Update proposed for Council Procedures

At the first council meeting in the New Year on January 7, revised procedures for Council meetings will be introduced that are intended to improve efficiency and transparency.  A Q & A session at each meeting is not proposed; instead a quarterly meeting is planned which will follow a Committee of the Whole (C.O.W.) meeting.  This will last an hour with up to 10 minutes available for each speaker with no advance notice being required although participants would have to sign-in.  Other changes are proposed that limit delegations to a maximum of 4 at C.O.W. and regular Council meetings.  Overall, the intent seems to be to add more organization and discipline to meetings.  However, before the changes are implemented there will be a public meeting on January 28 to get feedback.

Brent Larmer
Brent Larmer

The procedure was issued by Town Clerk Brent Larmer (photo at right from inaugural meeting) but is subject to approval by Council.

One new provision is that it specifies that all Committees set up by Council are subject to the same rules. This should help future misunderstandings such as when the public was denied access to the waterfront steering committee.

Four different meetings are covered by the procedure:

  1. Committee of the Whole – all members of Council debate issues brought before it.  Governing decisions and approval of by-laws are deferred to the regular Council meeting a week later.
  2. Regular Council Meetings – Council meeting where decisions are made and by-laws passed.
  3. Planning Meetings – public meetings intended to collect input from residents/taxpayers.
  4. Quarterly Open Forum – public meetings where citizens can ask councillors (but not staff) any question

Delegations

Citizens can make a presentation on any subject – within limits.  All presentation materials must be provided to the Clerk no later than 1:00 p.m. on the Friday preceding the Council or Committee meeting.  The Clerk will reject anything which is:

  1. Not considered to fall within the jurisdiction of the Municipal Council;
  2. Considered operational or administrative in nature;
  3. Considered as previously dealt with or closed by Council; or
  4. Considered vexatious, spurious, or frivolous.

Further, there will be a limit of 4 delegations per meeting – the clerk may advise the requester of the earliest possible date when his/her Delegation may be accommodated.  Also, delegates may not make essentially the same presentation at both a C.O.W. and regular council meeting (that is “with no new substantial information”).

Presumably, it would be best if presentations relate to an item on the agenda; the agenda for the C.O.W. must now be published 7 days in advance whereas it was previously 10 days in advance.  This provides less notice so everyone needs to be alert in case they want to make a presentation to council.

Q and A session

Once every three months, an hour will be allocated following a C.O.W. where anyone can ask a question or make a comment with no advance notification.  Although Councillors will be there, staff are not required to be there.  Up to 10 minutes per person is allowed.  There are no procedures specified on what Councillors should do in response.  Presumably one or more will either give a satisfactory answer or will indicate that an answer will be provided in the future.  It’s not indicated why this is provided only once per 3 months instead of after every C.O.W. meeting.

Although this revised procedure is intended to improve efficiency, the “moment of reflection” is still included for no apparent benefit.

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Walter L. Luedtke

Good to see that all Committees will have extra seating to handle the crowds who want to attend their meetings.
And by the way.
The Town of Cobourg is currently seeking expressions of interest for:
Cobourg Public Library Board
Accessibility Advisory Committee
Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee
Environmental Active Transportation Advisory Committee
Cobourg Police Services Board (Public Appointee). In order to be considered for this vacancy, please complete the application process through the Public Appointments Secretariat website, as the appointment is considered and made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
So go knock yourself out and come aboard.

manfred s

c’mon Walter, get real! It’s so much easier to sit and wait for something to happen and THEN pounce with a reaction, don’t you think? All that ‘participation stuff’ is so, so, … demanding… and not half the fun

Walter L. Luedtke

Manfred, I think you are on to something here.
Wonder if the CTA folks, who were so indignant at being booted out of a committee meeting, will be attending on a regular basis.
They got our Omdudsman, Mr. Ewart, to rule on the matter and he only took half a year to come up with a report.
Mr. Ewart charges $250 an hour and I am still wondering what that caper cost Cobourg’s hard-working taxpayers.

Wally Keeler

Seems that several citizens have a point about the 4 delegations per meeting. It’s not an invalid point, however, no one has suggested an alternative or improvement. I know what they are against, but not what they are for. I would suggest that there be unlimited delegations per meeting. Should the delegations be restricted to 10 minutes each, or 15 minutes, or some other time limit, or perhaps none? The whiners and complainers should step up to the plate and put forward a better suggestion, otherwise they are doing no service for the community.

Ben

Hey Wally how about no change – status quo. It has not been demonstrated that the existing procedure has been abused so why change it. Democracy is messy, but it’s all we have right now. I would ask all the people who ran on “transparency” and “civic engagement” to ask who recommended this to Mr Larmer, and if it was all his idea; to tell him to stop it!

