CTA complaint supported by Ombudsman

On May 4 2018, four members of the Cobourg Taxpayers Association (CTA) attempted to attend a Parks and Recreation Advisory Steering Committee meeting but were refused by Director Dean Hustwick.  He was supported by the Municipal Clerk and Mayor Gil Brocanier who insisted the meeting was not open to the public. Then at a council meeting on 4 June 2018, Dennis Nabieszko of the Cobourg Taxpayers Association – backed by Debra McCarthy – asked why steering committee meetings for the waterfront study were not public. Dean Hustwick said that the steering committee was not an advisory group and not public. In fact, the “steering committee” role was assigned to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee whose meetings are generally open to the public.

Dennis Nabieszko
Dennis Nabieszko

Not content with Dean’s response nor the Town’s response to written requests for an explanation, the CTA took their concern to the Town of Cobourg Ombudsman.  The resulting report was presented to Council at last night’s Special Council meeting and the Ombudsman supported the CTA because the Town pledged public engagement for this project. (At right is a file photo of Dennis Nabieszko, secretary of the CTA.)

Concerns raised by CTA

  1. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Steering Committee failed to provide agendas, minutes, and times, dates or locations of the meetings to the public.
  2. Meetings of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Steering Committee were not open to the public.
  3. The Town of Cobourg did not respond to complaints about the Parks and Recreation Advisory Steering Committee Meetings not being open to the public.

The report by M. John Ewart, Ombudsman, concluded that:

  • The Parks and Recreation Advisory Steering Committee is not a “Committee of Council” as outlined in Section 238 of the Act, as only one of the five members are also members of Council but may still be a committee of council if it meets the definition contained in the municipality’s own procedural by-law.  The relevant Motion 343-16 specifically directs the Committee to engage the public.
  • Therefore “the agendas, minutes and times, dates or locations of Parks and Recreation Advisory Steering Committee meetings are to be available to any member of the public when requested.”
  • For concern #3, on May 4 the Town did respond to an initial letter by the CTA on May 3 but did not respond to a follow-up formal complaint on May 10. The Town believed their response on May 4 was sufficient but failed to say that to the CTA.  The ombudsman said that “for purposes of clarity it would have been of assistance to advise” the CTA that their first response was sufficient.

At the Council meeting, Brian Darling, who was on the Steering Committee, said that contrary to his understanding of the required process, no staff were interviewed by the Ombudsman and that the Town was not given an opportunity to respond.  He therefore asked that the Ombudsman provide clarification on the process. Brian obviously did not agree with the findings.  Dean Hustwick also disputed the findings and said that there were many other opportunities for Public Engagement.

Debra McCarthy said that she thought all meetings were open and that this issue is “about trust”.

Suzanne Séguin said that the public needs to be involved and does need to hear what is said.

John Henderson said that he along with Suzanne and others are working to “reframe procedures” for the new council.  He also mentioned that there would be a Strategic Planning Session in February.

Council voted to refer the Ombudsman’s report to staff for a report to be presented at a meeting of the new council in January.

See also the Press Release by the CTA giving their view (link below). Two members of the CTA were spotted in the gallery – including Dennis Nabieszko (now sporting a beard!)


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Deborah OConnor
5 years ago

Tip sheets for municipalities from the Ombudsman for Ontario. It seems the Town could use a set!

Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

Seems that the CTA is pursuing its grudge against Councillor Darling.
And it’s going to cost us taxpayers plenty.
“FSD Pharma Facility Valued at $105,000,000 With 3,000,000 ft Expansion Assessed at $420,000,000.”
Wow! !!!!
The property taxes from 520 William Street will mean that Cobourg can afford the CTA and its shenanigans.

Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

The Cobourg ‘Closed Meeting’ Ombudsman/ investigator is John Ewart, Barrister and Solicitor.
He costs the town $300 annually and $225 per hour on top of that.
The CTA filed the complaint in early May and the report came out just now.
One has to wonder how much in hourly charges Cobourg taxpayers have to cough up.

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

Well, Walter, it should not have taken more than an hour……if John Ewart is good at his job and an honest man/lawyer? Just a thought.

John L. Hill
5 years ago

The motion put forward by Councillor Darling is a complete time waster. The Ombudsman has found that the steering committee must be open in compliance with the bylaw. Although the Ombudsman ordinarily consults with all parties in the event of a dispute, the simple fact that the meeting was closed means there is no need to find out the staff’s reason. It was either an open meeting or it wasn’t. No need to ask staff why they breached the bylaw. They didn’t follow the law. ‘Nuf said!

Reply to  John L. Hill
5 years ago

Good response John! I also feel much better because I didn’t vote for Darling! Just like when I play hockey…..if I’m on the ice when we score, it’s a plus for me and if I’m not on the ice when the other team scores…..it’s not a minus against me!
I think I’ll use this method, to rate the councillors, in the upcoming four years!

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  Ken
5 years ago

Pretty obvious that Councillor Darling was not popular with a certain noisy minority.
Still, he won his re-election with the second highest vote tally among Councillors.
Will of the People, no?

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

I agree with the ‘will of the people’. I also think the Ombudsman recommendations are a slap at Darling. Parks and Rec was his file and he was probably in the room when the CTA members attempted rightful entry. His motion is probably an attempt to mask his lack of knowledge. Hopefully during this orientation, for the new councilors, he takes the opportunity to bone up on the various articles protecting the publics rights to information and participation.

Reply to  gerinator
5 years ago

How will we know what Cllr Darling is being taught at the first CoW of the term as it is going to be held in secret. For my opinion on this move read the latest post at burdreport.ca.