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Mixed reviews on recommendation to expand membership of Banff's finance committee

A key recommendation in a report commissioned by Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association is expansion of the governance and finance committee to include business and community leaders to encourage increased dialogue, transparency and policy development.
Banff Town Hall 2
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – As businesses seek to recover from the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report recommends ways the tourism industry could help with the development of municipal policies.

Specifically, one of the key recommendations in the report by Nichols Applied Management is an expansion of the governance and finance committee to include business and community leaders to encourage increased dialogue, transparency and policy development.

Mayor Corrie DiManno said she continues to be supportive of public engagement in the service review, budget, and policy development processes.

“As such, I’d be open to exploring different and new ways of getting more people involved and engaged to help advise council as it makes governance and finance decisions,” she said.

“I would be interested to learn how this recommendation could work to support council in its decision-making.”

The study, which was commissioned by Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association, examines the magnitude of the drop in economic activity as a result of COVID and explores municipal policy options that could support local businesses through the recovery from the pandemic.

One recommendation to give businesses a bigger voice moving forward is centred on the makeup of the governance and finance committee, which is currently comprised of the mayor and each councillor.

Based on the terms of reference, the committee’s mandate is to maintain continuing oversight of the governance, policy and financial affairs of the Town of Banff where the focus is on broader and more strategic items.

These meetings, which typically occur twice a month on the same days as council meetings, except during service review, serve as an opportunity for committee members to seek clarification on matters relating to council business.

Town manager Kelly Gibson said many municipalities – mainly cities – follow this approach to break up the business of council into topical areas for more detailed discussion.

For example, he said Edmonton and Calgary have meetings for things like executive committee  – also called finance, budget or strategy committee – planning committee, audit committee, utilities committee, community services committee, etc.

"Either all councillors are members, or some councillors are official members and all other councillors are invited to discuss details, and they send recommendations to full council meetings for final debate and decisions," Gibson said. "Members of the public do not sit on these governance committees of council."

Although the governance and finance committee accepts written and verbal submissions from the public on matters before it, the Nichols report suggests there is an opportunity to improve collaboration between stakeholders in the business community and the committee.

“There is likely benefit in formalizing a mechanism through which the public and members of the tourism industry can regularly share and receive information directly with and from the committee," states the report.

In the lead-up to the Oct. 18 municipal election, newly-elected councillors Kaylee Ram, Barb Pelham and Hugh Pettigrew said they’d be interested in exploring the idea.

Pettigrew said he believes it’s a great idea to implement, adding the committee could be expanded to include infrastructure and community safety items.

“Banff needs more oversight, and that I will support,” he said.

“Our taxpayers and our ratepayers will benefit from this. As always, the devil is in the details.”

Two of the three incumbent councillors – Chip Olver and Grant Canning – didn’t support the move, arguing there are other ways to get meaningful public input; however, Coun. Ted Christensen does.

Christensen said an expansion of the committee’s makeup could be crafted to work well, adding key considerations including whether members would be elected or appointed and the ratio of business and community leaders to councillors.

“I trust that the proposed committee would still have to pass their proposals to council for debate and resolution,” said Christensen.

Coun. Grant Canning said the governance and finance committee is a formal committee of council and doesn’t believe it should be expanded to include public members.

Rather, he suggested council consider a public committee comprised of public members, one or two council members and one member of administration that collectively bring forward recommendations to the governance and finance committee.

“Council as a whole would consider those recommendations at the G and F level,” he said.

“The public committee could consider a range of topics, from finances to operations to economic recovery… council members and the member of administration are not there to influence the conversation, but add context and background to the topic at hand.”