(L-R)Gail Latchford, Brian Ostrander, Mandy Martin, Bob Sanderson, John Henderson, Bob Crate, Bill Crane: NorCtyImage

New committee system takes the steam out of county council meetings

Article by Valerie MacDonald

Northumberland County councillors whizzed through the open portion of the February 17 council agenda in half an hour with only a short discussion on one agenda item.

The short duration is due to the new multiple committee system of meetings that precedes the monthly county council session. If no councillors ask for items to be pulled for discussion, then no discussion of county business takes place.

The impact of this new six-committee system at the County Council session was raised by County Deputy Warden and Cramahe Mayor Mandy Martin. Calling it a “concern” and not a “criticism,” she noted that while all councillors can sit in on all of the six committee meetings (even those they don’t belong to) and that the public can see these meetings on YouTube as well, Martin said, “here we are at county council and nothing is being discussed.”

During the last county council meeting, items were pulled out of the committee meetings for discussion, but Brighton Mayor Brian Ostrander noted he didn’t repeat this procedure this month, as he had during the last session, because he didn’t need to.

“I’m comfortable moving forward (without discussions on the committee items),” he said.

Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson said he was not sure how much the public is getting involved with the new committee system and wanted to know more. He also noted he found it hard to see the meeting using the YouTube connection provided for the public.

“I had hoped we would have had more public involvement,” Sanderson said. It’s through this new committee system that the County is seeking more “transparency…and we are not getting that,” he said.

Maybe “we are missing” information about items that “we don’t know we are missing, by not virtually attending all those committee meetings which individual councillors are not part of, Alnwick/Haldimand Mayor Gail Latchford said.

The issue of the material provided in closed committee meetings was also raised by several councillors who were ultimately told by staff arrangements could be made for them to participate in these although not to vote at that time, if they weren’t members.

Like closed County Councillors meetings, closed committee meetings are held in camera and not seen by the public or the media.

Without discussion at the County Council level, it doesn’t “give reporters something to report” and for the public to know where their representatives stand on various matters, Latchford also said.

During the media question period at the end of the County Council meeting, Warden and Trent Hills Mayor Bob Crate told the News Now Network that the media (as well as the public) can view the individual committee meetings and the media can ask questions at them. (This can be done through Zoom committee meeting connections provided by the County, as well as during County Council.)

The county’s chief administrative officer, Jennifer Moore, reiterated that both types of meetings are open to media and the public, and with “relaxed” notification periods, the public can request to be a delegation at either/or the committee or council sessions. She said County Council meetings of the past were getting very long with discussions on all matters.

There are also agendas and committee meeting minutes posted online, the Warden also said.

Asked about recordings of council and committee meetings, the County’s spokesperson Kate Campbell provided this clarification  “while the sessions are being held virtually, these recordings are available upon request by completing the request form found on our website:

https://forms.northumberland.ca/Document-Request-Form.

The County is also exploring how to record in-person Council and Committee sessions in the future. Recommendations regarding the necessary technology and upgrades will come before County Council in 2021.”

Meantime public access to existing agenda and committee meetings can be accessed through Northumberland.ca/Council and youtube.com/user/CountyNorthumberland

During Wednesday’s brief County Council meeting most of the items contained within the six committee meetings were received for information. The exception was a bylaw repealed, negating the County’s rental of the Boy Scout Camp on County Road 45 north of Baltimore for a year due to the pandemic, staff explained.

Within the committee minutes online that were not discussed at County Council on Wednesday, there was a report received for information on the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre’s push to create more income. Development of a sponsorship program is underway to be launched through social media and to be accessed on the web, the report stated. 

“The sponsorship package communicates values/benefits – food security/creating employment/food innovation and product development,” it states. The sponsorship goal is to attract 55 public/private sector organizations to pay $5,000 yearly for two years.

Another report received at the committee level, and not discussed at County Council, was an update on construction of the multi-million dollar Golden Plough Lodge and museum project which included organizing a $1.2-million initial payment to the contractor. On the ground, fencing and site trailers have been installed and topsoil striped next to the existing Lodge, located north of the County Headquarters. There will be changes to Courthouse Road during construction, the report also stated, while a development agreement is soon to be struck with the Town of Cobourg.

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