Cobourg can take page from Port Hope when dealing with public

Some Cobourg politicians need to take a page from their colleagues over in Port Hope, particularly from freshman councilor Greg Burns. It appears Burns knows how to step up when dealing with the public and admit when mistakes are made, something Cobourg’s veterans don’t seem to know.

When a contingent of Cobourg Wheels service users came before council recently, led by Jerry Ford, it seems his impassioned speech got under Councillor Miriam Mutton’s thin skin.

Ford was upset because the town went ahead and changed the reservation system for the Wheels service for the disabled and frail seniors without any consultation with the users.

Instead of being able to call Van Taxi directly, as was the past practice, users now had to go through Canada Coach. The problem was Canada Coach only took calls during the day, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ford’s advocacy was passionate. He slammed council for the lack of consultation. That was not a big deal. It was when he accused council of discrimination that the fur really began to fly.

“This would not have happened to any other group of citizens in this town,” he said. “That sends an unspoken but very real message that basically says to users that we are not being considered at par with other residents of this town.”

Mutton took exception.

“I felt some of your comments were very harsh and unnecessarily so,” she scolded him after he finished.

Meanwhile, town staff was left scrambling, as no one seemed to know the genesis of the changes in December. The problem appears to be a bureaucratic one involving auditing, but no one thought of the human impact.

This all takes us back to Port Hope Councillor Greg Burns, chair of the Parks, Recreation & Culture committee. He is one of the politicians trying to sort through the Pillars problem in Kinsmen Park. Many residents are angry with a brick and steel structure recently built as part of an overall upgrading of parks along the Ganaraska River. Despite several committees and town council’s involvement, nobody consulted with the public.

Within a week of a very heated council meeting, where local residents and business leaders berated politicians and the town’s hired consultant, Burns gave a full apology and admitted the town made a mistake by not consulting. It was lengthy, comprehensive, direct and sincere.

The major difference between Mutton and Burns is his ability to fall on his sword, as the saying goes. Burns’ actions are rare in politics. For some reason, politicians believe they are morally superior.

There are countless examples of public meetings or deputations where the presenters are made to feel like lowly surfs begging the royal court for small favours. And Burns is smart enough to realize how quickly an admission of guilt can deflates hot tempers and move the discussion forward to a resolution.

Where Ford was different was in his terse assessment of the situation, laying bare the town’s prejudices. His language was strong, but not inappropriate. And, people are allowed to come before council and be angry. Especially in this case where the changes are affecting people’s lives in such a direct way. This group faces enough hardships in a day not to have the town needlessly adding to them.

Mutton likes to remind people about her activist background. For many years, she stood on the other side of the podium making the case for the underdogs of issues facing the town. Now going into her second term and as a veteran council member, she demonstrates the same distain for the public that was a hallmark of a particular group on the last council.

It seems the old boys club is now taking women members.

Maybe Mutton and others on council will look down the road at the example in Port Hope and find a path towards redemption by simply swallowing their massive egos and showing some compassion rather than disdain.

One thought on “Cobourg can take page from Port Hope when dealing with public

  1. Greg Burns may have been the first on this council to break ranks but as I recall about a year or so ago then-Ward 2 Councillor Cal Morgan did something both similar and unheard of; he refused to vote in favour of a motion strongly supported by Her Worship. I don’t even recall what the motion was. All I remember was sitting next to John Floyd and when Cal quietly said “I’m sorry. I cannot support this motion” Linda Thompson bowed her head and staring downward said “Lovely. Lovely. Lovely…”. It was a shocking display. It was as if everybody had to go along with whatever Thompson wanted and God help those who didn’t. To me it exemplified Barbara Eherenreich’s dictum: Positive thinking is neither. Watching the bobble-headed team players at Port Hope Council these last four years and seeing the mess their Happy Face Teamwork claptrap has gotten us into makes me thank God there’s a Greg Burns to pick up where Cal Morgan left off.

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