Thursday, October 4, 2012

A New Day for the UNA

[updated october 6, 2012]
There’s an excitement that comes along with winning an election on the promise to expand the democratic structure and community engagement of one’s local government.  It’s rather like that first day of school: eager anticipation, a little nervous, but excited about all the great things that will come.  But, sometimes it turns out to be a bit different then what one may have expected.

The University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) is our erstwhile local government.  However, as has been pointed out in this blog and by others many times, the UNA serves at the pleasure of the Univeristy of British Columbia’s Board of Governors (BoG).  That limits what can be done and how it can be done.  But, and this is the critical point, the BoG doesn’t have any direct control over whether or not the UNA Board actively engages with our constituency.  What does slow things down is a kind of institutional inertia that has built up over time.

Over the years the UNA has created a series of Standing Committees that typically meet behind closed doors.  Each committee meets at least once a month.  The membership of the committees consists of UNA Directors and staff who attend as a resource. This is where the policy business of the UNA gets down.  By the time a project or issue has wound its way through the committee structure – sometimes an item has to pass through two or more committees- it can be several months and still nothing has happened.  We'll need to move these committees out into the public eye and develop more efficient timing mechanisms.

This brings me back to the excitement of the first day at school.  There is always, it seems, that let down that comes the day after.  That first day wasn't quite what one expected.  The older students were rather sanguine about the whole affair.  The teachers get down to business and picked up where they left off last summer.  Out in the playground the rules have been set and any attempt to change them is met with resistance.  Yet, there is always that one person who still sees the half full glass and doesn’t get it when he’s told that’s not the way we play here. That's where the new directors come in.  We can see that a few new rules won't upset the playground fun all that much.

Our UNA has much that is good and it clearly has well-established informal and formal rules.  Despite the gentle push backs against the ideas of expanding and enhancing the UNA’s consultative processes – I know that my colleagues and I will keep working on breaking down the UNA's resistance to expanded democratic practice.   

One of the first things that we are going to get up and running is a series of community wide consultations – series of neighbourhood-based workshops where the UNA will listen to our resident constituency.  It’s time to remake the UNA into a democratic forum that always stands up for community interests and isn't seen as just the place that gives you the Community Service Card.

Next Tuesday, at my first UNA board meeting I, with the support of my fellow elected directors, intend to introduce a motion to establish a series of community engagement forums where the UNA will listen to residents.  As long as the rest of the board agrees, we’ll be able to get this up and running by November! 

Let’s hope the playground naysayers don’t try to extinguish the excitement of the first day.

No comments: