I have been away far too long!
A couple of emails have prompted this post, one from Bryan sums them all up – “About a week ago you indicated that you would have further comment about the closed meeting “leak”.“
Well the lack of a post was because that very little information about the situation of a motion to bring the Integrity Commissioner into Town has emerged. Most Councillors are not talking about the leak and what information was disclosed and the Mayor until he had an interview with Robert Washburn of 89.7 was also saying “nowt”. The BR had an email into him asking for comment but we were not so lucky as Rob. Knowing Rob he probably sat outside the Mayor’s office until he spoke to him! Rob’s article can be read here. the quotes in blue are taken from his article and I thank him for them.
“There is certain language and information out there in the populous. And, I am asking the question, after hearing certain conversations, how do you have that conversation or information because that information only shared in closed session?” the mayor said.”
Well after deciphering the unusually stilted language, basically the Mayor had obviously had heard snippets of the secret conversations and he decided to put a stop to them. Apparently this was not the first time that the Mayor had heard about secret conversations being on the street.
So one mystery for me was cleared up, the content of the convos. It made no difference that the info was not of a highly confidential nature it was just info from behind the walls of a closed room. He decided to take action. Emerging from his phone booth he had had enough. “
Mayor Henderson said he chose this path because he wanted to ensure the integrity of the council rather than deal with it in private conversations or issue a warning to councillors.
After the August Council meeting where the motion will be discussed he will be satisfied if the motion is defeated,
“At least, I hope, collectively, I sent a message (about) the importance of closed session,” he said.
We at the BR think that in his own mind the Mayor has rode the issue down the middle. If, as we hear, it is the Staff that is so upset by the leaks, they have been placated by the fact that the Mayor took some action on their behalf. And as for Council they should be chastened by the fact that the process has made them aware of the consequences of ‘leaking’.
The question is – at what cost to the morale and teambuilding of an efficient Council? How will this bring the disparate parts of the members over to his side or, as another Councilwatcher commented to the BR – “the split in Council will not be healed just amplify.”
So, we will have to wait until August 12th to see if this sad saga goes on, at a cost to the taxpayers – Integrity Commissioners don’t come cheap, or if the motion dies in Council.
Following on with the post from last week the BR is now going to watch carefully for the slow moving train of confusion. We do know that this topic, even if dropped by the Mayor after reading the tea-leaves, will not go silently into the night.
If one goes to the 1hr30.20min mark of the last Council meeting youtube video – click here to open, of the proceedings a couple of unusual things happen. Firstly when the Notice of Motion (to ask the Integrity Commissioner to investigate a leak of information from a closed meeting) is introduced, the Mayor is in the Chair and cannot move the motion, the Deputy Mayor refuses to move it. “I am not comfortable moving this motion”. So Councillor Darling moves it. Two members of Council – the Deputy Mayor and Cllr. Chorley refuse to vote and abstain from the vote. It passes after Cllr Beatty gets an amendment changing the date of the discussion at the next CoW to the combined meeting in August.
So on to August it will be. Cllr Beatty, when asked by the BR why she voted for the motion she replied, “we need a decision!”, she also refused to comment further until after the discussion. When asked if the Mayor had asked her if she leaked she confirmed other reports that made it clear that the Mayor has not asked any member of Council if they leaked, and also stated that she had not heard of a leak; as have others on Council. So where is the evidence?
In another related matter let’s put a rumour to bed – kill it off! The presumed subject of the June 3rd closed meeting, we say “presumed” because the announced hiring of Mr Sarmiento as the “Artistic and Creative Consultant” was announced shortly before the meeting discussed “the hiring of a contract employee” and was rumoured to have been hired at an outrageous salary. So the BR asked the Town for the salary range that this employee was placed in. The answer came in an email from the Town Clerk.However another wrinkle emerged in this. The creation of this position was done completely without direct knowledge of Council. It was deemed to be a “staff hiring” by the CAO, even the Coordinator of the portfolio – Cllr Bureau did not know before the hiring that it was planned. Council was informed by email on May 20th and the press release, announcing the hiring was issued May 21st. The closed meeting took place June 3rd, presumably because some of Council wanted to discuss the hired individual.
As to how the position was going to be covered off in the budget, the salary would be covered by the rest of the year’s budget from an empty position – the former Concert Hall Manager had left his position a couple of months ago (in again rumoured dubious circumstances) and a rejigging of existing funds would allow the hiring of a consultant to review and write a report that would layout the future activities of the Concert Hall. But as Mr Sarmiento has announced a series of Tribute Band concerts, it appears that the mandate may have been expanded.
