by Darrell Bellaart
Nanaimo city council has adopted a new approach they say will improve communication with staff so councillors can better do the job of running the city.
Effective immediately, each councillor will be responsible for a specific department under a new portfolio system adopted by council this week.
Each portfolio appointment is for a period of three months, and councillors are rotated through each portfolio so that over time, each councillor would become familiar with the inner workings of each of the nine main city departments.
The system is intended to give councillors a better handle on not only services each department provides but the issues, challenges and goals of each department in providing those services.
“I think the outcome you’ll get is smoother operations,” said Philip Cooper, city of Nanaimo communications manager. “My understanding, this model does exist in other communities.”
“I think it’s really healthy and positive,” said Coun. Bill Bestwick.
Coun. Wendy Pratt said it will give a “hands-on view of what’s going on” in inside each departments for councillors.
It will also give managers a voice to air concerns and problems to elected officials.
Pratt said the idea came from Tracy Samra, who was only just appointed city chief administrative officer by council.
Her appointment didn’t have unanimous support. Mayor Bill McKay and Coun. Diane Brennan voted against her permanent hiring.
That division mirrors a rift on council for many months, which culminated in last week’s release of a letter signed by seven councillors calling for McKay’s resignation.
But councillors say this change has nothing to do with that conflict. If anything, there is hope it will improve relations at city hall.
Bestwick called it a “new way of doing business and engaging all of us to work together.”
Each councillor is now responsible for one city department.
They are: RCMP; Culture, Heritage and Strategic Relationships; Parks, Recreation and Environment; Information Technology, Legislative Services and Communications; Finance; Community Development, Social and Protective Services; Nanaimo Fire Rescue andEngineering and Public Works.
“We’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Pratt said. “It’s something the city manager brought forward as a possibility – portfolios for councillors to gain more knowledge of departments (and) how they run.”
Meetings are now being arranged between city department heads and their assigned councillor to get the process started, Cooper said.