The million dollar ask might have some significant conflict to deal with; Theatre Board will be called to account on this one.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  January 24, 2013   It was early in the term of this city council.  She forced a recorded vote on six different items knowing full well when she asked for the vote that she was going to lose every one of them.  Her fellow council members rolled their eyes and went through the exercise.

While very little of the brashness has left Meed Ward,  she is wiser than she was that first year and has her ear to the ground not only in her ward but across the city.

She has major issues with the close to $1 million the Burlington Performing Arts Centre is asking the city to cough up.  Part of the money is to cover the $225,250 short fall from last year’s operations and some additional money to hire additional staff, which Meed Ward feels is using the solutions that haven’t worked in the past to solve problems before the BPAC staff now.

Meed Ward at her old city hall office – the desk is as cluttered in her new space where she tends to fill up her voice mail box and overspend her postage allowance. She promises to get back to people within 24 hours – and delivers on that promise. Now she wants to deliver on her promise to keep spending in line with what is in the bank.

Meed Ward doesn’t think public money should go into making up the losses on commercial acts that didn’t pay for themselves.  Those losses should come out of the reserve BPAC has suggests Meed Ward, who believes the city can and should provide funds that will go towards helping community groups use of the space.  One of the problems community groups have is the cost of the facility while they are doing their set up; they haven’t had to deal with those costs in the past.  Meed Ward thinks the city can provide an amount BPAC would make available to community groups as a sort of set up subsidy.

In our conversation with Meed Ward, whose position on the ask for increased funding is well-known, we asked: What do you do?

“Tough question” she responded.  “I am wondering if the people in place now have the expertise to get the programing right – and it is about programming.  Do the people running the programming side know Burlington’s culture well enough to be able to discern what the community wants” is one question Meed Ward asks.

“Are the price points for the commercial entertainment what this community can pay?  Is the programming mix right?  Meed Ward wants to see data on what the attendance has been and where the people attending these events come from.  “Are we serving our market or are we drawing people from other communities?”, asked Meed Ward.

Meed Ward admits that the task of running a cultural operation in its second year is a challenge and says the solution can’t be to keep coming to the city for more money: “ If the skills needed to program the place are not at hand, then we need to find those skills elsewhere”.

Meed Ward’s issues however are not just with staff.  She feels the Burlington Theatre Board has let everyone in the city down and tells of an experience she had with the hospital board where she serves as the city representative.

“There was a meeting at which the hospital Board was discussing the agreement the hospital had entered into with the city related to the $60 million Burlington is putting up for the hospital re-build.

Meed Ward, who doesn’t know what a “small measure” is, was ready to get right into the discussion.  You can’t take part in this one she was advised – you sit on city council and ‘you have a conflict of interest’  she was told.

You can imagine how Meed Ward took to that comment – but the chair discussed it with legal counsel and the decision of the chair was that Meed Ward did have a conflict.  “I didn’t agree with the decision but I respected the view of the chair and left the meeting.”

“There were no hard feelings because of the decision.  The chair had a view he was able to substantiate and I respected the chair; that’s what governance is all about.”

Meed Ward discussed the situation with Mayor Goldring who agreed that Meed Ward had a conflict.  He understood the position the hospital board chair had taken.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven – half of what Councilor Meed Wards describes as the Rick and Rick” team – who she thinks have a conflict of interest over the BPAC budget they approved as members of that board and now want to vote on at city council

Mayor Goldring – the second part of the `Rick and Rick`team that Councillor Meed Ward thinks may have a conflict of interest on the BPAC ask for close to a million dollars this year.

Meed Ward now wants “Rick and Rick” which is how she describes the Mayor and Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven, to be just as mindful as she has had to be.  “They can’t sit on the BPAC board and agree with the budget they want to put forward and then attend a city council and note vote for that budget at city council.  They have a conflict and Meed Ward is waiting to see if they will step outside.

Her view is that the Theatre Board doesn’t operate quite as professionally; that they see themselves as a group of people who go along with each other to get along with each other – and that Meed Ward will quickly tell you is not what Board members are in place to do.

They are there to ask the hard questions on behalf of the community and Meed Ward doesn’t see that happening.  The Board is supposed to ask the tough questions and give tough directions.

Meed Ward doesn’t see very much, if any, cooperation between the Burlington Art Centre and the BPAC people.  Ian Ross, Executive Director of the Art Centre is, according to Meed Ward “one of those guys that can think out of the box.”  There isn’t much in the way of a working relationship between Ross and Brenda Heatherington, Executive Director of BPAC.  The two are in the cultural business, selling what they have to the same audience and many feel there should be both a close bond between the two of them.

Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward thinks the people working to make the Performing Arts centre work need to remember that part of the purpose was to create a space for local cultural groups and not to subsidize commercial acts.

Meed Ward, whose ward takes in most of the downtown core believes there should be a group of people responsible for creating that cultural centre that is the BPAC and the BAC and to some degree the RBG and the Museum.  “There is a need for all these people to collaborate and create that sense of a district:, said Meed Ward.  She doesn’t believe that is happening and wonders if Ross and Heatherington have gotten together for as much as a cup of coffee.

And where is Tourism Burlington in all this?  They put out the literature and market the city – do they do this in concert with the major cultural institutions in the city or do they hustle for just RibFest and the Sound of Music /

One wonders if anyone has suggested that the two boards, BPAC and BAC,  meet together to share experiences and ideas and look for ways to share resources.  Marketing is marketing and getting people to attend a performance or to take in an art show is fundamentally the same, so why aren’t the two looking for synergies and savings?  When they fund raise they are both looking for the same deep pockets – could they collaborate and have a donour split a donation between the two organizations?

The BAC wants an additional staff member as well – Meed Ward says they should work with what they have. The city has committed to not adding any staff in the 2013 draft budget.  “If the city can hold the line – then the local boards can do it too,”  said Meed Ward.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 comment to The million dollar ask might have some significant conflict to deal with; Theatre Board will be called to account on this one.

  • Lawrence Rossi

    Three cheers for Meed!! I wonder if anyone that is on Burlington Hydro Board voted to give money to BPAC and is also on that board to accept it?? I wonder…….