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Wakefield centre needs municipal rescue

March 22nd,2023 | Opinion

It’s time for board members at the Wakefield community centre to throw in the towel.

Brilliant effort. Valiant attempt. Good intentions. But at some point, they need to accept that the grassroots model that Centre Wakefield La Pêche cooperative founders dreamed of is no longer working. That time is now.

The centre has ripped through five director-generals in as many years, and the latest firing was a PR nightmare after newly-minted board member, Peter Gillies, replied to a group email discussing the firing of then director-general Carolyn Nolan — an email in which she was cc’d on. Nolan was then fired two days before Christmas. Before that, it was the controversial firing of director-general Blair Mackay, who was turfed just 11 months before Nolan was let go. Things got heated at the centre’s 2021 AGM with board member David Park accusing fellow board members of harassing Mackay on the job. Theatre Wakefield member Claude Laroche later accused board member Carly Woods of resigning from her post out of “convenience” to take over Mackay’s paid role. Messy.

And just this past month, Gillies, who clearly needs communications training, left a highly-sensitive voicemail message on an incorrect phone number, which discussed confidential information about the termination of an employee’s role at the centre. The message did not pertain to anyone being fired, but rather a job description being rewritten. The message contained several first and last names of well-known Wakefielders, who had expressed interest in taking on roles within the centre.

When pressed by the Low Down, Gillies confessed that he made two major communication errors and admitted that the board is “weak on governance.” He confirmed that the current board, which was sworn in last May, has yet to take any board training.

A number of past board members, to whom the Low Down has spoken, have shared similar stories of a board overstepping its boundaries and meddling too much with the day-to-day operations of the centre.

It’s important to recognize the great work many volunteers have done at the centre since it opened in 2011. Countless donated hours have been spent putting on community events that have come to define the village of Wakefield — from Canada Day and Dragonfest, to the scores of movies, theatre productions and fundraisers that have enlivened the Gwen Shea Hall. And when the founders of the co-op model were convinced that the community could run the centre, the community bought in and it worked. The centre was buzzing with classes and galas and summer camps for years. But with aging volunteers and a fatigued, post-pandemic public, perhaps that community dream is over. It’s time to recognize that fact.

Moving forward, the centre should pivot to a model similar to the Meredith Centre approach — municipally run and managed with a clear governance structure for its Chelsea Foundation Board of Directors. No overstepping. No infighting. No drama.

La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux said last week that council would only consider such a move if the centre’s board made a formal request, something which has not happened in the five years he’s been mayor.

Where’s that towel?

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