Follow up on Governance

At the Committee of the Whole (CoW) Council meeting on 24 April, Council debated the recommendation from Staff (Director Brent Larmer) on the next steps in reviewing a change in how Council would operate. Their recommendations were outlined in an earlier Post (see resources below) but at the meeting, Brent presented a comprehensive look at what is proposed complete with pros and cons. Although the recommended motion would not have prevented any changes, Councillor Miriam Mutton convinced council to broaden the scope – see final motion below. The plan includes a timeline with two public meetings and an online survey which has already started. Details will be worked out by a Governance Review Working Group which will include Randy Barber and Miriam Mutton as well as the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

Proposed Public Engagement Timeline

Survey put on Engage Cobourg 25 April 2023 – now online
Governance Review Open House 17 May 6:30 pm Council Chambers
Survey closes 29 May 2023
Public meeting to present drafts, by-laws, Policies etc 19 Jun 2023
Final version of Governance model presented to Council for Approval 17 July 2023

After considerable debate the following was passed:

THAT Council receive this staff report for information purposes; and

THAT Council support the detailed review of the Council Governance Structure in principle and that the following recommendations be presented as alternative governance model of the Standing Committee System to the current Portfolio System.

And further that since both systems and their variations are in use by municipalities in Ontario, the public survey would clearly summarize and compare the two main alternatives and be reviewed by a newly formed Governance Review Working Group and with input from all Council members. The approved public survey would be sent for public engagement for initial presentation and feedback with the following proposals:

d.  Standing Committee System described in the Staff Report and with recommended variations which would replace the current Committee of the Whole System into four (4) Standing Committees and/or mix of Standing Committees and a Committee of the Whole and a Regular Council Meeting happening each month with each Standing Committee having a specific mandate based on the previous coordinator meeting system which includes the combination of participation of all Council Members and three (3) Council Members on the recommended Standing Committees Types. It is anticipated the total number of Standing Committee and Council meetings each month will not exceed four.

e.  Council maintains the Statutory Local Boards and Advisory Committees being, the Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Heritage Advisory Committee, and others which may be mandated from time to time. Council may enact Citizen Advisory Committees to Council and consider the creation of Task Forces and Ad Hoc Committees based on the Council Strategic Plan with a specific mandate to achieve Council goals and initiatives during the Council Term with an end term and expiry no longer than twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months or at the end of their mandated purpose.

f. Creation of Governance Review Working Group consisting of the Municipal Clerk, Deputy Clerk, Chief Administrative Officer, Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Council appoint a rotating Member of Council to the Governance Review Working Group Councillor Randy Barber; and Councillor Miriam Mutton.

g. one (1) member of Council to be struck in order to draft and prepare all necessary periodic reports and interim analysis and updates to Council including public engagement findings and recommendations, and, to draft by-law and policy provisions with any additional public feedback to be presented to council at a Governance Review Public Meeting on June 19 for full review of proposed structure.

FURTHER THAT the following question be added to the Governance Review Survey regarding the introduction of Town Hall Meetings.

The English is patchy but we know what they mean.

Some other possible changes to note:

  • Full regular council meetings would be only once a month
  • Meetings might be on Tuesdays instead of the current Mondays
  • The public would be invited to be present at the Standing Committee meetings – this is a change from the non-public Coordinator meetings.
  • More authority might be delegated to staff for minor issues.
  • The proposed structure is not final – so far it’s only a proposal.

I recommend reading Brent’s presentation which is available below and also in the survey documents.


Print Article: 


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
30 April 2023 11:25 am

The first of many thoughts about this governance problem:
It should be noted that the County’s standing committees only consist of three members not all members as mentioned in the one-pager.

Last edited 1 month ago by ben
Just a thought
26 April 2023 8:09 am

Is there no one on staff with research experience? That survey is terrible. Perhaps communications needs some support for question-writing – both to elicit better responses and actually gather useful information.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Just a thought
26 April 2023 8:43 am

Is there dissatisfaction with our Council? Yes! However, the proposed changes won’t solve the problem of vagrants downtown. The changes won’t reduce taxes. The changes won’t repair our harbour. The changes won’t solve the problem of petty crimes. The changes won’t increase resident engagement. The changes won’t produce better Council decisions. The changes won’t improve the transparency of LUSI and HOLDCO finances. The changes won’t…

Why are we wasting resources on changes that won’t improve the things that actually matter?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
26 April 2023 9:07 am

You are 100% on target Ken…Too much “How to Do” versus “Do”.

