Ben Burd

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!

A missed opportunity

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.

Congratulations!

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!

A question asked

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 ACM

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.

All candidates’ meetings are they really worth it?

To all election wonks, All Candidates’ Meetings (ACM) are the purest of democracy tools. But are they really? Perhaps in a Federal and Provincial election they might work simply because of the small number of candidates sharing the same platform.

In a municipal setting we think that most meetings are unworkable and as such do not allow the public to see a complete picture of the candidates and their points of view. For a meeting to be successful they must be accessible to all and allow a fair exchange of opinion. In this election, in Cobourg we have two ACMs scheduled and both fail the test of openness and accessibility. One, organised by the local Chamber of Commerce (which has always failed the democracy test), has made accessibility worse by restricting attendance to members first and then the remainder of the 125 seats to members of the public. The other ACM is being held by aother local organisation but again fails the openness test by the very timing of the meeting. By scheduling the meeting for 0830 hrs in the morning it disqualifies anybody who works at that time or anyone else who has morning chores to take care of.

Which brings us back to the position that ACMs as currently and historically practised are not open and fair to the voters. In fact some of the candidates have declared that ACMs must be favourable to them or they will not attend. How is that fair to the voters?

One ACM, in Cobourg, has already been cancelled because some of the candidates did not approve of the structure or the organisers of the proposed ACM. How was that fair to the voters? In Hamilton Township only three of the six candidates attended an ACM held last week and a meeting in Cramahe was cancelled because some candidates, noticeably the Mayor, had “scheduling conflicts”.

In order to allow local democracy to flourish we would like to suggest that ACMs should be mandated by the bylaw that governs local elections and supervised by the Town Clerk who supervises local elections. At least two ACMs should be mandated for each election period: one during the day and one in the evening, that would allow access to the candidates by all people who may miss on meeting by not being available. These meetings should allow more time than the past meetings have allowed – one minute opening statement and questions from the floor. The very idea of having vetted questions is a danger to local free speech and subject to charges of selective questioning.

And that’s the way we would run ACMs

An end to illegal campaign signs

This sign that was considered to be illegal under the existing election sign bylaw is no more, and it appears that the Town is now in the “monitoring mode”.

This news was not relayed to me, as the person who made the complaint, but was revealed to a candidate who quoted the post and asked what was going on. The Manager of Bylaws contacted the candidate and gave the reason for the delay in compliance: “

“This particular contravention was a complaint received and the Town’s dealt directly with the individual immediately. The reason the action to remove the election sign was late was due to its height and location. In order to remove the Election Sign the Town would have to occur costs. Thus we worked with the Candidate to have those costs incurred on their own cost and this resulted in a delay with the hiring of a contractor to remove the sign by the contractor.

The sign is fully removed and there has been compliance as of today. I appreciate you emailing myself with your concerns and not relying on the post of individuals that have third party information.”

It is strange that the MoB did not respond to my complaint by telling me that the complaint resolution was being delayed, but finally dealt with. And congratulating the candidate for contacting him directly but admonishing him for using a local story to confirm that the infraction had happened.

So despite the fact that this Town’s administration has prided itself on responsiveness and clarity the complainant is still unaware of the situation. But that is what happens when you have a bylaw enforcement system based on complaints – all one has to do is to complain and there is no obligation, other than common courtesy, to respond. I have noticed that the four signs (only allowed three) on a fence on University Ave have been replaced by one bigger sign so enforcement is around. Now if all the candidates would place their signs on the lawns behind the sidewalk rather than the boulevards all will be well!

Signs for the times

Signs are very subjective things. Some people like them, some don’t and the rest couldn’t care less. We at the BR, after much editorial discussion, have come down on the side that says signs should be regulated as they can be construed as visual pollution. Just as a loud radio can upset, big signs do the same for us.

Take for example, this sign on Division St. Every establishment is allowed to have signs that advertise their business. In this case the bylaws allow facia signs to identify the business at the location and a spot on the larger Plaza sign. But as we know exemptions to sign bylaws have to be applied for. In most cases the exemptions are granted in the name of ‘helping business’. But when is too much too much? This sign was granted and when an email was directed to the Director of Planning he replied to me – “The Lighthouse Dental business signage does appear to be relatively large and bright (and maybe a bit different from what we are used to, having a tooth bolted to the side of the building), however I do not feel it is disproportionate to the size of the unit or the building frontage, or consider it over-bearing towards the streetscape, but rather is quite tastefully and professionally done in my opinion.”

It is this size because the the bylaw does not specify the size of a facia sign. For the full correspondence read it here, the Council did approve the much larger sign, but it is still ugly and large!

That brings up the campaign 2018, and the plethora of signs that will be assaulting our sense for the next 44 days – election signs. The bylaw that covers this is here and is comprehensive: laying down the law on locations, numbers allowed on each property and size.

This sign is an ‘outlaw’ as was the Piccini sign, posted on exactly the same spot – 8ft high during the last Provincial election. This is not a slight against the candidate but an example of an illegally placed sign. Election signs are only allowed to be 2 metres high, measured from the top to ground. The point of this is to highlight the lax way the Town administers the bylaw.

An official complaint was made about the “Piccini OPC” sign during the last Provincial election as that sign was in exactly the same location and same height as the one in the picture. The Manager of Bylaws did not respond to the complaint and it stayed. When this candidate’s sign went up on the first day of campaigning A complaint was registered with the Manager of Bylaws and he sent this reply <snip>The Town of By-law Enforcement department is aware of the election signs and will be conducting measurements and contacting the Candidate to determine compliance.</snip>

This was dated on the 17th of August and the sign is still in non-compliance. So I say to all the candidates “go to it put your signs anywhere you want, because the Town is not enforcing its own bylaw!”

A Test – how many of these signs are illegally located? Remember none are allowed on public property!

A big apology and late additions

The last post contained a link to the questions the BR asked of all candidates – that was not true, I missed candidate Randy Curtis from the mass mailing list. Consequently his response was not on the page. Sorry Randy! Also the BR received a late response from another candidate and it is now posted. To see the responses click here