Cobourg Council News

Cobourg Council Chambers.jpg

by Cecilia Naismith

Remuneration debate provides a look at the life of a councillor

Cobourg's council remuneration ad hoc committee presented a report at the April 30 council meeting, recommending raises to annual remunerations effective Dec. 3.

The mayor's salary would go up by $3,219 to $37,939.

The deputy mayor's salary would go up by $828 to $22,679.

Councillors' salaries would go up by $600 to $22,679.

As for members of the Police Services Board, the committee determined they should get 28.5% of a councillor's salary - $5,167. The board chair should get 25% more than that, or $6,459.

Committee head Terry Stopps described the committee's methodology at length, and its wish to be “fair, equitable, accountable, transparent, legally compliant and predictable.”

Expense remunerations currently in place meet provincial requirements and guidelines, Stopps added. But their review came up with other suggestions for change. The practice of allowing one-third of councillor's remuneration to be tax-free should cease, as well as the practice of contributing toward a councillor's spouse or partner to accompany him or her to attend conferences and workshops.

Councillor Forrest Rowden commended the committee for its work – done without remuneration, he noted – but he did not agree about the new spousal provision.

“If you stop and realize how many hours your spouse sits at home waiting dinner,” Rowden said.

“They spend a lot of time waiting while you're at council and special events.”

When a councillor attends a convention or event out of town, he pointed out, the hotel room is already paid for. He estimated that, over the course of a year, it would only cost about $1,000 to let spouses attend as well.

Rowden recalled that this question came up while he was a Hamilton Township councillor. They had argued against including spouses in these instances, but changed their minds.

Mayor Gil Brocanier said his wife is his de facto part-time secretary – answering the phone at home, bringing messages back for him from people she met while shopping,

“I appreciate being able to take her on conferences,” the mayor said.

“The few times she has accompanied me, I make sure to pay for her meals. She seldom goes with me, but it's an opportunity for councillors right across Ontario to spend a little more time with their spouses.”

Most such conferences have special programming for spouses, and Brocanier estimated that 90% of those in attendance bring spouses.

Councillor Suzanne Seguin, on the other hand, had no problem with personally covering costs incurred when her spouse is along for a conference.

“None of us do it for the salary that comes with it,” Seguin said.

“I recently came home from a Business Improvement Area convention, and the gala dinner was $85 for my husband, and I gladly paid that – as most of us do – because it's part of our public persona and part of giving back. And I don't think a spouse or partner should be paid for by taxpayers.”

“I have been to several conferences and taken my wife,” Councillor Brian Darling added.

“The hotel room is paid for, but I have paid for her to attend social events and her meals. I don't want to have to, in any way, explain to the public an expense that is not legitimate.”

Councillor Debra McCarthy wanted to retain that last one-third of remuneration as tax-free for the simple reason that councillors are out of pocket for so much of their work. For one thing, they have no office, no office equipment, no desk. They do much of their work at home.

“I would be a little alarmed with that, because most of us donate our own mileage, and we go all over the place,” McCarthy said.

Rowden agreed. He was on a committee that was county-wide, and sometimes met as far away as Campbellford . He said he'd never yet submitted a mileage claim.

He also covered his own costs to two recent fundraisers he attended on behalf of council - $100 he also will not be claiming back.

McCarthy stated that some differentiation might be in order among council salaries, depending on what one's portfolio is.

“In my case, I barely made it through 2017. As community services co-ordinator, I was appointed to everything. I had a workload that was almost untenable,” she stated.

The committee was not unaware of this, Stopps said, but felt they did not have enough information to make a realistic decision on that matter.

“We felt we had to fall back on something that is very objective,” he said.

They did have one suggestion - to have the chief administrative officer compile statistics on this matter with a view to re-examining the question at a future date.


Cobourg public-engagement policy fails, CTA says

Cobourg Taxpayers' Association president Lydia Smith told council April 30 that its public-engagement policy is not working.

Smith cited recent rezonings made to permit a Catholic-francophone school in the New Amherst subdivision and to remodel 304 College St. into five apartments, but studied a third example in more depth – the floating playground scheduled to open at the beach June 23.

Her timeline showed that enquiries came in from vendors as early as 2016. Between then and 2018, when it came up at Cobourg council, Smith counted at least 12 missed opportunities to get information on this prospective project out to the public – largely at public meetings, open houses and workshops held in connection with the upcoming waterfront user study.

During this process, Smith added, participants at these meetings were asked to name the top three reasons they do not use the waterfront. They cited parking, crowds and tourists, which would be precisely the result of a floating playground,

In addition, Smith cited the town's Transparency and Accountability Policy, which called for the town to observe a decision-making process that is accessible, clear and visible. The Janusry 2018 Parks and Rec Advisory Committee meeting where there was a verbal report (nothing on paper) is not a good example, she said,

In the end, mere days were allowed for the public to learn of the project and provide input.

Asked how many members of the public she represented, Smith replied that the association has 180 subscribers.

The group is not intended to represent the public, she added.

“The reason it was founded is, every one of us had something to say,” she added.

Smith recalls commenting three years ago on plans contemplated for the Park Theatre and feeling that she wasn't being listened to. Now, with a group behind her, she said she feels differently.

Council later passed the motion made by Councillor Aaron Burchat to direct planning staff to review public-notification, meeting and engagement procedures pertaining to applications submitted under the Planning Act. But the motion as passed did not take into account the presentation made by Cobourg Taxpayers' Association director Paul Pagnuelo with his own ideas of how the process should be carried out.

