Metro Vancouver will have a new board chair for 2012 and a new chief administrator to head the regional district’s bureaucracy.
Longtime Metro CAO Johnny Carline, who turned 65 last month, will retire Feb. 14.
Carline said he decided to give advance notice of his intent to retire – before Saturday’s municipal elections – so no one speculates he’s leaving as a result of which civic politicians win or lose their local races or which one becomes the next chair of the Metro board.
Chair Lois Jackson also said before the election she would not seek the Metro chair again.
The Delta mayor led the board for the last six years and said that’s long enough.
“It is very, very draining,” Jackson said. “It is a huge undertaking to be the chair of the region and to manage all of that.”
Carline has served 15 years as commissioner and CAO for Metro Vancouver, or the Greater Vancouver Regional District as it was called when he first arrived.
The British-educated planner had previously held senior posts with the cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Surrey and Richmond.
He helped broker a ground-breaking consensus of the region’s politicians in 1996 to pass the original Livable Region Strategic Plan to protect green space and limit growth.
And then he did it all over again over the last three years, culminating in the signing of a new stronger regional growth strategy last summer.
“I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to get these 22 councils and staff all agreeing to one plan,” Jackson said. “It is a Herculean task.”
Carline also spearheaded Metro’s Sustainable Region Initiative, a series of plans shaped through public consultation that map out ways to improve the region’s air quality, drinking water, ecosystems, parks, housing and local food security.
One of the most contentious items for both Carline and Jackson in recent years was passage of the new solid waste management plan, under which Metro aims to send more garbage to new waste-to-energy plants, rather than distant landfills.
It angered both advocates of much more intensive recycling and caused a deep split with the Fraser Valley Regional District, where politicians fear a new Metro trash incinerator will worsen air pollution.
Jackson said Carline put in an extraordinary effort to make the Metro Vancouver region a better place and helped keep the board focused on its priorities, while modernizing the organization.
“He’s left a real legacy for the people of this region,” she said. “He will be sorely missed. He will be very hard to replace.”
Since his arrival, Metro has gone from being a cluster of utility services to much more of a true regional government.
Carline said in an interview Metro faces big challenges ahead – a combination of scarce funding, huge costs for projects like new sewage plants and an ever-growing population.
He’s most proud of Metro’s sustainability initiatives and its role in leading and sponsoring public debate on how to maintain and improve the region’s livability.
That work will remain important, he predicted.
“Most of the issues we face in the future will have to be dealt with on a collaborative basis,” Carline said. “We’ve got to work together.”
Otherwise, he said, the region risks more “tragedies of the commons” where one city acts in its own self-interest to the detriment of the broader public – such as the redevelopment of scarce industrial land to higher taxed condos at the expense of jobs and industry.
But he said engaging citizens has become ever harder because residents feel increasingly detached from government and decision-making.
He rejects accusations the Metro government spends too much or has taken on too many roles.
“We deliver enormous benefits incredibly frugally,” Carline said. “I defy a critic to say where we have gone that wasn’t a necessary new service for people to receive.”
Metro is expected to look for new revenue sources to reduce its need to keep ratcheting up property taxes and utility fees.
One controversial option was floated last year by a consultant to Metro who suggested a regional sales tax or even a regional income tax be imposed to generate more money.
Those ideas may surface again, Carline said, but he counsels caution.
Even if a supplementary Metro sales tax could be imposed – a mechanism used in many major U.S. cities – Carline said it could lead to much more downloading of responsibilities from senior governments while local leaders pay the political price.
“It’s one of those things where you should be careful what you wish for or you might get it.”
Carline chose Valentine’s Day as his last day because he “loves” his job and the people he works with.
His retirement will leave the new Metro board with a choice – replace Carline with a new chief administrator from Metro’s existing staff ranks or recruit a new one from elsewhere.
Carline was paid $324,000 last year.
The new board chair – to be elected by other Metro directors in December – will be paid an extra $66,082, on top of their council salary, while the vice-chair gets half that amount.