Just a thought
Reply to  cornbread
26 April 2023 9:18 am

Completely agree.
Frustration comes when you want to be interested, engaged and informed and the governing body can’t even get the “how to do” part done in a meaningful way. What kind of mess would the “doing” bring us? Yikes.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
26 April 2023 9:21 am

To Look Busy Look like we are Working , Keep a Job and become indispensable
Council should be Our Gate Keepers but they are only as good and Capable of making the correct moves and decisions as based on the Clairity & facts they receive from the
Departments under or advising them

Reply to  Ken Strauss
27 April 2023 6:48 am

Perhaps the changes will make things better for some people. It depends on how you look at it. Who is proposing the changes? What would make things better for those people? If this is coming from staff and they want less feedback from taxpayers then making these changes might be reasonable. It also explains the quality of the surveys. What information are they really intended to do? In education in Quebec there seemed to be constant change to the curriculum and how it was taught. For the most part, especially for math, there was little or no change to the actual subject matter. But people had to justify their jobs. The instructional materials produced were so vague they were of no use. The ones who really lost out were the students as resources were not being used directly to help them. In Cobourg, these changes will provide an appearance of doing something without helping solve the issues Ken listed, things tax payers care about.

Reply to  Just a thought
26 April 2023 9:23 am

Its been professionally written in a fashion so as to not get answers / responses
that they don’t wish to acknowledge .

Bill Thompson
Reply to  Sandpiper
28 April 2023 11:04 pm

Appears they’ve taken lessons from the federal governing model !

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill Thompson
Reply to  Just a thought
26 April 2023 12:10 pm

Just a thought,
Totally agree. I read through the survey without responding, just to see what the questions were and to have time to consider my responses. As with past Town surveys, this one is poorly crafted (as noted by others) and is biased towards an already determined solution.

Just a thought
Reply to  Bryan
26 April 2023 1:16 pm

As someone who fills out the surveys, often watches council and reads meeting agendas, it becomes exhaustingly frustrating.
That survey isn’t all that much about governance. It’s also about communication. Yes, the two overlap, but it makes it unclear. Reading between the lines of the questions, it’s advocating for a better website and customer service, which has already been addressed in the council. It reads like whoever is crafting these ‘engagement’ pieces knows what they want and is looking to build support for that thing. That’s not how research, outreach and engagement are supposed to work.

Cobourg taxpayer
25 April 2023 9:31 pm

The way I read it is currently there are 2 regular council meetings a month, 1 committee of the whole and 6 coordinator meetings that are not open to the public. The proposal is 1 council meeting a month and 4 standing committee meetings a month open to the public. The goals are staff will only attend meetings related to their departments and council meetings will be shorter, more fulsome discussions and transparency will occur due to standing committee meetings being open to the public. Task forces will be established too…… blah blah blah. Well this may all sound wonderful but what are the parameters to measure success of the new governance structure? How will more transparency and fulsome discussion be measured and will taxpayers’ questions be answered? The secrets around LUSI, Holdco, staff efficiency particularly now that there are 7 new managers, marina/campground finances, reports requested from staff that are way over due. Likely because they work on reports that are somewhat irrelevant, for example pie in the sky Tannery development or the development for the football field the town purchased.

Ken Strauss
25 April 2023 6:44 pm

Perhaps I completely misunderstand the proposal but:

There are now two or three CoW and normal Council meetings per month.

In the proposed scheme there will be 3 or 4 Standing Committee meetings plus one normal Council meeting each month.

Does that mean that an engaged resident will will have to attend (or at least watch) 4 or 5 meetings each month to know what is happening? In addition, some of the meetings will be during usual working hours so residents who are employed won’t be able to attend?

How will this improve the currently abysmal level of resident engagement?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
26 April 2023 8:36 am

Actually Ken there will be four standing committees a month with 1M, 1DM and a Cllr and 1 Regular Council meeting. That means if the work is shared each Cllr will only have to attend 2 meetings a month. Time for a pay reduction if this is adopted!

Reply to  ben
26 April 2023 12:29 pm

Having the M and DM on each standing committee and a selected Clir does nothing to improve Council’s oversight and due diligence. Each committee should have Council members who are interested in the committee’s area of interest AND have a better than average knowledge of these topics. Cobourg is a $60M corporation and the issues before council are complex and varied. Council does not have the expertise to properly assess the issues and are afraid to push back on staff when the staff reports are fluffy (most all of them).

The standing committees must include some people actual expertise. Cobourg has an abundance of retired/semi-retired folk with expertise in a wide range of disciplines who could advise the committees on an as needed basis. These would not be delegations. These would be proper peer review of staffs’ proposals, presented to the SC and then DISCUSSED with staff and the SC members. Council would then be able to make evidence based decisions.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bryan
Just a thought
Reply to  Bryan
26 April 2023 1:20 pm

Just curious (and don’t feel any obligation to answer) –
If you consider all our council members and all of the issues and committees we have (or should have), which councillor would you match up with each? — With your reasonable expectation that the chosen councillor(s) have both interest and better-than-average knowledge/experience in that area.

