Is Cobourg’s Engagement Policy Working?

The Town of Cobourg prides itself on its engagement with residents but it has problems.  Currently there is no-one in the position of communications manager – at least not officially.  Ashley Purdy had the job for 10 years but recently moved to the HKPR District Health Unit where she goes by the name Ashley Beaulac.  But she’s still helping out at the Town so she’s still listed as the Town’s media contact – and there’s no visible active recruitment effort to replace her.  Recently, Cobourg citizen Ted Williams wrote to Council with concerns about the Town’s Complaint Policy.  It was shown on the Council’s Agenda for March 14 – item 16.2 but as usual with correspondence, the Town simply accepted it for “Information Purposes”. No apparent action.

Specifically, Ted says:

Council is operating in contravention to their policy of Public Engagement ADM 21 [Policy LEG ADM21], which was passed on Dec 12, 2016. [Copy in resources below].

Excerpts from this wonderful, breakthrough policy state:

  • The Town …recognizes that public input can improve municipal decision-making (pg 1)
  • a key element of local government is that people should be involved in the process of decisions that affect them (pg 1)
  • To expand opportunities to engage and dialogue with citizens (pg 2)
  • Inclusiveness: Public dialogue, communication venues and to encourage participation and input from the community (pg 2)
  • Early involvement to help identify issues and look at opportunities and challenges during concept development… (pg 2)

Staff Responsibilities from this Policy

  • Evaluate and update the Community Engagement Standards on clear performance measures
  • Design engagement processes that reflect the commitment made to stakeholders and reach out to those citizens that may be directly impacted

Ted gives some examples: “Efforts made by Council over the past 3 years to facilitate Public Engagement have been failures” – here is an edited summary [Edits in square brackets]:

  • Q and A is placed at the end of very long meetings after any real discussion has taken place. It has been little used
  • Delegations. Council has made engagement between the delegate and councillors impossible by only allowing questions of clarity rather than permitting engagement
  • Our Town Web-Site has become less effective over the years.  [Policies appear to be provided but in fact are not since the titles go to dead links.]
  • Engage Cobourg has a very small number of respondents and again does not facilitate engagement. The public is kept at an “arms length” from actual engagement with council.
  • Staff Reports on polices that affect the public operate with complete exclusion of the public. Only after the report is complete and finalized does the public get an opportunity to “comment”.
  • Advisory Committee Meetings: Council almost never receives a report from Advisory Committee Chairs
  • Public Information Meetings: This is the most unsuccessful offering from council. Only one attendee, at last meeting in February of 2022 shows an almost complete failure. Does this matter to councillors? Why have residents given up?

Ted gives an example:

A few years ago, there were 2 passionate delegations given, considering sidewalks. This issue is clearly a problem for residents! These groups of citizens were basically ignored at council.

A solution could have been suggested, such as – “Would the delegates from Abbott St and Westwood Cr please work together and with the collaboration of the Public Works Director, come up with your policy for sidewalks? We will hope to see your Public Report soon. We already have a Staff Report.” This action would have taken both leadership, as well as a caring for the public wishes but this was not done.

I am not looking to change this Policy. I am asking to operate using it.

You have to give Cobourg marks for effort but there is obviously work to be done.  It would have been good if the Town (that is, Council) had provided a response to Ted’s letter instead of shelving it.

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26 Comments
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Sandpiper
31 March 2022 8:51 am

No its not working !!!
I had a chance to talk to one of our councilors the other day after this article came out
and asked if they ever read and paid attention to the participants and comments of this Blog .
Their response was yes some times I read it but its such a small cross section of the population that council in general didn’t feel it carried much weight .

Doug
26 March 2022 11:03 am

The sidewalk issue is the most hazardous situation in Cobourg. I have written and presented to councillors and town committees a number of times. A muted reply is the response.D’Arcy St – an arterial street -probably has the biggest number of students walking back and forth from the subdivisions in all of Cobourg. It will when all the subdivisions north of the ‘Depo’ (at D’Arcy & Elgin St.) get developed. Major subdivision construction has already started in 4 or 5 places. On D’Arcy both the High School and C.R. Gummow School are on the East side. The only continuous sidewalk is on the West side of D’Arcy !! There is no controlled crossing for pedestrians on D’Arcy from King St until the CCC – Community Center. Traffic Circles are not very safe for pedestrians because automobile traffic does not have to stop – They only have to yield so many cars whip through. The kids must start out walking on the east side sidewalks which end before the railway track. Last week as cars whipped by – 70 to 80 km per hr is not unusual. One little guy 7 or 8 yelled out “run” and 6 or 7 kids charged across D’Arcy St just before the East side sidewalk comes to an end. Some kids choose to stay on the East side where they can walk along in the mud. Changing the 2 way stop at University and D’Arcy to a 4 way stop sign would give pedestrians a ‘CONTROLLED’ crossing before the sidewalk runs out. A continuous sidewalk from King St to Elgin on the East side would be the best solution.3 or 4 pedestrians have died on D’Arcy, mainly around the RR Tracks over the last 10 years. Quite obviously, no one on Council or working for… Read more »

Ted Williams
Reply to  Doug
28 March 2022 3:33 pm

Hi Doug,
I appreciate your detailed study about providing safe sidewalks where they are most needed.
This topic of Public Engagement may be best exampled in Staffs Sidewalk Guideline.

