Day: May 19, 2018

Alternative Voices Needed

We live in a white bread world here in the hills and valleys of Upper Canada, safely distant from the colourful and diverse city up the road. Here we still cling to the old school values of staunch British resolve, and we expect our neighbours to be the same.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our local media, especially when those sources are taken over by huge corporations. It’s all apple pie and motherhood around here, nothing remotely new or controversial to be found anywhere. Cobourg’s taxpayers association might be newly formed, but their right wing approach to taxation is certainly nothing new. Instead it’s just a slight adaptation because most of them seem to be Toronto escapees bent on preventing citified diversity from creeping into their upscale suburban paradise. They want gold plated services from the Town as long as they are the beneficiaries, otherwise they want taxes trimmed to provide only the basics of services for everyone else.

The CTA cause is mostly showcased in the Cobourg Blog, that online news source that covers so many municipal matters around town so thoroughly. John Draper seems most impressed with these people who seem to worship at the feet of Business, a common oddity among many these days. When did this happen, this notion that Business and business people are our modern super heroes? That they alone have all the answers?

This is why I am personally thrilled to see my old co-conspirator, Ben Burd, back at his computer speaking out. As a former Town Councillor, President of the Northumberland Labour Council, and a founder of the Help Centre and Northumberland Legal Centre, his viewpoints are considerably different than the usual same-old traditional sentiments that we mostly see around here. 

We need him and others like him very badly. We need to hear our alternative voices loud and clear if we ever hope to see new solutions that work for all of us, not just the affluent elites who think it’s their job to run everything. 

More light needed on this one!

In a swift move the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) will be getting $160K from the Town of Cobourg. This stunnning move by Council has had less than a week of public notice and was not debated at the Committee of the Whole, last week. 

It is no secret that the AGN has been in turmoil for the last few years. Last year the President appeared before Council begging for more money to stabilise the institution and said the money would fund the next year. Well obviously that move didn’t work, even after a highly successful and acclaimed WW1 exhibition. So now the Council has decided to give the AGN another $50K and toss in an additional $65K for good measure. One good question is – “where is this money coming from?” Cllr Seguin has answered this – see below, but as she explains The Town’s operating budget is only hit for $30K. The rest comes from Council’s ‘play-money’ – the HoldCo fund; and free rent in Vic Hall.

Another good question would be to whom are we giving the money? The present Board is in a state of flux and may not be up to full complement. The Northumberland connection is severely hurt after the AGN severed its ties with “The Gallery” in Port Hope and now the AGN is what appears to be a Cobourg organisation! How can it call itself the AGN if outreach to the County is severely limited?

But of more concern to the BR and we suppose the CTA too, is the haste in which this matter is being dealt with by the Cobourg Council. Surely the memo, from the Community Services Councillor, was ready last week and could have been discussed informally at the CoW meeting. The Memo was signed by the AGN President on May 9th four days before the CoW and could have been placed on the Agenda as an addition. Then the public would have had ample notice of this “hail mary giveaway”. But by receiving the memo in the first part of a regular meeting and then voting on it in the middle part of the meeting the scantest of public notice has been given to those interested in such a large handout.

These questions were sent to Cllr. Seguin, and she rapidly answered (within seven hours on a holiday weekend):

1. Why is this memo being introduced and signed at the same meeting, this is very little, if no, public notice. The MoU was signed by the President of the AGN four days before the CoW where it could have have been discussed in public?

The MOU was written by Dean Hustwick, Director of Culture and Recreation with input from the AGN. It was approved at our May 9 board meeting and signed by AGN President, Mary Donaldson. The town received it the next day so I do not know why there was a delay in presenting it at the May 14 COW meeting. We asked for the MOU to be included in the Council agenda for May 22 in order for it to be approved by Council in time for it to be presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Art Gallery scheduled for May 29 at 5pm in the Art Gallery. I do apologise for the limited time for public engagement.

2. Where is the $165K coming from and is it in the budget?

The funding was approved in the Town of Cobourg 2018 budget. The art gallery is a key part of our cultural assets
and we asked for it to be included in the budget. The breakdown from the budget is as follows:
Grant 		$160,000  (operational and $45,000 rent)
From Holdco	-$85,000
Subtotal	$75,000
Less Art
Gallery Rent	-$45,000
Cost to Town	$30,000

3. Who will evaluate the progress of the AGN in meeting its goals, necessary for quarterly funding?

Council will be provided quarterly reports from the AGN on specific dates as outlined in the MOU. By November 30, 2018 the
 AGN must provide a draft business plan to the Town showing that it has met its goals for 2018 funding and to build
 a business case for 2019 funding.

So now we have answers to some of the questions but the issue still remains – why little or no public notice? After all the CTA would probably have questioned this amount of money!