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As part of the Town of Cobourg’s Strategic Planning sessions, Councillors and staff reviewed governance – that is, should the coordinator system be continued?  Councillors Debra McCarthy and Theresa Rickerby, with some degree of support from Deputy Mayor John Henderson, wanted all councillors to be involved with all issues before Council.  They felt that it would be better to not have the “topic specialist” approach currently used since each Councillor represents all citizens and should be involved with and informed on all issues.  Town staff resisted this strongly.

After extensive passionate discussion, Councillor Larry Sherwin proposed that staff look into two specific models (later modified to three) and report back on impact and cost.  The three models would be:

  1. The current system of a Committee of the Whole with coordinators and regular staff/coordinator meetings away from public view.
  2. A Standing Committee system where the full council is involved in each committee but each of (probably 3) committees would be chaired by different councillors and not the Mayor.  The three committees (or quantity as chosen) would cover “Admin and Finance”, “ Operations”, “Corporate” or similar groupings.
  3. A Committee of the Whole system without coordinators.  Similar to #2 but a continuous meeting chaired by the Mayor – groupings probably as now.

In the case of 2 and 3, Staff would directly report/present to the Committees composed of the whole council instead of via the coordinators.

The three Standing Committee meetings could be held consecutively on the same night so the main difference between #2 and #3 is the structure and labels on the committees.

The advantages of directly reporting are:

  • All councillors hear updates directly from staff at the same time and with the same level of detail.
  • All councillors are equally responsible for all activities.
  • Improved transparency.

The disadvantages were strongly voiced by staff (especially Bill Watson and Ian Davey):

  • Staff would have to answer questions from all councillors instead of just one
  • Staff would not have a single point of contact to understand Council’s position on issues.
  • There is no need for change since the minutes of current staff/coordinator meetings go to all councillors so they are in fact informed.

If the system were to be changed as proposed, council representatives on Advisory Committees would still be required and the role of these representatives would be similar to the current coordinator role.  There might need to be changes in how Advisory Committees are organized – e.g. who reports to Council via the Standing Committee or Committee of the Whole.

Mayor Gil Brocanier was seemingly neutral but said he had difficulty understanding the difference between #2 and #3  (there isn’t much!)   Forrest Rowden and Brian Darling seemed to be supportive of the status quo.

It is expected that CAO Stephen Peacock will report back to a Council meeting in the next weeks and Council will then vote on making a decision to change or not.


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