Progress Report on Council Governance changes

In 2021, Council commissioned an Organizational review by KPMG and one of the recommendations was that Council should consider changes to Governance – starting with the council newly elected in 2022.  It seems that “best practice” would eliminate the Committee of the Whole (CoW) Council meeting in favour of “Standing committees”. Instruction to staff to review Governance was provided at a Council meeting in November 2022 and the first report on this work will be provided at the next CoW meeting on April 24.  Council will be asked to: “support the following Governance Structure in principle and that the following recommendations be sent for public engagement for initial presentation and feedback”.  Staff have written a 29 page report about their recommendations which if implemented would see major changes.

Why Change?

It seems that the motivation for change is to:

  1. Conform with best practice
  2. Ensure an appropriate delineation between governance and operational responsibilities.

KPMG commented in their report that:

The current Council Coordinator role ….  (increases) the level of work required with respect to staff-council interactions, as well as contributing towards potential morale issues for Town staff. We note that the use of a Council Coordinator structure does not appear to reflect best/common practice for Ontario municipalities, which we understand generally involves the appointment of Council members to standing committees.

Arguably the biggest change will be elimination of Coordinator roles for Councillors.

Instead of debating being done in the CoW meetings, there would be four “Standing Committees” – as I note is currently done by the County (more about the county in Resources below).  There would be one meeting per month of each committee and the Council.  The public could provide input at any or all of these meetings.

The report looks at 12 “comparator municipalities”: of these, five use the standing committee system and four use a Committee of the Whole system.

Proposed Standing Committees

  1. Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee – All Members of Council on this Standing Committee. Meeting Chair – Deputy Mayor.
  2. Corporate, Finance and Legislative Committee – Three (3) Members including Mayor and possibly Deputy Mayor
  3. Public Works, Planning & Development – Three (3) Members including Mayor and possibly Deputy Mayor
  4. Community Services, Protection, and Economic Development – Three (3) Members including Mayor and possibly Deputy Mayor

The Chair and Vice-Chair would be chosen from the membership and the Mayor would not be eligible to Chair Standing Committees.  Also attending meetings would be relevant staff.

Advisory Committees

Staff recommend fewer Advisory Committees and any new ones should be reclassified as “Task Forces” with a 12 to 18 month term of appointment.

Existing Advisory Committees (statutory):

Additional advisory committees are not yet defined or will only be “Task forces” set up to advise on specific issues.

There are also several boards (Holdco, Police, Library etc) – see list here.

In addition there are several quasi-judicial committees within the Town of Cobourg which are legislated by the province. Members of Council are not members of these committees and they include:

  • Committee of Adjustment
  • Joint Municipal Election Compliance Audit Committee
  • Property Standards Committee.

Strategic Plan

The recommendations include the idea that there would be a Strategic Plan to set overall Council priorities and that it should complement the Governance system.  There is currently an outstanding RFQ for a consultant to develop a Strategic Plan.  Bids close April 25.  The process described is quite different to the process used for previous Strategic plans as described in my posted article: Council Plans New Direction – see Resources below.  This time, there will not be a 1½ day open Council session guided by a consultant – see RFQ in Resources.

If Council approves the change in principle, the next step would be a public on-line survey to be completed by 26 May. See proposed list of questions in Resources below. Then a public meeting would be held on 19 Jun 2023 where the proposed changes would be presented for public feedback. I’d guess implementation would be late summer or the Fall.


