County to Improve Transparency with Committees

Cobourg has Advisory committees with citizen members with a mandate to recommend to Council what should be done on certain issues. At last count there were seven of these although there are additional Ad Hoc committees setup from time to time.  But until now the County has avoided any kind of body outside the Council itself.  Other than Council meetings, the only comparable meetings are departmental meetings which the Warden and Councillors can attend.  But these are not open to the Public and there is no citizen representation.  At the next County Council meeting on July 22nd, County staff are recommending a change in Governance that “provides (and is seen to provide) full transparency, accountability and openness”.  The major difference is the establishment of six “Standing Committees”.

Current Governance

  • Staff decide an action to respond to needs or direction provided by the Council
  • Actions are discussed in monthly departmental meetings with up to three Councillors attending.  No members of the public attend.  No delegations allowed.
  • Staff then report to Council with a recommendation and the Council then decides.

Six Standing Committees are proposed – generally aligned with departments:

  • Community Health Committee – Paramedics & Golden Plough Lodge
  • Corporate Support Committee – Corporate Services, Communications, Information Technology
  • Economic Development, Tourism & Planning Committee
  • Finance & Audit Committee
  • Public Works Committee -Transportation, Waste & Facilities
  • Social Services Committee

Each committee would consist of the Warden, two councillors [and an unspecified number of citizens appointed by the Council].  The Chair would be a Council member but would not be the Warden.  Meetings would be monthly with the six meetings spread over three days.

Proposed Governance

  • Staff decide an action to respond to needs or direction provided by the Council
  • Agendas would be published which include planned actions
  • Recommendations from Staff would be presented to the appropriate Standing Committee
  • Input would be received from “constituents and other stakeholders”.  That is, not only would there be citizens on the Committee but delegations and presentations would be allowed.
  • The Standing committee would “approve the suggested course of action, or they could make alternate (sic) proposals.” and recommend to Council.

The Standing Committees proposed seem to be a cross between Advisory committees and Provincial/ Federal Parliamentary committees. Federal Parliamentary committees are described as “Committees (which) examine, in small groups, selected matters in greater depth than is possible in the House of Commons. They report conclusions of those examinations, and recommendations, to the House.”

The reason given for the change is that the Municipal Act has changed.

Approval to go ahead is likely to be given at the County Council meeting on 22 July. The new governance model would be in place, [complete] with[out] appointed citizen representatives, by 1 January 2021. 

Links

Correction

20 July – 9:50 am

Input from Kate Campbell at the County says that in fact there are no members of the public, that is no citizens, on these committees – so they are not “advisory committees” at all but rather just another stage in the decision process.  Sorry, the staff descriptions implied something similar to the good governance at the Town.  Looks like it’s just more bureaucracy plus allowing public delegations before it actually gets to Council.  There are in fact several Advisory committees (e.g. Accessibility Advisory committee) but they get little publicity.  Corrections indicated with [original text].

Update

22 July 2020

The proposed change in Governance was approved in the the County Council meeting today.  It won’t have citizens in standing committees but will allow delegations from citizens.  Cobourg’s equivalent is “Committee of the Whole” meetings.

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Robert Washburn
20 July 2020 9:30 am

This is not new for the county. In the 1980s and early 1990s there were lots of committees. I covered them regularly. Waste management, finance, social services, public works were a few that I recall. There is no explanation as to why this system is being restored. Is this mandated by the province as part of its accountability efforts at the municipal level?

cornbread
20 July 2020 8:54 am

More government…when does it end…ever see an automobile designed by a committee?? It ain’t pretty!

Decision still in committee…everything takes forever to accomplish. Can’t we hire the people that have some smarts to do the job without the crutch and excuse of a committee decision.

Staff afraid to put their decision/job on the line…

MiriamM
19 July 2020 3:24 pm

Good idea. However, there is little discussion in the reports about financial impacts like costs to the taxpayer … including training and conferences for members, and compensation to committee members for expenses and attending meetings as well as work budgets for each committee. Being County based it could mean that some committee members will be travelling a far distance from another part of the County, incurring significant mileage and time expenses, including time away from their regular paying jobs. It is noted in one of the staff reports that a County Council member who is part of the committee will receive compensation and expenses. If the expectation is to attract talent to serve on these committees, the compensation should be the same scale for all the committee members and maybe a bit extra for the chair. In addition, some legislation already requires certain citizen advisory committees such as Accessibility (which the County has in place now). It would be helpful to understand how these new committees fit in with existing committees and boards advising the County. Also, current legislation requires long term care homes to have family councils in an advisory capacity and although GPL has such a family council… Read more »

Old guy
Reply to  MiriamM
20 July 2020 8:52 am

I would like to see a report on money loaned , spent ,lossed and uncollected from Business ventures , start ups and loans over the past 7 yrs There have been a lot of failures , bankruptcies and Cos. move away even to the USA . for some reason they don’t have Bad Debts on the books

Gerinator
Reply to  MiriamM
20 July 2020 9:06 am

Agreed. I would add that there is sure to be an additional load on the current staff level. We’ve see that in our own community. In the ‘Staff Memo on Proposal’ there is bullet “Significant staff time will be required to successfully implement and manage a new governance structure, but there are no direct additional budget impacts are anticipated.”.

Further with all this ‘newness’ will come a lengthier interval to the cycle of problem/opportunity – recognition, analysis and resolution. In short I don’t believe in the slightest that there will be “No significant additional costs are anticipated.” as stated in the Staff Memo on Proposal.