Changes to Council Procedures

On Monday January 28, a public meeting was held to accept public input on Council procedures for their meetings.  The original changes were suggested by Town Clerk, Brent Larmer but at the Committee of the Whole on January 7, Council made some changes (see report on 8 January – link below).  The intent was to then listen to public input and perhaps make further changes and present a final version at the Regular Council meeting on February 4.  At the Public meeting, there were 5 written submissions and 5 verbal submissions – details below.  Although there were several suggestions to move the Council time for meetings, the bylaw before Council for approval keeps times unchanged.  However, the Q & A “forum” will be instituted at every Committee of the Whole meeting.

Although there are a number of changes suggested by participants in the public meeting, I saw no evidence of any being implemented – see below for the bylaw up for approval and details of suggested changes.

Public Meeting suggestions from the Public (summary)

Written (links to full submissions below)

Ben Burd

  • Council meeting start time should be moved from 4pm to 6pm.
  • Concerned that Clerk could still deny permission for a delegation
  • Q & A’s at Committee of the Whole should be for an 18 month trial period.
  • Council should have the “last say” on approval of contracts. After the Bylaw is passed a contract is prepared but currently Council doesn’t see it before it’s signed.
  • Recordings of Council meetings should be kept in perpetuity and not destroyed after 3 months.
  • “Electronic” meetings should be allowed – at least for questions and debates if not voting.

Jeremy Fowlie

  • Any delegation should be afforded the opportunity to speak again to Council, if Town Staff comments on the Delegation Submission, directly after Town Staff, in order to clarify any points raised by Town Staff.
  • Town Staff should provide Council Members with more than one option to consider for Agenda Items or proposals. This will ensure that a thorough discussion of the topic at hand will occur.
Ted Williams
Ted Williams

Ted Williams

  • Council authority to review Contracts should not be limited
  • Do not eliminate second confirmation vote at Regular Council
  • The minutes of committee meetings should be available within one week  – not as long as the four months it has taken in at least one case.
  • All department directors must report to Council, through the councillor coordinator, any planned spending, including staff hours spent, in excess of $10,000.  For example, sending out the RFP for the Water park would have exceeded this limit.
  • Councillors should be restricted from using mobile phones / texting during meetings.
  • All motions that warrant a discussion by Council should have a recorded vote. (Items that are “rubber-stamped” such as approving the national day of whatever need not be recorded.)
  • When Council asks for a staff report there should be a time limit of 2 months for the report to be completed. Some staff reports that were requested, in the past, were never brought back to Council.
  • Meeting start time should be 6 pm. or later.

Dennis Nabieszko

  • Amendment of this procedure bylaw should not require a 2/3rds majority.
  • Dennis compliments staff and Council on having all committees open and subject to identical rules.
  • Meeting start time should be 6 pm. or later. Public meetings can be held on another day or earlier at 5 pm. Regardless, items from the public meetings should not be on that day’s council meeting agenda.
  • The number of delegates to a meeting should not be limited. The clerk should not be the one to decide to postpone or deny a delegation.
  • Staff reports recommending an action should include alternatives
  • Remove paragraph 19.14 (and 19.39 ii) that states that Council cannot reconsider an action if legal commitments have already been made.  
  • Allow delegations to speak on a Notice of Motion
  • Don’t allow Clerk to choose correspondence for the Agenda
  • Don’t implement a confirmatory by-law at a Committee of the Whole meeting that would eliminate the need for a confirming vote a week later at the Regular Council meeting.
  • Despite a resolution in Council in May 2018 by Aaron Burchat that Staff should consult the public and report on the conduct of “Public Planning Meetings”, this has never been done but is now section 32 of this procedure.  Dennis wanted this section to be considered as a separate bylaw or policy, after the public has had a chance to provide their feedback.
  • The Q & A forum should be limited to questions and not comments from the public.

Bryan Lambert

  • We need to consider the big picture and the chain of Command
  • Bryan compared the Town to a business with the roles and responsibilities for council and “staff” set out in the Ontario Municipal Act. The key ones are to represent the public; to ensure accountability and transparency; to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality;
  • Administration has to implement council’s decisions and undertake research and provide advice to council.
  • The proposed Procedural Bylaw sets out a wide range of “rules” which for the most part, restrict the Council’s ability to act and after some changes, there remain a number of sections that warrant Council’s attention.
  • In the end, there has to be a balance between Bureaucratic rules and Democratic Freedom


Ken Strauss – wanted a staff analysis of proposed actions that they wanted approved.  For example, what are the cost benefits of a proposed purchase.