Council Documents

Previous Cobourg Blog reports

Information on Cobourg Internet


Information from Committee of the Whole Council meeting on 24 April

Proposed Public Engagement Timeline

Survey put on Engage Cobourg 25 April 2023 – now online
Governance Review Open House 17 May 6:30pm Council Chambers
Survey closes 29 May 2023
Public meeting to present drafts, by-laws, Policies etc 19 Jun 2023
Final version of Governance model presented to Council for Approval 17 July 2023

After considerable debate the following was passed:

THAT Council receive this staff report for information purposes; and
THAT Council support the detailed review of the Council Governance Structure in principle and that the following recommendations be presented as alternative governance model of the Standing Committee System to the current Portfolio System.
And further that since both systems and their variations are in use by municipalities in Ontario, the public survey would clearly summarize and compare the two main alternatives and be reviewed by a newly formed Governance Review Working Group and with input from all Council members. The approved public survey would be sent for public engagement for initial presentation and feedback with the following proposals:
d.  Standing Committee System described in the Staff Report and with recommended variations which would replace the current Committee of the Whole System into four (4) Standing Committees and/or mix of Standing Committees and a Committee of the Whole and a Regular Council Meeting happening each month with each Standing Committee having a specific mandate based on the previous coordinator meeting system which includes the combination of participation of all Council Members and three (3) Council Members on the recommended Standing Committees Types. It is anticipated the total number of Standing Committee and Council meetings each month will not exceed four.
e.  Council maintains the Statutory Local Boards and Advisory Committees being, the Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Heritage Advisory Committee, and others which may be mandated from time to time. Council may enact Citizen Advisory Committees to Council and consider the creation of Task Forces and Ad Hoc Committees based on the Council Strategic Plan with a specific mandate to achieve Council goals and initiatives during the Council Term with an end term and expiry no longer than twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months or at the end of their mandated purpose.
f.  Creation of Governance Review Working Group consisting of the Municipal Clerk, Deputy Clerk, Chief Administrative Officer, Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Council appoint a rotating Member of Council to the Governance Review Working Group Councillor Randy Barber; and Councillor Miriam Mutton.
g.  one (1) member of Council to be struck in order to draft and prepare all necessary periodic reports and interim analysis and updates to Council including public engagement findings and recommendations, and, to draft by-law and policy provisions with any additional public feedback to be presented to council at a Governance Review Public Meeting on June 19 for full review of proposed structure.
FURTHER THAT the following question be added to the Governance Review Survey regarding the introduction of Town Hall Meetings.

The English is patchy but we know what they mean.

Brent’s comprehensive presentation is now available here. This provides a good idea of what’s being considered and the pros and cons.

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1 year ago

My first impression is that it was written by Staff for Staff. For instance the elimination of the advisory committees will reduce staff resources devoted to such activities. The elimination of the CoW and everything straight to the Council will eliminate the time spent on the what is usually the longest meetings of a Council.

The question here is will we have more informed Councillors or just efficient ones if efficiency is measured by the time spent on the issues.

Bottom line is that this proposal is “Back to the Future”, this is the structure Mayor Angus Read eliminated in 1985.

My last impression is that Councillors will still be uninformed on all of the issues concerning the Town. Instead of one coordinator telling Council what is going we will have two Councillors and the Mayor telling Council. Some Councillors will still be uninformed. Not a good thing when the principle should be to involve all of the Councillors in the decisions.

The usual refrain from Councillors to a constituent with a problem used to be “I’m not the coordinator for that go see them” Now it will be “I’m not on that committee so go talk to them” What has changed?

Reply to  ben
1 year ago


I agree with you that this standing committee format does not favour the residents. There does not appear to be a “delegation” facility.
How does public engagement happen?
How do residents make their concerns known to Council?

Ben, you note…..” The usual refrain from Councilors to a constituent with a problem used to be “I’m not the coordinator for that go see them” Now it will be “I’m not on that committee so go talk to them” “.
I believe that residents should take their issues to staff first, as a Councilor will just refer the issue to staff anyway since Council members have no authority to engage in operations.
Council should be the “court of last resort”. If lots of issues are being brought to Council, it is a clear sign that staff are not doing their jobs.

If a customer has a problem with Canadian Tire, they take it to the manager/president, not the board of directors.

I am also concerned that the standing committees do not have the expertise to assess the issues brought to them, just as the current CoW made up of Council members does not have the expertise. We have seen numerous issues “approved/rejected” by Council with little evidence that they understood the issue. Standing committees should have some “expert” resident representation.

