Partnership, co-operation ring hollow with PAECS

We have to learn how to walk before we can run and the fledgling Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society (PAECS) is stumbling

We have to learn how to walk before we can run and the fledgling Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society (PAECS) is stumbling from pillar to post right now.

Most recently, the board of directors was called to task for not providing a copy of its audited financial statements to the annual general meeting; then its largest benefactor, Ponoka County, withdrew financial support citing a lack of accountability from a lopsided board.

And the morning the Ponoka News reported the county pulled the plug, general manager Chas Lambert was fired.

We have no doubt these are growing pains and that there are power struggles within the board and that the group’s mission and values — whatever they are — are not embraced by all directors. We hope there is no truth to the rumor this mess has been an orchestrated Machiavellian manoeuvre by the Ponoka Stampede Association to wrest control of the operations from the municipalities.

When the idea of the Ponoka Ag Event Centre was first touted, it was conceived as a partnership of equals pooling land, expertise, money and manpower, co-operating to achieve a common goal for the community. Were these just hollow buzzwords to lift money from the pockets of the provincial government or did they mean something at one time?

For all non-profit boards operating today, it’s about being accountable for your decisions, and being responsible to the greater community for the organization’s integrity and reputation.

The ag event centre board has a fundamental, ethical responsibility to its founding partners and their governors, to staff and volunteers, to private and public donors and to town and county ratepayers.

By withholding their audited financial statements from the public at its recent annual general meeting, the ag event centre board is acting suspiciously. Construction of the ag event centre was funded by grants and gifts in kind from provincial and municipal governments and generous donations; now the board and its actions must be open to public scrutiny. Yes, volunteer directors have to stand up and justify their actions but accountability makes good organizations better.

Acting in good faith, maybe the municipal government partners did not make it clear at the outset what measures of accountability would be expected of the board. They perhaps naively believed the two volunteer agencies; the Ponoka Ag Society with more than a century of volunteer service, and the Ponoka Stampede Association with more than 75 years of staging successful rodeos, would be able to deliver transparency.

County and town residents, and private and corporate donors, have every right to question how their contributions — through taxation or voluntarily — have been spent by the PAECS. They are the de facto shareholders of the society and have a right to relevant and reliable information.

You would think a board responsible for overseeing the expenditure of $10 million to build the ag event centre would be proud of its accomplishments and clearly demonstrate that private and public resources were spent wisely and that the society is being managed properly. The communities and founding societies deserve to see a proper annual report and financial statements. Posted on the partners’ websites for everyone to see.

In hindsight, we can question whether it was a good idea from the start to have an operational board; as a transition in the maturation of the society, it was probably not a bad idea. Now, with the two funding partners uneasy with the organization, perhaps it’s time for the founders to broker a new board structure. Volunteers seconded from other groups in the community should not be expected to oversee the day-to-day operation of the ag event centre. Establish policies, hire a strong manager, allow him to hire competent staff complemented with a corps of volunteers and get out of the way. Let the manager focus on the present needs and struggles and have the directors focus on long-term goals and plans. Have a small executive committee meet monthly with the manager to ensure targets are being met and long-term goals coming into focus. Sell memberships so the community is engaged and entitled.

It would be wise for the PAECS to consider a reboot of its AGM and present its audited financial statements to the community and not keep them tucked away from prying eyes.

The society has to show that it has learned from these glitches, has the confidence of its founding partners and the community, and can be entrusted with the open and transparent development of this key piece in Ponoka’s economic future.