At Monday’s Council meeting, Cobourg Taxpayers Association President Lydia Smith strongly criticized Council’s failure to follow its own Public Engagement policy. She used as an example the recent decision to approve a Waterfront Playground although she said it also applied to the decisions on the New Amherst School and re-zoning of 394 College Street. Her key evidence was a slide showing the timeline for the Waterfront Playground. Her slide showed that this project came out of the Waterfront study which had its first workshop in April 2017 then multiple workshops and public meetings from then till October. During that time “there was no public mention of the proposed water playground or solicitation for input”. “In fact, the water playground is the opposite of what the public said it wanted”.
The only public involvement was when John Henderson asked for public comments on April 7 on the Town’s web site.
Then when the waterpark came to Council for a vote on April 9, the issue of public involvement was raised and Lydia quoted Mayor Brocanier as saying: “I don’t expect that every time that they come back with an implementation phase that we should have to go through the same process again.” (Gil subsequently said “Thank you for getting my quote right”).
Lydia also criticized the documentation of proceedings in the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Basically that a presentation to them on this subject was verbal and “the public has no record – no record whatsoever – of what staff told the committee”.
All through her presentation, Lydia referred to the Town’s Public Engagement policy which requires that the public is involved in municipal issues “sharing information, consultation to test ideas, and collaboration to build solutions and active participation in decision making”. Download a copy of the policy here
Lydia’s concluding summary said:
There appears to have been a clear failure of the CAO, Municipal Clerk and staff to follow the Town’s approved Public Engagement Policy and Council also appears to have failed to ensure that staff followed the policy as intended.
After the presentation, the only question or comment made by any councillor was Brian Darling’s question: “How many people do you have that represent the public?” Lydia responded that the CTA does not “represent the public” but that as a group, they get listened to more. Brian repeated his question and Lydia said that CTA has 180 subscribers.
Lydia’s presentation was followed by a presentation by CTA Director Paul Pagnuelo who thanked Councillor Burchat for bringing forward a motion for a review of public engagement procedures in the Planning Department. He then went on to ask for some changes:
- Put a time frame on the review – aim for October 31 for an initial report then the new Council could include recommendations in their Strategic Planning Session in February 2019.
- Give the public an active role in the review – Aaron Burchat thought that the existing Planning and Advisory could fill that role
- Separate the review from the Planning Department – it should be more independent.
When Aaron’s motion came up for a vote, none of Paul’s recommendations were included.
Emily is not affiliated with the CTA but is concerned about the planning process – most recently the way the New Amherst school re-zoning has been handled. She said that the body replacing the OMB (LPAT) cannot overturn Council decisions although Planning Director Glenn McGlashon later said that although a first decision cannot now be over-ridden, his understanding is that LPAT can rule when the issue is raised a second time. Based on Emily’s understanding, it was not appropriate for Councillors to vote to avoid being in a costly legal battle that they would surely lose.
She also said that:
- Alternatives were not properly considered
- The Official plan has not yet been made available to the public yet it is more important in these issues. Glen McGlashon responded that it is still being “tweaked” and that it is available to anyone asking for it although he conceded that it is not yet online.
- A Public Information session on the new process should be provided. Glenn said that it is not yet clear even to solicitors in the business as to what exactly are the changes. He said it could take years to sort out.
Council took no action on Emily’s requests and later in the Council session, Aaron’s motion was passed unchanged. His motion directed “planning staff to review the Town of Cobourg’s public notification, meeting and engagement procedures pertaining to applications submitted under the Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990, c.P. 13, as amended, and submit a report to Council for consideration.”
- Water Park approved in close vote – 10 April 2018
- New Amherst School re-zoning up for approval – 24 April 2018