What we did last Monday

Ron Bolin: June 30, 2013

I say “we” because what the Council which we elected does is done in our name and we need to take responsibility for our actions.  It is too easy to talk about “them” and what “they” are doing.  We picked them, even if it was only about 14% of us that did so.  Not voting does not relieve us of our responsibilities as citizens.  We set our rules, we take and spend our money and we are responsible to us. In the words of the immortal Pogo: “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

Item 7(a) on Monday’s agenda was: Appointment of Deputy Corporate Officer.  This matter which was also on the agenda of the June 17 meeting in another guise appoints an Acting Manager of Legislative Services and establishes the order in which the Deputy Corporate Officers perform their duties in the absence of the Corporate Officer.  This situation is a mystery as the Manager of Legislative Services and the Corporate Officer has been absent from City meetings, and her Office since March.

 The duties of the Corporate Officer, one of only three Officer positions demanded and defined in the Community Charter, entail responsibility for corporate administration and includes: ensuring that the records of the City, i.e. accurate minutes of Council and its Committees; bylaws; business records; etc. are kept and that access to them is provided as required by law;administering oaths and taking affirmations, affidavits and declarations required under the Charter or other Act relating to municipalities; certifying  copies of bylaws and other documents as required; and keeping the corporate seal.  These are matters of legislation and legal interpretation and have been instituted to ensure proper relations between the City, its records and its citizens. The office of the Corporate Officer is not just another management position.  In a City of the size, stature and budget of Nanaimo, such a position should be filled by someone with legal training capable of recognizing and adjudicating legislative circumstances.  We hired such a person late last year as our Manager of Legislative Services and invested her as our Corporate Officer.  Where is she?

Her services would be useful, for example, in clarifying one of the latest misunderstandings arising at a Council meeting.  On April 22, Council gave the first three readings to the DNBIA Bylaws which enable downtown businesses under provincial legislation to band together to collect funding from amongst themselves to be used to promote business in their respective Business Improvement Areas (BIAs).  BIAs have existed for more than a decade and are to be found all across BC.

Nanaimo, however, is the only municipality in the province which has had a ten year tradition of taking a sum equal to that raised by the BIAs from general taxpayers and giving it to them –from our pockets into theirs. If continued, this matching grant would provide an additional $232,000 per year from general taxpayers to add to the monies which they raise for their own benefit. The DNBIA agenda report from April 22 carried the following overview:

• The term of the bylaw is 5 years covering 2014 to 2018 inclusive.

• The geographic boundaries of BIA #1 and BIA #2 remain the same.

• There are a total of 394 properties in the two BIA’s. BIA #1 – 326 and BIA #2 – 68.

• The annual local area service tax to be raised in each of the five years is being

increased 1% per year to minimize inflationary effects.

• The City’s matching grant would continue in each of the 5 years.

The bylaws themselves, however, did not reference the continuation of the matching grant.  Nor could it then be included in the DNBIA bylaws as adopted on June 24.

This situation has led to confusion about the status of the matching grant. Those from the DNBIA with whom I have spoken believe that the matching grant has been approved. But a question from Councillor McKay at the meeting of the 24th, elicited the response from one of our Deputy Corporate Officers that the matching grant was not included. Further response from yet another Deputy Corporate Officer indicated that monies for the matching grant were included in the 2013-2017 Financial Plan which Council recently approved.  But of course they could not have approved the 2014-2018 length of the matching grant in a plan which only spans 2013 to 2017.  And so it goes.  One question arising after another.

Though the money may be indicated in the financial plan, it cannot be considered approved and spendable until the 2014 budget is approved.  This year Council has proposed that the 2014 budget and financial plan for 2014-2018 will be completed before 2014 arrives. In the meantime, what is the situation with the circa $1.2 million in matching funds for the DNBIA?  And is this confusion the result of the absence of a trained Corporate Officer?