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Are Mayor Ken Sim’s days numbered as chair of Vancouver police board?

Sim’s office: “The mayor believes that the position of chair may be better served by another individual who can fully dedicate their focus to this important role.”
Mayor Ken Sim of ABC Vancouver, whose party was endorsed by the Vancouver Police Union during the 2022 election campaign, was automatically appointed chair of the Vancouver Police Board when he was elected.

Ken Sim has acknowledged “the challenges” of serving both as mayor and chair of the Vancouver Police Board, and says the role of chair may be better served by another person.

A recent amendment to the Police Act now allows city councils with municipal police departments to choose their representative on police boards. For a long time, a mayor automatically assumed the responsibility as chair when elected.

“The mayor believes that the position of chair may be better served by another individual who can fully dedicate their focus to this important role,” Sim’s office said in a statement Thursday.

“Mayor Sim remains fully committed to supporting the board's efforts to ensure Vancouver remains a safe city for all who live, work and play here.”

The amendments to the Police Act announced in April by the provincial government also allow members of a police board to elect their chair and vice-chair. That means the chair could be a government appointee, instead of a politician.

None of the serving board members are elected, with one person — Lorraine Lowe — appointed by the city and the rest by the provincial government. Police Chief Adam Palmer and his deputy chiefs attend board meetings but are not members of the board.

More clarity around who will be council’s representative on the board is expected at council’s June 11 meeting. A staff report said the amendment to the Police Act requires council appoint a member of council to the police board on or before July 25.

Council must determine the term of the appointment, but it cannot exceed four years — and couldn’t anyway, in this context, because the next civic election is in 2026.

The report, however, makes it clear that Sim could remain in his dual roles of mayor and chair of the board. Yet, considering his comments to Glacier Media, it is unlikely that will occur and one of the 10 councillors will become the new representative on the board.

Green Party Coun. Pete Fry. Photo Mike Howell

'Confidence and trust'

Glacier Media emailed the 10 councillors Wednesday with questions about whether they would be interested in the position. Pete Fry and Peter Meiszner were the only councillors to respond before this story was published.

Fry, who is one of two Green Party members, said he would welcome the appointment but believes one of the seven councillors belonging to the mayor’s ABC Vancouver party will likely get the post.

At the same time, Fry said, he doesn’t believe an ABC politician should get the post because the party was endorsed by the Vancouver Police Union in the 2022 civic election. Fry also pointed to a police board member who raised concerns the mayor's office had allegedly interfered in board affairs.

“Confidence and trust in the institution and integrity of policing needs to be above reproach,” he said.

Glacier Media reported in February that Faye Wightman resigned from the police board because of alleged interference in board matters from Sim’s political staff. Wightman also cited a “flawed” governance structure and concerns about potential conflict of interest related to two board members.

The central plank in ABC Vancouver’s platform during the 2022 election campaign was to fund the hiring of 100 police officers, with the department close to reaching that goal after council increased its budget.

ABC Coun. Peter Meiszner. Photo Mike Howell

'Important role'

Meiszner, who was elected with Sim in 2022, said in an email that he doesn’t want the police board position.

“I am not interested at this time, due to my other board commitments [Metro Vancouver Housing Committee, Electoral A Committee, Vancouver Public Library, EasyPark and Vancouver Civic Theatres], but support seeing one of my council colleagues appointed to the board, who has an interest and can dedicate time and energy to this important role,” he said.

The ABC councillors with ties to the Vancouver Police Department are Brian Montague, a retired VPD officer, and Sarah Kirby-Yung, whose spouse is a serving member of the department.

OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle, who is her party’s lone representative on council, is unlikely to get the post because of her criticism of increases to VPD budgets.

The board is the employer of the police department and responsible for hiring its chief. The board also approves the VPD's budget before it is sent to city council for final approval. Setting policy and responding to public complaints are other responsibilities of the board.

'A definite conflict'

Controversy connected to a Vancouver mayor serving in a dual role as chair of the police board is not new, as Glacier Media has reported over more than a decade.

Sim’s statement Thursday acknowledged that his dual role “can occasionally present challenges.” He didn’t elaborate, but budgets have been identified as flashpoints by previous mayors.

Sim’s predecessors Kennedy Stewart, Gregor Robertson and Sam Sullivan complained about the inherent conflict of having a politician on a board whose job involves approving (or cutting) budgets for the police department.

“There is a definite conflict that happens with the mayor trying to represent the broader budget and also representing the police,” Sullivan told the Vancouver Courier in 2008. “Certainly, I feel the tensions regularly.”

In fact, both Robertson and Sullivan requested the Police Act be revised to prevent an elected mayor from becoming chair of the police board.

The relationship was also highlighted in the Stanley Cup Riot Review in August 2011. The authors said Robertson told them serving dual roles was “not good governance.”

“The mayor’s responsibilities could be better exercised if he or she was dealing with the police board, and not directly with the chief as chair of the police board,” the review concluded.

The police board’s next public meeting is scheduled for June 20.

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