What will become of TransLink when the plebiscite ends May 29?
Since March 16, Metro Vancouver voters were asked if they want to pay more tax at the till for its $7.7 billion expansion wish list. But TransLink chose to act more like a private corporation or political party than the people-moving utility citizens expect. It went the extra mile to deny, delay and deflect questions about how it operates.
Easy-to-answer questions posed to the media relations department in February about consultants and the values of their contracts were met with referrals to the Freedom of Information department, which can take five weeks or more to answer.
It still hasn’t released copies of contracts, work orders and invoices for Mayors’ Council contractor Stratcom, the Vision Vancouver robocall, telephone town hall and polling specialist. On May 6, it said a list of payments to Stratcom would be released by June 17, three weeks after voting closes. TransLink also said wait until June 17 for executive salaries, the board’s conflict of interest register and directors’ disclosure statements. How’s that for transparency and accountability?
David Beckley is the vice-president in charge of the overdue and over budget Compass card and fare gate system. He claimed in February that there were no records from five meetings to review or discuss correspondence with contractor Cubic because “These ‘meetings’ are entered in my calendar as place holders for internal discussions.”
TransLink’s only scheduled board meeting during the plebiscite was March 30 and it was, as usual, behind closed doors. Provincial law gives it the power to decide how to run its own meetings, but chair Marcella Szel rejected a request to observe and report on that meeting.
TransLink’s traditional late-May statutory financial report and annual public meeting won’t happen until late June. That’s still within the six-month legal window, but TransLink is deliberately keeping voters in the dark about the 2014 bottom line. If the financial results were peachy keen, then why would TransLink delay?
Then there was how the Mayors’ Council suppressed and spun information about its taxpayer-funded $6 million Yes campaign.
Among documents that TransLink did disclose were heavily censored emails that mention a Feb. 3 conference call held to approve the budget.
When the Courier asked spokesman and Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore on Feb. 16 if the budget remained at the $4 million reported in December, he said: “that’s the ballpark that we’re working with.”
But, on Feb. 19, executive director Mike Buda sent the Mayors’ Council campaign sub-committee a script for when reporters ask about the $6 million campaign, including this pearl of wisdom:
Q: Elections BC has no requirement for financial disclosure for this referendum. Will the Mayors’ Council release its full campaign budget?
A: We’ll make that decision at the end of the campaign when all of the spending is reconciled.
Moore referred other questions to Buda, who, the documents show, took the advice of contractor Marcella Munro, Vision’s veteran campaign communications director. Munro advised him to disregard a reporter.
“Bob called me asking for an interview on the lack of campaign rules from the province. I assume I will let you guys follow up? Let me know,” Buda wrote in a Feb. 16 email to Munro.
Replied Munro: “I do not like engaging with him at all. But please ask him to direct his questions to our media email (I can’t imagine this is something we would comment on at any rate).”
Six hours later, Buda wrote to Munro: "This guy has left me 3 voice mails, a couple of emails and now DMs on Twitter. He is asking about the contractors we have on, not about voting rules. So you want me to keep ignoring him? I should add he asked greg about this and greg told them to call us."
Replied Munro: "You need to trust me here. Not Greg. Please ignore. Call me."
For some reason, on March 5, Vancouver city hall’s FOI director Barbara Van Fraassen sent Munro, rather than TransLink’s FOI staff, a Courier request for information about Mayor Gregor Robertson’s involvement in the March 2 Yes campaign telephone town hall. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner was not amused.
“City of Vancouver’s FOI department was not authorized to disclose the complainant’s name to an employee who is not involved in the access request process,” wrote OIPC officer Monique LeBlanc in a March 19 letter.