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'You guys are a disgrace to the city': Parks board meeting cut short as public speaker, audience turn combative

The board got through three out of 44 speakers before shutting things down.

The July 18 Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation meeting ended more dramatically than most.

In fact, it didn't really end, but was recessed as commissioners and staff were concerned about the public speakers and gallery at the open meeting.

"Currently we have members on our staff team and also commissioners who feel threatened and do not feel safe with the energy in the room right now," said committee chair and parks commissioner Camil Dumont before announcing the meeting would be paused.

The crowd responded with a small outburst; Dumont asked them to stay quiet.

"This is exactly the type of interruption that is perpetuating that type of feeling," Dumont said, adding that the comments earlier in the meeting were seen as attacking staff and commissioners.

That elicited another response from the man at the public speaker podium, the third in line to address the Stanley Park Mobility Study, and others in the crowd.

Dumont stated that the meeting would be recessed until Tuesday, July 19, and start with speaker number four on the list of people wishing to address the Stanley Park Mobility Study.

"You guys are a disgrace to the city," calls out one man from the public audience; the crowd responded to the comment with applause.

Stanley Park Mobility Study discussion prompted conflict

The conflict between the elected officials and public audience centered around a study and guiding principles for mobility through Stanley Park (which some took as an opportunity to speak about the park's bike lanes and climate change). Before the meeting, 44 people were signed up to speak about the issue.

At one point, Dumont noted the motion at hand in the meeting was not directly about bike lanes, though Commissioner John Coupar argued the public should be allowed to speak about bike lanes. Dumont then noted there were a lot of people at the meeting, and emotions were high and asked people to follow the rules.

While the first two members of the public spoke without serious issue, the third speaker, a man named Phil Rankin, created a bigger stir.

"I'm here to speak against this board adopting this report, not the next board," he said, calling the group a "lame duck board."

He argued most of the commissioners wouldn't be back after the Oct. 15 municipal election and that it would be undemocratic for them to vote on the motion.

Rankin went on to talk about the report, park closures, and climate change, although he circled back at one point to say people had "lost faith in the board." 

Dumont ended up interrupting him when he started speaking about the staff.

"The district board is so ideological that we're seeing your staff as ideological, you staff is now perceived by a number of us—" said Rankin.

"Ok, ok, I would like to stop you there," Dumont interjected, turning off Rankin's mic.

The two then got into an argument over what was allowed at the meeting.

"We can argue for five minutes, or you can have your [unintelligible] drag me out," Rankin said.

The public audience responded with applause, and Dumont decided to put the meeting into a short recess to try to calm the situation.

A couple minutes later the meeting restarted and Dumont said he'd spoken to commissioners and staff and subsequently recessed the meeting for a day.

Parks employee speaks out about racism

Earlier in the meeting, there was another unusual moment when, during the public speakers time about the Park Board Code of Conduct Policy, a member of the parks staff who identified himself as Jose Raphael stood to speak.

"In my first three months working with the parks board as an operations worker I've witnessed widespread fear of management," he said. "Within my first week I've been subject to racism in the workplace by supervisors, I've witnessed repeated violations of the city's current bullying and harassment policies—,"

"Jose Raphael, I'm just going to pause you just for a second," Dumont interjected. "What you're describing sounds very serious, but it's also I think, I've just been informed by our GM, it's clearly a HR matter and your presence here may have repercussions for yourself and so on."

Dumont goes on to suggest the young man speak to staff at the meeting to find a different approach, which Raphael agrees to, but adds he's seen a "chasm" between city policies and operations.

"While we are unable to comment on individual human resource issues, we take all allegations of bullying or harassment seriously and have met with him directly subsequent to his remarks," General Manager Donnie Rosa says in a press release.

Parks rangers and security at July 19 meeting

Parks rangers and security will be in attendance Tuesday evening as the recessed meeting restarts. General Manager Donnie Rosa notes they were needed at the July 18 meeting.

"A speaker was heckled as they left the podium. Commissioners and staff had to be escorted out of the building by park rangers, who stayed on until everyone had exited the building safely," says General Manager Donnie Rosa in a press release about the July 18 meeting

Rosa notes some actions weren't captured on the meeting's livestream.

"During the meeting, multiple members of the public yelled at the commissioners and staff in attendance, including swearing and pounding on the chamber doors," they say.

They're also reminding people the meeting is not a town hall meeting and there are certain processes that are supposed to be followed.

- this story was updated with information from a Parks Board press release issued after the original publication