Town governance and Coordinator Syndrome

There are four Council Governance issues we are currently working on:

  1. Changing the current structure of Coordinator-Councillors
  2. Getting Council meetings video-recorded and archived
  3. Getting Councillor votes in the record for non-unanimous decisions,
  4. Having a public question opportunity at the end of Council meetings

Coordinator Structure of Council
The most important one is the current Coordinator structure of Council. It impacts many things. The common model of a Council is that Staff departments make recommendations to Council, and all Councillors understand and evaluate all departments equally. It is called Committee of the Whole, or COW. In Cobourg, each Councillor is assigned a Coordinator role for a particular department, and that Councillor is the department’s representative at Council.

Theoretically, the Coordinator-Councillor understands a particular department deeply, and therefore is positioned to evaluate the quality, efficiency, spending and effectiveness of that department. Overall, Councillors may save themselves time, because they aren’t expected to understand the other Town departments as well as ‘their own’.

Reflecting on the recent Budget Scrum, and remembering numerous Council meetings, we conclude that under the Coordinator model, Councillors suffer from ‘Coordinator-Syndrome’; a mild version of ‘Stockholm-Syndrome’. People with Stockholm Syndrome – “express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them”.

What happens in practice seems to be that the Coordinator-Councillor, rather than being Council’s primary auditor of that department’s performance, tends to become the defender and cheerleader for that staff department, and represents it when presenting the Staff’s recommendations to Council.

This leaves the other 5 Councillors, who don’t understand that department as well, with the job of questioning and critiquing its efficiency, quality and effectiveness. That process may not be rigorous, considering the reciprocal quid-pro-quos of putting a peer on the spot, and knowing that you will be next in the spotlight re. ‘your’ department’s performance.

Compared to a structure in which Councillors are:

  • Unrestricted in understanding all departments
  • Required to evaluate the performance of all staff departments in the same way
  • Hearing department recommendations from staff Directors, not fellow Councillors

The ‘Coordinator Syndrome’ structure seems too flawed. We recommend it be abolished in favor of the normal COW structure, where Staff recommend and Councillors evaluate.

Getting Council meetings video-recorded and archived
If you want to see a Council meeting, you must be there or watch it live on Cogeco, that is if you have Cogeco! You should be able to see what happened when it fits your life. We recommend the low-cost solution of video-recording and being available at any time on YouTube or the Town website. Live streaming is expensive and not needed.

Getting Councillor votes in the record for non-unanimous decisions
Currently, there is no record of how Councillors voted on non-unanimous decisions unless a Councillor asks in advance that it be recorded. We recommend that there be a permanent record of how Councillors vote on all non-unanimous decisions and this historical information be available to the public.

Having a Public Question opportunity at the end of Council meetings
Currently, if you attend Council because you are interested in some subject, there is no opportunity for the public to ask questions. We recommend that there be a public Question Period at the end of Council meetings, as there is in other municipalities.