Dysfunctional, distant, inexperienced, and slow.
Those are the words regional directors used to describe the Strathcona Regional District during an audit of the organization.
Directors were interviewed by Susan Gee from Acumen Communications as part of a communications review conducted last October.
Campbell River Mayor Walter Jakeway, former mayor Charlie Cornfield, regional directors Jim Abrams, Brenda Leigh, Jude Schooner, Ted Lewis, Noba Anderson, Gerald Whalley, Craig Anderson, John MacDonald, and former board member Corrine Dahling provided input.
All of those directors represent different areas and that’s a problem, Gee found in her report.
“Several directors stated that the board operated in a dysfunctional manner, with certain members becoming openly angry during meetings,” Gee wrote in the audit. “Because each member represents an area that is distant from his/her colleagues there is little understanding of the need to support or assist one another. Currently each director is looking out for his/her own area, but not necessarily lending support when funding or programs may be needed in a different area of the district.”
Gee said one director freely admitted he sees little worth in communication programs for the regional district and feels most district-wide services that require funding from his community are unwanted.
Communication with outside companies and groups isn’t much better.
“When asked what words best describe the district’s reputation with its stakeholders, directors used the words slow, inexperienced, distant and non-existent,” Gee said.
Relations with First Nations are especially strained.
“Some (directors) expressed frustration with prior failed attempts to build relationships, while others say that as a group the board has a lack of understanding regarding First Nations culture, governance and engagement,” Gee said. “One director said he felt ‘the idea of engagement with these communities is 30 years too late. The SRD is very far behind other districts in connecting with First Nations.’”
The audit also revealed that directors believe people have little knowledge of the regional district and what services it provides.
Thirty-eight organizations that work with the regional district were also interviewed in the audit. In remote communities and with smaller organizations, the feedback was strongly positive, while feedback from larger organizations, like the Comox Valley Regional District, implied there is room for improvement.
“The Comox Valley Regional District said they would like to see more collaboration on the co-promotion of programs and initiatives (such as) solid waste and water rebates,” Gee said. “The district’s messages and strategies are not clear to their stakeholders. During one-on-one interviews stakeholders identified themselves as champions, leaders and promoters of the SRD’s communications efforts.”
A majority of outside organizations interviewed reported it often takes a long time to hear back from the regional district regarding projects or initiatives, or that responses arrive at the last minute.
Gee said “all stakeholders described the district’s public reputation as unknown, unfamiliar and low profile. Some SRD directors were also identified as challenging.”
But the news wasn’t all bad.
A total of 87 per cent of stakeholders said they felt the Strathcona Regional District is providing opportunities to consult with them and a majority of online respondents to the audit reported that information from the regional district is project-specific and communicated while a project is active.
Stakeholders had mostly positive comments regarding regional district staff, Gee said.
The audit also included recommendations to remedy the key issues. To solve the lack of federation between directors, Gee suggests directors take part in learning sessions facilitated by senior bureaucrats from other district boards. To repair strained First Nations relations, Gee recommends directors learn and take an interest in First Nations culture, governance and communication.
To resolve issues surrounding the flow of information Gee recommends: creating a new communications department; conducting a workshop that examines the Strathcona Regional District organization and what it does; and creating a new district website that uses video and social media and provides information for residents.
Regional district staff will submit a follow-up report to the board identifying which recommendations are achievable this year and those which will be brought forward in future years.