BDIA under the gun at council meeting
With attention increasingly being focussed on downtown, Belleville city council has decided not to step into the downtown improvement organizations business – for now.
By a single vote council decided to move ahead with approving a new executive for the Belleville Downtown Improvement Association despite the recent resignation of half the board.
Coun. Mitch Panciuk, the council appointee to the board, had requested council hold off approving the board until a general meeting of the BDIA members could be held.
He said he has received calls from various BDIA members who are unhappy with the new direction of the board.He said he is greatly concerned that this dissension will keep the organization from its primary mandates of beautification and promotion of the core.
“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity having made a significant investment in infrastructure downtown,” he said. “We can’t take taxpayers money and not have this organization taking on the important role we need them to take on.”
In a delegation to council, new chamber board president Dwane Barratt said three of the five board members resigned in response to the election of the new executive.
Another resigned when they moved out of downtown and the fifth resigned due to the “politics.”
Despite that he said the new board is ready to get on with building the downtown following the recommendations for the 2014 Business Retention and Expansion study.
He said the number one priority of that study was to fill empty store fronts, of which he said a recent study showed the downtown had almost as many as they had active retail storefronts.
The other two major issues are security and parking, he said.
“We want to build on the positives of our successes,” he said. “We are exciting to see the downtown master play coming into play with Century Village and new businesses coming downtown.
“It’s happening. We need to acknowledge the plan and follow the process. We have a great new pitch to play on, now we have to take advantage of our home field advantage.”
Several members of council spoke out about need to respect the BDIA’s processes and procedures, regardless of the outcome.
Coun. Egerton Boyce noted the group had followed its procedures democratically, while Coun. Mike Graham questioned how much of this was simply dissatisfaction with some members that things didn’t go their way.
Coun Jack Miller said the BDIA has the right to self government and all council can really do is “rubber stamp” the names it puts forward for its board.
“The BDIA has the right to do what they want to do,” he said.
Panciuk suggested the board might not actually have that right as five members – plus the council representative -- might not be enough for quorum.
As such, he argued the appointments might not be valid and council could be liable by approving them.
However, a motion to table the appointments until a legal opinion could be rendered was defeated 5-4 with councillors Panciuk, Miller, Kelly McCaw and Paul Carr taking the wait and see approach.
Carr said the investment of $34 million in taxpayer money means the BDIA can’t simply carry on as it has for years.
“When you invest $34 million, you expect more, you want to see more,” Carr said. “How you get to that framework is up to this group.
“But with every taxpayer in this city watching, it is up to this group to produce results. They have got to do something.”
Barratt said because of its governance issues it has not yet formed any committees, but it will be doing so soon. Further the board is looking at monthly events downtown as well as music on the trails and the purchase of a synthetic ice surface.
Barratt said the board has also completed interviews for a new executive director, which will be a part time position.
Miller questioned that decision saying over the years he has seen first hand the difference in the organization when there was a full time person at the helm.
“Over the years I have learned to appreciate how much work is involved in the position,” he said. “This concerns me.”
Barratt said the plan is to have the new executive director hire a full time staff person to work in the office and to then cut back the obligations of the executive director.
Barrett, who acknowledged one of the reasons for the change is budgetary, said the hiring should be announced in about two weeks.
The eight members of the board approved by council are Barratt, Paul Dinkel, Paula Finkel, Edie Haslauer, Edward Kafka, Mike Malachowski, Catherine McIntyre and Jamie Troke.
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