framework and receive input on:

  • Priorities for moving ahead toward a more accessible and equitable network of community centres
  • Opportunities for the allocation of the new $1,000,000 annual fund made available to the Park Board by the City commencing in the 2013 budget.

The full report is available at: http://former.vancouver.ca/parks/board/2013/130204/ParkBoardSpecialMeetingPresentation.pdf

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