(News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo councillors move to eliminate five committees

Ideas for new committees or advisory boards pitched by councillors

A handful of dormant city committees are on the chopping block.

Nanaimo councillors unanimously recommended during a governance and priorities committee meeting on Monday to axe five city committees – community planning and development, community vitality, public safety, public works and engineering, and parks recreation and wellness – that have been inactive since September.

According to a staff report, the five inactive committees should be eliminated as councillors would be better off forming new committees that align with their own vision and strategic priorities.

The only committee spared was the finance and audit committee, which staff recommended council keep as it deals with budgeting and other financial matters.

During Monday’s meeting, councillors discussed the idea of eliminating the committees and potentially forming new committees.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she is more supportive of having more city task forces because they are “far more effective” than committees.

“I, myself, thought the cannabis task force did amazing work in a short period of time versus if they would have been a separate set committee, they wouldn’t have got the work done as fast. It would have taken a lot longer and a lot more staff,” she said, adding that council should consider what committees are going to benefit the community.

Coun. Ian Thorpe, who served on city committees before becoming a councillor, said he was also in favour of eliminating the committees as he’s seen both their good and bad sides.

“I used to think the formal committee structure was very valuable, a good way of getting interested citizens involved directly around the table and also providing a training ground to see what governance looked like and how a committee meeting could and should be run,” Thorpe said. “Having said that, I’ve also been through a period where those committees have not functioned well, where the mandates haven’t been clear, where there haven’t been set tasks for the committees and you wonder why they are even there.”

Coun. Jim Turley said one issue he has with committees is that there is the potential for limited viewpoints while Coun. Erin Hemmens echoed Armstrong’s comments, explaining that she would like to see the city “shift” toward task forces on emergent issues matters because they can be resolved in a “finite” time.

After voting on eliminating the six committees, councillors began discussing potential new committees they would like to see.

RELATED: Councillors move forward with new governance and priorities committee

RELATED: Committees restructured at Nanaimo city hall

Coun. Hemmens told councillors she would like to see an arts, culture and heritage committee or advisory board that would explore ways to “increase the profile and support” of Nanaimo arts and culture organizations. She also said the committee would be able to make recommendations regarding grant funding for organization in the community.

Meanwhile, Coun. Tyler Brown proposed an intersectional urbanism advisory board, which, if established, would be made up of “typically underrepresented” segments such as newcomers, youths, seniors, First Nations, people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community.

“The point of that committee is that it provides perspectives on decisions that we might not look at. We might not perceive the urban environment the same, the facilities the same and it is easy for those voices to be drowned out in the common engagement process,” Brown explained.

Councillors did not vote on any of the proposed committees. Recommendations made at the governance and priorities meeting will also be voted on at upcoming council meetings.

Speaking to the News Bulletin afterward, Brown said when it comes to planning decisions and development of parks and facilities, there is a lot of public input, but there are voices that often don’t get the attention they deserve.

“There are voices that are historically not heard or amplified enough,” he said. “It’s about ensuring that when we are developing these facilities, parks, plans, streetscapes, that we are trying to account for as many users as possible and making everyone feel welcome and included in the community.”

The idea is in its infancy and specific details around the committee’s structure will be left to staff, said Brown. He said the main idea is to have a committee filled with a diverse group of people so that “council has as many perspectives as possible” when making decisions.

It’s not clear when new committees will officially be formed; however, Brown said he hopes it is sooner rather than later.

“We need to be getting these committees going, if committees are the route that we are going,” he said. “There might be round tables or task forces, but the sooner we can this stuff up and running the better because we do have pressing issues and we do want to make sure that council is hearing from as many voices as possible.”

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