Month: January 2019

Congratulations to all

Ok everybody can settle down; all of the questions posed in the last post have been answered. If the readers will recall the BR took the drafters of the recently released Procedural Bylaw, and the supervisors of such to task for attempting to, as we phrased it, restricting the ability of the public to fully participate at council meetings by limiting the number of delegations to four per meeting.

When looking at the video we were struck by just how long the meeting went on for – over four hours. With a couple of new councillors feeling their way and the Mayor, in his schoolmarm mode explaining various ways of doing things it took an hour to get to the first contentious topic – the Procedural Bylaw (PB), the bylaw that will govern Council for the foreseeable future.

At the 1 hour point of the meeting, it came time to accept for information purposes the draft bylaw. How to do that took fifteen minutes of debate. On one side were the people who wanted to postpone the adoption of the report (Cllr Chorley) until after the Public Meeting and those who wanted the public to discuss both the Councillors’ positions on the draft and the draft itself (Cllr Darling). It appeared the DM wanted to discuss the report line by line and others just wanted to postpone. Finally it got off to discussion but the first line – “Definitions” soon identified just where a couple of members interests lay. Councillor Chorley wanted to introduce the contentious topic of a Question and Answer period in the definitions as any reference to it was absent from the draft. Finally after about five minutes of debating whether such a thing could happen and be discussed it was declared “not to be considered at this time” by the Chair¬† of the committee – the DM.

Definitions worked through and moving past the question of who decided that amendments to the PB should be decided by a ‘supermajority’ (seems that the Municipal Act says that it does), they were into the first real question of the PB – should they change the time of the Council meetings to 6pm from 4pm. It should be noted that at the start of the debate Councillor Chorley told the assembly that she would have lots to say and about twenty amendments to bring forward so all of the amendments with the exception of one came from her. Surprisingly the rest of the assembly also wanted to change the time of the meeting so the discussion was shorter than expected.

At the fifty-one minute point of the discussion they reached the expected contretemps – the recommendation to limit delegations to only four per meeting. When pressed to explain Mr Larmer, the Municipal Clerk, told all that the number of four was flexible and as the person on Staff who has the responsibility to run ‘efficient’ meetings this was a time control measure not one that restricts the publics’ access to Council. “Besides delegates more than six is a Public Meeting and as such would be governed by different rules” After much discussion and no positions of support all Councillors voted to delete the recommendation. But it passed with the hope that it would be supported by those at the public meeting on the 28th January. Section 15.12 recommended that delegations that spoke at a CoW would not be allowed to speak again at the next Council meeting. This too was deleted by a unanimous decision.

At the one hour fifty seven minute mark the Council got to discuss the topic of “Open Forums” it was recommended to have one every quarter and last for one hour, up jumped Cllr Beattie with her one and only motion of the discussion. She advanced the timid position that the Open Forum occur once a month. This produced a motion to amend the amendment to a Question and Answer period after each Committee of the Whole meetings. After some procedural jousting and a Schoolmarm lesson from the Mayor, about how to get discussion back on track, this was passed; satisfying most of Council and ticking off a huge election promise box. The ‘question and answer’ failed but the ‘open forum’ passed. Finally after two and a quarter hours of discussion the changed draft was sent back to the Municipal Clerk for a tidy-up and an add to future agendas.

A job well done and a learning process assimilated. The end result was that all of our fears about local democracy were satiated. The upshot was that Cllr Chorley will not be taken lightly in the future, she may be slotted into the box that other voluble Councillors have been put in – come on down Ms Mutton and Mrs Loken (names from the past) but we hope not and also hope that some Staff members will not condescend as they have done in the past to those deemed to be ‘uppity’.

The difference four years make

“Mayor Brocanier and Town of Cobourg Council invite citizens to the podium during the first four meetings of Cobourg Town Council in 2015.”

This was the invitation given to Cobourgers in 2015 read it here. This is in strict contrast to the message sent by the new Cobourg Council in its first meeting of its term. In that meeting they propose to adopt – for information, a new procedural bylaw that will severely restrict access to Councils by the public. Read the new procedural bylaw here. Jump to section 15.0 to read the proposed rules for delegations, whereas Mayor Brocaniers uninhibited invitation stands in stark contrast.

The reason for this post and the comparison to last Council’s attitude to public engagement is simple; section 15 intends to restrict the number of delegations to a Council meeting to four.

This intention is vague: it does not state if four delegations are for the topic under discussion or four for the complete agenda. This also subject to questions of the integrity of the system.

For example if only four delegations are allowed how do we really know if they were the first four that asked, there is no procedure for recording delegation requests in this bylaw, or if the drafters of the agenda will pick the four they want to hear from? All we know if this proposal is adopted then some policy will have to be written to eliminate the charges of “delegate picking” to allay the fears of the suspicious.

Leaving those questions aside let’s look at the recent election campaign where all of the candidates pledged fealty and allegiance to the principles of ‘transparency’ and ‘public engagement’. This new bylaw certainly puts the boots to those pledges!

But knowing us as you do the real story here is the back story and we will raise it here. If the procedural bylaw needed to be amended who decided that it did? The only issue raised during the last election was the issue of a question period after or before Council meetings. Why do we have a wholesale massacre of the status quo in this revision and who ordered it to be written. The obvious culprit would be the new Deputy Mayor and yet in the last term of Council she was a huge supporter of ‘listening to the public’ so much that Ms Seguin was often chastised for dithering in her decisions until she had heard all she wanted to hear. So what changed her mind to produce a section of a bylaw that limits public participation. If it wasn’t her who was it? The Municipal Clerk? or anybody else. The public deserves to know who pushed for this proposal. Because if we don’t discover just who it was then all of Council are suspect. Including every one of the newcomers, as they all pledged to be more open than the previous Council.

All in all not a very good start to the Council cycle. All we, at the BR can hope is that enough other people are exorcised over this egregious powergrab that will emasculate local democracy. And if they are will speak out at the public meeting on the 28th of January, after all it may the last time that a full list of unedited delegates will be allowed to appear at a Council meeting!