Gigi Ludorf-Weaver (Sustainable Cobourg) – Was ruled off topic with her question.  She said that although having sustainability an issue in all committees was good, she questioned whether all members of committees understand “sustainability”.

Warren McCarthy suggested that every time a staff report is requested, a time limit should be specified.  Emily supported the idea but asked Warren if there should be a standard time.  He said “no”.  However, Council agreed with the idea of a time limit but decided that Staff should be asked to set a date that they agreed with.

Kelly (resident of Nickerson Drive) – Said that meeting times were not suitable and agreed with Emily Chorley’s earlier suggestion that Council meetings should be at 6:00pm and Public meetings moved to other days.

Dilys Robertson – wanted an introductory summary of why changes in procedures were needed.  She also suggested that pros and cons should be published for all issues.

I see no noticeable difference between the procedure presented to the public meeting on January 28 and the one up for Final approval at the Regular Council meeting on February 4 – but then it’s a long document and I may have missed something.


Written Submissions (mostly hosted on Civic Web)

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Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

Hmmm let me see.
I do think that that the water park would be an asset to Cobourg.
I am a regular reader of the Guardian and found this article on the demise of British ‘High Streets’ interesting:
The article mentions the ‘experience economy”. Here is what this term means
Could be valuable for our ailing downtown.
Sorry, this is not relevant to the topic, but a response to your challenge, Sir.

Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

Trent Hills Council meeting – 19 Feb 2019 in the Clock Tower Cultural Centre at 9:00 am.
This morning meeting time is the regular time slot and does not seem to cause popular unrest.
But then maybe Trent Hills does not have a …oops I almost said again.

Suzanne Seguin
5 years ago

Suggestions for changes to the Procedural By-law made at the public meeting on January 28 can not be made by the Clerk, but only by a majority vote of Council. Any motions for amendments can be brought forward by a member of Council on February 4, discussed and voted and the bylaw will only be approved as amended.

For example the item regarding time of meetings currently is as stated below:
5.1 Meetings of Council shall be held on Mondays at 4:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers, in accordance with the annual Committee of the Whole and Regular Council meeting schedule prepared and published annually, except when:
a) otherwise directed by resolution of Council;
b) the Clerk advises otherwise upon a minimum of forty-eight (48) hours of advance notice;
c) aSpecialMeetingiscalledbytheHeadofCouncil,withforty-eight (48) hours’ notice given; or
d) an Emergency Meeting is called by the Head of Council in which no notice is required.

At the COW held on January 7, Councillor Chorley put forward a motion to change the time COW and Council meetings should begin should change from 4pm to 6pm. Council members had a lengthy debate on her motion. No vote was taken as Councillor Chorley withdrew her motion until after the public meeting. So no change was made to Section 5.1.

Miriam Mutton
Reply to  Suzanne Seguin
5 years ago

hi Suzanne,
Much appreciated that you have shared your comments here.
If this is Council’s intent, to discuss the proposed by-law further to the public meeting, then why is there no report on the Public Meeting on Council’s Meeting Agenda under IX Reports – General Government? There is only an untracked version (it looks final) of the by-law with official number assigned in the By-Law section.
For example, if not for Mr. Draper’s summary above, how many would know who spoke without submitting a written submission?
And, as you know, the town youtube videos of meetings are inconsistent with regard to being clearly audible.

Suzanne Seguin
Reply to  Miriam Mutton
5 years ago

Hi Miriam,
Thanks for your comments. Council and the public were able to review four written submissions prior to the public meeting on the Procedural Bylaw and send Council members their comments. At the public meeting six additional verbal submissions were given for a total of 10 overall. I don’t believe that Council needs a report under General Government as each member of Council will have the ability on February 4 to make additional amendments, based on what they heard at the public meeting, before the final vote. Staff is continuing to work on making our meetings clear and audible. We are all hoping for a resolution to these inconsistent recordings.

Miriam Mutton
Reply to  Miriam Mutton
5 years ago

Update: I contacted the Clerks office for clarification. Video of this Public Meeting is not posted on Civicweb or on the Town Youtube Chanel, but on the Town Facebook page. The minutes of the meeting are expected to be published this week.