Reply to  Just a thought
26 April 2023 1:39 pm

Just a thought,

Interesting question.
Need to give it some thought.

The need for Council member expertise could be significantly offset if “expert” residents were to be consulted as needed. This would also provide some of the much needed public engagement.

Reply to  Bryan
26 April 2023 2:50 pm

If the overarching principles here are

  1. to ensure that the citizens have participation at a lower level than the final decisions
  2. And we need all Cllrs to have the same information before making a decision

Then the elimination of advisory committees and the CoW make no sense to anybody other than the Staff who will love this idea.

Of course we do not need a CoW if ALL Cllrs sit on all Standing Committees.

Reply to  ben
26 April 2023 4:14 pm


If all Clrs sit on the standing committees, then the meetings are council meetings, not committee meetings.

I think an important part of the process is missing. The standing committees vet staff’s proposals and render a recommendation (or not??). At Council, staff should then have to present their proposals (reports) to Council.

In the private sector, the staff reports and board proposals are peer reviewed by the “C” executives. At the board meeting the “Cs” present the material to the board, with supporting presentations from Jr. staff as needed.

This reinforces the responsibility and accountability of staff, the executive staff in particular.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bryan
Reply to  Bryan
27 April 2023 5:51 am

If all Cllrs sit on the standing committees, then the meetings are council meetings, not committee meetings.”

Cal the meeting what you want the result will be the same. All Cllrs will have the same info at the same time. BTW I disagree with the pedantry in your comment, one can be a committee member without having a Council meeting!

Reply to  ben
27 April 2023 7:31 am


If there are 4 Council members at a meeting, at which town business is discussed and they vote, it is a Council meeting and must follow all of the rules about council meetings including proper public notification.

Reply to  Bryan
27 April 2023 7:21 pm

rewrite the rules then – no problem.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben
27 April 2023 10:30 pm

Ben, it is not something that Cobourg can rewrite!

The Municipal Act, 2001, s. 238(1) defines “meeting” as any regular, special or other meeting of a council, of a local board or of a committee of either of them, where:

a)   A quorum of members is present, and
b)   Members discuss or otherwise deal with any matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council, local board, or committee.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ken Strauss
Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben
26 April 2023 5:08 pm

Ben, those seem like good principles. If ALL Cllrs sit on all Standing Committees that is essentially the current CoW. If only some Councillors (I believe that the report recommended only one Councillor + Mayor/Deputy Mayor) sit on a particular Standing Committee then only one Councillor will have heard the arguments pro/con for a particular decision. That will ensure that decisions are made with even less knowledge than the current scheme! Why would anyone think that to be an improvement?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
27 April 2023 5:54 am

 If ALL Cllrs sit on all Standing Committees that is essentially the current CoW. “ Precisely my point. Staff want to eliminate the CoW I disagree, believing it to be the only way Cllrs can freely discuss a topic before it goes to a Council meeting for ratification.

Miriam Mutton
Reply to  ben
28 April 2023 8:37 am

Ben and Ken,
Good points. If I follow correctly, standing committees with all members of Council attending and voting would be preferable. If a standing committee of three makes quorum two, then it could be argued that two or three councillors meeting informally may appear to be an official quorum. This is getting complicated. The bindings on Council function seem to be getting tighter not more effective! Perhaps it would be better to have two or three standing committees/committee of the whole with focus on specific department areas and topics.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Miriam Mutton
28 April 2023 10:10 am

Miriam, I believe that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor discussing most anything in person would be subject to the open meeting rules of the OMA. Note that the definition of “meeting” in s.238 of the Municipal Act, 2001 was changed by Bill 68, Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2017 which prevents an email being considered a “meeting”.

That said, defining a quorum for any committee as only two would appear to be fraught with issues that would make reasonable functioning of our town’s government impossible!

Reply to  Ken Strauss
26 April 2023 10:42 am

Mr Strauss–You did understand the proposal.

While there is no reasonable citizen who would wish for less real governance; the addition of a layer, by it’s very nature, distances both our elected officials and town staff from meaningful accountability that is woefully absent already. As a ratepayer, direct accountability should be the priority. Council–Did you deliver results or not?…Staff–Did you deliver results or not?

Staff retire out of their positions here; they rarely exit because they failed to hit their non-specific goals. Am I wrong? look at staff attrition levels…
Our elected-officials, get re-elected thru name recognition by the small minority….
Am I wrong?…Look at voter turn out…….

And, in the end, we get the government–and governance– we deserve….

Having said that, this plan will pass; Committees stocked with that handful of engaged souls who are already and always engaged. Now they will add a layer to the process and accept those roles without consideration of their additional unpaid responsibility. How then, will we ever measure and hold anyone to account?