[UPDATED] The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority board reversed course Friday and decided to accept Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon to its board of directors.
Its change of heart came a day after a standing-room-only crowd at a public meeting chastised the not-for-profit authority as undemocratic in its earlier rejection of Gudgeon — unanimously chosen by Victoria council to be its appointee to the board.
The announcement was made Friday night after the harbour authority board met in private.
In a statement, the harbour authority said: "GVHA initially requested additional nominees from the City of Victoria, however it respects the City’s decision to offer a single candidate, and has accepted the nomination of Councillor Shellie Gudgeon."
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It was an ill wind that blew across the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority on Thursday night.
Facing an angry, standing-room-only crowd at a public meeting, the authority’s directors came under heavy fire for rejecting Victoria city council’s unanimous appointee to the board.
Board chairman Bill Wellburn stated previously that Coun. Shellie Gudgeon lacked the skill-set that the board is looking for to help manage harbour lands, including Ogden Point, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Inner Harbour Causeway, Ship Point and the waterfront from Wharf Street to the Johnson Street Bridge.
But a series of speakers Thursday characterized that decision as arrogant, anti-democratic and out of touch.
“This is insulting and outrageous,” Janis Ringuette said.
“I find it offensive that an unelected body looking after a public asset would say to a publicly elected body that your candidate is not acceptable,” Ray Zimmerman added.
“You are in crisis,” Lesley Ewing said. “You have absolutely lost the confidence of the people that you purport to serve.”
Most of the speakers urged the board to reconsider its decision and allow Gudgeon to sit on the board.
“I don’t know if Shellie’s going to be a dissenting voice or not, but I hope she is, because I hope you guys are looking for folks out there that are going to challenge you and that are going to say, ‘No, we are going to look at something else,’ ” said Steve Kitney, a downtown businessman.
“And the little I know of Shellie, I think she’s got those characteristics, so you’re missing a big opportunity if you don’t bring her aboard.”
Wellburn bore the brunt of the public’s anger and did himself no favours by trying to make light of it.
When Marg Gardiner, president of the James Bay Neighborhood Association, criticized the authority for holding its meeting on the same night as Victoria city council, Wellburn said she was welcome to stay and listen to all the reports.
“I gotta go to city hall,” she said.
“Your choice,” Wellburn said, eliciting angry catcalls from the audience.
“What a stupid statement,” someone shouted.
“Listen, that was said with a light heart,” Wellburn replied. “There are choices.”
Ted Godwin later urged the board to censure Wellburn for his comments. “You should be ashamed of his behaviour.”
The board is expected to discuss the issue again at an in-camera meeting today.
Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said he thinks the directors got a needed wake-up call.
“I think the board heard loud and clear that the citizens of Victoria intend to have a say in how the harbour is managed, and that includes appointing Shellie Gudgeon to the board at the earliest opportunity,” he said.
“Right now, the city has no one at that table, which is hugely problematic because all of their lands are in the city limits.”
The harbour authority was established in 2002 when the Canadian government was handing over control of port properties.
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