John Draper
Reply to  Miriam Mutton
5 years ago

This is the direct link to the Facebook video:
Ashley Purdy took this video with her ipad when she realised the normal streaming was poor.

Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

Interesting to see that the CTA cleared the bench and let four of their directors go mano-a-mano with Staff.
As we know from the very recent election, these are the folks who know everything about municipal government, but shy away from running for Council themselves.
The big take-away from the occasion is the change of Council meetings from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. This will allow hard-working breadwinners to rush home, hug the kids, tell Marge/Joe to keep dinner warm for him/her and not miss that delegation on, say, Holdco.
The other red thread running through the presentations is a visceral distrust of and disdain for the expertise of Staff. As my learned friend Ben put it, ”a Council that would direct Staff not be subordinate to Staff”.
Time will tell whether Council and Staff can get anything done during this term apart from being ‘open and transparent’.

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

“The big take-away from the occasion is the change of Council meetings from 4:00 to 6:00 pm.”

This will only happen if Council changes the bylaw, as the discussion at the CoW was left with the words – “I want the public to speak out at the public meeting, Council will decide after the Public Meeting!”

Well as nobody at the PM spoke in favour of 4pm and a few spoke about the need to change, it was obvious that public sentiment was in favour of the time change to 6pm.

So the PM was held all who spoke in favour of 6pm made their points when will the proposed bylaw be changed??

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  ben
5 years ago

Dunno, honestly!
Maybe Mr Larmer knows. Give him a call.

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

Do you want a little CTA cheese to go along with your (never ending) CTA whine Walter?

Miriam Mutton
5 years ago

The need for Section 30 of the proposed by-law, dealing with a Confirmatory By-law, is unclear. A plain reading suggests it is a restrictive and unnecessary procedure, yet it seems a recent and common inclusion in procedural by-laws among many municipalities in Ontario.

Any motion that prohibits questions and debate by Council should be rigorously investigated and discussed. Further, if the process of first, second and third readings was deemed too onerous for by-laws (sober second thought process) and inefficient use of time, the fact members of Council from time to time may have to declare a disclosure of interest makes the so-called confirmatory by-law potentially unwieldy and complicated.

The section also appears to give more power to the office of the Mayor and other officers of the Town. Did this idea trickle down from the province? There had been proposals along the way to strengthen the role of Mayors rather than Councils.

Reply to  Miriam Mutton
5 years ago

In addition to concerns that Ford will be unilaterally implementing forced municipality amalgamations, he also favors ‘……Ontario municipalities to have the same kind of strong-mayor system as many big cities in the U.S., saying a more powerful chief magistrate would be preferable to the “free-for-all” of current councils.’ Somehow I believe our collective efforts to improve accountability, transparency, public engagement, etc, are, from Ford’s perspective, falling into a category he would characterize as ‘free-for-all’. He Ford is looking for party discipline and allegiance – all of it hidden under the mantra of efficiencies and effectiveness. Not good.

5 years ago

You are absolutely correct John the section that pertains to the time of Council has not changed from 4pm to 6pm – as directed by a motion from Ms Chorley and voted on unanimously by Council in a line by line examination of the bylaw in draft mode.

Now why is this and who approved the bylaw, for presentation its present form, without this change; despite being directed by Council to change it?

If this change is not challenged by members of Council then this will be a letdown for those of us who voted for a Council that would direct Staff not be subordinate to Staff.

Miriam Mutton
5 years ago

At what stage of the public engagement process will staff and by-law review team prepare a report, a written public response to each point raised by the presentations at the public meeting? The citizens who presented have been very thoughtful and thorough in their research and many have practical experience engaging with their elected Council at public meetings of both Council and its committees.

To compare, typically, when the Town uses an outside consultant there is a consultant’s response (public report) to public comments and questions from a public meeting.

An official position from the Clerk’s department with justification and/or prioritization of options (if more than one idea on same topic), listed on each point/action request so that Council in its discussion can make a decision based on best available information and in the best interest of the citizens of Cobourg. A revised draft of the by-law could be part of the report on the public meeting. Why is the by-law up for final approval at the next Regular Council meeting?

Reply to  Miriam Mutton
5 years ago

“At what stage of the public engagement process will staff and by-law review team prepare a report, a written public response to each point raised by the presentations at the public meeting?”

A good question and if the bylaw passes as written then Council will have failed its first test in Public Engagement 101.