Tensions rise as Liaison Committee explores integration for CVRD, CVEDS
Members of a committee investigating the potential for integration of Comox Valley Economic Development Society (CVEDS) operations with the regional district agreed on a short list of possible shared services at their inaugural meeting last week.
The committee instructed Comox Valley Regional District and CVEDS employees to consider collaboration on financial accounting, the audit process and related costs, office space, website and communications and human resources including staff evaluation and training. Visitor Centre operations were also seen as worthy of discussion by the committee and a presentation on the topic was requested for the next meeting.
But there wasn’t complete agreement or clarity on the larger issue of the scope of the committee’s authority and responsibilities.
Deana Simpkin, president of the CVEDS board, asked whether she and board members Mike Opal, Bruce Turner and Paul Ives were full members of the committee or serving in an advisory capacity. Turner wondered if the board’s role, in general, had been changed.
In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Doug Hillian addressed that issue saying he hoped the group would work collaboratively and that their work would result in a closer relationship between CVEDS and the CVRD.
“This is uncharted territory, there have been significant contract changes,” Hillian said. “The rationale is that the relationship in the past has not been as close as it might be and this has led to conflict.”
Hillian assured CVEDS board members they were full participants in the Liaison Committee and called the committee’s work a “shared responsibility.”
And he added that “nothing was off the table” for discussion and invited “general comments” from everyone.
But tensions rose when Area B Director Arzeena Hamir commented on the committee’s responsibility “to collaborate in the ongoing review and clarification of contract deliverables,” according to Section 15 of the new CVEDS contract.
And she later asked CVEDS Executive Director John Watson a series of questions about a late three-month report, why minutes of the Economic Recovery Task Force haven’t been made public and why the society hadn’t held a required Annual General Meeting in 17 months.
That didn’t sit well with CVEDS board member Paul Ives who characterized comments about “deliverables” — actions required by the contract — as committee members “taking shots at each other.”
“I’m troubled by this line of questioning,” he said. “Why are we putting CVEDS staff on the hot seat? The CVRD questions are inappropriate.”
Hamir responded that it was “definitely within the purview” of the committee to ask questions of staff and appropriate to check on contract deliverables.
Chair Hillian said if the committee was going to work collaboratively and with transparency, then questions could be asked. CVRD General Manager of Planning Scott Smith also approved the questioning.
Hillian suggested CVEDS could answer Hamir’s specific questions at the next committee meeting when he hoped Watson could “attend the whole meeting.” Watson came late via teleconference to the first meeting and left early.
COMPLAINTS ABOUT FUNDING
CVEDS board member Bruce Turner, who attended via teleconferencing, said that reduced funding from the regional district had made it impossible for the board to meet its fiduciary responsibility. He and other board members said the new budget was hampering operations and that a reduced staff didn’t have time to fulfil all their reporting requirements.
Simpkin said there is “a backlog behind the scenes” because one staff member chose to leave and CVEDS had laid off three Visitor Centre staff. The society currently has eight staff members.
She said this lack of resources has put pressure on staff, many of whom are working from home.
For CVRD Director Hamir, the funding concerns raised the question of where regional district responsibility ends and where CVEDS responsibility begins.
“Both boards were aware of the terms of the agreement when they signed the contract, including the funding,” she said. “The contract spells out what needs to be done and when. The ‘how to do it’ is up to CVEDS. These are separate jurisdictions.”
CVRD Director Maureen Swift said the funding issue was the purpose of exploring greater integration with the CVRD.
“CVEDS can’t operate as it has in the past with the new contract,” she said.
Hillian closed the meeting hoping for better collaboration.
“It’s inevitable there would be a little tension considering the difficulty in getting to this point,” he said.
When CVRD directors couldn’t agree on CVEDS future by the March 31 contract deadline, they chose to sign a two-year agreement with the understanding that the matter was unresolved. That agreement provided for the formation of a Liaison Committee comprising members from the CVRD and CVEDS boards as a means to assure better communication and that deliverables were meeting CVRD expectations.
The next meeting of the Liaison Committee is at 1.30 pm on Oct. 19.
Meanwhile, the CVRD board is holding a two-day workshop next week in an attempt to find common ground among directors about the future of economic development.
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