Ben Burd Asks for Better Citizen Engagement

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.

Customer Service

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.

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Cobourg taxpayer
8 months ago

I am not sure better citizen engagement is needed, it is council and staff actually listening and acting on citizen input.

marya
8 months ago

This is much too paltry. These are not the people who require training in communications or in governance. If there is a question to ask or information that is needed, it is asked and requested and the answers and the data have always been given.

Sandpiper
8 months ago

Has anyone tried to find any of the Town staff lattley other than Bens visit to the By Law Dept with closed and locked doors , These Depts are empty , Venture 13 Economic Development is a Ghost Town , Then try and get anyone of the Council or Staff in any Dept to answer a phone or even those Cel phones they all have at Great expense to the Tax Payers . NOTHING
and E mail responses and phone messages go weeks unanswered or never returned .
We should Run our own study and report to Draper

Gerry
Reply to  Sandpiper
8 months ago

Your experience seems a bit odd. Whenever I have had to call anyone at Victoria Hall, they have either answered the phone directly or returned my call or email promptly; I can’t recall ever waiting more than a day for a reply. Funny how two people could have such different experiences with the Town staff.

What'sUpDoc
8 months ago

BOARDWALK SURVEY I agree the survey on the boardwalk issue was a puzzle. From answering the first question, through to the last question, I had contradicted myself. Useless in my mind.

SIDEWEALK Doug – thanks for bringing up the D’Arcy street railway sidewalk issue. This should be a high priority job to be done. Just how long would it take to put one in place? I couldn’t believe CNR only allows one sidewalk. Who do they think they are?

Doug Weldon
8 months ago

I agree. Our town has a very closed mind to many ‘small’ local issues.
I live very near the D’Arcy St railway overpass. The lack of a proper and safe pedestrian crossing where D’Arcy crosses the tracks leads to a very extreme hazard. The kids from Gummow and the high school must run across the street to get to the only sidewalk that crosses the tracks on D’Arcy. One kid yells ‘run” and 10 or 15 kids run across the street instantly. 80 and 90 mph cars are common.
There is no other safe crossing to use! I have spoken to our current and our previous mayors and to many councillors and many town works supervisors. They all seem to have the same book of excuses and conclude that nothing can be done.
TWO MORE STOP signs at the corner of University and D’Arcy would solve the problem. a 4 way stop would then provide a safe crossing spot for everyone. One of the town excuses for doing nothing is that a set of traffic lights are planned for that corner. I’ve been told that for 6 or 7 years ! Their favourite excuse is than CNR will only allow the one sidewalk! Funny how we have crossings all over the country with sidewalks on both sides of railway crossings.
Everyone on our Council and who works for our town should be deeply ashamed of the total ignoring of this incredible hazard. Will they react after some one is finally killed on D’Arcy. Three people did die at this crossing 7 or 10 years ago on 3 different occasions. The town quickly circulated a ‘rummer’ that they all had mental health issues. That fixed everything.

ForeverYoung
Reply to  Doug Weldon
8 months ago

Speaking of crosswalks, I would like to know why the crosswalk with the crossing guard on King is so far away from the high school. It should be on the corner of Cottesmore and King and should have a yellow pedestrian light so everyone could use it even when the crossing guard is not there. The kids dart across King Street, and don’t use the existing cross walk as it’s too far from the school. Just more of my two cents worth. Thank you.

Kevin
Reply to  ForeverYoung
8 months ago

This crosswalk was put in before the sidewalk on Abbott. The location of the crosswalk may have been decided to help the argument for the sidewalk. I spoke to a Police officer who had the opinion the sidewalk was entirely in the wrong place. In his opinion it should be in front of the high school where students often cross and there has been an accident. On the corner of Cottesmore and King seems like a good location as well. The crosswalk is not difficult to move.

Sandpiper
8 months ago

I Completely agree with Ben on this Topic The way this is being run is simply closing the Barn door after the facts are in but how do we make sure that the actual results are revealed and that comments are not just Cherry picked to accomplish the Political Task .
May be one of our Senior Citizen Groups and organizations would run these surveys
and report on it with a unbiased result . May be a local Carp or ZOOMER Chapter
if there is one, if not Form one Quinty has one

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Sandpiper
8 months ago

Sandpiper, unfortunately getting an honest result is hard. For example, a “citizen group” (unspecified ages but likely not seniors) recently did a survey and reported that almost everyone favoured building a shanty town at the Memorial Arena.

Eastender
Reply to  Ken Strauss
8 months ago

A “shanty town” Strauss? Never heard of that.….and
….”unspecified ages but likely not seniors”, more speculation.
You ought to get your facts in order before posting.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Eastender
8 months ago

Eastender, perhaps you should pay attention to what is happening in Cobourg before posting!

The shanty town has been discussed extensively in several articles on this blog. See https://www.cobourgblog.com/news-2023/council-rejects-sleeping-cabins-idea for the most recent discussion.

My assessment of the age of those advocating for a shanty town is based on observing those who made presentations to our Council in favour of such a ridiculous proposal.

What is the basis for your “facts”?

Last edited 8 months ago by Ken Strauss
Newbie
Reply to  Eastender
8 months ago

Yes. Shanty Town. Discussed extensively in Draper’s reports.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Ken Strauss
8 months ago

They must have been citizens that where in need or favorable volunteers —That’s why I suggested people that may be from a Organization such as local Carp or Zoomer chapters usually between the ages of 50 and 75 people who have worked , have life experience
paid taxes and hopefully some group organizational common sense .
They run them all the time What ever happened to the Cobourg Tax Payers Assoc .? I know several Passed over Covid

ForeverYoung
8 months ago

Are these meetings offered by Zoom for those that don’t want to venture out? Also for surveys, I totally agree. They are usually skewed to get the answers they want, and then let’s face it, 90% of the time they will go ahead and do what they want. A survey and Public Meeting is just to placate people into thinking that the powers that be might be listening. Apologies if I am wrong, I am jaded from where I previously resided. But I am starting to see similarities here.

Dave
8 months ago

I agree. Citizens should be more knowledgeable about their local government and give input prior to the passing of various initiatives. We have a wonderful example in Toronto of people failing to vote in their municipal elections and not even knowing the platform of the candidates. At one point on a regular basis there was only a 28% turn out – the year Rob Ford ran saw a tremendous increase in voters. Unfortunately if a candidate’s name is recognized zombie like the voters go and place their X. Don’t know what the figures are here for Town elections – hope it is better.
Thanks John – I was actually just looking it up. 40.9% of voters for the 2022 Town Election.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dave
John Draper
Reply to  Dave
8 months ago

Turnout and vote records are available on this page: https://cobourginternet.com/cobourg-politics/cobourg-municipal-elections

Eastender
8 months ago

I have participated in every Town “survey”, on-line, since they started.
I find many of the surveys are tilted to a certain conclusion, some survey
questions are contradictory and poorly written. These surveys are poor
substitutes for in person citizens forums where folks can see presentations,
ask questions and make decisions. All Councils members should be there, as well as department heads and those staff members who compiled the presentations. Will this ever happen? Only if citizens demand it.
Me, I doubt it.

Carol
Reply to  Eastender
8 months ago

I have stopped completing these surveys. They are written to give the answers they want. Also not everyone wants to go on line there must be other ways to communicate. The town does a very poor job of communicating and adding more employees will not improve it. As communicators they should be able to find ways to get the necessary input without just putting up another stupid survey or hiring another consultant. They need to do their jobs.