It is clear that informed members of the public would have made a significant improvement to this guideline, were they allowed.

Instead of the $200K spent on Abbott St where many residents were opposed, temporary sidewalks could have been installed on Spencer or improvements to D’Arcy where needed.
Cheers,
Ted

Cobourg taxpayer
26 March 2022 9:10 am

No, it’s just supposed to make us feel like our opinions matter. Then they’re ignored.

Ted Williams
23 March 2022 12:22 pm

The Municipal Act (Sect 224) states that the Role of Council is to
a)  Represent the public
This statement, in concert, with our Towns Public Engagement Policy is a definition of democracy. i.e.
“Citizens having an equal participation and an equal share in decisions that affect society”
As a citizen and resident of Cobourg – I do not see these principals being fulfilled in Cobourg
Whenever an issue comes up – Council almost exclusively turns to staff with little recognition of the public’s will.
 

Sandpiper
23 March 2022 11:29 am

SOUNDS like another Cushy Job coming up
I propose / nominate — that John Draper be awarded this one great job with Great Pay and Benefits He is doing most of it already .
He also seems to be the only interested enough in what goes on around here to dig for the facts , Equipped to get the facts out in a timely fashion , not after the fact — and seems to be at all the Town and Council meetings
Bringing the FACTs and News to the StakeHolders and Residents .

ALL THOSE IN FAVOUR

Gerinator
Reply to  Sandpiper
23 March 2022 12:23 pm

I second the motion.

cornbread
23 March 2022 10:39 am

If you don’t mind me saying…I think “This Site” is about the best we have for public engagement in Cobourg. Thank you John Draper!

Bryan
Reply to  cornbread
23 March 2022 10:45 am

Cornbread:

This site is certainly better better than the Town’s site where the links often don’t work. Also better than Engage Cobourg and Bang the Desk.

Ken
Reply to  Bryan
24 March 2022 9:29 am

Let’s bring back a good old fashion ‘Town Newspaper’!

ben
Reply to  Ken
24 March 2022 11:17 am

Ready to put some money into it?

Kevin
23 March 2022 10:29 am

Thank you for mentioning the sidewalk issue. The town did create a policy on sidewalks that sets standards and prioritizes where they are to be built. It also states:
The next steps will be for the Town to develop an official policy for the implementation of new sidewalks in the Town of Cobourg, based on the subject Sidewalk Priority Plan
This was never done. The town is not following its own policies. With the ‘climate emergency’ the town should review all policies that could have an impact on the environment. Pouring concrete over green space does effect the environment and is expensive.

Ken Strauss
23 March 2022 8:25 am

A copy of the Public Engagement Policy document is not available on the town’s website. That seems a pretty good indication of how seriously the town takes public engagement!

Concerned
Reply to  Ken Strauss
23 March 2022 9:41 am

Interesting I found it on the policy page under legislative services worst part of this comment is John even posted a link to it. I wonder where he got it from 🤔

Concerned
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 9:43 am

Maybe before people like a comment, like this, they should verify the information themselves so “fake news” doesn’t end up making the rounds.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 10:09 am

Apology accepted!

Bryan
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 10:31 am

Concerned:

Mr. Strauss is a diligent skilled researcher and I’m very sure that he has read ADM21 and he very likely has a copy of it.

Concerned
Reply to  John Draper
23 March 2022 10:56 am

I did access it so I didn’t make false statements a server being down doesn’t mean it’s not available

Bryan
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 11:29 am

Concerned:
How did you access a dead link?
The Civicweb site is not “down” due to server issues, It is gone…dead

Last edited 2 months ago by Bryan
Bryan
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 10:21 am

Concerned,

The document is an extract from the COW minutes Nov 2016, likely provided to John by someone (perhaps the CTA) as the policies are not available on the Town’s web site:

//www.cobourg.ca/en/town-hall/Policies.aspx

Numerous policies are listed but the links don’t work

Last edited 2 months ago by Bryan
Bryan
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 10:29 am

Concerned:

You missed noting the most important part: the link doesn’t work!

Concerned
Reply to  Bryan
23 March 2022 10:57 am

No the server is down if check no policies are accessible. I guess having more than one IT person would be helpful so these things don’t happen.

John Draper
Admin
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 11:13 am

The Civic web server is no longer used by the Town of Cobourg. You could say it’s down but it has been that way for quite a while – ever since escribe was put online. There are no plans to restore Civic Web for Cobourg. Hopefully there are plans to put all old documents including policies on line on the new web site.

Last edited 2 months ago by John Draper
Dubious
Reply to  Concerned
23 March 2022 12:34 pm

We don’t need more “fake news”, Concerned. Please verify your facts before posting!

Bryan
Reply to  Ken Strauss
24 March 2022 1:34 pm

The Town’s Public Engagement Policy is available on the CTA’s website under “Resources, Legislation”

https://cobourgtaxpayers.ca/

The Town’s Code of Conduct, Procedures By-law, Municipal Act and other documents are also available

Last edited 2 months ago by Bryan