Town handing QB staff, dollars and control to Parksville

Complaints from the public about poorly managed civic affairs, the lack of transparency at Town Hall and the deteriorating ambience of the Town of Qualicum Beach have been growing. Whether this has occurred through negligence or intent, the performance of Town Council and senior Town managers appears to be driving an increasing number of QB residents to express their dissatisfaction.

One of the more baffling observations about the conduct of our municipal government is that, over the last few years, the Town of Qualicum Beach appears eager to hand over QB resources, money and control to Parksville. Mayor Brian Wiese, other members of Council and some senior Town administrators have championed, guided or aided and abetted these actions. This is odd behaviour. Normally, politicians and bureaucrats fiercely protect their positions by working collegially to ensure a healthy future for their domain, i.e. the Town of Qualicum Beach. After all, isn’t Qualicum Beach the goose that keeps laying their golden eggs?

Also strange is the conduct of some Town administrators and Council members towards public input and dialogue. Their attitude gives the impression that they are almost hoping the public will become more dissatisfied with how Qualicum Beach is currently being managed. One thing is clear. Continuing on this path puts the Town at serious risk of a takeover and a loss of residents’ influence over our Town’s future. If such an effort were already intentionally underway, the general public would be the last to know.

In Part 1 of our examination of this apparent disturbing trend, we identify four examples of questionable actions taken by Qualicum Beach politicians and bureaucrats that effectively hand over our control, tax dollars and resources to Parksville.

Paying Parksville to manage Qualicum Beach’s tourism services

Qualicum Beach’s economic well-being is driven principally by tourism and spending by residents who find QB to be an attractive place to relocate or retire. The Town of Qualicum Beach, under the direction of the current QB Mayor and Council, has apparently contracted management of QB’s tourism sector to Parksville’s Chamber of Commerce to, for example, operate the Town of QB Visitor Information Centre. Few people were informed, and some of the people kept in the dark include directors of the current and immediate-past board of the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce.

These startling facts emerged following a series of articles about deficiencies in QB’s tourism management and promotion that were published by Second Opinion QB over the past year, including Town beautification kicks into gear – at the end of August? (Sep 3, 2020) and Chamber of Commerce erasing QB from the tourism map (Apr 14, 2021).

According to information received from three directors of the QB Chamber of Commerce (including current and immediate-past QBCC Boards), apparently a contract with Parksville (City? Chamber of Commerce? Both??) was established in early 2019, under the direction or blessing of the newly-elected Mayor and Council of Qualicum Beach. Whether, and in what capacity, the QB Chamber of Commerce played a role is not clear because the QBCC directors we spoke with said they were aware of the situation but had not been privy to any discussions or documents.

Second Opinion QB has requested information, in writing, from the Town and from the QB Chamber of Commerce but, to date, we have received no response from either the Town’s Director of Finance John Marsh or from the QB Chamber of Commerce Board president Matt Breedlove.

At or about the time the contract was struck with Parksville to take over control of QB’s tourism services, apparently the executive director of Parksville’s Chamber of Commerce (Mr. Kim Burden) was hired to be the nominal administrative head of the QB Chamber of Commerce. To clarify a bit of the fog surrounding this situation, Kim Burden continues to also manage the operations of Parksville’s Chamber of Commerce (and is presumably financially compensated for that role as well). According to our sources, Burden is allegedly receiving about $45,000 annually for managing QB’s tourism services, paid for by Qualicum Beach taxpayers and businesses. We do not know what expenses may have been included in this contract, or what agreement there may also be for remuneration of other Parksville Chamber staff who are also purportedly working on behalf of Qualicum Beach.

The QB Chamber of Commerce Board appears to have operated as Burden’s rubber stamp in recent years. Multiple directors of the QBCC Board have asked for, but not been provided, a copy of the contract with Parksville. In July 2021, one of the newly-elected QBCC Board directors resigned because of the “lack of transparency.” Justin Schley, son of a former owner of Quality Foods and its current Chief Financial Officer, was nominated by Matt Breedlove, QBCC Board president to fill the vacancy on the QBCC Board, and has since been confirmed. Many businesses (Chamber members and non-members) have expressed mounting dissatisfaction, citing Burden’s aggressive and unhelpful conduct and the poor results of the last several years, but were ignored or stonewalled by Mr. Burden and QB Council.  

Apart from the Parksville Chamber of Commerce doing a dismal job of supporting QB’s tourism sector, there is an obvious and fundamental conflict of interest in having a chamber of commerce from one community take on the role of promoting the interests of another community with whom it competes for business. When opportunities arise for events and promotion, where would one expect the loyalty to lie for these Parksville Chamber employees? For them not to favour Parksville over Qualicum Beach would be unlikely, and a dereliction of duty given they are employees of the Parksville Chamber and have a fiduciary responsibility to support Parksville.

Qualicum Beach is being branded by… Parksville !?!

Did you participate in the Qualicum Beach branding survey, much publicized on the Town of Qualicum Beach website and posters around Town? Do you know that the “branding” of Qualicum Beach is actually being managed by the Parksville Chamber of Commerce and their staff (who then farmed the work out to an outside agency)?

Kim Burden, wearing his QB Chamber of Commerce hat, attended the February 24, 2021 Town Council meeting as a Delegation presenting a new Branding project, claiming “We’re creating a fresh, new brand that put’s [sic] Qualicum Beach on the map and sets it apart from other Island or coastal communities.” It begs the question: Hadn’t Qualicum Beach already differentiated itself from other Island or coastal communities? It sure had for the many people who have moved here over the last several decades, and for visitors who return to our Town, precisely because of QB’s unique ambience.

