Where is the governance model?
Opinion by Dave Glover
I moved to Cobourg almost 25 years ago. At that time, the Town of Cobourg used a coordinator governance model — a framework used by governments that provide a framework that establishes an organization’s general leadership accountability responsibilities and lays out how citizens and their elected leaders interact with each other.
Was it the best option? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it was how citizens engaged with the council on matters of concern. Whether it was garbage pick up or transit, residents had a specific councillor as their contact or point person if they had a concern.
Last October, we had a municipal election and council changed its operation, not entirely but enough that its shift has amounted to a real change.
The new Mayor ran on a plan of shaking things up, but what has been shaken is citizen confidence in our Town Council.
The previous council initiated a process whereby the town would review and possibly change the governance model currently in place. The review was conducted by town staff, with their findings expected to be presented to the new council.
A governance committee consisting of town staff and councillors were supposed to work on options and recommendations. Upon completion, the process is supposed to be open for public consultation before a final decision.
As 2022 was an election year, councillors decided to leave final decisions on the assessment to the next council.
When the new council was sworn in, the review was still underway, and the newly elected chair decided not to proceed with the existing governance model.
This decision has left us without any governance in place beyond the whims of a newly elected and inexperienced Mayor.
During that time, we’ve had to watch as problems have bubbled out from under the rug under which the review appears to have been swept.
During last winter’s extreme cold, Cobourg was awakened to a homelessness crisis that hasn’t gone away. A crisis met with repressive by-law enforcement and very little empathy.
Thankfully, some in our community took up the challenge, but it could be argued that without a process in place, residents were left discouraged, frustrated and angry.
Winter was followed by a spring and summer of more outrage along the same line with an encampment for the homeless being shuffled from place to place within our town.
Along with this issue, Cobourg has seen an explosion of drug-related issues.
Both problems which have been exacerbated by political interference and a fair bit of incompetence with citizens expressing their concerns about the broader issue of community and personal safety.
One could argue that the coordinator model would’ve provided a process through which citizens could have their concerns or questions addressed, or at very least, heard.
Instead, citizens have had to rely on haphazardly drafted bylaws and enforcement that’s done nothing to change the desperation in the crisis.
This Monday, citizens were shown exactly how fractious and broken the process has become during the latest Cobourg Council meeting on October 10, 2023.
A municipal event that was an absolute waste of time.
When a motion was presented by the Deputy Mayor, the substantive response of the Mayor was to ask why the meeting was necessary. In response to Councillor Darling’s queries, it was so that he could dot the I’s & cross the Ts.
Councillor Mutton seemed to agree with Councillor Darling’s assessment that the meeting was unnecessary, but then she appeared to shift gears. She felt as though staff recommendations of the choice of 4 archetypes or options for a new governance system were a done deal. Councillor Barber interjected, that he didn’t see it like that at all and he’d attended the same meetings she had.
Mutton being told, the items were a done deal was interesting, especially as she alleges that these options didn’t appear to have been recommended by Council.
The Mayor appeared to be more motivated admonishing Mutton for perceived past slights toward the staff and colleagues, than he was on clarifying the issue.
The bottom line is we still have no governance model in our town and Council is almost a year into its Mandate.
While I understand this was a planned review as outlined by the last council, surely some of the groundwork was done before the last municipal election.
But, as we speak, Cobourg council currently has no model in place to help it deal with issues.
The baby seems to have been thrown out with the bath water.
And lo, our Mayor seems more upset more about the water than the baby.
Cobourg’s ineffectual response to the drug issue that’s on display in Cobourg’s streets intersects with homelessness issues reek of poor municipal response due to political interference.
In my opinion, Council’s meeting seemed more about admonishing Councillor Mutton than moving forward.
Even the motion presented by the Deputy Mayor was vague. It outlined timelines for further discussion.
All in all, Councillor Mutton’s question was never addressed.
Viewers and citizens were left wondering: How did we get these 4 options; indeed, what are they; and did town staff only provide 4 possible options?
Councillor Mutton appeared frustrated because her question was essentially ignored.
If it’s not a ‘done deal” then what other options are being explored?
The answer to that question won’t be available for at least another month or so.
The meeting was a good example of a lot of talk and no action against the backdrop that there is a complete lack of structure currently at play at Victoria Hall.
Thankfully we have experienced and competent staff who can maintain day-to-day operations.
If the council was aware the review would take at least a year, why didn’t it at least use the existing model of governance until a new system was implemented? Or until it was decided that the current model is still the best option?
We must have a governance model in place until the new process can be implemented. And, remember, the current coordinator model may just be the best option.
At least with the coordinator governance model, citizens know who to contact and or complain to on the Council if they have issues.
Dave Glover is a well known cultural and political commentator in Northumberland. Thousands of listeners, both locally and worldwide, know Dave because of his “Drive Time” radio broadcast that ran for more than 8 years and his 15 years hosting political programs on a local cable channel.
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