Cobourg Councillor Outraged at Pending Council Chamber Changes

In City Hall

(Today’s Northumberland file photo)

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Cobourg Councillor Miriam Mutton expressed her outrage at length at their February meeting when the report of upgrading council chambers was presented.

Though the project was approved during budget deliberations and its $30,000 price tag is within budget for desk upgrades, reconfiguration and technology upgrades, Mutton reopened the debate.

“I have a question – what is the problem we are trying to solve?” she challenged.

Municipal Clerk Brent Larmer said much of the problem is accessibility. The height of the desks is not accommodating, for example, and the layout of workspace areas is not an efficient use of space.

“We like to be proactive instead of reactive,” Larmer said.

Council chambers serve as a meeting place for members of the accessibility advisory committee as well, he pointed out. And though the current members of council do not require special accommodations, that could easily change.

Mutton retorted that she had done all the measurements referenced in the report for herself, and they are not accurate.

“I will express, at first, disappointment that, as a member of the current council, I was not asked to provide comment with regard to what I need as a member who uses this space,” she added.

“We have a very classic-looking council chamber, and we are not that far off from accessibility standards.”

She suggested that the desk height could be fixed with the easy and inexpensive expedient of putting the desks on casters.

“All I really want is a new chair,” she added.

Councillor Adam Bureau said the matter had already been voted on and decided.

“Are we going to reconsider the layout and get proper measurements, or are we going to look at any of that at all?” Mutton asked.

Bureau expressed confidence in staff to get the job done right – approving the budget and the project was the job of council, he said, and the rest is operations.

“If we look at things in context, this is the main room council conducts its business in,” Mutton continued.

“Why would we not be consulted? Why would we not be asked what, if any, problems are there?”

She noted that she had attended the last accessibility advisory committee in this room, and reported that “half the committee doesn’t even attend in person. They were on Zoom.”

“This is a decision this council made, that we were looking to upgrade this room to meet modernization standards – you didn’t agree at the time,” Mayor Lucas Cleveland said.

“However, this council made a decision to move forward with this plan. Your points are valid but, on that note, you have to agree with Councillor Bureau – when we start telling staff how to measure lines and there’s disappointment at the job they have done, I can’t stand by that.”

Larmer said the report involved more than simple measurements – which, by the way, came from the maintenance department that does all the work in Victoria Hall.

“I have confidence with what they have provided,” he declared.

“The measurements were inaccurate,” Mutton insisted.

“I have not been asked what my needs are in order to carry out my job in this room.”

Cleveland reminded her that she was just one councillor, and that their business was what works for the community as opposed to what works for any individual.

“My point is my accommodation needs,” Mutton continued.

“That does not mean that council decides to tell me what my accommodation needs are. I know what they are – that’s the main difference. No one has actually asked me.”

“Your complaints are understood, your frustration and disappointment with the process at times,” Cleveland said.

“Unless there’s a majority of councillors that share your concerns, that’s the unfortunate and fortunate process of democracy. I just don’t like the idea of telling staff the job they are doing is disappointing, and I just don’t like the idea of us getting involved in the actual operations of deciding furniture in the council chamber.”

Councillor Brian Darling, with a background in construction, pointed out that no contractor would accept measurements as presented in any case – they would come in and make their own measurements before getting to work.

Mutton asked for a recorded vote on her amendment to refer the report to the accessibility advisory committee, along with her own option for the existing desks. Only she and Councillors Randy Barber and Aaron Burchat voted in favour.

The original motion to endorse the upgrades passed, with only Mutton voting against.

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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