With a “Governance Review” planned, it would be easy to overlook the multiple changes in Council meetings that have already happened. If governance is changed, it would mean that several committees would be set up instead of the single Committee of the Whole so Council Meeting Agendas (and schedule) would look quite different. But even before that, there have been a number of changes to meetings. Some were no doubt due to the Covid disruption, others are likely at the request of the new Mayor and one (unfinished business) is directly related to the planned Governance change and strategic Planning sessions. They didn’t all get changed at once; they happened over many months. But since I report on all Council meetings, I have noticed.
Details of Changes
- All meetings are hybrid – that is, attendance for Councillors, staff and presenters can optionally be in person or remote by Zoom.
- Councillor reports are not focused on “portfolios” since Councillors are not assigned Coordinator roles. They have mostly become reports on what Councillors did since the last meeting.
- The mayor, who represents Cobourg on County Council, has been reporting on County activities – unlike previous mayors.
- The “Moment of Reflection” at regular Council meetings has been quietly dropped. This was introduced in 2015 to replace recitation of the Lord’s prayer!
- The Agenda item for correspondence has moved up to nearer the beginning of the meeting and the quantity of letters has increased to more than 20 from about 6 a year ago. Most letters are copies of letters from other Ontario Councils asking for support for something they are concerned about.
- Every Council meeting now starts with a closed session before the regular meeting – previously it was occasional and at the end of Council meetings.
- There is no review of unfinished business and no list is available. So there is no tracking of actions that Council asked staff to do. And no priorities are set or reviewed although that’s intended to come from the Strategic planning session now planned for later in June (27 and 28th).
- There are improvements in efficiency – many items are grouped together into a “Consent Agenda” and voted on as one item (e.g. for accepting items of correspondence). Councillors often move contentious items out of the group for separate consideration.
- Recorded votes seem to be more common. Most votes are based on a show of hands and declared passed or defeated by the Mayor. Recorded votes require each councillor to verbally say yes or no.
- An open Forum has been established for Committee of the Whole (CoW) meetings although it is rarely used. This allows residents to ask any question of Council at the end of CoW meetings.
More on Governance
As a result of the Delegation by Ben Burd, the process for reviewing Governance has been clarified. The first step has been public consultation. With that complete (survey closed May 29), an ad hoc committee of staff and Councillors will create a final report/recommendation and present it at a special Council meeting on 19 June (although this meeting has not yet been scheduled).
Summarizing: Council meetings have changed and are somewhat more efficient – but further major changes are possible as a result of Governance changes. So, do we need to make any more changes to Council meetings?
Reports on Cobourg News Blog
- Report on Delegation by Ben Burd – 6 June 2023
- Progress report on Council Governance changes – 15 April 2023