John Hankins.

Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation’s CEO fired

NANAIMO – John Hankins made public his concerns over Nanaimo council’s decision to remove tourism from organization’s purview

Nanaimo Economic Development chief executive officer John Hankins has been fired two days after he made public questions and concerns about a city decision.

Doug Kalcsics, vice-chairman of the NEDC board, said the board did fire Hankins, the third chief executive officer for the corporation since it began in 2011. He did not say more, or if the action is tied to a recent opinion-editorial released by Hankins on Monday, titled “Perplexed and silent no more.” Kalcsics told the News Bulletin processes are underway.

Hankins released an editorial to media, 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 and give NEDC a new partnering agreement. The NEDC is now revising that document.

Hankins previously told the News Bulletin he’s not hung up on the structure that tourism needs to stay within the corporation, but it 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.”

Tracy Samra, the City of Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer and NEDC board member, said on Monday 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 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.

She also 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 and 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. In an e-mail to the News Bulletin Tuesday,  she said she is convinced the parties will conclude a partnering agreement this week and can refocus on economic development initiatives for Nanaimo and her comments about serious governance issues are no longer relevant.

Hankins said he was notified his employment was terminated Tuesday afternoon. If he had Monday over again, he’d do the exact same thing.

“When I took the course of action that I took on Monday and I’ve always made it clear it was my course of action and my course of action alone, there’s potential consequences that come from those,” he said, adding that he looked in the mirror and couldn’t live with himself for allow his team to have “all this uncertainty where they don’t know where they are going to be” on the back of a “stellar year” of what they achieved. “Yes I am the CEO, yes I report to the board, but I am also a human being who has to live with my conscious.”

He said his termination is because he did not have the board’s support to do what he did, and he’s not disputing that. Neither does he have any hard feelings against the board, adding he has the utmost respect for them.

Hankins did say he remains perplexed and would like answers to questions, such as what was presented at an in-camera meeting Oct. 3 that was so compelling councillors decided to go against the core review.

Hankins replaced former CEO Sasha Angus, arriving in Nanaimo last January. He said he’s grown fond of the community, loved the role and his team and would love to get back on with it but not when decisions are being made and his team is not having an input to them.

“You employ a CEO because of their skill sets that they bring and if a decision that’s is significantly going to have an effect on that organization and the people in that organization then I’d like to think … the people who are making that decision might want my input,” he said. “To me I interpret that as my opinion is not valuable so I want to be somewhere I’m valuable.”

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