So as Council watchers where do we go from here? Some members of Council want to clear the air, as Cllr Burchat told the BR “I have nothing to hide, investigate it!” Cllr. Bureau told the BR that he voted for it “So that I can debate it, I have some issues with it!” But more prudent people may not. After all, will the exercise be a prelude to punishment for the leaker which would lead to more acrimony, or should the whole affair be downplayed and become a healing operation. This doesn’t look like the start of a teambuilding exercise.
Monday 8th July:
Some advice in the form of a quote from Simon Jenkins of the “The Guardian” newspaper. He writes about the proposed investigation into the UK’s Ambassador’s remarks about Trump. “Leak inquiries, like that now ordered into the Darroch memorandum, are Whitehall’s most fatuous blood sport. They seldom find culprits and serve merely to magnify the original embarrassment.”
Perhaps Mayor Henderson might heed this advice!
Finally a topic worthy enough to shake the publisher out of his cynicism, apathy, lethargy and general indifference to things political.
At the next Regular Cobourg Council Meeting a notice of motion penned by the Mayor will be put forward and moved into the next CoW meeting. This unusual move has prompted the BR to do a bit of digging and leads to a lot of speculation.
The motion basically says that someone has been blabbing about a closed session meeting that took place on June 3rd 2019, and the Mayor wants do something about it. Read the motion here.
A snippet of the agenda of that June 3rd meeting is shown on the right and it clearly discusses a proposed contract employee/company to be hired to do something for the Town. Presumably, and this is where it gets sticky is that in those discussions there would have been a discussion about how much to pay the proposed contract employee.
Back to the motion, it directs an investigation into the disclosure and the last part reads: “Now therefore be it resolved that a fulsome investigation be initiated on the June 3, 2019 Closed Session of Council by the Town’s Integrity Commissioner to determine the source or sources of the breach of trust and the disclosed Closed Session information, and that those findings as well as recommendations for penalties if warranted of the offender(s) be shared, with Council as well as the Public.”.
So speculation abounds: who was the contract employee/company, who was the blabbermouth, and what was said outside of the meeting about the discussion? Well the Integrity Commissioner has been set on the case, if the motion passes In that case we will have an answer in months and the issue will be forgotten about, until it comes back. When it does come back it will reignite the issue and more discussion, is this what we really want – to wash our dirty laundry in public?
It should be an interesting discussion at Council, on Tuesday evening, if it has proceeded to this stage!
The big question here is why the need for this motion, if the process, as we understand it, was followed, the information would have been in the public domain by now. If a contract person was hired as a result of a closed session discussion a statement should have been made that a decision was made, after the meeting by the Chair, and a motion made to direct the CAO to complete the hiring process. Public money pays this employee and the public should know how much. Privacy laws prohibit the actual disclosure of employees wages but the public is entitled to know the salary range that is used to pay the wage. Also if the contract is one between a contract Company and the Town how can the Council discuss a contract in secret and then not ratify it in a Council meeting? After all no motions can be made in a closed session, and the signing of a contract would be overstepping the rules when Council directs the CAO to do something that was discussed in a closed session.
It looks as though the motive for the notice of motion is unclear. The disclosure process was not followed and the proper information was not released as it should have been; so why do we need an investigation to see who released the information. Have the Mayor follow procedure and introduce a statement telling us what went on in the closed session.
Hmm so many questions so few answers!
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’.
“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!
As we await the next coming of the new Council, a signal has been sent about the direction of the next four years.
At the last Council meeting a report was received from the Town’s Ombudsman that contained the news that two complaints of three lodged by members of the public were valid, and that the Town was in error when they barred the public from meetings of the Parks and Recreation Committee when it served as a steering committee for the waterfront. Read the report here
Taking that message into account – that the Town should be more open because they had pledged “to engage the public”, it is surprising that the first committee of the whole of the new Council is being held behind closed doors!
In the recent election campaign it was almost impossible not to hear the pledges of: openness, transparency and commitment to engage the public. One might argue that the public should not be allowed to watch the first meeting because it is a training session for the new Council. We at the BR would argue to the contrary as the public is entitled to see and hear what instructions the new Council will receive and from whom.
So why is this session being set up this way? Why cannot the public see just how our Councillors are being trained and the subjects being taught? Where else is public education held in secret? After all if an “engaged public” is to be in place, as a partner of the Council, so that participatory democracy can take place, why shouldn’t they – the public, get to see the rules?
All in all a very ominous sign to the next four years.
Accustomed as we are at the BR to not getting our votes across the finish line, it is no surprise that the Council we elected is not the one that we chose.
So lets look at the one we did get last night:
- An unelected Mayor.
