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Blindsided GSDC board members sign open letter opposing mayor’s move for more control

Letter takes city council to task for moving to eliminate arm’s length economic development corporation’s political independence
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The Greater Sudbury Development Corporation (GSDC) is an independent non-share not-for-profit corporation that has been serving an important component of economic development for the City of Greater Sudbury for decades. Its primary objective is to support, promote, foster and attract economic development within our community. The volunteer board is made up of private citizens who represent various economic and geographic sectors in the community. 

Three city councillors and the mayor also sit on the Board. The GSDC has traditionally and consistently provided the means for economic development oversight while maintaining independence, and confidentiality in the context of various funding initiatives, relationships and partnerships.

On the morning of June 11, the GSDC chair learned for the first time that Mayor Brian Bigger would be presenting a motion to council later that evening for Economic Development Accountability whereby the GSDC would be divested of its responsibilities for economic development and members of city council would assume full authority for economic development activities and investments effective July 1, 2019. The motion also provides for the establishment of the Greater Sudbury Select Cabinet for Economic Development to provide advice on generating economic activity. The grounds for the motion include “enhancing accountability and transparency” for economic development activities and investments. The motion does not elaborate on the new model of governance or how any of these objectives will be achieved.

In light of this new development the GSDC offers the following context:

The auditor general conducts governance audits of city boards to support responsive, fiscally prudent and open governance. GSDC governance discussions began in February 2018 in response to recommendations in a report generated by the auditor general’s governance review of the GSDC board, which was delivered to council on June 19, 2018. The GSDC board, in consultation with GSDC director Jan Wood formed an ad hoc committee of GSDC members in JuIy 2018 and hired an independent governance expert, John Dinner, to provide direction and options in response to recommendations made in the report of the Auditor general.

The consultant conducted a thorough governance review of the GSDC in August and September 2018 including interviews with individual CSDC Board Members. John Dinner’s report and recommendations were presented to the GSDC Board on November 17th 2018. The report identified the need to clarify and simplify the roles and responsibilities of the GSDC.

Recommendations in the report reflected a diversity of existing models across the province with a view of facilitating and encouraging frank and robust discussions for the renewal of the relationship between the GSDC and council.

The consultant recommended that the CSDC become more independent of council to facilitate evidence-based decisions free from political interference (and that the mayor and councillors should not be members of the board) while also recognizing that elected officials would maintain the ultimate decision-making around contracting within the GSDC. The consultant’s findings also endorsed more accountability and reporting by the GSDC to council.

Since the report was received in November 2018, the discussion around governance had been advancing at both the ad hoc committee level and at full board meetings, right up until April 8. At that time, it was decided that before further resources were invested in any governance renewal, it would be best if city council representatives on the GSDC board provide input on the governance review recommendations. 

The thought was that they would be in a position to jointly, with the GSDC, develop a list of governance outcomes that would further enhance economic development in the region while at the same time provide additional clarity and accountability between the GSDC and council It has always been the experience of the GSDC that the shared economic development roles between council and the GSDC have historically complemented each other and provided both community support and political oversight to achieve successful outcomes for the benefit of the community as a whole.

In keeping with this shared responsibility, the GSDC ad hoc committee identified options for renewed models of governance for the consideration of council that would include the participation of council and maintain council’s ultimate decision-making authority in its relationship with the GSDC.

The GSDC board did not hear anything from the board’s city council members in response to alternate models of governance proposed by the ad hoc committee until June 11, 2019 when the Board Chair was advised for the first time that a notice of motion was being presented at city council that same evening which, if passed, would divest the GSDC of its responsibility over economic development.

It is disconcerting that the mayor chose to take this step without discussion with the GSDC in the regular course of the governance review, which the GSDC had undertaken in good faith as a response to the recommendations in the auditor general’s report. Alternate models proposed by council could have been vetted by the existing and agreed upon ad hoc committee, with a view of reaching a collaborative alternative in keeping with the long-standing relationship of the GSDC and council.

The board, through the diverse background of its community volunteer directors, serves the interests of the community, and is honored to do so, for the betterment of economic development. Its volunteer members have been committed to identifying and fostering economic development opportunities in partnership with council for years. The GSDC provides council with a tested and proven means of vetting economic development initiatives without the constraints imposed by electoral politics. Its primary objective is informed and transparent decision making to complement and uphold the role and priorities of council as laid out in the Economic Development Strategic Plan, “From the Ground Up”.

The GSDC has provided the City of Greater Sudbury, and before that as SRDC the Region of
Sudbury, with an efficient and effective means of developing the economy of the region. It has a proven track record of enabling and reviewing important initiatives for instance, Science North, UDMN, LU School of Architecture, AMRIC/HSNRI, Seed Capital Equity Fund, and many more too numerous to count, as well as several initiatives currently underway. The GSDC leverages the skills and networks of community leaders in the service of their fellow citizen.

The decision whether to divest the GSDC will ultimately rest with council. In the absence of clarity as to the new model being proposed by council it is unclear whether it iwi have the desired effect of enhancing accountability and transparency. The motion tabled by the mayor for presentation to council next week would be done without discussion or consultation with the GSDC, and directly reflects the concerns for transparency and accountability outlined in the recommendations of the governance consultant and the auditor general.

Signed,

Brian Vaillancourt, chair
Pierre Zundel, vice chair
Wendy Watson
Joanne Gervais
Peter Nykilchuk
Erin Danyliw
Dave Paquette
Daran Moxam
Andrée Lacroix
Yonaniko (Iyo) Grenon
Brent Batistelli
Mark Signoretti
Mike Ladyk
Marett McCulloch




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