Nanaimo city council's tabling of its discussion on a review of its corporate strategy is a prudent decision.
Included in that review is the issue of "improvement in local governance." It is no secret that there are many facets in how the city operates that can be done better, and more efficiently.
Clear direction in this regard could be an early, defining moment for new city manager Ted Swabey.
Swabey entered his new position with the Daily News and the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce challenging Mayor John Ruttan for fast-tracking Swabey's hiring and forgoing a continent-wide talent search. A less than ideal start for someone in the city's top job.
Swabey's officially been in the position now for a month, but his fingerprints are appearing on a few files now, and the results appear to be positive. Swabey took the city's lead down a different path regarding the Colliery dams, and although that is still a work in progress, so far, so good.
If Swabey can truly manage in the background, taking his cue from the elected members of council, that would be a major feather in his cap.
If Swabey wants to hit one out of the park, he should quietly, yet strongly, suggest that the city undertakes a core review of its services. Of course council would have its say in that regard, but there's no doubt that it becomes a different conversation if the city manager is one of those leading the charge.
Swabey would have nothing to lose and everything to gain with a core review. It would be the ultimate declaration that there's a "new sheriff in town," and the findings could be an impetus for constructive change.
The city's population has grown over the years, and naturally, the staff that serves that increasing number of citizens. However, the city's list of what it now views as its responsibilities has continued to creep.
What should the city do, besides looking after protective services, water, sewer, roads and infrastructure? A true core review would delve into any and all city operations and provide recommendations for implementation. Penticton and Prince George, for example, have undergone core reviews and the results have been admirable. In Penticton, they've had back-to-back net zero per cent tax increases.
Those type of goal posts need to be placed in every city and town in the province. The taxpayers' ability and willingness to pay is being stretched beyond anything we've ever seen in our life time, and without targeted measures such as core reviews, there is no end in sight.
The city of Nanaimo has to stop its march toward becoming all things to all people. A look at the grants and honorariums issued in 2012 reveals a staggering $3,783,354 doled out by the city to a number of causes and organizations.
For example: the Errington Therapeutic Riding Association was given $3,000 under miscellaneous. Travel grants: Nanaimo Bike Polo $300, Nanaimo Ebbtides Masters Swim Club $350, the Wellington Secondary School Band $2,000. Shouldn't the latter come from School District 68 funds? Wait a minute: Travel grants? We're paying for travel grants? Since when did the city become a travel agency? This is not a question of whether these organizations do good work; it's a matter of why the city is being asked to pay for these at all.
A core review would dig into this and more. If this were to happen under Swabey's watch, taxpayers would be grateful.
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