Which is better: hyper-local or a streamlined board?

Mel Rothenburger is the TNRD Director for Electoral Area P, including Whitecroft and Heffley Creek. He was the mayor of Kamloops from 1999-2005 and a former newspaper editor.


“You don’t even live here.”

Ouch. I received that comment from a resident on a community concern I was dealing with a while back. While I certainly live in Area P, she was referring to the fact I don’t live in her particular community.

Residents sometimes feel their community should have more direct representation on the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) board, but on the other side of the argument are those who wonder if the board, at 26 members, is already too big.

Let’s look at both points of view. Regional districts are a hybrid ward system in which rural directors are elected to represent electoral areas, and municipal councils appoint representatives to the board from amongst themselves.

In the case of the TNRD, there are 10 electoral area directors, six City of Kamloops directors, and 10 mayors from other towns in the region. Municipalities are entitled to a certain number of regional directors based on population, which is why Kamloops has six (and pays the lion’s share of common costs).

Electoral areas take in pretty big geographic areas but giving them more directors would make for a huge and unworkable board. Based on population clusters, Area P, for example, would probably need a half dozen directors. Multiply that by the number of electoral areas and imagine a board with, say, 70 or 75 directors. Not to mention what it would do to the rural-municipal balance.

Although most of what rural directors do happens between board meetings, I can imagine each regional district becoming akin to a provincial legislature or federal parliament under such a scenario. And since those directors are paid stipends and some expenses, the cost to the taxpayer would increase to unacceptable levels.

So what about those 26 directors? I find the board meetings work quite well, especially under the capable chairmanship of John Ranta. Some directors, it’s true, say little, while others say a lot, but it all works out.

A number of committees work in specific areas such as utilities and economic development for example, and there’s also an Electoral Area (EA) Directors Committee that handles very important localized issues.

Recommendations from committees tend to speed up board decisions, though I sometimes think the board should discuss committee recommendations more thoroughly. (I also wonder at times why municipal directors have a vote on policies and bylaws that affect only rural areas, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

In my view, the size of the board is about right. Area P is the smallest in geographic size and the largest in population of the electoral areas — from where I live, I can get to most of the communities in the area in about an hour, and my old pickup truck has a lot of kilometers on it.

But there’s something to be said about hyper-local representation. I encourage communities and neighbourhoods who aren’t already represented by formal committees or associations to get one. Such groups are highly valuable to the EA directors in keeping tabs on localized issues before they get to the problem stage.

Community associations and fire protection services serve that purpose very well, but informal neighbourhood groups can be of tremendous value too.