Council Matters | Peter Cormick
The first meeting of council for 2017 will take place on Tuesday 14 February – and given the numerous and significant tasks that lie ahead for the year, we can expect it to be a busy one. The agenda for the meeting should be on council’s website on Wednesday 8 February. And, as a reminder, meetings can be viewed on the internet, as they occur, or subsequently from the archived records of the meetings.
But before I launch into what I have to say on this occasion, I need to acknowledge and comment on a (politely delivered and moderate) criticism that I have received; not so much about the content – though it’s early days - but more about the style and, in particular, the volume. “Less is more”, I hear at times – and not just from this particular person. It is an adage that I appreciate the wisdom of – in its place. It’s all about getting the attention of the reader at the outset and getting to the point. In other words, it has been suggested that I should say what I have to say, in fewer words. The problem for me, though, is that I am not a ‘less is more’ sort of person. The devil is always in the detail; and the whole is made of the parts – and in any event the subject matter does not lend itself to nifty, attention-grabbing lines. But, at the suggestion from another quarter, I will henceforth endeavour to provide an outline of what I intend addressing, at the commencement. I am of course very aware that the subject of local government and in particular the subject of governance is not for the majority and for most is in fact eye-glazing material. This column is plainly not in the style of a best seller. It is for those who are already interested in what our shire council is up to and for those who want to learn a little more on how ‘things work’ – hence the proliferation of hyperlinks. I am by no means an expert on local government matters. I simply have an interest in the subject of politics generally and in particular the politics that affects us all at the front line – at local government level. So, let me commence by outlining what is to follow: • The stock-standard matters that council will need to address in the first half of this year, such as the Community Strategic Plan, a review of the Delegations to the General Manager, the Delivery Plan, etc. These matters include those that the relevant legislation requires of council – about which there is no discretion. • The non-stock-standard matters that council will need to address, sooner rather than later. These are of the kind that will invariably require the initiative of councillors, supported by a majority of them and, in some cases, concern matters that some people will regarded as contentious – and which will require debate. They include those such as the Gerondal matter, the Town Signs and the AMA’s declaration that the “Possession of firearms in the community represents a public health issue”. And under this non-stock-standard heading there are also matters that councillors will bring forward either directly, through Notices of Motion or indirectly, through Questions on Notice (as one means), which can lead to further discussion and then action. One such Notice of Motion that I am aware of is to be put forward by Councillor McGinlay on 14 February. It deals with the matter of divestment of Council investments which support the fossil fuel industry. More on that below. Stock-standard tasks ahead for council Some of the significant, even if routine, items that are due for council’s attention in the first half of the year include: • The development and finalisation of a revised Community Strategic Plan (for adoption by 30 June 2017). The CSP is, according to the Local Government Act 1993 (LGA), a plan that “identifies the main priorities and aspirations for the future of the local government area covering a period of at least 10 years from when the plan is endorsed”. It is the overarching plan that all other plans produced by council must work to. It is therefore important that when a draft of the CSP is put on exhibition, in the early part of this year, residents take the opportunity to have their say on what they would like to see for the shire; • A Community Engagement Strategy, or Framework – “based on social justice principles [of equity, access, participation and rights] ” (s 402(4) of the LGA), that will not only enable a meaningful engagement with the community during the development of the CSP but also enable such engagement for the numerous other, non-statutory, proposals and policies that demand a genuine engagement with the community; • The development of a Resourcing Strategy, a Delivery Program (the forward estimates for the next 4 years and an Operational Plan (the budget for 2017-18), by 30 June 2017. The Delivery Program, you might recall, is the very thing that the Citizens’ Jury was charged with in providing a report and recommendations to council – on the questions “Is council spending our money on the right things? If not what should change?”. Councillors will be responding to the CJ’s report sometime during March, and that should be a very interesting debate to witness – if indeed a debate actually takes place; • A review of the Code of Meeting Practice. Aspects of this code are well overdue for reform; • A review of the Delegations of functions to the General Manager. As I have said previously, these Delegations were not reviewed during the term of the previous council – in breach of section 380 of the LGA (without consequences!); and • A review of the General Manager’s performance. This task is charged to the Mayor and other councillors: sections 226 (n) and 223 (i) of the LGA
