Jan 16,2008 Tri City News

TransLink's appointed board will make all its decisions in secret, says new chair Dale Parker.

The former banker and business executive said the public will be allowed to address the directors likely four times a year, but all board meetings, discussion and decisions will now be behind closed doors.

"The debate that has to go on among the board, the to and fro, the open discussion with management we can do that better without the cameras and the lights of the media," Parker said.

He was chosen behind closed doors last week at the new nine-member board's first meeting.

Mayors and councillors on the former board had called on their replacements to continue making transportation decisions in public, particularly since $250 million of TransLink's $925 million budget comes from property taxes.

Parker said tax or fare increases and major plans won't be made solely by the board, but will go to the new Mayors Council on Regional Transportation for approval.

"The mayors have an opportunity to review it," he said, adding that will provide taxpayer accountability. "The shareholders of TransLink, of ours, are the public who use the system and their elected officials."

Decisions made in camera by the new board will be made public through posts on TransLink's web site, he added.

And he promised "extensive consultation" ahead of key decisions through separate public input meetings conducted around the region, particularly in the development of new strategic plans.

"When we get to the point of actually conducting our business, we'll do that with just the board there," Parker said, adding that's in line with practice at many other major Crown corporations.

Parker replaces outgoing board chair Malcolm Brodie, the mayor of Richmond.

The new TransLink board was not informed of the province's $14-billion transit spending agenda unveiled Monday prior to the announcement, he confirmed.

But he said it was in line with TransLink's thinking and the main surprise was in the size of the announcement.

Parker said the premier's expectation TransLink will raise $2.75 billion towards the 12-year plan is "part of the challenge we're going to have."

He did not rule out reconsideration of a vehicle levy to help finance new projects, although he said speculation on funding sources is premature.

The restructured TransLink has been empowered by Victoria to raise fuel taxes by three cents per litre to pay for transportation improvements, provided that is matched by an equivalent increase of property taxes.

He said the new board had an introductory meeting Tuesday with Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, who chairs the mayors council.

He called the session "very encouraging."

Jacobsen resigns

A major change among many for TransLink is the departure of CEO Pat Jacobsen, who has overseen the authority since 2001.

She resigned this month, opting to pursue new opportunities.

"I worked really hard to try to talk her out of it," Parker said.

Jacobsen insisted the decision was her own she wasn't acting on any expectation the new board would want to replace her.

"TransLink is at a pivotal point in its history," she said, calling it an appropriate time to leave.

She said she believes she accomplished her mandate and leaves TransLink on solid footing, particularly in light of the province's ambitious new plan for transit in the Lower Mainland.

"We've been able to put together a plan that's got great regional consensus," she added.

Jacobsen said the new board and the choice of Parker as chair assures stability there, but added it also needs a new CEO with a longer term commitment to take the organization beyond the 2010 Olympics.

"I believe TransLink needs continuity of leadership," she said.

She'll stay on until spring to assist with transition and development of a new 10-year plan. A search for her replacement has already begun.

DALE PARKER New TransLink Chair

- Graduate of Harvard business school's Advanced Management Program

- Former executive with Bank of Montreal and Bank of British Columbia

- Set up the B.C.'s Financial Institutions Commission.

- Worked for Shato Holdings serving as president of White Spot restaurants

- Served as CEO of the Workers Compensation Board

- Over the past 10 years served as a corporate director and worked with a variety of organizations including the Open Learning Agency.

- Says he takes buses and SkyTrain "most days."