Open Letter to Members of the James Bay Neighborhood Association and Residents of James Bay, Victoria, BC
Dec 2009 | 1 comment
December 1, 2009
Tim VanAlstine, President
James Bay Neighborhood Association
c/o 234 Menzies Street
Victoria, B.C. V8V 2G7
Re: JBNA Governance - Transparency, Accountability & Democratic Process
As a resident of James Bay for the past 10 years, as a former member of the City of Victoria's Downtown Advisory Committee, and as a voting member of the James Bay Neighborhood Association (JBNA), a registered non-profit society, I am concerned about the apparent lack of:
- clarity pertaining to the governance model used by the JBNA,
- commitment to existing governance principles, and
- respect for both the JBNA public engagement philosophy and the democratic process.
The questions that I raise are designed to shed light on the following matters:
1. the decision-making process of the JBNA,
2. the roles and responsibilities of JBNA directors, and
3. the roles and responsibilities as well as reporting relationships of the JBNA standing committees.
Does the leadership of the JBNA, similar to the City of Victoria Council, have a governance framework in place to address matters of interest and concern to the citizens whom it represents? If so, is the JBNA governance framework like that of the City designed:
- to ensure that the desires and views of the public are respected and utilized in a meaningful manner?
- to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of all parties are clear and that conflicts of interests are acknowledged by all parties in the decision-making process?
- to ensure that the decisions being made are based on good information and relevant options?
A. Questions for Consideration
Furthermore, who has the right to make decisions in the JBNA? Are the directors (and indirectly their standing committees) responsible to the members who elect them? If not, then to whom can they be held accountable for their actions? Who can contribute to the JBNA decision-making process? What process is used to consider matters and arrive at decisions having an impact on the life of citizens whom the JBNA serves? Do those who govern the JBNA represent special interests/needs and therefore function as a special interest lobby group or does the JBNA represent and advocate for the broader interests of the community?
B. Background Information (Goals of the James Bay Neighborhood Association)
According to the JBNA Constitution, the purpose of the society among other things is:
- "To enable the community to be actively involved in the preservation, rehabilitation and planned development of James Bay... .
- To promote community awareness of and involvement in environmental issues and their impact on the community, and facilitate community input to the continuous review and updating of the James Bay Plan.
- To insure that all development proposals reflect the James Bay Community Plan and accurately reflect the values, issues and concerns of James Bay residents.
- To be sensitive to community concerns, to educate and assist individuals and community groups with respect to environmental and ecological developments.
- To provide an open forum for discussion with a view to promoting input into the decision-making processes that concern James Bay.
- To support community groups and individuals in their efforts to meet these objectives."
C. Additional Questions for Consideration
According to the JBNA constitution, all residents of James Bay are eligible to become association members, however only those who attend a minimum of three consecutive meetings in one year can run for office, participate in committees established by the board, or have the right to vote.
1. While JBNA monthly meetings and Executive Committee meetings are both open to the public according to the constitution, are the Executive free to make their own decisions and recommendations without considering information presented to them, including views expressed by JBNA members or by members of the general public? In other words, are these solely executive decisions or are they in any way affected by the interests and desires of those in attendance?
2. Are the rights of JBNA members limited solely to exercising their right to vote for directors at an Annual General Meeting, and to vote on procedural matters such as approval of agendas, minutes of meetings, and meeting adjournments?
3. Do JBNA members have the power and authority to oblige directors to present all substantive matters and recommendations to the general membership for consent, prior to issuing any "white papers", reports, and recommendations on behalf of the association to outside institutional authorities, interested third parties, and the media? Do members have the right to know the content of important JBNA communications initiated by directors before or only after the information has been communicated on behalf of the membership? Do JBNA members have the right to know the recipients of communications made on their behalf?
4. Are all JBNA members permitted access to association documents such as financial statements, membership records, correspondence, reports, research undertaken by JBNA committee members or contracted third parties, as well as minutes of all monthly meetings, executive committee meetings and standing committees of the board to ascertain what matters of substance are being addressed, and what decisions are being taken on behalf of all members and the community at large?
5. Are all JBNA members and the public informed of JBNA meetings (i.e. monthly meetings, executive committee meetings, and standing committees of the board) as stipulated in the JBNA constitution?
6. Do the JBNA Executive and their standing committees consider it appropriate or necessary to consult with, or invite participation from, interested individuals, community organizations, or other potential stakeholders in matters of public interest, particularly when the directors and standing committees are advancing community views or putting forth recommendations to public and private entities that will have a direct impact on all community members such as public parks and green spaces, public art, quality of life issues, environment and health matters, and transportation and socio-economic issues (e.g. affordable housing, conversions of rental units to condo properties, growing income constraints and declining access to social supports, or the impacts of the hospitality and tourism industry on the neighborhood)?
D. Conclusions For Consideration
Below are three possible conclusions for your consideration:
- Assessing whether the current governance model used, the quality of leadership provided, and the existing decision-making process, is in tune with the diverse needs and democratic values of James Bay citizens.
- Ensuring that those who exercise governanceon our behalf demonstrate both in words and in deedstheir commitment to abroad-minded civic engagementprocessasavital way to develop and to sustain a healthy and vibrant democratic society, whether it is in our own backyard orelsewhere.
- Recognizing that all citizens have a responsibility not only to take into account the critical needs of present generations butalso to keep in mind the potential impact of those decisions on the lives of future generations.
The James Bay Neighborhood Association has served this community for more than three decades. It is known for having contributed to, and being engaged, in land use planning and development, playing a role in community building and enhancement, as well as strengthening the foundations of a civil society. Organizations such as the James Bay Neighborhood Association represent a vital force in addressing matters of concern to the public whom it should serve.
James Bay resident and
James Bay Neighborhood Association Member
Kim Dixon, Executive Director, James Bay New Horizons Society
Graham Taylor, Executive Director, James Bay Community Project
Alex Dominiak, Program Coordinator, James Bay Community School
Alison Meyer, Assistant Director, Development Services, City of Victoria
Mark Hornell, Manager, Planning & Development Department, City of Victoria
Cameron Scott, Senior Planner, Community Planning, City of Victoria
Paul Servos, CEO, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority