Nanaimo's city hall shown above.

Nanaimo city manager disappointed in statement by economic development CEO

NANAIMO – Board considers next steps after its chief executive officer released information without its approval Monday.

Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors is considering next steps after its chief executive officer released information without its approval Monday.

John Hankins, CEO, gave media an opinion-editorial, “Perplexed and silent no more,” about the city’s decision to pull tourism from the corporation, pointing out it wasn’t recommended in a core services review and his team did not have a chance to give input. He also said the board has decided not to sign the city’s partnering agreement and would come up with a revised document it believes is more acceptable to both parties.

Tracy Samra, the City of Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer and NEDC board member, said the editorial and media coverage came as a surprise to the city. She called board chairman Andre Sullivan and asked if there was board approval to release the opinion editorial, which determined there was not, and she said Sullivan “is convening a board meeting to discuss this conduct.”

“If my council gave me direction to do X, and I went out and sent an op-ed to the media, including television and bloggers saying why, I would be fired, especially on something as high profile as this,” she said.

Sullivan said Tuesday the board has to address what happened Monday and there were some actions taken without their approval. Asked if the CEO’s actions were a firing offense, he said he did not know and they are getting legal opinions.

“I don’t know where the board will sit on it. It could go in many different direction and I can’t predetermine that discussion,” he said.

He did not know “individually on a board level” if the editorial reflected the board, but said the desire of his board is to keep economic development and keep Nanaimo in a positive light.

Hankins’ editorial comes after a political decision to pull tourism from the economic corporation and have it handled, along with destination and conference service marketing, by one or more alternative providers. Hankins told the News Bulletin he’s not hung up on the structure tourism needs to stay within the corporation, but t needs to be a properly thought-out process looking at the pros and cons. To announce tourism will be removed without any explanation on what it’s going to look like, is in his view “irresponsible,” has created chaos in the market and made a highly-motivated team concerned about its future. In his editorial, Hankins said as CEO of a taxpayer-funded organization he has a fiscal and leadership responsibility to express his concerns to council and citizens, while respecting council as the shareholder “can force their will on NEDC.”

Samra, who met with the News Bulletin along with Philip Cooper, communications manager, and Brad McRae, chief operations officer, Monday afternoon, said city staff have worked with the corporation at a “very intense level” for the last couple of months and consultation has been around all options.

Samra said she and staff have been clear of the findings of the core services review to economic development’s board and council, which concluded, “Tourism Nanaimo had failed to develop and implement an integrated, collaborative destination marketing strategy,” doing only one activity and that it needed to be addressed. The core review mentioned separating tourism and economic development functions as a possibility, but did not recommend it.

According to Samra, consultants were not directed to explore it any further and information provided to them didn’t deal with governance issues, on which she remains silent. A day later, after a meeting with the board, she said in an e-mail her comments about serious governance issues are no longer relevant.

She said she is disappointed in the opinion-editorial, adding there’s a lot of good work ahead and more at stake than one organization, such as the conference centre, a downtown business improvement district and businesses.

“No, we don’t have all the answers, yes this is challenging, yes this is difficult on the employees and that sector, but what we’re trying to do is give the best information in the most informed way to council so they can make the right decision for this community,” she said.

McRae said the message received in meetings is not the message now received through the CEO and they are all a little confused.

“We all believed we were on a unified collaborative path and this definitely throws some confusion in the city’s end of where truly NEDC resides.”

A press release from NEDC is expected today.

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