Planning commission chair quits

Consultant’s report: “The chair does not appear to have played a strong leadership role…”

By JIM BELL

Bob Lyall, the chair and CEO of the beleaguered Nunavut Planning Commission, said this past Friday, in a letter widely distributed throughout Nunavut, that he will not seek re-appointment.

His announcement follows a difficult summer during which he and his executive director, Luke Coady, faced a long list of embarrassing allegations made by a group of commission members.

“I will not be seeking re-appointment as chair of the commission, having now served in that capacity for several years,” Lyall said in his letter.

Lyall’s departure occurs at a time when the commission finds itself in serious disarray. Although the commission’s technical staff remains intact and functional, the organization now faces the following issues:

* the eight-member commission is unable to form a quorum because the terms of four members expired Aug. 7, and DIAND minister Andy Scott has not appointed replacements — Lyall’s decision will now reduce the commission to just three members.
* a $138,000 deficit run up during the 2004-05 fiscal year, instead of a projected surplus of $33,000, which will have to be made up during the commission’s 2005-06 fiscal year;
* a litany of financial management and governance problems turned up by two reports that Lyall released with his letter: a management review done by Aarluk Consulting, and an expanded financial audit done by the Mackay accounting firm.

Lyall and Luke Coady, the commission’s executive director, hired Aarluk Consulting last June to do a $49,000 management review, after seeking advice from Andy Scott.

At that time, an intractable internal dispute had paralyzed the organization. The dispute pitted Lyall and Coady against an ad hoc committee of commissioners who said they were frustrated by an inability to get financial information from management, especially information about salaries and salary increases.

Aarluk Consulting is a subsidiary of Consilium, an Ottawa-based firm with long history of work with Nunavut’s bureaucratic elite. Fearing a whitewash, and angry that Consilium was hired without their participation, three of the NPC commissioners boycotted the review and refused to be formally interviewed for it.

But the consulting team — Terry Forth, Terry Rudden and Fred Weihs — found “serious issues and gaps within the governance and policy structure of the organization” in their 64-page report, and produced 25 recommendations aimed at fixing those problems

Those recommendations include correcting serious deficiencies in the commission’s bylaws, policies, manuals, financial reporting practices and communication systems. At the same time, they urge better training for board members and staff, and they urge that DIAND find ways of providing more support to the commission without compromising the organization’s independence.

And in one section, they directly criticize Lyall’s performance as chair.

“The chair does not appear to have played a strong leadership role in addressing the information needs of the commissioners, nor in proactively working with the commissioners to resolve the current issues,” the Aarluk report says.

The audit report by the Mackay firm also finds commission members could not get timely financial information from management.

“We do not get the strong impression that the board has been consulted as a whole as to what financial information board members wish to receive at their board meetings. Very little financial information appears to have been provided until it was virtually demanded that it be provided in a more meaningful fashion to meet board members’ needs,” an appendix to the audit report states.

For his part, Lyall says in his letter that, “As chair and CEO of the commission, I knew that while we faced some challenges, there were no major problems within the NPC.”

He also said the two reports show that “the senior staff of the commission have acted in good faith, and within the bounds of established policies”

Lyall went on to say he hopes the commission will be re-stocked with fresh members who will implement the recommendations contained in the two reports.

Lyall says he continues to be “inspired” by the mandate set out for the commission in the Nunavut land claims agreement: to create land use plans and policies to guide resource development in Nunavut.

“It is an honourable and important mandate, and its realization is critical to the success of our still-young territory. I hope and believe that the commission will once again focus on continuing with that mission,” Lyall said.

Lyall served as chair of the planning commission for 12 years, almost from the time of its creation in 1993. For most of that time, he also served as chief executive officer, and was paid a salary of at least $148,000 in the last year for which public information is available.

The Aarluk report found that the “dual role” that Lyall played as both chair and chief executive officer is confusing, including the commission’s unusual system for paying him.

During commission meetings, Lyall would “step down” from his full-time position as CEO, and would instead draw a daily honorarium while playing the role of chair. At the end of the meeting, he would then resume his salaried position as CEO.

“This is a cumbersome and confusing process,” the report said.

It’s also not clear how Lyall’s CEO job came to be created in the first place. The Aarluk report points out that the Article 11 of the Nunavut land claims agreement, and the commission’s bylaws, are “silent” on the issue.

The report also raised questions about why Luke Coady, the executive director, is deemed to be an “officer” of the commission.

“The executive director is an employee of the commission, not a member; and it is not clear what purpose is served by him being named an ‘officer.’”

Lyall said his letter, and the two reports, will be posted on the NPC website (www.npc.nunavut.ca) for the public to read. As of Nunatsiaq News press time this week, they had not appeared on the site.

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