- A Deputy Mayor that has worked hard at being all things to all people and is still a mystery in the long run, as her history on this Council, less than two years of it, has shown her to be a follower of public opinion, and perhaps beholden to the CTA.
- Three new Councillors and two with only one and a half terms between them.
- A Council that is proudly proclaimed by some as more gender balanced.
- A Council that faces few controversies and recognises a few problems.
- And finally a Council with only three Pensioners, the average age of Council has dropped twenty years!
So what can we expect from this bunch of relative novices?
Firstly a showdown with Staff, but the public will not hear about that type of dirty laundry but as neophytes, guided by a Mayor with a propensity to “jaw-jaw” issues to death and a Deputy Mayor, who on the campaign trail has muttered misgivings about certain members of the Town Staff expect Staff to realise that some of them may be in the sights of some Councillors, institutional gridlock may be a problem.
Secondly just how much progress can we expect from a Council that, throughout the campaign, acknowledged that ‘affordable housing’ is a problem but produced very few original ideas about how to lessen the problem, during that campaign. For example the leading vote-getter – Nicole Beattie ran on a promise to establish a Social Planning Council to coordinate the problems of Society. We surely hope that she investigates the history and failures of the last one that disappeared not so long ago. Other members have mused that the County should be the place to work on the housing problem – expect this issue to be tougher than just talking platitudes during the campaign.
Thirdly, will Councillor Chorley be in the pockets of the Cobourg Taxpayers Association, those gadfly fiscally conservative pennypinchers who have plenty of suggestions that would keep their tax money in their pockets. It is interesting to note that Ms Chorley’s nomination papers included the names of all of the prominent executive members of the CTA. Only one other had a couple of the same names.
Fourthly, just who will the be picked by the ‘striking committee’ to be the Council rep on the Cobourg Police Services Board and just how long will that person take to be ‘housetrained’ by that Board, and the Chief of Police. When so many questions need to be raised about the operational problems of that Service.
Fifthly, with not one word uttered by the candidates about the annual one million dollar deficit at the Cobourg Community Centre, just how are they going to deal with it? Expect much butting of heads between the DM and Director Hustwick, of course the public will not see it but may hear whispers of “how I conquered that guy, and showed him!”
Sixthly, how about an investigation into the lower voter turnout and really dig down and try to find out if the cause was the online voting. We realise that this may be be a discussion between the ‘Luddites’ (who still want paper ballots) and the Millennials who have complete faith in technology, but it has to be done.
Anyway just our two cents worth!
The latest comment on the last post produced this question: “Yes, there is a crisis. What do you suggest the answer to this crisis is? I look forward to hearing your solution.”
Okay here is the solution I would put, if the brains of the Council ever asked the public for opinions:
- Prepare an inventory of all Town owned lands and their zoning.
- Setup a dedicated cash flow from both the Northam Industrial Park and the Holdco loan and dividend streams.
- Determine just how big a social housing complex that the Town could comfortably handle. It should be a demonstration project of at least ten units of mixed housing.
- Establish a Housing Corporation dedicated to coordinating the building of social housing and the infrastructure needed to maintain it. The management of this corporation should be recruited from the Private and Non- Profit Sector, to convince the public that government is recruiting the best.
- Use all funds available to supplement the Cobourg contribution, we are told that a big Federal Programme is being setup. Apply early and often. There are local experts available to help out in this regard.
- Town lands should be donated to the project and all development charges waived.
- The final site is determined by the lands we have but the site should not be a stand alone project, it must be sited in a mixed residential area. The last thing we need is a “ghetto” stuck in the middle of nowhere.
To emphasise this post just remember we have the land, we have the money and we have the local trades to build it, we have local expertise in fundraising and management of housing programmes!
ALL WE NEED IS THE POLITICAL WILL TO DO IT.
The first All Candidates’ Meeting of the campaign was held Thursday 27th September at the Salvation Army Citadel. In a strange move allowed by organisors the Mayor-elect was allowed a seat at the table and acted as a candidate. At least he made his position clear on the issue. The meeting was organised by the Northumberland Affordable Housing Committee. Each candidate was given three minutes to answer three questions posed by the organisors and then an open session question period took place. All of the registered candidates except Emily Chorley attended and about sixty people were in the audience.
The three questions
In order of answering:
Karl vomDorf: It was hard to hear Karl, he has diminished lung capacity which distorts his voice. That impediment coupled with the bass-heavy speakers made it hard to hear but good for Karl he has published his answers here.
Nicole Beatty: Unfortunately Nicole spoke very fast – too fast for most of the audience, and rattled off a load of local statistics but I picked out that she supports establishing a local Social Planning Council to coordinate and collaborate on all related issues.