Wally Keeler

Fair enough Ben, but why the following that you posted on your blog? “If the procedural bylaw needed to be amended who decided that it did? The only issue raised during the last election was the issue of a question period after or before Council meetings. Why do we have a wholesale massacre of the status quo in this revision and who ordered it to be written. The obvious culprit would be the new Deputy Mayor and yet in the last term of Council she was a huge supporter of ‘listening to the public’ so much that Ms Seguin was often chastised for dithering in her decisions until she had heard all she wanted to hear. So what changed her mind to produce a section of a bylaw that limits public participation. If it wasn’t her who was it? The Municipal Clerk? or anybody else. The public deserves to know who pushed for this proposal. Because if we don’t discover just who it was then all of Council are suspect. Including every one of the newcomers, as they all pledged to be more open than the previous Council.” I don’t think there is any need for an inquisition. Really Ben,… Read more »

Ben

OK Wally maybe you don’t want to know who ordered this report and recommended that a fully functioning status quo be changed. A change that will severely restrict the public’s access to Council. I do and if the way the question is structured disturbs your sense of normalcy so be it. At least the writing style was not bland – a famous criticism of yours for most of the posters here and everywhere else, it did prompt a response. Made you think didn’t it?

Watch out for the incoming on this reply!

manfred s

maybe we’ll get some idea of where they stand on this, before we draw a conclusion. Of course, your experience in these things gives you more insight into what’s going on behind the scenes. I’ll just have to see for myself and wait for their open discussion.

Wally Keeler

Of course it made me think. And good for that. You can feel proud of that. I was curious why you smeared Susanne Seguin as a “culprit”, when you have presented zero evidence of such.

Just to be helpful, this is the Oxford definition of “massacre“; “the indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people or (less commonly) animals; carnage, butchery, slaughter in numbers”. In terms of a municipal proposal, massacre is ludicrously inapplicable.

So Ben Burd wants an investigationto determine who was responsible. Gotta get to the bottom of it.. Gotta expose the culprit to the public. And then what? What is the benefit to the community to go on this Queegian hunt? You want it, so sell it to the rest of us.

Ben

Wally, here is the reason, but I am sure your level of cynicism may not be aroused by the reason. Somebody wants to limit the number of people who can appear as a delegation at Council meetings. Now why is this? Is it because of an unabiding move towards “efficiency”, I remember being told by a former Mayor (Angus Read) that “Council is not a debating society”. Perhaps some body thinks this and wants to limit the number of debaters in order to achieve it. Perhaps other people want to avoid repetition, too may people saying the same things can be quite boring. Others may think that listening to delegations is a waste of time – “Let’s get on with it and just vote” With these reasons in mind and the fact that all of the candidates pledged to listen more and pay attention to the public and in fact encourage it. We should be asking why this procedure is in the bylaw and who asked for it. The reason that the DM is mentioned is simple she is in charge of giving directions to the Municipal Clerk and in charge of the report from him to Council. She is… Read more »

manfred s

and then, Ben, maybe, just maybe, this ‘proposal’ is being floated by the non-elected administrators to prevent just exactly what these new councilors promised, to nip a bud, so to speak, before it has a chance to become more than just a bud. We’ll see what our newbies say about, and better yet, do about it when their opportunity comes.

Wally Keeler

Sold. SOLD. See you can be proud of that, as well as taking deep pride in provoking me to ask a question of you. You should be very proud of yourself

What is with your antagonism? The answer above is very good Ben, but next time keep your personal remarks against me to yourself. They indicate that you hold grudges.

Wally Keeler

I am sure your level of cynicism …

Really, Ben, why the personal remarks? Why can you not make a cogent argument without making personal smears?

manfred s

that’s REALLY rich, coming from someone who has a very long history of using personal insults to make points of one kind or another here on this blog, Wally. What has been very welcome though, is the recent change in demeanor in your own comments and I for one appreciate it very much indeed.

Ben

I concur with Manfred Wally and if you need to demonstrate a changed demenour I will definitely vote for you as Poet Laureate

Wally Keeler

Sorry Ben, but your level of animosity on this thread towards me makes me not believe you for a moment. I have been demonstrating a changed demeanor and you either couldn’t care less or you love your grudge more. Anyway, Ben, I will refrain from corresponding to you any further on this blog, since you seem to be unable to change your hostile demeanor towards me.

Poets laureate in Cobourg are not voted on by the public, so it is advisable that you discontinue spreading fake news that you are able to vote for one.

Ben

Jeez Wally your changed demenour has been very noticable and I congratulate you for it. I know I don’t have a vote for the PL but if I did you would get it.

