Investigative

Children vs. Liquor

Tagged: Massive Failures in Communication

UBC’s Graduate Student Society (GSS), to put it bluntly, is dysfunctional. This in itself is not news since this has been the situation for some time now. However, the entire situation reached a new low at their last council meeting. What happened may not have been the most scandalous of the GSS’s problems, but it’s certainly the most comical: they tried to put a daycare and a liquor licence in the same room.

The room in question is The Penthouse. Befitting its name, it is on the top floor of the Thea Koerner House and the room can accommodate 75 people for drinking, or 24 children in child minding. Some background:

Childcare: UBC is currently trying to aggressively expand childcare and is looking for whatever existing space is out there to use for this purpose. The GSS, eager to show their commitment to childcare, proposed the use of the Penthouse as a child minding space.

Liquor: The GSS already has a liquor-primary liquor licence in the building which includes Koerner’s Pub, the Ballroom and Thea’s lounge. The Penthouse, however, has had to rely on Special Occasion Licences. It was felt that expanding the existing liquor primary licence would be better than continually getting SOLs for individual events. The application is currently before Metro Vancouver.

The motions on the agenda read like this:

“BIRT Council approves, in principle, the use of Penthouse for the purpose of child minding and directs the President to enter into negotiations with the UBC and present a detailed plan to the Council for approval.”

“BIRT Council approves a liquor-primary licence for Penthouse (only if the above motion fails to pass)”**

** May not be exact wording but it’s close.

If read isolated, on paper, it seems fine, but in reality they put the cart before the horse. The liquor licence application was already in progress, but negotiations with UBC over child minding were not. With the liquor licence, council was being asked to approve something that had already happened, and only if they didn’t indirectly kill the project first by devoting the room to child minding. And of course when the president and lobbying coordinator motivated the childcare motion, they both neglected to mention that the liquor licence application was already in progress (a fact that most councilors were unaware of). They didn’t feel it was relevant, even though the two uses of the room are clearly incompatible. To paraphrase Dave Tompkins (speaker of council), it’s messed up on many levels.

The whole debacle reflects on a number of the GSS’s problems, most of which can be traced back to a complete lack of communication. Here’s a communication fail, excerpted from an email sent to council before the meeting by Dave:

Mr. President…
I was expecting a large number of councillor unseatings on this agenda, (or some other explanation to council) and I’m concerned that they are not there.

(…)

For those of you who missed the nuance that happened at the very end of last council meeting: I discovered (at the very end) that the President has been unilaterally unseating councillors without putting those unseatings on the agenda, or letting council know about them at all.

So unbeknownst to us, this is how the quorum numbers have been so achievable this summer. One could argue that we never reached quorum for the past several meetings. If any of the past council decisions were to be challenged, I don’t think they would hold up.

This is a major overstepping of bounds by an executive with a huge number of ramifications, but for the GSS that’s just another council meeting. As a result of this revelation, they had to go through a big rigamarole to properly carry out over 30 councilor unseatings and finally determine conclusively what the correct quorum number is.

Another failure in communication is from committee reporting. Many councilors were upset that the liquor licence application had not gone through council and that they were only finding out about it at this meeting. Rick Carre, the GSS’s food and beverage manager had brought it to the house finance committee for approval. It was approved in this committee and he went ahead with it. (It was unclear whether house finance had the authority to approve this). Regardless, it was never communicated to council that this had been approved, or that it had even been considered.

At the August council meeting, it was noticed that for many months, the large majority of GSS committees had not given reports to council, didn’t generate motions to be discussed, nor did they send minutes to council to be ratified. In an attempt to remedy this situation, a motion was passed directing the president to list every committee on the agenda so that council could go down the list and ask the chairs for updates. This list wasn’t on the September agenda.

The list of problems the GSS is experiencing could run for pages, but despite having a number of devoted and well-meaning councilors, the problem also lies with council itself. Understandably, once the whole situation of proposing both child minding and liquor licencing was unraveled, there was much heated debate over which proposal had more merit. And when it came time to make a decision, they couldn’t. With a firm quorum number in hand for the first time in months, they missed it by one person.

So the insanity continues for another month. The group in favour of child minding for the penthouse will keep developing their proposal. With nothing to stop it, the liquor licence application process will keep chugging along too. And for the dismayed observers on the sidelines, the GSS will be inching ever closer to having a liquor licence for their daycare.

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Discussion

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  1. [...] thoughts? Given the GSS Executive historically┬ádoesn’t seem to care much about liquor, or even its own pub, there’s strong precedent for not acting [...]

    Posted by Koerners Now Explicitly All-Ages : UBC Insiders | March 29, 2010, 9:28 pm
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