Governance committee prepares for public engagement

Saanich council questions mandate of citizens advisory committee

The committee charged with reviewing governance in Saanich and regional relations faced probing questions from local councillors, but remains at arm’s length as it prepares to launch its formal public consultation process.

“We will do our best to get some attention,” said John Schmuck, chair of the Governance Review Citizens Advisory Committee (GRCAC), of the public engagement process scheduled to launch Jan. 17, 2017.

The committee exists outside the district’s formal committee structure and emerged after 88 per cent of voters in a 2014 referendum voted yes on the following question: “Do you support council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the region?”

The GRCAC’s review, however, found itself under review itself when Schmuck last appeared before council as it approved the committee’s hiring of a consultant, as several councillors wondered about the pace of the work.

However, a motion by Coun. Colin Plant instructing staff to give the committee what he called “guidance” failed with all of Plant’s colleagues voting against it.

“It is not to undermine, but to ensure your success,” said Plant of his failed motion.

While several councillors agreed with the need for more information about the committee and its work, they also stressed that a more formalized relationship between the district and the committee would run against the intention to create a citizen-led process.

“I really do think that it needs to be citizen led,” said Mayor Richard Atwell.

Schmuck – who volunteered to visit council frequently – told members that the work of the committee so far “has been a long slog” because it has struggled to secure the necessary resources to do its work.

“If it appears that we are behind, we had trouble getting through the procurement process [for a consultant],” he said.

The nature of the committee also restricts its access to district resources, he said.

Speaking with the Saanich News later, Schmuck said the committee received only one response to its request-for-proposal for a consultant, which it later found to be wanting.

It was only through the assistance of chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson that the committee was able to secure its eventual hire, who has been working with the committee for free prior to council’s approval.

Schmuck also told councillors that the committee will ask for additional funding as the committee’s initial budget of $100,000 is “slowly being eaten way.”

As of this writing, the committee has about $55,000 of the initial $100,000 left. Monies spent so far have gone towards the hiring of a consultant who helped to set up the committee and clerical work among other items. And since the quoted cost of the consultant hired ($58,000) exceeds the amount available, the committee will have to ask for an increase.

Schmuck told the Saanich News that he could not supply a specific figure for the proposed funding request, but stressed that the committee was running a very “frugal” operation with “minimal” expenditures.

In doing so, he indirectly responded to comments from Coun. Vic Derman, who wondered how the committee was spending the money.

“Council has a fiduciary obligation towards citizens to make sure money is being spent appropriately,” he said.

Derman – along with other councillors and the mayor – also wondered whether the committee over-stepped its mandate after it had discussed the controversial Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw.

“I’d hate to see the committee lose credibility in the eyes of council by straying into issues within council’s mandate,” said Derman, a point that Coun. Susan Brice echoed.

The goal of the committee is to give council “guidance” on governance, not suggestions on any issue, she said.

Schmuck said the public engagement process will consist of four public meetings under the umbrella of the GRCAC and target engagement sessions with stakeholders under the separate umbrella of the consultant with whom the committee will work.

 

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