A plan to boost Sidney’s economy following the COVID pandemic came under criticism from several members of council, but it will not receive a revision from the consultants who wrote it. Staff also signalled there may not be the resources to revise it and raised questions about whether councillors will have a chance to consider it during strategic planning early next year.
Couns. Sara Duncan, Steve Duck, Scott Garnett and Terri O’Keeffe voted at the committee of the whole meeting to refer the draft economic development plan to the municipality’s economic advisory committee, Sidney Business Improvement Area Society and the South Island Prosperity Partnership for comment and review. Sidney’s previous council had budgeted $60,000 out of COVID money toward the development of an economic development plan with Lions Gate Consulting having won the contract to deliver it. Councillors will consider the motion at their regular meeting scheduled for Nov. 28.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Chad Rintoul and Richard Novek in opposition. While some of the discussion prior to the vote focused on who should comment on the draft, Novek along with others raised questions about the substance of the document. Novek said the document, while heavy on background, analysis and data, “severely” lacked specific steps that could help Sidney. He added that he would have liked to have seen more of what he called “tactical suggestions” that the municipality could actually do.
“I’m not convinced that this plan in its present form will serve the people of Sidney,” he said, adding that it is premature to refer the draft to anybody for comment.
O’Keeffe said she has a lot of difficulty with the plan, despite voting for the referral. “It didn’t meet my expectations.”
Steve Nicol of Lions Gate Consulting said earlier that the plan is meant to be of a strategic — not tactical — nature. “One of the reasons is that we don’t have an economic development office. If we had an economic development office in the municipality, we would probably have more of that detail.”
Duck acknowledged the comments of his colleagues, but lobbied for referral. “This is the only economic development plan that we have right now and we paid money for it,” he said. “We need to take it forward.” He added that the point of the referral is to get the document to council’s strategic planning session, where council can then deal with it.
Chief administrative officer (CAO) Randy Humble confirmed earlier comments by Duck that Lions Gate Consulting has fulfilled its contract, while dashing expectations of future revisions by either the consultants or staff.
“They (consultants) are done with respect to this project,” he said. “That’s the final draft — after three revisions, I might add. So I think it is an unrealistic expectation to ask staff this evening what we can do fundamentally to further address this. Quite frankly, it is going to be a lot of work. It will involve obviously staff resources…and there will be costs associated if we are looking at a significant review. So we would have to report back to council and council would have to provide us that direction.”
Humble also raised questions about whether the economic advisory committee can review and comment on the draft by Dec. 23. “Maybe it’s feasible, I don’t know, but it will depend on quorum and timing and the ability to get a meeting with the EAC…there may be challenges and there may be challenges with moving forward with strategic planning on Jan. 11 and having all that information provided and ready.”
EAC meetings take place on the second Thursday of the month from 10:30 a.m. to noon excluding June, July and December. According to Sidney’s website, the EAC last met April 13 with five scheduled meetings since then cancelled, including the meeting on Nov. 10. According to Sidney’s website, it has 12 members with five positions currently vacant. This means the committee — which currently lacks a representative from Sidney BIA, but includes a representative from the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce — can meet quorum if all current members show up.
Humble later said in comments to Black Press that committees like the EAC usually do not meet unless agenda items appear before them.”These items tend to be referred to committees through council resolutions,” he said, adding the committee did not have items to consider in recent months.
When asked about the committee’s membership, Humble pointed to the committee’s terms of reference. “Since (they require) representation from various sectors of the business community, filling seats on that basis is often difficult,” he said. “Recognizing that at the present time, reaching quorum for a meeting of the (committee) is challenging, staff did not initially recommend a referral to this committee.”
He added council has been considering applications to various committees, commissions and boards in camera after the application period for appointments had closed on Nov. 7. “Council has been considering these applications in camera,” he said. “New appointments will be announced at the Dec. 5 council meeting.”
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