This is Progress

Ron Bolin: August 22, 2012

Yesterday afternoon I attended the latest meeting of Nanaimo’s Progress Board.  In case you are not familiar with this City institution, it was established by Nanaimo’s City Council last year along with the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation (NEDC).  The corporation was to take over from the City’s Economic Development Office (in house) via the Economic Development Commission.  The Progress Board was formed to oversee NEDC’s management of the tax money given to it by the city and its taxpayers.  Its stated objectives are:

  • To competitively benchmark Nanaimo’s performance against cities and regions similar to Nanaimo on economic indicators in the context of economic, social and environmental performance values.
  • To provide strategic advice on the ways to improve the performance of Nanaimo and the surrounding region. This advice is for the benefit of Nanaimo City Council, the Regional District of Nanaimo, City Administration, NEDC and other local and regional interests
  • To annually submit a nominations report to Mayor and Council. The nominations report will consist of recommendations for the directors of NEDC Board and also members of Progress Nanaimo. Mayor and Council will ratify the recommendations for both NEDC Board of Directors and Progress Nanaimo committee members.

The Progress Board has eleven (11) members including three (3) City Councillors.

City Council is composed of eight (8) Councillors plus a mayor for a total of nine (9) members.

The Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation has the following objectives according to its business license:

For more about the objectives of NEDC (I hesitate to use the term NEDCorp, which seems to be the preferred usage in some circles, as it comes too close to NEDCorpse) see the video of the Council meeting of March 26, 2012 where the CEO at that time outlines her plan at: . Click on the item at 7:21.

The Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation itself has a Board made up of fourteen (14) members who, as can be seen from the Progress Board objectives, are recommended by the Progress Board and confirmed by City Council.

The Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, including its newly hired CEO, has seven (7) employees.

This makes for quite a management scheme with three (3) organizations (Council, Progress Board, and NEDC Board -with Council towering over all) with a total of thirty-four (34) officials (granted that there is a double count on three Council members), sitting on top of a corporation with a total of seven (7) employees.

But wait, there’s more… If one listens to the CEO’s discussion at Council, reference is also made to the Successful Cities process which has been established by the Chamber of Commerce as well as to the Balanced Scorecard approach which the City is in the process of implementing as a way of objectifying City progress.  That’s a lot of new stuff to try to integrate… and perhaps it is impossible…

Given this background, it should not be surprising that in discussing their responsibilities, the Progress Board should find itself in a debate on the matter.  It became apparent that lacking a clear, coherent and shared idea of the task facing them, this group of intelligent and dedicated citizens –most of them volunteers- had been left to drift across the range from those with a very tight view of the task expected of them and those who saw a far wider scope.  It was evident that additional discussion is required in this area and I anticipate more Board meetings in the near future to deal with this topic.  Hopefully this will all be clear before the new CEO selected by NEDC arrives in the second week of September.  It is further to be hoped that this entire tangled structure of organizations will be examined.  It has a kind of Rube Goldberg feel about it brought about by the attempt to create a corporation that can act without political interference except that that damned budget makes it impossible to escape political interference when the rubber hits the road.

On another item on the agenda, the recent Ipsos Reid poll of citizen satisfaction with city government and suggestions for topics seen to be of particular interest was raised.  There was some discussion of the method of asking the questions in the survey which seemed by some to be loaded.  There was some concern that some elements of the results seemed to contradict the results of other recent surveys such as the Strategic Plan.  I was surprised to find no discussion of the results of this survey with a similar survey also done by Ipsos Reid back in 2004.

The highlight of the meeting for me came in the beginning with a discussion of the Balanced Scorecard approach to management which places a premium on the measurement of the results of city operations.  It sounds a lot like management by objectives to me, but any vehicle which can clarify the relation between inputs and outputs in the City rates very high in my book.  We are due to hear and see more about this technique and the first pass at its use in the City of Nanaimo in the next couple of months which should allow the results to be used in the 2013 budget.  Those interested can take a look at the City’s 2011 Annual Municipal Report which takes a stab at some relationships by department.

I am sure we will be hearing more about all this later.  In the meantime my hat is off to those who are making an effort to make this a better and more transparent community.  It is not an easy task given the way the city was operated up until a couple of years ago.