Every community heritage commission should have terms of reference (ToR) that set out working arrangements and other critical information, such as the commission’s purpose, chair and membership, meeting requirements, level of administrative support, and governance structure.
The importance of the terms of reference should not be underestimated. A well-conceived document will touch on all aspects of a commission and will be regularly consulted as the commission develops annual work plans and activities. Local governments, the community and the commission itself will be best served with a thorough description and complete understanding of the CHC’s roles and responsibilities.
Broadly, an effective ToR will:
It is important to note that the bylaw that creates the heritage commission must be clear on a number of items:
In some cases, the ToR is contained wholly in the bylaw (City of New Westminster) and in other cases the complete ToR are contained in a separate document (District of Mission).
Vision, Mission, Goals, and Objectives
By describing the commission’s mission, goals, and purposes, the ToR will outline the CHC’s work and value.
The purpose of the commission should be unambiguous, and the ToR should be written with sufficient thoughtfulness and clarity so that it focusses and guides the CHC’s work.
Authority and Accountability
The ToR should outline the authority and parameters related to the CHC’s ability to make decisions and recommendations, as well as to undertake actions.
Reporting requirements will describe who will receive information, in what timeframe, and in what form (e.g. minutes, studies, reports). The reporting relationship to council should be clearly defined.
The ToR may also include information about such actions as hiring a consultant, developing a website, coordinating events, and so on.
Overall, authorities and accountabilities will clarify relationships and communication requirements.
The ToR will detail the exact make-up and mix of members, which can be drawn from the community-at-large, government staff, and politicians. The details about member qualifications can include geographic representations, which may be particularly important for a regional district, and organization affiliations, as well as professional expertise.
The City of Vancouver requires that every individual appointed to the Commission must:
In addition to the general public, the CHC may include representatives from the library and education systems, representatives of local history and heritage organizations, liaison with the Chamber of Commerce, as well as municipal planners, professionals, and individuals with specific skills, such as archaeologists, landscapers, builders, etc.
The ToR will include a minimum and maximum number of members, specifying which numbers have voting privileges and which do not. Additionally, the length and number of terms for the members should be clearly described.
The size of the membership should take into account the size of the community and the expected work of the heritage commission. A heritage commission that is too small may not be able to successfully meet the needs of the local government and the community.
Example from Bowen Island Heritage Commission:
The Commission shall be composed of seven (7) voting members. Voting Members:
Example from Kitimat-Stikine Heritage Advisory Commission:
The ToR will describe CHC’s governance structure, including:
The ToR should describe when the CHC will start its work, how frequently it will meet (or at least the minimum number of times it will meet in a given period), and the expected time requirements for the commission members.
The ToR will state the length of a term and the number of terms a member may serve. For example, a CHC member may be appointed for up to three 2-year terms and therefore sit on the commission for a maximum of six years.
Best practices include:
If a member misses 3 consecutive meetings, or has 4 or more absences within a year without giving reasonable notice, the Chairperson will contact that member to discuss the situation. The Chairperson may request the resignation of the member. Mission Heritage Commission
It also may be desirable to involve former members in non-voting roles that allow them to support the continued work of the heritage commission.