Economic development reports to the planning director. Why is EcDev not in the same standing committee as planning?

John Draper
Reply to  Bryan
1 year ago

If Cobourg’s Standing Committees are like the County’s, they will include relevant staff to provide expertise. But like the Council meetings, staff would not have a vote.

Reply to  John Draper
1 year ago


And we’ve seen how expert staff’s expertise is and how adept they are at blowing smoke at Council.

Reply to  Bryan
1 year ago

I believe that residents should take their issues to staff first, as a Councilor will just refer the issue to staff anyway”

I must disagree Bryan, in a representative democracy this is why we elect Councillors – to help us out. If we took everything to Staff , they would claim overwork and bury it in the bureaucracy, Cllrs having it first at least tracks it in the system.

Dave Chomitz
Reply to  ben
1 year ago

I have to agree with Ben – from experience if all you want is what staff thinks the rules are then by all means go to them first. If you want a common sense solution to a problem that doesn’t fit into a familiar box you best get a councillor to understand your ask first.

Reply to  Dave Chomitz
1 year ago

Dave Chomitz,

You wrote …”if all you want is what staff thinks the rules are then by all means go to them first. If you want a common sense solution to a problem that doesn’t fit into a familiar box you best get a councilor to understand your ask first.”
In other words, take your issue to staff first and if you don’t get the results you seek, go to Council. Isn’t that what I suggested?

Dave Chomitz
Reply to  Bryan
1 year ago


I don’t think so, if I knew I was looking for any answer other than “what the bylaw states” going to staff would be the last thing I would do.

Reply to  ben
1 year ago


That may be how it has worked in the past, but it is not how it is supposed to work. That is why the Town has (is supposed to have) a complaint system that is logged, tracked and reported on.

We have also seen how staff, with Council’s consent, has sidelined the unfinished business list.

Dave Chomitz
Reply to  Bryan
1 year ago

Bryan and Ben. In fairness, my experience with Cobourg staff was no different than staff in any other community I was building in. No one ever wants to stick their neck out. Maybe because of their experience? But bylaws are available before you contact anyone – I would do my homework then if I needed an “interpretation” I would never go to staff first.

1 year ago

What I haven’t read/heard is how things will be better (time saved, costs reduced, faster decisions, faster resolutions to past/aged issues sent to Staff, etc)? The only significant benefit appears to be Staff Morale???? This entire enterprise seems to me to be a remedy looking for a problem. Also looks to me that an additional body is going to be needed to coordinate these sessions. In short no public involvement, except perhaps the Task Force, with these new Standing Committees. Not a fan.

1 year ago

We have already spent to much time on this how to do things better. Every new council tells us this . yet the real work never gets done . Instead we are tied up for a year analyzing what could be but never happens . Never agreed to . Then we Play Catch upfor the rest of the Term .
I have heard from many people especially those held up in Planning and Building Depts,
waiting ridiculous periods of time for a Lic. , Permit and for feed back and approvals , The Red Tape and the Attitude of staff — We will get around to it , always Condescending . These departments & staff there in have stalled many for months and years . Put some Tougher Time lines and Tighter performance Response schedules in place and we might be making head way .
Where are the Public Servants paid for by the Tax Payers and Residents of Cobourg ???????????

1 year ago

Too much time spent on “what are we going to do and how” versus ” just doing”.

Keith Oliver
1 year ago


When you list the four Proposed Standing Committees, under nos 2 to 4 you state membership as “3 members including the Mayor and …’ or did you mean “as well as” or “in addition to”?

No need to post this.

John Draper
Reply to  Keith Oliver
1 year ago

If the committees are like the County’s, each committee has only 3 members from the Council, none from the public. I gather from Brent’s document that each committee will have the Mayor as a member. That leaves two other councillors or one councillor and the Deputy Mayor as members. My wording is verbatim from Brent’s so no, I didn’t mean anything other than what is there.