The Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism Corporation has operated for many years with inadequate oversight and vague generalized goals with major decisions made by an executive committee that excluded the two Town-appointed members of the member board.
These and other conclusions were presented to Town council Tuesday by the consultant hired by the Town to conduct a review of the EDTC and to recommend improved delivery of services for the Town.
Chris Loreto of Strategy Corp agreed with Mayor Wayne Redekop that the current model is “broken”, but it’s “fixable,” he said.
He recommends that the Town retain the model of a separate corporation acting on behalf of the Town but that the governance and reporting be overhauled to be more open and engaging.
There is no way to track the effectiveness of the EDTC without clear “key performance indicators” when most gauges of its success have been anecdotal and sometimes exaggerated, he notes in his report.
The increasingly prickly relationship between the Town and EDTC came to a head last year when the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, composed partly of board members of the EDTC and headed by the EDTC general manager, refused the province’s offer to place slot machines at the racetrack
The decision was made without discussion with the Town and absent the Town member of the FELRC board. When council decided to give a year’s notice to end its agreement with the EDTC, it’s general manager and ex-officio secretary of the board, Jim Thibert, departed with a severance package approved by the executive committee. He retained his job of chief executive officer with the FELRC.
The role of the executive committee was a source of concern for the consultant who said it had no clear mandate and appeared to do whatever it wanted.
“I don’t know if the executive committee has the authority to make decisions or if they are simply making recommendations to the main board,” Loreto said after reviewing the EDTC bylaws.
Executive committees can be useful and Loreto recommends that the EDTC retain one but also establish other committees to broaden engagement among the public.
The EDTC has a membership of 11 people who elect directors. Membership appears to be a closed group that allows only people approved by the existing membership to join.
“Are they just there to show up for a roast beef dinner and elect a board once a year, or should the be engaged beyond that,” he said.
Redekop said the membership is mysterious.
“I’ve gleaned who they are by the emails I’ve received,” he said. “It’s been very difficult to determine who the members are, how they became members, when they became members and why they became members. That’s an item that needs to be cleared up.”
Members should have set terms and term limits to provide for a “healthy turnover” of people who can provide valued input and a clear process to become a member, Loreto said.
As well as more openness about membership, the EDTC and the Town should establish clear goals that can be objectively analyzed and that the EDTC should report to council every three months to update the Town on progress.
The EDTC needs to establish a strategic plan and submit its budget requests based on those objectives.
“Every year you get a budget request and the budget is approved and you hope for the best,” Loreto said. “It’s got to be better than that.”
The consultant looked at three models of how municipalities conduct economic development services: an internal agency of the Town, a municipal services corporation that operates under the framework of the municipality, and an external agency, as the EDTC is, with the Town as a client of its services.
He said there doesn’t appear to be much difference in the effectiveness of each, but outside agencies provide a little more flexibility and freedom to respond to unconventional circumstances and the current EDTC model is the most independent.
He recommends the current model with changes in the relationship with the Town and improved governance simply because it is more efficient to fix what the Town has than to start all over again.
Ric Gorham, chairman of the EDTC, said the board was expected to discuss the report at its meeting Wednesday.
“Personally, I think what they found and what they recommended could have been done under the existing memorandum of agreement under the option to renegotiate,” he said. “We’re pretty confident we could have done it that way.”
The annual general meeting of the EDTC takes place Thursday, May 31.