Originally published in The Kamloops Daily News, March 21, 2009
The first real conversation I had with Gail Scott was when I picked up the phone one day and received a somewhat shrill 10-minute blast about a story she didn’t like.
Her voice was loud enough that I held the receiver a few inches from my ear while I waited for her to calm down. She never did.
From this vantage point three blocks away from her Venture Kamloops office, Scott seemed to have trouble finding her niche. I was amazed one day when I asked her a question about the City’s business protocol with Changping, China, and discovered that she not only hadn’t visited Changping when she was just a short drive down the turnpike in Beijing, but she hadn’t even read the document.
Now, to be fair, it takes awhile to get your footing in an important job like leading the economic-development strategy of a city. Certainly, I didn’t envy her the task of trying to measure up to the standards set by her predecessor, Jeff Putnam, who led Venture Kamloops from a floundering, ineffective waste of money to a credible, results-oriented agency.
Whether the above examples reflect anything to do with the reason or reasons the Venture Kamloops board decided to part ways with Scott only 13 months after hiring her, I have no idea. There are rumors, but when a person’s livelihood is involved, rumors are not an appropriate basis for discussion.
Clearly, the VK board — with the concurrence of City Hall administration and a confidential head’s up to City council, by the way — didn’t take such a step lightly.
These last few months haven’t been banner for the agency, though it’s plate has been full with a number of projects. Two highly competent employees have left. Michael Eibl, who handled business attraction duties, moved over to BDC, while Wendy Snelling has left for the Tournament Capital Centre (to work for her old boss, Putnam) after years heading up the business-care program.
Now, down three staffers, Venture Kamloops is scrambling to fill the vacancies with temporary contract people as it prepares to face the music — budget-wise — this fall. That’s when it will have to make a case to City council to sign a new five-year contract.
Current talk about Venture Kamloops being doomed, that it’s obviously broken and can’t be fixed, that it should be shut down and so on, is nothing but uninformed prattle.
When a CEO is fired, questions are going to be asked. When the boss says the reason for the firing is that the organization “is going in a different direction,” it sounds a bit lame. It sounds even lamer in view of the fact exactly the same line was used when the last CEO, M. J. Cousins, got the axe a few years ago.
But that’s the way things have to be done with personnel matters. You don’t announce to the world the reasons you’ve parted company with the employee because to do so would be unfair to the employee. Instead, the employer stays neutral and takes the heat.
Whether the reasons for terminating Scott’s employment are justified is between her and Venture Kamloops. Far from being mealy mouthed or demonstrating incompetence, the Venture Kamloops board is playing it by the book.
So will this be the death knell for the organization? I hope not because it’s proven that with the right people and the right strategy it can do a good job for Kamloops.
The “new direction” involves some serious navel-gazing by the board to decide if its strategy of the past five years has worked. I suggest it has, and that any thoughts of returning to a regional model, for example, should quickly be discarded. Scott was toying with that idea, and VK president Chris Ortner hasn’t ruled it out.
“It’s certainly going to be looked at. It is worth considering,” he told me yesterday.
We need look no further than the initial five-year deal between Venture Kamloops and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to prove that a return to a regional model would be folly. It was so ineffective, unproductive and unmanageable that the City declined to renew for a second five-year term, instead insisting on an exclusive contract that didn’t include the region.
The decision on what happens during the next five years, of course, isn’t up to the VK board at all. City council, which funds almost all of VK’s $500,000 annual budget, can structure Venture Kamloops any way it wants.
But rather than scrapping Venture Kamloops or trying to save money by spreading costs around the region, the City should fund it better and keep it focused on the city. As Ortner said, there are tremendous opportunities out there, and we need to take advantage of them.
Venture Kamloops has proven its worth, and this bump in the road will settle like a frost heave on a city street if we patch