Pagnuelo called for a timeline of six months for the review. Uncomfortable with the idea of planning staff reviewing their own procedures, he also asked for an active role for members of the public in this exercise with an ad hoc committee.

“I think the key here is independent – that is what an ad hoc committee can do,” he said.

Deputy Mayor John Henderson pointed out that six months from the coucil meeting would be Oct. 30.

“Oct. 22 is the actual election day,” Henderson said.

“It is my understanding that on Dec. 3, the new council will be sworn in. Dec. 6, they begin orientation of the new councillors Then, before we know it, we are already at Jan. 1, which is preparation for the Mayor's Levee, and I know there is a considerable amount of work to be done at that time.”

Councillor Debra McCarthy pointed out that decisions made under the Planning Act do not reflect the voice of the director of planning, but the legislation of the province.

“The planning Act I view as being the minimum requirement,” Pagnuelo replied.

“There's no reason coucil can't impose or put in place even better public-engagement deadlines.”

“I think that is the intention of Councillor Burchat's notice of motion, so I think we are on the same page,” McCarthy said.


LPAT implications are as yet uncertain

Cobourg resident Emily Chorley urged council at its April 30 meeting not to be bound by fears of an Ontario Municipal Board appeal in approving the rezoning to permit a new Catholic-francophone school in the New Amherst subdivision.

In the vote signifying approval, Chorley said, three councillors cited that possibility - “no longer a valid reason to support a zoning application,” she noted,

The OMB has been replaced by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, she said, and it's a radical change to the planning process.

“It cannot make planning decisions or overturn your decisions – all it can do is refer the matter back to council for further consideration.”

Among the points Chorley found fault with during the process, as it has been practiced, is that criteria for approval boil down to what land use is permitted based on the planning department's interpretation of policy guidelines. There is no latitude to look at alternatives.

“I am asking council to consider whether the New Amherst site is the best location for a school in Cobourg, If you feel that it is, having considered all the alternatives, then by all means support it. But please do so based on the merits of the application – not how you feel about an appeal mechanism that cannot overturn your decision.”

Director of planning Glenn McGlashon said that any matter now before the Ontario Municipal Board would continue to be adjudicated under its rules.

Otherwise the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is now in effect, McGlashon said,

“I think it's going to take a number of years before the impact is felt and measured as new cases go forward. Even our solicitors are unsure and uncertain how this will unfold.

“It's a drastic change from over 100 years of OMB existence, and it will certainly take a learning curve for a lot of people,” he cautioned.

His understanding is that the LPAT will make its own determination on whether a case being appealed meets the test of conformity with provincial, county and local policy. If they determine the decision does not meet the test, they will refer it back to the municipality for further consideration within a given time period. If that decision is appealed again, McGlashon said, “my understanding is that LPAT can make the final decision. It would not be sent back and forth and back and forth from LPAT to council.”

Councillor Brian Darling said he took exception to Chorley's characterizing of councillors as being afraid of the LPAT.

“The planning that was done on this was second to none, and the issue was planning,” Darling said.

Councillor Aaron Burchat agreed. By the time the public sees these applications, he pointed out, a staggering amount of work has already been done behind the scenes. They see a finished product that is the result of professional expertise.


Farmers' Market kicks off the spring

At 10 a.m. on May 5, Councillor Suzanne Seguin and Mayor Gil Brocanier will be piped into the Cobourg Farmers' Market to celebrate the opening of the 2018 season – the first at their new location around the fountain at Cobourg Rotary Waterfront Park.

The bylaw finalizing the lease agreement for the new location was passed at council April 30, and clerk Brent Larmer said both parties are delighted with the plan.

Seguin said that each vendor is allocated a parking spot across the street at their old location, the Market Building. Vendors needing to park closer (such as those handling heavier goods like potatoes) can park at the nearby Albert Street lot behind the transit shelter.

Larmer said visitors can circle the fountain area and check out the vendors, and there will also be a space for musicians.

Other councillors shared news of the coming season, such as Brian Darling's announcement of the boat lift May 12 to 14. As the east pier (usually a prime location for this exercise) is closed, he warned that there will probably be a good deal of traffic congestion.

The campgrounds are scheduled to open May 18, he added, and some of the old lifeguard stations on the beach will be replaced.

Looking ahead to the annual Waterfront Festival on Canada Day weekend, Seguin allowed that there is uncertainty about what will happen to the midway that ran on the east pier all weekend – but meetings are being held to figure it all out.


Lucas Point property sold

Cobourg council has approved the purchase of two acres at Lucas Point Business and Industrial Park by Cardinal Industrial Solutions Inc,

This is a good complement to several local companies that are now expanding and hiring, Mayor Gil Brocanier said at council April 30.

“Welding and fabricating is a good support business for the expansion of existing manufacturing taking place right now,” Brocanier said.

The purchase consisted of two fully serviced acres at $30,000 each, the mayor added - “a very, very reasonable price.”

The Cardinal company should soon begin construction on the building at their new location.


Rowden retires from council

Cobourg councillor Forrest Rowden announced at the April 30 meeting that he is retiring from municipal politics.

His career began in Hamilton Township, where he served terms as both councillor and mayor. He ran for Cobourg council after a brief retirement from Hamilton Township council and won the seat he currently occupies.

It was the eve of May 1, when municipalities will begin taking nominations for the October election.

Rowden will be issuing an official press release at a later date, but made a quiet announcement in advance of May 1 so that anyone interested in running for council will know there is at least one vacancy.