Penny wise and Pound foolish

click to enlargeAnother quote comes to mind – “knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”, Oscar Wilde in the Picture of Dorian Gray. 

pw1

Two pics of the disgusting working conditions at the King St West Public Works Yard – the mens’ locker room – in the furnace room. Note the absence of showers a mandated requirement in some conditions.

We are returning to the topic of the proposed replacement of the Town of Cobourg’s Public Works yard – which has been deferred yet again. The BR is opposed to a deferral we need action to get rid of the eyesore that the PW workers have lived with for decades. The history of this is long and tough. This is the third time in twenty five years that Council has refused to resite this yard. The current site is environmentally fragile a disaster waiting to happen with Brine tanks only 30 yards from the Cobourg Creek and the almost failing fuel tanks in the ground. The facilities are hazardous to the workers’ health caused by inadequate mobiles and temporary offices which are prone to rodent infestations and inadequate ventilation in the garage which may send fumes into those inadequate mobiles. We challenge any of the new Councillors to acknowledge that these are far from perfect working conditions, when they take the acclimation tour. If they have already toured the site we ask that they now ask themselves would they like to work there? Two of the new Councillors are women and they also voted against the motion to relocate. We would just ask them if they would enjoy using the Womens’ washroom in that facility (pic above), because we are sure the female workers in the yard do not!

But back to the issue. On March 30th the Committee of the Whole received a report READ IT HERE (wait for it to download) asking Council to approve a relocation and attached a comprehensive report explaining the rationale and financing. April 7th saw a delegation of two – Messrs Pagnuelo and MacCarthy – who spoke against the proposal. They repeated their objected to the proposal on a thirty minute radio show on Saturday 11th and the case they made, and are sticking to is that a proper ‘business plan’ has not been made and Councillors did not have enough information to make a decision. Since then more than one Councillor has made the comment that “I need more time to digest this proposal”. Read the article about the debate here (NorthumberlandToday). On April 7th the Council was split on a vote and a tied vote ensued that meant the motion to defer carried the day. Not good enough ring it back soonest and get on with the relocation.

So the lessons to be learned here are many. Firstly internal communications must improve if the Staff wants to make a case for relocation. Mr Watson, in his usual demanding way obviously thinking that it was a slamdunk failed to outline a more comprehensive financing plan, one without gaps or holes. Secondly under the current coordinator system the coordinator failed in his job. Councillor Rowden, in charge of Public Works obviously failed to convince a majority of his colleagues to this plan. Did he give enough information in his “Coordinator’s Report”, again obviously not if two of his colleagues need more information. Thirdly a new site and facility for the Public Works is needed and now. Fourthly the Council must devise a way to make a decision that relocates the yard and to be able to justify it in the eyes of the public – not just two “taxfighters”

All around this fiasco illustrates much of what is wrong with our present system. To be blunt: when two well spoken and somewhat influential members of the public can stop a much needed proposal without any rebuttal or the issuance of further information that was needed by Councillors all we can say is that this a bad example of the public being listened to. When not all Councillors have the information they want one has to ask why and perhaps change the system so that they do.

A big oxymoron and the big stall

oxy2We are using the Oxford English Dictionary definition here as that reference book is regarded by most as the most definitive.

What brings this basic reference to “figures of Speech” is the perusal of the agenda for the meeting to be held by Cobourg Council when sitting as a Committee of the Whole on April 15th. This session was added to the meeting schedule because the subject of how to govern as a Council and what system of governance was going to be used, demanded an extra meeting and a decision.

bsThis meeting was originally billed as a “training and educational meeting” which under the Municipal Act could be held behind closed doors (in camera) and the Mayor ruled that it should. Councillor Debra MacCarthy made a motion to make the meeting open and was supported by most of her colleagues – the Mayor did not support this. So those of us waiting with bated breath to see if the Council would ditch the undemocratic (for Councillors) “coordinator system” held off commenting about it until the agenda for that meeting was released.

Well it has been released and when one looks at it it draws the headline “A big oxymoron”. For a meeting that is ostensibly being held to make a decision about a system of governance where the discussion is supposed to be held in the open we find it isn’t. The two words Governance and Open.

Looking at the agenda we hope that the councillors attending will bring their hard seats and ‘nodoze’ with them to avoid apnea and narcolepsy. This promises to be a very legal and boring session. However it doesn’t look to stay that way when after the presentation of all kinds of interpretations of the Municipal Act and other legal lectures the Council move into the back room for a secret meeting to discuss anything from collective bargaining with their workers, HR matters about an identifiable individual, to a land sale and maybe a fence (? the security of the municipality or local board – or does that mean more guns for the Police?). Anything but what kind of governance system the Council will use for the next four years.

So looking at this agenda we see nothing on it that relates to the reason for calling it – changes to the governance system!

As great fans of “Yes Minister” this move obviously has been concocted by the “Sir Humphrey Appleby’s” of Cobourg. A stalling of the inevitable. The rearguard action of a Staff determined to maintain their control of Council. Remember the spirited defence of the present system by the Staff at the previous sessions where governance was discussed? The Staff do not want change, a couple of members of Council don’t want change and obviously the Mayor doesn’t want change or else the discussion would be going in a different direction.

