Victoria wants the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s bylaws changed so it doesn’t have to get into another fight over who it to appoints to the body.
The city has written to harbour authority chairman Bill Wellburn calling for a general membership meeting to be held to amend its bylaws so that members’ appointees aren’t subject to vetting by the authority.
“This would essentially give each [harbour authority] member the right to appoint its [representative],” said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt.
The city found itself in a public spat with the harbour authority —a non-elected, not-for-profit body that manages the capital’s port properties — when Coun. Shellie Gudgeon was rejected as the city’s appointee to the board.
At the time, Wellburn wrote to Mayor Dean Fortin saying the board’s selection committee didn’t believe Gudgeon — the unanimous selection of Victoria council — had the skill set the harbour authority needs.
Wellburn said the board was seeking individuals with expertise in cruises and tourism, terminals and transportation, marinas and harbour-related businesses, commercial marine and First Nations.
Several councillors found the rejection outrageous.
After a heated annual meeting in February — in which a standing-room-only crowd demanded more accountability from the harbour authority — the authority board relented and accepted Gudgeon as the city’s appointee.
Gudgeon said Wednesday she had not yet discussed the matter with the harbour authority board.
“I’m hopeful they will be supportive given the circumstances that have taken place in the last few months,” she said.
The harbour authority was formed in 2002 after the federal government divested itself of port properties.
Under the founding memorandum of understanding, one director was to be appointed from each of Victoria, Esquimalt, the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, the Provincial Capital Commission, the Capital Regional District, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Victoria. Two directors were to come from the Harbour Society and three directors at large were to be appointed by the board.
But the authority passed bylaw changes in 2012, giving the board sole discretion over whether to accept nominees from member organizations.
“I think what was illustrated by this whole series of events was a lot of people, I heard, voted on the [harbour authority bylaw changes] without understanding the unintended consequences,” Gudgeon said. “So, there will be a much more robust discussion.”
Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Carter was reluctant to comment on Victoria’s proposal because a decision has not yet been made by his board of directors.
The chamber supported the original change to the nominating process because it allowed the board to look for people with specific skills, he said. “I don’t know that when I saw that I envisioned that we would see that type of rejection, particularly of an elected official.”
And Carter said he wouldn’t want to see a repeat of the dispute between Victoria and the authority.
“I think the relationship between the harbour authority and the City of Victoria is key to getting things done around our harbour, and I don’t know that the way that was handled furthered that relationship.”
Rebecca Penz, media spokeswoman for the harbour authority, said that only Wellburn speaks to governance issues and he was unavailable for comment.
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