Fire Trustees on the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District will be holding a special meeting on November 24 to debate whether the Board will have a governance review conducted on itself. The motion to do so came up at the latest Fire Board meeting, held last week on November 3.
Trustee Penelope Bahr made the motion that the Board, “engage a consultant to conduct a governance review immediately.”
Chair Paul Giffin asked, “a governance review of what?”
Bahr said of the governance of the Improvement District, “the whole shooting act. I think we need a good review. This is a personal feeling, but one I’ve heard from constituents. We’ve changed in the years we’ve been in existence. We have a lot to look at, and I think we could use outside expert opinion on how to do that.”
Bahr said the Fire Board could look at one of the companies used by the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) and other local governments or speak to the Municipal Affairs Ministry staff for guidance.
Trustee John Moeller said doing a Governance Review, “seems like a large undertaking. It seems expensive, and we haven’t accounted for it in the budget. I don’t necessarily agree it is necessary – but I’m willing to hear out the rationale for it. I would suggest rather than trying to vote on this here and now – something of this scope would need to be discussed in more depth before having hope of winning at least my support on it.”
Trustee Fred Apstein said before the Review would go ahead, the cost would have to come back to the Board for approval.
Fire Chief Will Sprogis said the Department is following the long-term plan set in place by the late Albert Reed when he was a Fire Trustee.
“We do well compared to other islands. From a training standard, we are higher for our population size. Look at the facilities built, we’re way ahead, having all the equipment we have. I think you are taking on a huge task doing a governance review, spending a lot of money to find out Gabriola is doing extremely well in the scheme of things, I think it’s a waste of money.”
Trustee Diana Moher said she needed to know the why, the how, and what the repercussions might be.
“I will not want to make a decision on something brought up very quickly that actually is asking us to make a step to hire someone when we don’t know what we’re hiring them for.”
Trustee Sean Lewis said the motion is asking for a Governance Review, “that is essentially a snapshot of the District and Department from an external review. It does not imply wrongdoing or anything of that nature. The colleges do it every five years. It’s not unusual. RDN had several done in the past. I think it’s a great opportunity. I don’t care how well we are doing, telling ourselves that doesn’t tell us that.
“Improvement Districts are becoming anomalies, I think it would strengthen our position to say this is where we are at.”
Chair Giffin said the issue requires more discussion, but said he can support the review of the governance.
Trustee Bahr said her concern is not with the operations of the Fire Department – but with the Fire District, which is elected to be a local government.
“Governance Reviews are usually a commonplace thing with bodies like this and governments like this. The big important thing is we’ve changed a lot – and I think having someone from outside can help us.
Bahr said in terms of the cost of doing a review, “we have a contingency fund. We don’t spend a lot on governance.
“These firefighters train themselves extremely well, I don’t think we [the Board members] train ourselves very well.”
Apstein said to his knowledge the Fire Board has never had a Governance Review.
He added to the point made by Trustee Lewis that most organizations which do conduct a review get a report back demonstrating from an outside perspective that they are operating properly.
“We haven’t had an outside look at this organization – most people that spend other people’s monies have a review done.
“When they get a good review, that’s a feather in their hat.”
Moeller said, “we are the stewards of the money we get from the taxpayers. We should put as much of that money as possible towards operations.
“I don’t know what a governance review is – whether it looks at how the board is set up, whether we need more Trustees. My opinion is we should try and focus as much money on operations as possible – and take on the responsibility within this room. I don’t want to see us raise the budget for the Trustees.”
Bahr said, “yes – most of our money should go to operations – most of the monies raised should go there. To me it is hubris in the extreme to say we can’t use any advice or improve in any way.
“Because I’m not an expert or legal person – discussing the books, the legalities – I think we could use outside advice.”
Bahr said if the other Trustees were surprised with her bringing the Review up at the meeting, “this is something I have brought up. I’ve sent you the link of the RDN governance review – and I’ve talked about this.
“I have been sending out emails talking about governance and what we owe our constituents. It should not be a surprise.”
Trustee Chris Windess said he believed the Trustees need more time to discuss the issue, “and have it explained what we are trying to achieve. What John said – money goes to operations – but without us being able to do our jobs properly and well, then we can’t help the department.
“I think we need to have a bigger discussion in a board meeting to have clear questions and answers.”
Trustee Moher suggested the motion be tabled to its own meeting.
“I don’t want this to become a thing that blows up in any way….I need more concrete conversation.”
Trustee Bahr said she wouldn’t mind amending the motion to say a special meeting is needed.
Trustees voted unanimously in favour of holding a special meeting to discuss a Governance Review – the meeting is set for November 24. See ad below.
The next regular meeting of the Fire Board is scheduled for Dec. 1 at 4pm at the Albert Reed Memorial Fire Hall on Church Street – and is open to members of the public.
Staff with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs said Improvement districts have the authority to conduct their own internal governance review.
“Improvement districts are elected service bodies and have the authority and responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the property owners they serve. It is up to each improvement district to determine how they would conduct an internal governance review.
“The Ministry of Municipal Affairs does not have a role in conducting such a review and the Province does not provide funding for reviews conducted by improvement districts.
“Ministry staff are available to support Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District if they have any questions.”