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Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Transparency needed for community centre project

It appears Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty’s juggernaut reigns supreme one more time as the plans to hire a communications staffer and fundraising co-ordinator for the new Cobourg Community Centre sailed through council this past week.

Cobourg council will lay out about $300,000 for a communications consultant, as well as administrative, office and staffing costs, plus a request for tender from a fundraising campaign co-ordinator to help raise more than $3 million.

Councillor Bob Spooner and Deputy Mayor Gil Brocanier were quick to slap down Councillor Miriam Mutton’s objections when she questioned the need to hire anyone considering the skills of the fundraising committee, which include Katherine Mullin, Lynda Kay, Rhonda Cunningham, Gord Ley and John Ovens, all capable individuals who have the requisite knowledge and experience.

What Mutton failed to point out was the conflict of interest having two major fundraising organizations sitting on the committee. With Kay, who heads up the United Way, and Cunningham, who is in charge of the Northumberland Hills Hospital Foundation, it seems a bit awkward. No doubt their expertise is enormous and benefits the town to have such knowledge to assist. But, to actually sit on the committee means they can influence the fundraising during a period where organizations are competition for scare donations. Of course, they would never manipulate the situation to protect their own donors, but the perception makes it messy.

Then, there is the incredible call for a fundraising campaign organizer. With all the incredible talent within the town, it seems a bit wasteful the town needs to seek outside leadership. Community leaders like Bill Patchett, Don Conway, Lynn Harding, Bill Moebus, and just about any United Way campaign chair in the past few years are all good candidates.

Certainly, raising $3 million is no easy task and represents three times the amount the United Way is raising this year. And, with the tough economic times, it is going to be a tough job. By taking it to a formal process of requiring a request for proposal, it is no longer about community volunteers and it is professionalizing the campaign.

The danger is this may turn off some volunteers and donors because the town may end up with an outside firm. It made sense to have professionals raise help raise the $24 million for the new hospital six years ago. But that was completely different.

But, there are politics at work. Delanty is determined to push this project through council, just like he did with the rink/fountain project in the harbour. He has lined up his players and they are going to serve his goal. And, with his plans to run again in next year’s municipal election, he wants the project to be a success on all fronts for his campaign.

And, Mutton’s effort demonstrates how ineffective she is on council. Even when she raises very valid concerns, she is muted by weak, lame arguments.

Possibly public outcry may work. But, what might be more effective is for donors and service clubs to let council know it needs to clean up it act before any money will be raised and council moves forward.

A call for complete transparency is needed. The committee needs to get a housecleaning and the campaign and communications contracts needs to be revisited. If there is going to be a request for proposals, then both staff positions should require this so the community can see what the plans are going to be. Maybe then, donors will come on board.

If not, then let’s engage the local talent pool and create a body outside the mayor’s office that can do the job free of political interference.

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