EDITORIAL: Lesson offered for public bodies

Greater Victoria Harbour authority board controversy shows public organizations must remember who they serve

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s hesitation to accept Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon to its board of directors, and her eventual acceptance after public backlash, bring up a couple of points.

The Harbour Authority, a non-profit society, was rightfully forced to eat crow after initially questioning the city’s nomination of a publicly elected official, citing Gudgeon’s apparent lack of appropriate skill set. It was technically able to reject the nomination under its society bylaws, but the move came off as arrogant and undemocratic.

The scenario should offer a lesson to members of any public body, whether political or societal, to be mindful of how they view that body’s place and role in the community. The public expects to have at least some say in the workings of organizations that are funded in part by tax dollars and/or manage community spaces.

In the case of the Harbour Authority, its board meets just four times a year, not every week or even every month. That would indicate decisions made by directors are more broad-based and centred around policy rather than related to day-to-day operational challenges that may come up.

Newcomers to municipal councils, or boards or committees with a specific mandate, always face a learning curve as they research issues and get up to speed on any technical aspects of the position. No doubt the longest-tenured members of the authority’s board have learned a lot about the ins and outs of a working harbour.

The Harbour Authority had hoped for more representation from Victoria. But like any public body with representation from the greater community, the GVHA has to trust that nominations are made with due consideration of its needs and mandate.

Organizations that steward public assets must always remember whom they serve, and as such, should regularly allow for the injection of fresh perspectives from the community at large.

Doing so provides better accountability and helps ensure public sentiment is considered during all boardroom conversations.