Coun. Anton accepts Olympic gear
That was the response by several city councillors who refused to accept free Olympic gear worth about $350 from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Games and Paralympics.
VANOC shipped packages containing a jacket, toque and T-shirt--the uniform of volunteers--to councillors in May. Councillors who disclosed the gifts in documents filed at city hall estimated the worth of the gear at $350 to $375.
Vision Vancouver councillors Geoff Meggs, Andrea Reimer and Kerry Jang say they returned the gifts while NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton kept hers and Vision Coun. George Chow donated his to Strathcona community centre for a fundraiser. "It all arrived as a bit of surprise," Meggs said. "I don't want to seem not appreciative but I didn't need it and it was clearly a gift--not that it would have had any consequences because VANOC was disappearing as an organization. I just didn't need it, so I sent it back."
Anton said she was "delighted" to receive the Olympic gear, particularly the turquoise jacket, which she added was her favourite colour. When told Chow donated his to a community centre, she replied, "that was very good of him, maybe I should have done that, too."
Chow said he thought it was important to disclose the gift because it was worth more than $250. The mayor and councillors are required to disclose all "gifts" worth $250 or more "as soon as reasonably practicable," according to the Vancouver Charter.
Chow said the gear from VANOC also came as a surprise and he suspected the organizing committee was simply "trying to clear out their warehouse" since the Olympics and Paralympics were over. Jang said he believes Vision councillors Heather Deal and Tim Stevenson also returned the gear to VANOC. The Courier was unable to reach a VANOC official regarding the shipment of the gear.
Filing a gift disclosure is at the discretion of the politician and there is no watchdog at city hall to question whether he or she should have disclosed, for example, a yacht ride. In October 2008, the Courier revealed the previous NPA-dominated council accepted a variety of "gifts" from Concord Developments Inc. Gifts included a dinner and yacht ride to watch fireworks in English Bay, free tickets to Cirque du Soleil, Canucks games and a night in a private box at Rogers Arena to watch Bruce Springsteen. At the time, Chow told the Courier he didn't think it was necessary to indicate he went on the cruise and attended Cirque du Soleil, both paid for by a company that has regular dealings with the city.
The Courier's regular checks of disclosure forms at city hall have shown a dramatic decrease in the number of gifts disclosed by councillors since the article was published. City manager Penny Ballem is the only staff member to file a disclosure form, which indicated she received $3,500 for a speaking engagement at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. Ballem recommended the money be donated to the United Way.
Meggs, who was elected in 2008, said he doesn't believe there is a need for a watchdog at city hall to ensure politicians are disclosing gifts.