Abbotsford councillors pulled from nine community organization boards

Staff liaisons will provide contact between city and organizations after fairness concerns

Abbotsford councillors will no longer be sitting on a variety of community boards – unless they want to do so as private citizens.

Council voted Monday to rescind appointments to nine different community organizations and reform its own internal committees.

Clerk Bill Flitton said having a councillor appointed to just a handful of Abbotsford’s dozens of community organizations wasn’t necessarily fair.

“At least historically in Abbotsford, there’s some inequity in which organizations councillors get appointed to or which ones staff are designated to liaise with,” Flitton told council.

Instead of having councillors appointed to certain boards, the city will now designate staff liaison to deal with groups in certain areas.

“There is a wider array of organizations that can be involved here,” Flitton said. “We’re trying to be fair to all community organizations across the city.”

The organizations that will no longer have a council representative on their board are: the Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association; Agrifair; Fraser Valley Diversity and Immigration Partnership Council; The Reach Gallery Museum; Abbotsford Arts Council; Heritage Abbotsford Society; Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce; Abbotsford Downtown Business Association; and the Abbotsford Youth Commission.

Those who wish to still sit on boards can do so as private citizens, but not as council reps.

Council’s advisory committees are also getting reformed and reduced in number.

The biggest changes will see a single committee created to deal with development and transportation issues. Previously, development and transportation topics were dealt with by separate advisory committees.

A single committee will also now deal with intergovernmental affairs and economic development issues, where two had previously tackled the topics.

Three other committees – those dealing with agriculture; community awards; and parks, recreation and culture – will be renamed. The awards committee will also recommend people to provincial awards. A renamed parks, recreation and culture committee will add environmental and heritage topics to its expanded mandate.

The public safety committee, which had only met sporadically, will be abolished, with its topics dealt with by other committees as needed. The Abbotsford Police Board remains in operation.

Compared to previous years, the committees met relatively rarely in 2018. Coun. Ross Siemens said sometimes it was difficult to achieve a quorum for some meetings.

While Coun. Bruce Banman supported the idea of staff liaisons, he questioned whether the two new merged committees were too large.

“We have now created two, basically, mega-committees,” Banman said. “I fear it’s going to make those committees too large and cumbersome and what will get lost … is grassroots involvement.”

He also suggested that shrinking the number of committees decreases opportunities for involvement by community groups.

“To pick, I just cannot support this particular initiative. I think it is too much and too drastic.”

But Coun. Dave Loewen, who had chaired the parks, recreation and culture committee, said the involvement of those involved in particular organizations had its drawbacks too.

“The way we had it structured, we had representatives from a variety of different specific groups and I found that oftentimes there was a tendency around the table to stick up for your own turf,” said Loewen, who also hailed those members’ volunteerism.

Mayor Henry Braun noted that advisory committee meetings are open to the public. And he disagreed with Banman, saying he believes the changes will increase participation by council members, not decrease it.

The changes were approved by council, with Banman and Coun. Les Barkman opposed. Having abolished the old committees, the city will issue a call for applications to sit on the various bodies. The membership of each will include representatives of various community groups in the city, along with members at large.

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