At yesterday’s Committee of the Whole (CoW) Council meeting, Cobourg resident Ben Burd diplomatically suggested that the Town’s communication staff needed training so that they could do a better job of finding out what citizens really wanted. The main thing that Ben wanted was that the Committee set up to decide on Governance should not meet until after the planned public meeting on June 19th had heard from citizens. It looked like decisions would be made before hearing from the public. However, Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty said that the committee had not yet met. Ben also pointed to a low attendance of about 10 at the Public information session (Brent Larmer said that there were in fact 12 attending) and only 100 responded online.
In another example, the Boardwalk survey, Ben asked if anyone had actually gone to the boardwalk and asked users what they thought.
Ben wondered how many by-laws “have had substantive changes adopted as a result of listening to the Public.” Further “usually the Public is invited to participate to give lip service to the idea of ‘Public engagement'”.
Ben pointed to the memo from Director Brent Larmer when the Governance review was launched in April. In the memo, Brent said:
The first step in engaging the public shall be an open discussion and survey to residents on the current governance structure and what is being proposed for consideration in principle and try to enable participation/feedback forum
- not only from residents who consistently contribute and participate in local governance,
- but also engage those that participate rarely (once/twice a year), and
- those that haven’t participated at all.
But Ben said:
Unfortunately the execution of the principles has left a lot to be desired, probably not his (Brent’s) fault, but due to the lack of committed resources.
Typically, Town online surveys get a few hundred responses – is there no way a larger percentage of Cobourg’s 20,000 population can be surveyed? Why not venture out onto the street? Why not phone residents? Why not put information panels in the Library? Brent has the right idea – as Ben says, it’s the execution that’s lacking.
Ben also spoke about Customer Service:
If one reads the new report on Customer Service – one that relies on one contact for information, be it an improved website or a one-stop access to a customer booth it appears that the idea that the Town is approachable, recedes.
One example, I had to discuss a parking ticket. I had been given one even though my Veterans Plate was clearly visible on both ends of the car. Going to the Bylaw building, the old Market Building, the door was closed and as I was ready to knock, a Bylaw Officer approached and asked what did I want. I replied that I wanted to speak to a Supervisor about the ticket. He told me to stay there, he went inside leaving me on the sidewalk. Another Bylaw person emerged a couple of minutes later took my ticket and told me to expect a phone call. The point of this is that at no time was I asked to come inside – it definitely felt like I was an unwelcome intrusion into their day!
Let’s hope that more resources will be made available to the Communications “Department” – and some training too. But there is some progress – the Town’s web site is now much better although navigation is still poor.
- Brent Larmer report on Governance Review – April 2023
- Current Surveys list – (On Cobourg Internet site)
Reports on Cobourg News Blog
- Council Debating Governance – 26 November 2022
- Progress Report on Council Governance Changes – 15 April 2023