Friday, November 3, 2017

The UNA's 2017 non-election

BREAKING: November 3, 2017.  UNA to postpone AGM until January 9, 2018 to correct errors with inadequate notification of the current election.  No details yet available, but six candidates are reported to be running in this election for two positions.

It's election campaign season again for the University Neighbourhoods' Association. You wouldn't know it though unless you have paid especially close attention to occasional mentions in the UNA Board Meeting packages, the very rare email blast calling for nominations, or the haphazard webpage notifications there one day gone the next.  All we know for certain is that the nominations closed October 27 (a week ago) and that the election is on or about the AGM on November 27.

What's going on?  Despite the relative lack of real authority, power, or capacity invested in the UNA it is still the best we have right now for real effective local governance. This non-election is almost so perfectly designed to obscure the UNA as to give conspiracy theorists a field day.  Except, that from all the signs and indicators this is simply a great confluence of mistakes, poor decisions, and likely internal turmoil as the organizations navigates a management shift that appears to have been accompanied with a significant degree of staff turnover in key positions.

There is now only three weeks for any kind of campaign to happen.  The Campus Resident was shutdown by the UNA due to their inability to prepare for a transition in management of the paper.  Staff reports keep defer action promising plans at the next meeting.  Aside from recognizing that a combination of online and paper is required they seem to have nothing substantive to offer. I hope they don't plan to study the issue - that will cost several thousand dollars and likely tell us that we need a creative innovative solution that combines hard copy communication with online communications. Meanwhile a non-election campaign continues lurking behind the absence of any communications as of yet.

I suspect that at some point between now and November 27th we will receive a mailout explaining who the candidates will be.  Apparently the election will be by mail out ballot only. It's as though someone sat down with themselves and asked "what's the least democratic and open way possible to run an election that requires public engagement."  We can see the plan they came up with - no public engagement or discussion platform, short notification,  perhaps a hand picked set of candidates who have already mobilized their family and friends, and there we have it today's UNA non-election.

Given the fact that the Campus Resident had been shut down, the UNA should have moved heaven and earth to ensure a broad based communications program.  Nominations should have been set to close in late September (to compensate for lack of adequate publicity).  In the absence of our newspaper the UNA should have sent email communications to members profiling each of the candidates (if there are any).  Pubic all candidate meetings should have been held at the Old Barn and at Wesbrook Community Centres.  The longer election period would have also have given candidates the formal capacity (through access to membership lists) to reach out to a broad sector of our community rather than the limit friend networks that may well be happening right now.

Democracy takes time, is costly, and requires that those controlling the process to more then what is acceptable, they need to achieve excellence in communications outreach.  Democracy fails when those running the process do nothing but implement the technical minimum.  Today's UNA non-election is accidentally (to be kind) set up to reduce involvement and undermine the authority of the UNA to speak on residents' behalf. It is a low point in our community's democratic practice.

Each low point also shows the way forward toward improvement!  Let's make sure this is the last time an inept process is allowed to undermine direct community participation in our community governance.

Monday, October 30, 2017

No News, is No News - UNA Mails out promotional materials.

I was impressed with the high quality promotional materials that the UNA Office sent to us this past week promoting the revised by-laws being presented at the AGM November 27, 2017.  7pm, Old Barn Community Centre.

I was, however, disappointed by a number of errors and misrepresentations contained in those same documents.  Statements like the service levy is a property tax, for example   While it may be analogous, it’s not actually a tax.  It was set by an agreement between Metro and UBC years ago and is embedded in our strata ground leases.   That’s just one example.

The disappointing thing is that after the UNA shut down the community newspaper they have yet to replace it with a viable communications alternative.  The web page is awkwardly set up and finding current affairs information almost impossible (try finding the AGM announcement, for example. Hope you have better luck than I did). The weekly email newsletter contains primarily promotional materials for community centre events and other commercial activities.

But here we are with an election coming and no actual communications of significance regarding it. There will, I am sure be a direct mailing now that the nomination period has closed. But there has been no opportunity to engage in the discussions that our community need to engage in.

For example, where do the candidates for directors stand on the role of appointed directors? Do the candidates support UBC’s imposition of the fire service levy?   Where do the candidates stand on the matter of the Stadium Neighbourhood plan?  
We won’t have an opportunity to discuss these questions in a reasonable manner given that the election period has been managed to be so short that there will be barely three weeks between declaration of the candidates and the actual AGM and election.  What a shame.  It could have been so different 

The UNA had more than enough time to set in place a proper communication platform that could have encouraged and engaged community voices   But instead they have resorted to the tired and true corporate model of control.

One can only hope that there are two strong, community-minded, democratically oriented candidates standing for election this time around.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

CBC Early Edition - interview on local governance

This morning I had the chance to chat with Rick Cluff on CBC's Early Edition about the deplorable state of UBC's local governance and the democratic deficit here.

You can listen to our conversation here.