In council chambers on Monday, council spent a great dealing of time debating one issue. That issue, which was sparked by a Downtown Business Association delegation to council during Committee of the Whole, ate up a large portion of the morning meeting, caused two councillors to storm out, and then again almost dominated the evening meeting several hours later.
The issue on the table was the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce’s funding and the chamber’s newly elected board.
Several questions were raised over the course of the day (and it was a day). Committee of the Whole lasted nearly six hours while the evening meeting went two and a half. Many allegations were made from both sides, by proxy: some councillors stated the board had been illegally elected against the chamber’s own bylaws, while others argued that it was immaterial because the board has never followed its bylaws.
While both allegations are serious, the latter especially stands out.
If the allegation is true, it means that for years — the five or so years the chamber has existed in its current form — the city has been giving money to an organization that may or may not have had appropriate oversight.
When questioned, city staff estimated the grant in aid policy as standing with the chamber has amounted to $80,000 in funding over the past five years. To have an organization that is significantly funded by tax revenue not following its bylaws is inconceivable.
The bylaws — such as the 90-day membership requirement before someone can be elected to the board, or the 30-day “member in good standing” requirement to vote at the annual general meeting — are in place to ensure that the organization (and by extension, our taxpayer dollars) are protected.
If, as a councillor stated, these bylaws haven’t been properly followed while the city continued to dole out funding year after year, it points to a serious lack of oversight on both the part of council and the chamber’s leadership.
While there may be no way to know for sure if the bylaws have been followed — it comes down to the words of those who have been there and those who should know — the allegation should spark a dramatic reform in how the city ensures grant in aid funds are being spent.
If the allegation is true, it means the chamber couldn’t handle the responsibility of taxpayer funding, so the city needs to step in — either that, or pull the funding for groups unable or unwilling to follow process to ensure accountability and good leadership where tax dollars are being spent.