By Laura Keil, Publisher/Editor
It was a great exercise in transparency that the Village held a public meeting with the community forest to discuss changes to the community forest’s board. The 2.5 hour meeting covered a lot of ground. For the public, it was a fantastic primer in both sides’ positions. The community forest spoke about their concerns and issues and so did the Village and the Village’s legal counsel. This is the first time both sides thoroughly stated their positions and cross-examined one another.
While I sympathize with the community forest directors—who enjoys being ousted from their position after doing great work for over a decade?—it’s really not about that. The action feels disrespectful, but is simply bureaucracy covering its butt. I’m sure we can all relate to how bureaucracy has slighted us, how it’s made us feel insignificant. But at the end of the day, it’s not personal.
After that meeting, Council made a recommendation to pass the policy with an amendment reducing the councillors on the board from 2 to 1. So the community forest won a small victory, in keeping five public directors, rather than four. And the mayor pointed out that four existing directors may be able to keep their board role, if two can retire by the next AGM.
The advisory board (or management board) is where those directors who still work for the company can still have their say. This is what the public should see as the Village’s compromise. It’s not banning existing directors from having a say. It is simply saying that due to the extremely high bar of conflict of interest rules for municipalities and municipally-owned companies, if you make decisions for the company on the board you can’t also get paid by the company. The advisory board could consist of anyone. That board wouldn’t make the final decisions but would make recommendations to the governance board. As was pointed out several times in the meeting, the VCF board is not a management board. It does not require active foresters to do the work. It has paid staff for that. What the governance board needs is people with vision, financial experience, business experience, and recreational and environmental backgrounds to ensure the community forest is truly a community-guided endeavour.
The advisory board is a clean break that protects not just the Village and Community Forest, but also the directors themselves who are currently putting themselves in jeopardy by doing both jobs. At the same time it keeps some continuity by keeping existing directors close. In my view, this is a sound decision by Council.