Governance review focuses on conduct, accountability

NANAIMO – Little attention paid to issues of internal strife

Accountability by Nanaimo’s city manager, a new code of conduct policy and the release of in camera information took centre stage during city council’s first governance report review.

City councillors turned out to a governance steering committee meeting Wednesday to start prioritizing recommendations made in the recent Watson Governance Summary Report.

While there were strong opinions about the need to outline responsibilities of the city’s new manager and create a code of conduct for council members, little attention was given to the issue of internal strife.

The governance report, released this summer, revealed that significant tension, name calling and physical altercations among Nanaimo councillors and city staff members undermine any attempt at good governance and could be hurting the city’s’ ability to make decisions.

But governance committee chairman, Coun. Ted Greves, said the issue isn’t as critical as it appears and didn’t warrant a lot of attention at the recent meeting.

“I didn’t really want to put too much emphasis on [internal issues] because I think that is the same throughout the country – when people debate sometimes the debate gets heated,” Greves said. “I don’t think the fact that every so often, councillors aren’t happy with each other and how it affects the decisions being made … we don’t get so crazy that we can’t think straight.”

City council members discussed the priorities and timing of 59 recommendations made by Vancouver firm Watson Inc. The company was hired by the city earlier this year as part of its strategic direction and it highlighted solutions to help improve governance at city hall, from clearly defining roles and responsibilities to creating a new communications strategy to handle information requests and addressing a negative internal dynamic.

The recommendations couldn’t have been made at a better time, according to Greves, who says it will help set the record straight on issues like the new city manager’s goals, performance and interactions with council and help politicians start fresh with a new governance strategy.

During the four-hour meeting, city officials discussed the release of in camera information as a top priority  to improve transparency – a strategy city staff members already planned to propose this September. They also talked about the need for a new code of conduct for councillors around behaviour and confidentiality as well as policies around how committees are structured and seating at city meetings.

The seating arrangements at the Shaw Auditorium not only make it seem like staff and councillors are facing-off, but creates a theatrical atmosphere.

City staff members are expected to use Wednesday’s discussion to create a new report on the cost and timetable for the recommendations.