Nanaimo governance report a learning tool for all municipalities

NANAIMO – Nearby councils faced similar issues plaguing Nanaimo

Nanaimo’s new governance report should be a lesson for all B.C. municipalities grappling with internal conflict, says Lantzville mayor Jack de Jong.

“[It taught me] conflict is inevitable,” he said. “But if left to linger, it can affect judgement.”

The City of Nanaimo recently released the Watson Governance Summary Report, which revealed significant tension, name calling and physical altercations among Nanaimo city council and city staff members have crippled attempts at good governance and could be hurting the city’s ability to make decisions.

Consultants warned the behaviour could also negatively effect staff morale, effectiveness of oversight and credibility.

They urged city officials to address internal conflict and recommended a new code of conduct as part of more than 50 changes suggested as part of the review.

Municipal leaders from Lantzville and Qualicum have both worked to address internal conflict among their councils and while they were reluctant to comment directly about Nanaimo’s issues, said hard feelings and stress are common for municipal councils.

Politicians run as independents with strong opinions on city issues, so emotions can run high on major decisions, they said.

“[We meet] about 20 times a year…We are not close. It’s not like we work together every day,” de Jong said. “We try to bond to the extent possible, but the structure is not bonding oriented. We meet, we discuss, we vote and then we disperse and sometimes some issues leave lingering bad feelings.”

The important thing is not to allow hard feelings to fester and effect council’s ability to be objective, he said, adding that one councillor might take an opposite position on an issue just to spite the other.

Qualicum mayor Teunis Wesbroek has an internal communications strategy to help deal with conflict and says it’s important for everyone to remember the need to move on from issues after the vote is called.

“I think we should always be open to learning from each other…[and] try to improve the way we operate,” he said of the Nanaimo governance report.

“The big thing for me personally is that life is too short to spend it fighting.”

The Nanaimo governance report, estimated to cost $75,000, made recommendations to help the city reach its potential for good governance, from a new code of conduct to a review of in camera meetings to ensure compliance with legislation. Members of the city’s governance committee are set to review the report and its recommendations this fall.