Municipal questions

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Cobourg Council 1920, sitting in the front row, all nine of them. The back row is the Municipal Staff.

Looks like the Municipal Councils in the East of Northumberland cannot get along. Factional splits in Councils are nothing new, in fact almost every Council has them. But the issues of behaviour in Cramahe and Brighton are worthy of note and leads us to ask the question – “Is the four year term of Councils too long?”

The history and compositions of Councils is varied but in Cobourg, (quoting Edwin Guillet “Cobourg 1798 – 1948”) the norm has been nine members of Council at most times. The exceptions were in the early 1900s when County Government was being organised and the positions of Reeve, 1st Deputy Reeve and 2nd Deputy Reeve were installed. A nine member Council was the rule until the first round of amalgamations in the 00s when the County downsized and the position of Deputy Reeve ceased to exist and was replaced, in Cobourg by a new position; Deputy Mayor. Cobourg now has seven members on the Council. After the reorganisation of County Council and amalgamations, Northumberland County Council reduced its thirteen Towns and Townships to seven. All Townships reduced the total amount of Councillors at that time.

The history of Council terms is much clearer. Since the establishment of the Cobourg Police Board in 1837 elections were held every year. The Province of Ontario allowed Municipalities to hold two year terms in 1944 but no City held one until Toronto in 1956. Cobourg followed suit later and in 1983 followed another Provincial edict – three year terms and then in 2006 a four year term was instituted.

The law of unintended consequences kicked in that time and now we have the situation of entrenched incumbents and factional infighting, in some Councils. The problem with a four year term is that if such circumstances exist the electorate is stuck with a dysfuntional Council, usually exhibited by a four – three split in the vote count. However adding to the mix is the natural tension between the Deputy mayor and the real Mayor. Hamilton Twp has settled down this term but it was open warfare last term led by the then DM Isobel Hie. Cramahe Twp has been a two – three split vote almost from the kickoff, again the Mayor on the winning side and the DM usually losing.

Now it has really flared up in Cramahe. The innocuous subject of signing off on a Municipal Audit has the guns out and flaming press releases have hit the airwaves. DM Arthur stated at a couple of meetings ago that Cramahe Council was being asked to sign off on an audit and asked that letter be deferred for a couple of weeks to gather information before a vote. When the letter came came back she stated that Cramahe was being singled out and wanted to know why. We guess that was the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Mayor Coombs was concerned he fired off a press release, read it here, that basically said she had questioned the integrity of the Staff. He continued to dress her down – “The spreading of false information, whether intentional or not, simply by its inference damages the reputation of all councillors, staff and the Municipality at large. It is every councillors duty to perform their duties in a way that promotes public confidence in Council, staff and the municipality in general.” DM Arthur then flamed back in an email, read it here. She wasn’t having any of it saying that all she was doing was asking questions of the Staff in the normal manner that a member of Council should. Stay tuned for this one but this is just a sympton of bad feelings. Mayor Coombs should remind himself of the way he came to power – overthrowing a sitting Mayor in a summertime putsch.

Brighton is now in the throws of something similar. After many months of Staff/Council problems, which culminated in a report to Council last year that acknowledges the problems between the Mayor’s office, Staff and Councillors all of which appears to be a rat’s nest, everybody resolved to work better. Then comes a bombshell when the Mayor – Mark Walas announced as a developer of a subdivision his Company was taking the Town to the OMB. This action has dismayed his supporters. Cllr Martinello issued an email that summarises the issue and suggests that Mr Walas should resign. A copy of his email is here. Another Councillor Brian Ostrander has expressed his dismay also.

A recording of the debate, where a unanimous vote on a motion to refuse the application is below. Debate stops at the 13.40 mark.

 All of these actions do question the wisdom of a long four year term, if the term had not changed from a two or three year term we would have been able to toss these problems out!

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