Looking at the latest iteration of corporatism, Cobourg’s Strategic Plan, we have all been asked to comment and tell Council what we think of their efforts to plan the next four years. So here are ours.
First impressions are not good as one of the big messages that came from the recent election was that the electorate didn’t think much of ‘big-idea’ spending plans. This plan has as some of its objectives show some big spending on what may be controversial projects. However those projects will need careful handling and much PR. Perhaps that is why the #1 panel is entitled “Ensuring open, clear and timely communications” This session must have been an interesting discussion to listen to as Councillors must have thought to themselves, we have had a Communications Officer (CO) on board for at least two years, if this is what we want her to do now what has she been doing for that time. The panel of strategic actions certainly looks like tasks assigned to her job description. We wish the CO luck in these tasks and hope that that panel #1 will be eliminated from the next Strategic Plan. Four years should be long enough to bring all of these objectives to fruition. However we see a couple of problems in the aspirations. The idea that Council can create an engaged citizenry by a well functioning communications strategy is wishful. Local commentary about local politics is an area that is confined to a small number of wonks. They will have opinions about everything that the Council does and usually are at odds with the mainstream of Council thought and as such tend to be disregarded by Council. The only time that people will engage is when ideas are put forward that the people do not like. Being informed is one thing, being engaged is another. The level of volunteers has nothing to do with public policy but with social engagement, as opposed to civic engagement, and wanting to satisfy inner urges to participate with opportunities to do so. Besides extra public meetings don’t go down well with the people who really run the joint – the Senior Staff. For example when it was suggested, by the writer, at a Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting that perhaps some of the problems that the public had with the recent “Legion” proposal was the fact that the public had little or no input into the discussion before the first public meeting (where the Town was deluged with objections from the public and then complained about not knowing about the objections), just hours before a Council meeting, and maybe if one had had a public meeting some time earlier – 30 days before the application deadline was the suggestion, and before the PAC meeting the Staff member rejected the suggestion out of hand as “Too time consuming, we don’t have time to fit it into the schedule!” So #1 is good and hopefully with careful supervision, and a change to the ‘corporate culture’ Council can achieve these objectives in the next four years.
Rating: 0 out of 5 if we see this panel again, 5 out of 5 if we achieve it.
#2 is a biggie because it reflects Council’s need to answer its critics that Heritage is subordinate to Development. Council is on the right track in trying to put some policies and guidelines into place – hence the big bucks being spent on the “Heritage Master Plan” (HMP). When that is completed it will be big discussion time as some of the words in the HMP will conflict with the interpretations of the OP and Zoning bylaw, despite the instructions not to do so.
The idea of developing a “Cultural Master Plan” is interesting – how much money is going to be attached to this and is it code for the purchase of the Park Theatre or the West High School buildings? Especially when one of the desired outcomes is “the presence of an arts and cultural centre in the Town”!
Again when Council talks about the intensification of the upper floors of the Downtown what kind of money will the Town put up to encourage this when the private sector has consistently refused to do this for the past fifty years? Again the Victoria Square proposal is revived. Why? is the Staff still hellbent on moving into the Market building as extra office space? And a sticking point for us at the BR the Council wants “a well maintained heritage district with consistent application of policies”. Why now the last Council failed in this test with the “Legion” fiasco. Let’s do better this next four years.
Rating: 2 out of 5 for recognising a problem in this area, 4 out of 5 if the manage to achieve 50%, 5 out of 5 if they manage to establish the supremacy of heritage planning over development pushback.
Now to the sexy one where Council is reacting to another election issue – Downtown and its comeback. First of all lets’ give Council high marks for trying. But if a model of successful revitalisation exists we would have adopted it. However we think that without a realistic appraisal of changing demographics and retail strategies one cannot just throw money at this area and hope that Business will come. But something must be done; whether this four plan is an experiment or we will just do it again in four years time is something that only time will tell.
Rating: 5 out of 5 for trying and doing it with as little money as necessary
OK – this is where the spending plans are. And big ones too. We hope that the objectives in Panel 1 are achieved in a short time because if they are it will make it so much easier to avoid the messy discussions needed to achieve these plans.
- Firstly the Marina expansion plan has to be concluded – a noisy process yet to be seen and when approved big bucks will be needed to build it.
- Secondly at the same time the completed Marina will need to be fitted into the Parks Master Plan and made to conform with the Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw.
- Deciding on the Community Centre Plan, and now the integration of the new YMCA expansion project, then add this money to the renovation of the HVAC and we are spending megabucks on the CCC as well as still paying for the Town’s share of the build.
- The Tannery dreams still persist, maybe the new funding for poverty reduction will allow for a joint venture with the County to provide affordable housing but the plans to design such an area will cost.
- The problem of the new – well not so new, as it was drafted four years ago, Official Plan still still hangs around like a wet dog smell. The ramifications of this dispute will resonate around the downtown plans if they succeed. The essence of the argument is that developers have objected to the designation of the “Strathy Lands” as “employment” they want big box. Just what we need more bloody big boxes!
- The sleeper of this panel is the desire to open up the beach to the public. Well let’s see the last waterlot the Town bought cost $450K, only four more to go and we can do that! Huge cost.
Rating: 5 out of 5 for ambition, 0 out of 5 for not thinking about the costs of doing it.
Now to the nuts and bolts of being a ‘hands-on’ Councillor. Every Council member voted in for the first time has an idea in their hot little hands about the way the Town is run and how it could be better if they, the rest of Council, listened to them. The problem is that nobody really listens to them and they then get coopted by the system and fall in line. In the background here is the yet to be released “Operational Review”. This document cost big bucks (45K?) and has been sat on by the CAO and the previous Deputy Mayor. The contents of that document may lead to cost savings but you can bet it was cherry-picked to list the “doables” for this panel.
- IT management has been a sinkhole for the Town Staff since the computer was invented. Obviously with the money spent on GIS, Finance, Voting, and normal administration we need an IT management plan. With the impending retirement of the existing manager of IT perhaps a completely new strategy would not be out of line. But dollars to donuts the Town would not get better value with a fully staffed IT department, Manager and minions than they do now with John Grozelle.
- How about this one – better financial performance of the Arenas and CCC. With a three quarter million dollar deficit last year this is a no-brainer.
- A biggie in the pledge to work across municipal borders to save money. How about leading the charge to eliminate the lower tier of government in Northumberland County to save money. There is no potential to save money left, the easy alliances have been done.
Rating: 4 out of 5 for recognising that there is a problem inside City Hall, 5 out of 5 if any cost savings can be achieved.
So there we have it, our comments on the plan.