QB’s new brand? This porta-potty appeared several months ago at the Welcome to Qualicum Beach billboards at the south entrance to QB off the Inland Highway — during the height of the tourist season.

Burden’s February QB Council presentation material stated that in June 2021 the “New brand is ready to launch.” It is now August and we have seen neither hide nor hair of any new brand for our Town emerge from the Parksville Chamber of Commerce where it is being assembled. However, apparently a select few ‘insiders’ are privy to the emerging results. We learned that, in July, the Parksville Chamber of Commerce Board was given an opportunity to review and provide their comments on the draft QB branding results. Also invited were a handful of other people whose affiliation or interests are unknown.

Have any Qualicum Beach groups been given the same opportunity yet? We are aware of only one QB group that was invited to provide input on the results: John Wood of the Eaglecrest Residents Association. No one from either the Qualicum Beach Residents Association or the Qualicum Woods Residents Association, nor apparently anyone from any other local group, was informed of or invited to review the preliminary results. We are not aware that Mr. Wood has any particular marketing or design qualifications that would explain his comments being sought above and before other groups or residents of QB.

Do you know how much this branding exercise will cost QB taxpayers? Well, neither do we nor some (all?) Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce directors, despite repeated requests by several directors. This utter lack of transparency, coupled with no information about who is paying how much to whom for this work, pretty much discredits the whole exercise, including the Board of the QB Chamber of Commerce that supposedly is accountable for the project, as well as the Qualicum Beach Mayor and Councillors who endorsed it and supposedly agreed to fund it.

Town offered QB staff to Parksville to help develop their aquatic complex

On February 23, 2021, City of Parksville Mayor Ed Mayne wrote to Qualicum Beach Mayor Brian Wiese requesting QB Town staff presence and contribution to the “Staff Technical Committee for Parksville’s Aquatic and Recreation Centre” as a “formal mechanism for ongoing communication at the staff level.”

In his letter, Mayne did not specify what sort of assistance was being requested by Parksville, or what particular skills and experience QB staff have that Parksville staff or contractors lacked, how many hours were needed and when, and what in-kind assistance was the City of Parksville offering to the Town of Qualicum Beach in return for this favour.

Mayne acknowledged in his letter that “this places an additional demand on your staff’s time but their contribution and input on the technical [emphasis ours] elements of the project and its regional implications is [sic] very valuable.”

What project management expertise could QB offer? What project management accountabilities would the Town now share? What management authority might we have over Parksville’s pool? That’s hard to say — no terms of reference for this “joint management committee” were provided. However, Mayor Mayne did note in his letter that “Parksville staff will prepare the terms of reference.” So much for “joint” participation.

The letter made its way onto the agenda of the QB Town Council’s regular meeting on March 17, 2021 along with a Town staff recommendation that Town Council “direct staff to participation [sic] in a joint management [emphasis ours] committee for the duration of the Parksville Aquatic and Recreation Centre project.” Staff, i.e. CAO Sailland, provided no written rationale for his recommendation.

The 10-minute Town Council discussion (starting around the 42-minute mark of the March 17, 2021 meeting recording) is worth a watch to appreciate the nature of the support of CAO Sailland’s recommendation by Mayor Mayne’s current minions on our Council, notably Wiese and Harrison. On this issue, the adults in the room on that day were Councillors Westbroek and Filmer, whose votes against Sailland’s recommendation quashed the idea, at least for now.

Ironically, later in the same meeting Sailland, in his Strategic Plan Update (analyzed in our article Wandering off course – QB’s strategic plan that isn’t), reported that “across all operational areas, the Town is experiencing request levels that simply exceed the time availability of the human resources that we have.” Welcome to the reality of every organization. But, in the Town’s case, it appears that the lead dog doesn’t know how to set, and stay focused on, strategically important tasks, instead recommending spending scarce staff time, paid for by QB taxpayers, on distractions like committee work for the City of Parksville.

Parksville residents now invited to sit on QB advisory committees

After the current Council was elected, the Town of Qualicum Beach changed the terms of reference for most of its advisory committees, boards and commissions. It is not clear whether the changes were made at the behest of the new Mayor and Council or by senior Administrators; nor is it evident that the public was ever informed of these changes.

Unlike other BC municipalities, none of the terms of reference for our Town committees requires that a committee member must be a resident of Qualicum Beach, although some state that “preference” may be given to residents of QB. In most instances, the wording in the newly revised committee Terms of Reference use vague terminology like “the public,” the “general public” or “citizens,” each of which could just as easily apply to an absentee landlord in another country. Whether our current QB committees are comprised solely of QB residents is not immediately apparent because, unlike most BC municipalities, the Town of Qualicum Beach does not even list the names (or places of residence) of its advisory committee members on its website.

What particularly caught our eye were the Terms of Reference for two committees, the QB Parks and Recreation Committee and the QB Environment & Sustainability Committee. Their Terms of Reference now specifically state that Parksville residents can be appointed to these Qualicum Beach Committees. In reviewing other BC municipalities, we can find no examples in which a municipality invites residents of other communities to sit as members of their community’s advisory committees.

Finally, we note that Qualicum Beach’s Committee on Public Safety, Accessibility & Emergency Preparedness does indeed require that its membership be made up of representatives of specific QB organizations — with one curious exception. All but one of the organizations are clearly identified in the Terms of Reference (amended February 2020) e.g. Qualicum Beach Seniors Centre, Arrowsmith Search & Rescue. The exception? The “Chamber of Commerce.” Was this just another portent of their handing influence and control over to Parksville?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our examination of the puzzling undermining of Qualicum Beach’s control, resources and future by some of our members of Council and senior bureaucrats.