The next four years

stratplancoverLooking 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 thesp1 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.

Panel 2

Click to enlarge

#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. 

Panel 3

click to enlarge

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

Panel 4

click to enlargeOK – 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.

Panel 5

click to enlargeNow 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.

How about Option 5? – none of the above!

marinaThe final draft of the Marina expansion plan is out read it here. In the 39 page report authored by Shoreplan Engineering Ltd we learn that the Marina expansion is for boaters and nobody else. That is not surprising as we only get what we pay for and this case the consultants have little expertise in the environmental aspects of Marina Planning.

A great announcement

The first post of the new season is here and from our poetry correspondent Wally Keeler

Say it! Loud!

Say it! Proud!

Say it!, Cobourg Poetry Commons, the 7th annual poetry weekend (April 10-12) celebrating National Poetry Month returns to the Art Gallery of Northumberland in Victoria Hall beginning 6pm Friday, featuring Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Michel Pleau along with broad sampling of some of Canada’s finest poets. The weekend includes book launches, luncheons, children’s poetry and more. The poets performing in the Art Gallery of Northumberland will be surrounded by TEXTual ARTivity, an exhibition of art created by poets providing an ambiance of the sight and sound of poetry. (Schedule and pricing can be found at (sayitcobourgpoetry.org).

Who are the Terrorists?

terror1

The people on the left or the people below?

 

Now that the Federal Government has declared ‘super-war’ on the terrorists with the introduction of Bill C51 it is obvious that they have done everything from establishing a Secret Police (posited by Globe and mail editorial) to just tweaking the rules of engagement (talking points from the PMO delivered by all  of the trained seals of the CPC).

A month’s worth of reflection

Being out of the Country doesn’t mean that you don’t know what is going on. We have CBC and CNN and of course the interwebthingy to keep us up to date, if we want to stay up to date.

This part of the BR has tried to stay out of the commenting business, it was getting a little stale and repetitive. But in the past month it has been very busy for pundits.

What has changed since 2010 – nothing

-241299_ORIGINALAnd they want to add to the original problem without fixing it, despite promises. We refer to the recent advertisement that proclaims that the Town of Cobourg has received an application to develop a strip pf land that is now zoned “Open Space and Environmental Constraint”. Located on the South side of Nickerson Woods in the D’Arcy Elgin area.

2015

A new year time for progress and a little reflection on last year before setting out in the new year. Given that we at the BR appreciate the chance that the interwebthingy has given us and as the masthead says this the place for alternate opinion.

Suggestions accepted

suggestionsFor the first four Council meetings the Mayor and Council in Cobourg will be listening to the Citizens. Starting on January 12th anybody who wants can speak to Council for five minutes. So folks take them up on it. We will not be there because of our winter sabbatical but the suggestions that would have made are already submitted. If anybody is interested in what the BR had to say look here.

Four more years

brocanierFirst of all let us say four years is too long for any Municipal term of office. Secondly let us say we have a few things to say as we enter the start of this interminable term, and we say this to any Council not just this one.

These people talk a good tune!

Four of the seven new Councils have been inaugurated and in each one of the ceremonies the new leaders have told us what they would like to achieve. The leaders of the smallest municipalities have made a lot of noise about having to cut the cloths of their budgets and what they personally would like to do at the County level. This is where the action gets interesting

A Few Words About Flying Monkeys

droneThe recent dumping of lake-effect snow in Buffalo, upwards of 5 feet, brought with it a major dumping of media coverage as well. CNN alone dispatched at least three of its big names to take shifts standing on the same street corner where plowed piles of snow were particularly impressive.

Another Post from our Fearless Port Hope Correspondent

Fear Itself

 “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933.

 Rick Norlock is about to leave the building. He won’t be running in the next federal election to represent what is now Northumberland-Peterborough South. A combination of relief and nostalgia has descended upon the riding. As I sort through my stack of Rick Norlock constituency updates,

Went to a political meeting last night

And came away very depressed. Because it was just that – a political meeting designed to show off the talents of the two people wishing to be a candidate in the next federal Election. Both people demonstrated a wealth of knowledge about the policies they expect to defend. Both showed that they will be a credible candidate and will do the party proud. But what was depressing was the realisation that this next election is going to be like no other and consequently different tactics must be considered.

A Guest Post from our Port Hope correspondent

Death Of A Salesman 2.0

There’s an old salesman’s adage that says you can’t sell anything unless you sell yourself. Millions have taken to something called Linkedin to do just that -sell themselves.

I’ve never been a fan of Linkedin, partly because I have nothing to sell. I’m retired. I’m not looking for a job and I have no credentials to exaggerate or misrepresent. But a look at Linkedin this morning has me thinking I’m in the minority. There’s a lot of desperate people out there that will say almost anything -or worse- nothing, about their background and qualifications just to get a job.