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.