This article by Mel Rothenburger, Director for TNRD Electoral Area P, was originally published on the Area P Post website on Feb. 11, 2022.
TNRD board directors need to focus on getting the job done instead of pointing fingers at each other.
That job includes carrying out reforms highlighted in the BDO Canada forensic audit while continuing with all of our other short- and long-term responsibilities.
There are two directions in which the board can go. One is to work hard at becoming dysfunctional. The other is to be focused on what we need to get done and move forward with a new sense of purpose and commitment.
Directors badly want people to know they’ve listened and that they’re seriously dedicated to reform. Sadly, though, the controversy has triggered friction among some board members that goes beyond critical self-examination.
Public outrage and demands for answers are very much on the minds of directors. It’s understandable that nerves around the board table are frayed. It’s an election year for one thing — everything directors say and do will be under even more scrutiny than usual in the next few months.
The laws of confidentiality weigh heavily. Directors are constrained by legal and ethical considerations that keep them from divulging certain things.
The rules are pretty clear on this. Matters involving “land, labour and legal” are required by law to be dealt with in camera. Personnel matters are especially sensitive.
Remaining silent, especially on controversial issues, is contrary to the instincts of elected people who are used to publicly debating pros and cons and talking to the media and constituents about their decisions.
When they cite these constraints, they’re accused of hiding behind the law, or simply being secretive.
An example of the current tension within the board is the call by some directors for Chair Ken Gillis to resign. I’ve carefully considered what they’ve said, and talked to the Chair. My conclusion is that such a move might have political advantages, and might send a symbolic message, but it would do nothing to further the strategy for steadfast reforms adopted after the audit, and might even hamper it.
It’s natural that Gillis, as board chair, has been the target of much of the public’s discontent lately. He’s the main spokesperson for the board and the one whose phone rings the most. But making him a scapegoat won’t get us where we need to go any faster.
To borrow a common phrase these days and apply it to the board, we’re all in this together. The public isn’t going to be re-assured by any one gesture. A public apology might be meaningful depending on what it says but the bottom line is, people want results.
There’s been an important shift in attitude among board members on how they view their own role, and a new focus on accountability. Over time, that’s what will be important.
Changes have been made for the better and more are coming. Changes to the way expenses are approved and reported. Free drinks for directors at social occasions are, thankfully, gone. The board, which has at times given itself generous pay increases over the years, even rejected a pay increase at the last opportunity. After the board initially rejected the idea, votes are now fully recorded, so the public knows how each director votes on every decision. The recommendations from the forensic audit have been 100 per cent accepted, and progress on each and every one of them will be updated regularly.
As directors we have to remember that while we deal with this current issue we have a lot of other things to take care of — building and maintaining water and sewer systems, managing one of the best library networks anywhere, supporting a flourishing film industry, responding to natural disasters, providing fire protection, environmental stewardship and looking after a hundred other services. On most days, the TNRD — board and staff — does a fine job on those things.
Many directors are in their first term while some have served for many years. They come from vastly different walks of life. Some are conservative and others are progressive. These are diverse attributes that provide strength and can be built upon.
When I say the board needs to get along, I don’t mean directors must not express differences of opinion — they just need to work respectfully and co-operatively with their eyes on the ball.
Each of us as directors must ask ourselves, every day, whether we’ve acted honourably and selflessly (at another time, I intend to provide a thorough outline of my own record), but the public will judge us collectively. We have a common objective. If we don’t get on the same page in dealing with this, in a spirit of respectful candor and transparency, we’ll have failed those we represent.
We’re on the right path toward fixing what was broken; we have to stick with it.
Mel Rothenburger was elected as Director for Electoral Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) in 2014 and again in 2018.