Johnny Percolides: “As a real estate broker I have the best understanding of the problem!” He then expanded on the idea that the problem is lack of supply. “Affordability is a supply and demand problem. More supply will bring down prices!” He wants Council to amend the bylaws to allow more density and greater heights in apartment buildings.
Brian Darling:He said he has served the community for thirty years and Yes there is an issue. He pledged to work with the new Mayor and Council, together to bring housing. He suggested that Cobourg sell its surplus land to the County and work with them and their programmes.
Aaron Burchat: Aaron acknowledged the problem and he supports the CIP as a means to get more units downtown. He also said that Council had created new units and looked forward to cooperating on the ‘Tannery Lands’ with Habitat for Humanity (HfH).
Travis Hoover: He said he has worked with all governments and many agencies in his his previous job. “I have seen many examples of innovative solutions, we have to bring them here.” Suggested we can use converted shipping containers and that HfH has some answers. “We have to work with partners.”
Adam Bureau: Adam admitted that he has been homeless in his life and it drove him crazy, completely confused but agencies found him a place to live – set him on his way. He admitted there is a horrendous vacancy rate. Adam would ask the County to increase funding for homelessness programmes. “We should examine what other places have done and implement them!”
Miriam Mutton: She admits there is a problem and outlined her qualifications as a person who can be part of the solutions. “Homelessness and affordability are linked to other social problems and all of it has to approached as one.” She advocated changing building codes to reduce costs, and said that everybody must work within the constraints of differing jurisdictions. She also injected another angle to the debate, “We must ensure that good food does not go to waste.”
Randy Curtis: Very succinct and concise – “There is not enough supply, we must work with the County to increase supply by using our surplus lands and the homeless must be housed.”
Suzanne Seguin: Suzanne also related her experience of being homeless as well as her experiences of being a local politician and being solicited by destitute constituents. Her answer to both situations “was to make things happen.” She has learned to listen and wants to use examples of solutions from the world.
Emily Chorley: Absent but her answers were read out and are here.
In the open question session the first questioner asked why Cllr Seguin voted the way she did on the College St rezoning. Suzanne explained herself and then Aaron Burchat also said that they had made the best of a rezoning by using the R4 zone with conditions that limited the full use.
The second questioner asked the panel “In the light of the crisis do we allow developers to do what they want and relax the bylaws or do we prefer ‘social housing’ built on Town lands? All of the candidates responded the answers ranged from full support of the idea of using surplus land and monies from our investments (holdco and the northam industrial park) – come on down Randy Curtis, to an acknowledgement that it could be done but the private sector had to be involved and an excoriation of the idea from Johnny Percolides who used Toronto Housing Corporation as an example of Governments not being able to run anything.
Okay time to ‘fess up the publisher of the BR was the second questioner and as a result wrote a very skimpy explanation of the answers. Hard to take notes and stay at the mic’ but a much fuller explanation of the answers was written by Valerie MacDonald of CobourgNow read it here
The third question came from a fellow who listed off the available programmes for social housing and asked if anybody had heard of them. A technical question and asked if the Town would commit monies to the programmes. John Henderson and Randy Curtis did so. Nicole Beatty in her answer demonstrated an understanding of the programmes and question, and Suzanne Sequin cautions that the money has to come from the Town’s budget (it doesn’t have to we have a million bucks in play money every year from investments which Council refuse to add to the Town’s budget).
The fourth question came from a fellow who identified as being a member of the Board of a non-profit. “Dozens of my friends are homeless and a question to Nicole Beatty. How would you deal with this?” Nicole answers by saying that the problem is complicated and involves many jurisdictions, “we have to look at it as a big picture!” She suggests that 24/7 ‘wraparound’ programme be initiated. Karl vom Dorf also answered but the speaker problem meant his answer couldn’t be heard at the back of the room.
The fifth question came from a person who identified as an Outreach Worker and she said she has worked with homeless people. Her question was; “what can we do for the people who don’t fit into the warming centre or Transition House?” Nicole Beatty stated that we should have a social worker on staff, a social planning council to identify solutions and all municipal plans must be looked at through a ‘municipal lens’.
The last question came from a man who identified himself as “an ambassador from the Cobourg Seniors Centre – wellness”. “Is there a plan to get good organic food in Town?” Miriam Mutton advocates for a programme to collect fresh but still waste food from stores. “Good food is important!” Travis Hoover states, “I am not sure how Council can do this but I am willing to collaborate.” John Henderson states, “we have community gardens, why are there not more of them?” Nicole Beatty agrees, “we have to have a programme.”
And the meeting ended.