CBRM, port board at odds again over council decisions

·4 min read
Cape Breton Regional Municipality and its Port of Sydney Development Corp. are at odds again, this time over appointments to the port's board of directors. (CBC - image credit)
Cape Breton Regional Municipality and its Port of Sydney Development Corp. are at odds again, this time over appointments to the port's board of directors. (CBC - image credit)

The Port of Sydney Development Corp. is once again at odds with its only shareholder — the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

CBRM's nominating committee recently decided against renewing appointments for the port's chair and vice-chair, which prompted two other board members to quit in protest and caused the port CEO to write a memo to council saying she's not happy with the committee's decision.

Glen Murrant, a marketing specialist with a Sydney information technology firm and a member of the board, said his term is up in June and he will not reoffer for the position.

"I didn't agree with the nominating committee's decision to not renew [the chair and vice-chair], because they were both so very effective at what they were doing, that to not renew them didn't make any sense," Murrant said.

The port board was also in turmoil following the 2019 annual general meeting, when four executive members quit after the municipality rejected the port's strategic plan.

At the time, one board member said the problem is a lack of communication between council and the board.

'Not completely dysfunctional'

Murrant said there have been improvements, but that is still a concern.

"There are some gaps in there," he said.

"That's not to say that it is completely dysfunctional, but it needs work and I think we're working in the right direction towards that end, but we're not there yet."

Murrant said he decided not to reoffer mostly because the board was not told why the chair and vice-chair were not being renewed.

"That was very much a part of why I chose not to reoffer, was because of the secrecy," he said.

The chair, Jerry Gillis, and vice-chair Al Pendergast, could not be reached for comment. Their terms ended in March.

Port CEO Marlene Usher wrote to CBRM to seek replacements for the board members who were leaving and said she was not happy with the committee's decision to assign new members to the board.

Port CEO Marlene Usher says losing the chair and vice-chair of the board at the same time left a gap in governance that she called disappointing.
Port CEO Marlene Usher says losing the chair and vice-chair of the board at the same time left a gap in governance that she called disappointing.(Port of Sydney Development Corp./Livestream)

"I just said that it was disappointing and ... they didn't seem to know that it was the chair and the vice-chair that had put their name in to reoffer," she said.

"I don't know why, but there was a little bit of a disconnect there. To lose both of them at the same time did leave a gap and, you know, that part was disappointing."

Usher said communication could be better between the port board, which runs the cruise ship terminal, and the municipality.

"I talked to the clerk about it and we both agreed that we probably should have communicated a lot more in terms of what was taking place, that the chair and the vice-chair were leaving and that for continuity and good governance, it would be good to have at least one of those positions continued," she said.

CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall says the nominating committee knew in February that the board chair and vice-chair were up for renewal, but made new appointments anyway.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall says the nominating committee knew in February that the board chair and vice-chair were up for renewal, but made new appointments anyway.(Cape Breton Regional Municipality/YouTube)

As the port's only shareholder, CBRM has the power to name the board of directors.

The municipality's nominating committee made a public call in January for citizens to sit on various boards and committees, including the port.

The committee selected three new board members for the port in February and council ratified the decision in March.

Last week, the committee was dealing with some unfilled positions and revealed that two more board members would be needed for the port, after Murrant said he would not reoffer and engineer Troy Hulme quit outright.

Hulme could not be reached for comment.

'Healthy cycle of backgrounds, experience'

Mayor Amanda McDougall sits on the committee and said the members knew in February that the board chair and vice-chair were up for renewal, but made new appointments anyway.

She said there "there was absolutely no discussion of, 'No, we don't want that chair and co-chair,'" she said.

She said there was nothing "malicious at play."

"It is simply ... a democratic process of filling vacancies on our committees," she said.

McDougall said she is disappointed with the port, which she said is not being very welcoming to the people appointed to replace the chair and vice-chair.

CBRM's nominating committee is now reviewing applicants from January to try to replace board members who have quit. If that doesn't work, CBRM will advertise for new nominees.
CBRM's nominating committee is now reviewing applicants from January to try to replace board members who have quit. If that doesn't work, CBRM will advertise for new nominees.(Holly Conners/CBC)

"If people are resigning and the CEO is saying she's disappointed that they're there, that in itself is, yeah, it's a real shame that this is how it's come to be," the mayor said.

The nominating committee did its job properly, McDougall said.

The committee is now reviewing the applicants from January to look for new members to replace the two board members who have quit.

If no qualified members are found, CBRM will advertise for new nominees, said McDougall.

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