Non-stock-standard matters that need to be resolved by council - With so many to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start under this heading but the Gerondal matter is surely right up there, if not at the top. You have no doubt read Ian Hitchcock’s letter to The Beagle, in which he has provided a brief description of one aspect of this matter: the tender process and the charges applied for the removal of the building and other items (all classified as waste). I recall clearly when in December 2012, in public forum, I expressed criticism of the way in which council had been dealing with the Gerondal matter, describing it as high-handed only to be told by the then General Manager that I was being untruthful in my description of what the Land and Environment Court had to say about our council’s handling of the matter. A couple of weeks later, just before Christmas, I received a letter from him, which attempted to justify the high-handed approach and demanded an apology from me – for my criticisms! Those criticisms included reference to what Justice Pain of the LEC had to say about the ESC (at paragraphs 49 and 50 of Gerondal v Eurobodalla Shire Council  NSWLEC 160 (25 September 2009)). For all concerned, an independent review of the whole matter needs to be undertaken, soon – to finally put it to rest. Everyone who I have spoken with about the Main Town Signs has, without exception, ridiculed them. Local artist/designer Toby Whitelaw made a first class public forum presentation to council on this matter on 26 July last year, in which he describes all that is wrong with them and what should have happened in creating suitable signs. You will see from the link, that council’s response to him is really quite galling. Yet nothing has come of the complaints. It is up to our councillors to rectify what I regard as an embarrassment to the shire, when visitors encounter these signs. - The recent Position Statement by the Australian Medical Association that “Possession of firearms in the community represents a public health issue” needs to be addressed by council. Given that council has statutory public health responsibilities, it has no choice but to address this matter. If staff find this subject too difficult to deal with, then a councillor or councillors will need to take the initiative. But I am hopeful that staff will do the right thing. - The only Notice of Motion for 14 February that I am aware of, prior to having seen the agenda (due to be available next Wednesday), is one by Councillor McGinlay, on the subject of divestment of council’s investments that support the fossil fuel industry. Clr McGinlay has been distinguishing himself as a clear-thinking, open and articulate councillor who makes no bones about what his views are on a wide range of subjects that come before council. In my seeking information on his proposed motion he told me that he had “noted some of [his] fellow councillors have been advising the media of issues that are important to them and upon which they intend to act in this New Year”. He feels that this “is a positive and open approach” and applauds them for it; and in the same spirit, took advantage of the opportunity to advise me that he “intends to act as soon as possible to allow councillors to demonstrate their commitment to our environment ... and will put forward a Notice of Motion at the first meeting for the year, to introduce a moderate divestment strategy for the approx. $85.9m that Council invests on the community's behalf.” The finer details of the motion won’t be available until 8 February but he was able to say that “The proposed divestment strategy will not require any deviation from, or changes to Council's current conservative and risk averse ' Investment Policy.'” And that “The target is modest in seeking to move, over the remainder of this financial year, a proportion of our investments currently held in term deposits with financial institutions that support the fossil fuel industries, to financial institutions that have a stated intent and/or a track record of not supporting the fossil fuel industry.” He went on to say that it is a motion “based on the premise, supported overwhelmingly by scientific evidence, that carbon emissions through the consumption of fossil fuels are a major contributor to climate change, which is the single biggest threat to our collective environment. Any action that moves to redirect our small community's financial investments away from such activities and towards more socially and environmentally longer term renewable and sustainable energy investment and infrastructure is something I trust and hope our community would support and be proud of.” Even in the absence of the fine details of the motion –available on 8 February - this motion is one that clearly deserves, if not requires, unanimous support. I am very aware that a number of people in our community scoff at any suggestion of fossil fuels having anything to do with the undeniable warming of our planet. There is nothing that I or anyone else, I imagine, can do or say to convince them otherwise but I can’t help myself and ask anyone who is so disposed to at least read the material at this link, as a starting point, from the organisation that really did put man on the moon: NASA.
Above The Mayoral Gavel made from the original Tuross Head One Tree Norfolk Pine