Nanaimo councillors approve policy on portfolios

NANAIMO – On Monday, city council approved a policy on a portfolio system that connects councillors with city departments.

Nanaimo city councillors’ portfolios won’t come with any new decision-making powers.

At its regular meeting Monday, Nanaimo city council approved a policy on portfolios.

The mayor and councillors will rotate quarterly through the nine portfolios, which are tied to city departments. Tracy Samra, Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer, said the policy is intended to build positive working relationships between councillors and city staff and provide learning opportunities.

“This is not … an opportunity for council members to be involved in the day-to-day operations of each department. That’s my job and that’s the directors’ job,” said Samra.

Councillors taking on a new portfolio will receive some background information about the department and will tour offices and facilities. They will provide regular updates to council, and may raise recommendations or concerns with city staff or at the council table.

Coun. Bill Bestwick, who supported the policy, called it a “Coles Notes opportunity” for councillors and said he won’t be telling city staff members how to do their jobs.

“This for me is really about education, informing myself to the best of my ability,” he said. “We make important decisions that cost a lot of money.”

Coun. Wendy Pratt called the system “a huge plus” after she recently received an introduction to information technology, legislative services and communications – her first portfolio.

“I learned all sorts of things just in one hour with the director that I didn’t know before and just in the terms of breadth and scope of what that one department within our city manages and has to work with,” she said.

Coun. Gord Fuller supported the policy, but had reservations. He was in favour of taking on portfolios for longer periods of time, with more opportunity to provide input to city staff.

“If I can’t say frickin’ anything to them, how am I going to support or empower them?” he asked. “If I see something and it’s wrong, I’m going to say something and I may have a better idea and they may shoot me down.”

Coun. Diane Brennan and Coun. Jim Kipp opposed the portfolio policy. Kipp said he was concerned that the system would lead to councillors taking “ownership” of departments.

“It creates champions for staff. I’ve seen it before,” he said.