Wally Keeler

OK Manfred. Tell everyone that you have never made a personal insult towards me on this blog.

manfred s

indeed I have, Wally, but then again, I didn’t say “…why the personal remarks? Why can you not make a cogent argument without making personal smears?”, oui?
Nevertheless, that was then and this is now, and things are definitely looking up, ol’ ‘aquaintance’ 😉

Wally Keeler

“But then again…” Don’t make excuses for yourself. It’s unbecoming. Ben was clearly making unnecessary and unpleasant personal remarks against me. I let it go by for a couple exchanges, but he kept at it, so I pointed it out to him. Then you butted in and made your own personal remarks against me, supporting Ben’s personal disparaging remarks against me. And for what purpose, Manfred, other than satisfying a inner need to pile on? You talk about a changed demeanor being recent. It’s not. It began long before you returned to this blog. Get your facts straight. “…and I for one appreciate it very much indeed.” I don’t believe this for a moment. If you had any appreciation of it, you would not have prefaced your so-called appreciation with a personal remark about my past demeanor before remarking about your so-called appreciation. You did also, so your personal disparagement against me rings very hollow, certainly insubstantial. We agree that making disparaging personal remarks against others on this blog is not a nice thing to do. You followed me on this thread, and no where did I make a personal disparaging comment and you acknowledged that fact. You have often… Read more »

Walter L. Luedtke

Chuckles.
Boy, this didn’t take long!
We just had the election with members of our former Council acclaimed or comfortably re-elected.
And already there is talk of ‘controlling opposition’ and ‘silencing the electorate’.
If the ‘electorate’ was so unhappy with the former Council, that now Adult Supervision is needed again, the Councillors running for re-election should have been defeated and the ‘opposition’ should have fielded its own slate.
Didn’t happen though but the opposition folks will have another chance to get their act together in 2022.

Ben

If Council wants to be more accountable as opposed to being seen as autocratic and authoritarian it would instantly dismiss the undemocratic recommendation that only four delegations can be heard in a meeting.

Does that mean four delegations on the same topic of the meeting or just four delegations. As a previous commenter has pointed out contentious topics often have more than four people willing to stand before the bar and speak.
Logistically this move would not get representative opinion as it is possible that because no one presenter would know who else was wanting one of the four spots, it would mean that insiders or fast agenda watchers would snap up the spots OR the people who prepare the agendas would be able to select who the four spots would go to.

This is a way to control opposition and is contrary to every campaign pledge every candidate made during the last election.
Hmmm something fishy that this move would be the first one to be made by a new Council

Bryan

Ben: I agree with you that numerous sections of this proposed procedures bylaw are contrary to the campaign “promises” of most of the newly seated council and as you noted in your examples.
serves to limit/reduce accountability and citizen engagement. John Hill’s comment below provides additional examples of the “wrongheadedness” of this proposed bylaw
Some things to keep in mind:
The proposed Procedures bylaw is
1) a draft, meaning subject to revision and approval, and
2) prepared and proposed by staff.
Note the recommendation:
THAT Council receive the draft amended Council Procedural By-law from the
Municipal Clerk/Manager of Legislative Services
for information purposes

Council is not responsible for proposing this “first move” and has yet to act on it. The “first move” will happen on Monday afternoon and I sincerely hope that Council lives up to its election promises and guts this proposed travesty

John L. Hill

There is an old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I was very impressed that during the election campaign, many of the candidate spoke positively about greater community involvement and transparency. Several aspects of the proposed procedural by-law run counter to these stated goals. Indeed the new proposals severely curtail the limited community involvement enjoyed in the last council: Delegations per meeting are limited to 4. Only on the most significant issues facing the last council were there more than 4 delegations. This is an opportunity for the community to speak out and let council know what is important as matters are on the agenda. If efficiency is truly the goal, why not set 10 minute time limits to presentations? The biggest slap in the face to community involvement is the replacement of a question period with a quarterly meeting where up to 6 speakers could take part. If I remember correctly, virtually all non-acclaimed candidates spoke in favour of a question period where citizens could come forward and seek transparency from their municipal leaders. The bid to silence the electorate is contained in a clause that proposes that only by super majority of… Read more »

Walter L. Luedtke

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has made this recommendation on the topic of municipal ‘accountability’:
“An accountability framework should have safeguards to prevent and to address frivolous and vexatious complaints. Without these safeguards, it could be misused for political and other ends.”
I read Mr. Larmer’s admirable report, but could not find any mention of such safeguards.
Perhaps this is still a work in progress and the safeguards issue will be addressed in future.

AlmostSenior

One of many reports by this young man. Clerk is an important role, glad to have a qualified individual in the role.. council is run officially and formally ….improvements always needed.bring on q and a, hold councillors accountable.