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Kirwan: Why I resigned from the GSDC

Ward 5 councillor wants to set the record straight
Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan wants to fast track a decision on where to build a new Sudbury Arena. File photo

There has been much confusion as a result of my decision to resign from my position on the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation so I just wanted to set everyone straight. 

My decision to leave the GSDC has nothing to do with the "reprimand" received by the Integrity Commissioner, nor does it have anything to do with the exchange

I had with other members of the Board during my last meeting. It is not a “protest” as some have said. Also, I want to make it perfectly clear that this decision is not going to have any impact on what I do as Councillor for Ward 5. If anything, it is going to give me more time to take care of other responsibilities.

The fact is that I decided to resign from my position on the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation because I firmly believe that the City of Greater Sudbury should have an economic development committee that sets policy and direction in this area. I also believe that this should be a committee of the whole of Council which will assume responsibility for the economic development department.

City tax payers provide just over $5 million from the tax levy towards a budget of $6.2 million for Economic Development. City Councillors are elected to take full responsibility for the allocation of all tax levy funding. But as it stands now, the GSDC, which is an independent not-for-profit corporation, basically provides direction to the staff who are employed by the City of Greater Sudbury.

The Director of Economic Development pretty much answers to the GSDC Board of Directors. The GSDC also controls expenditures of over $1 million per year that the City provides to the department. City Council receives a report annually that indicates where this money is spent, but we do not give prior approve the actual disposition of those funds. That approval is done by the GSDC.

In the past the GSDC has also taken on initiatives without the knowledge or approval of City Council as a whole. This has resulted in some inconsistency in economic development directions taken by the GSDC and Council. It has also caused some concern to me when my constituents ask me to explain what is happening and I have not been given the information from the GSDC in advance. Councillors are always expected to know what is happening with respect to matters of concern to residents of the City. Especially when it involves tax dollars and/or the use of city staff.

I have no problem with the existence of the GSDC as a volunteer community group that provides guidance and advice to City Council. But there is just too much potential for conflict when you have a Board of Directors of 14 private citizens who represent various economic sectors of our community, and who are in control of the expenditure of tax dollars and staff without the proper oversight of the elected City Council as a whole. Having the Mayor and three city councillors on the

GSDC does not provide the oversight or control that tax payers should have when it comes to the spending of tax dollars. I can't speak for any of the other Councillors, but I do not feel comfortable sitting on the GSDC under the current arrangement.

A Committee of the Whole would at least receive the advice from the GSDC and then approve recommendations following public discussion. These decisions may in fact follow the direction that the GSDC may have wanted to take anyway. But it should be done with the prior approval of City Council and it should be done in full public transparency. This is how we allocate all the rest of the funds we collect from tax payers and I do not feel it should be any different for funds and staff that we provide to the GSDC.

I am in full agreement with the Mayor when he says, “Council is best positioned to establish economic development programs and policies, to allocate staff and resources to maximize the chances of success, and to react quickly to emerging opportunities."

Since I am in agreement with the Mayor's motion, it would be hypocritical of me to continue to sit as a member of the GSDC. That would put me in a direct conflict. I would be part of the Board of Directors while trying to take away their funding and their authority. I am not going to put myself or the members of the GSDC in that kind of uncomfortable situation.

In any event, I will be tendering my resignation at the next City Council meeting and have more time to devote to the Seniors' Advisory Panel to improve the quality of life of our older adults.

Robert Kirwan is the Greater Sudbury city councillor for Ward 5.