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Bill Thompson thinks so and so does Grahame Woods.  Bill emailed Mayor Gil Brocanier recently and Gil said that legal advice was that it would open up Council to litigation.  Bill has established that five out of the seven municipalities in Northumberland County do have a Question period so why not Cobourg?  Cobourg already allows delegations, petitions and presentations but there is no provision for simple questions to be asked at short notice by the public.  The media do get the opportunity at every meeting to ask questions of Councillors but these are only public to the extent that the media publishes them.

Mayor Gil BrocanierMayor Gil BrocanierWhen responding to Bill's questions, Gil made it clear that he was concerned about the possible problems as pointed out by the Town's legal advisors. Gil said that: "Some municipalities have ignored their advice and allowed question periods that often turn into shouting matches and even Police enforcement. You need to look no further than Port Hope to see evidence of this." [Gil said that "the two professional experts on municipal law and the Municipal Act are Fred Dean and Nigel Bellchamber"] 

The pot was further stirred by Grahame Woods in his regular column in Northumberland Today on Sept 6 when he criticised the Mayor’s response to Bill’s questions.  Grahame suggested that the Town allocate up to 30 minutes at the end of every Council meeting to a Question Period.  Residents would have 5 minutes to ask their question and would be required to register no later than an hour before the meeting but there would be no requirement to disclose the subject matter.  Certainly food for thought.

It’s not the first time it’s been proposed.   When the Public Engagement Policy was discussed on December 12, 2016, the Cobourg Taxpayers Association (CTA) asked for “Questions from the public at Council meetings” but the Council response was “At this time, Council will not be adopting a question period”.  Then again on August 20th, 2017, the CTA made the request on their blog – they quoted an article by David Hughes which said that: “Cobourg Council does not allow a question and answer period for residents”.  This blanket statement ignores the ability by citizens to make a presentation to Council although these are usually about significant issues with a lot of data provided.  However, Bill Thompson says that many citizens want an opportunity to ask simple questions and, as I would describe it, don’t need a lot of Power Point slides.  If presentations are allowed, why not an open Q & A?

In addition to formal presentations and media reports, residents can always phone or email councillors or senior Town staff. (Emails for Councillors and staff are here)  My experience is that they respond quickly although you may not always like the answers.

This request for a Q & A session would seem to be a natural extension of the stated Council goal of improved transparency.  It seems there are a number of people who would like the Council to at least discuss this idea.



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