By Lethbridge Herald on October 7, 2020.
City council has decided to reject a request by the Lethbridge Housing Authority to be granted the ability to appoint its own board of directors after considering the motion at two different council meetings.
Currently LHA board members are chosen by city council under an existing ministerial order by the province held under the Minister of Seniors and Housing. In order to have the province change that ministerial order to allow the LHA, which is responsible for 250 subsidized duplex and row house units, 30 single-family dwellings and 400 high-rise units in Lethbridge, to choose its own board the easiest process is for city council to request the change itself.
However, councillors voted 6-3 against making such a ministerial order request change during Monday’s public meeting.
Coun. Blaine Hyggen, who chairs the current LHA board, brought the motion forward to council, and informed councillors the LHA would operate under the new model much as housing authorities did in other cities where council would have one self-appointed seat on the board and the rest would be appointed by current board members.
Coun. Rob Miyashiro sought to delay the vote again, as it had been at a previous meeting on Aug. 10, until he saw how the new proposed vetting process would actually work, feeling he needed that information to make a solid decision on the matter.
He did acknowledge many other non-profits use a similar model for choosing their boards of directors, but he also said those organizations also generally had volunteer member bases and held Annual General Meetings where their board members were voted in by all members to ensure fair process. He stated since the Lethbridge Housing Authority does not have these components he was unsure of how fair process would work in this case.
Miyashiro’s deferral motion was defeated by a vote of 5-4; thus leading up to the eventual 6-3 vote against.
For reference, councillors also appeared uncomfortable with the idea of making a change to the ministerial order at a previous presentation made by LHA CAO Robin James at the Aug. 10 council meeting when the issue first came up, and gave then, perhaps, a bit more context for their eventual decision on the matter.
Referencing ARCHES, Coun. Jeffrey Coffman stated at the time, “We all, unfortunately, know of a situation here in the community where (poor) governance led to a very unfortunate situation where you had an organization sort of run amok. So what sort of processes would the LHA look at to ensure the governance of the board?
“Once you have a board appointing itself, you can run into that issue of where an executive director could begin appointing people, his friends, and you can get into all sorts of governance issues,” he further stated. “We want to make sure a service that is providing for 2,700 Albertans maintains focus on the service. Not creating and industry, but actually providing that service.”
“Lethbridge Housing Authority has its own set of bylaws,” James answered at the time, “and we also have very strong policies. The one thing I did in 2017, when I took over, is I ensured we had a policy on nearly everything.
“We were lacking policy up to that point,” she acknowledged.
Mayor Chris Spearman also brought up the past in his questions of James while stating his concerns.
“In the past I have had the opportunity to interview some candidates for your board prior to your time as CAO,” he explained. “What I found disturbing, because one question I asked was why are you applying? And I was told by the applicants they had been asked by the (former) executive director of the organization to apply. Do you believe it is appropriate? And shouldn’t there be something in your bylaws governing the executive director inviting candidates to apply?”
“No, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for the executive director to choose their own bosses,” she replied, and asserted her belief the board should have the sole authority to appoint new directors without referring to the executive director or CAO.
Coun. Jeffrey Carlson also asked a similar question of James at the same meeting before eventually proposing a motion, which was accepted by a majority of councillors at the time, to defer decision on the issue until a later council session.
“One the challenges I have found with self-perpetuating boards,” said Carlson, referring to his own previous experiences, “is they can become insular and non-responsive to the needs of their constituents. What mechanisms or mitigations would be implemented to ensure this doesn’t happen with something as incredibly important to our community and to our council, housing, especially affordable housing, social housing, rent support, etc.?”
“Again,” responded James, “is it would be just ensuring our policies, our procedures, and our bylaws are strong. They are strong, I can tell you that. I have had a part in creating most of them, and they are strong policies. And if we had to amend our bylaws to ensure there was a piece in there that the board was solely responsible for the eight members, and the City of Lethbridge still has the opportunity to appoint the one member– then I feel that would help alleviate the concern you have.”
By Monday’s council meeting apparently that concern had not been alleviated, as Carlson joined by Spearman as well as Councillors Coffman, Crowson, Miyashiro and Parker in voting down the motion to change the current ministerial order.
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