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Council matters


Council matters

17 March 2017 (St Patrick’s Day!)

Heads and brick walls – and anger

After quite some thought, it would seem, the highly regarded Jeff de Jager has responded to my comments on his public accusation that The Beagle is waging a vendetta against council; telling us that:

There's an old saying "If at first you don't succeed, then have another go, you mug!" Mug indeed, if after umpteen bashes of heads against brick walls, the methods employed are neither introspectively questioned nor varied.

This wisdom echo’s Allan Brown’s earlier, accompanying rhetorical question:

What has he and his associates actually achieved with all that effort over that time?

Firstly, Jeff, I am very surprised to see a lapse in the usual rigour of your thinking and expression. I can’t imagine that you are presuming to know what introspections I might entertain. It would however have been very fair to say that “the methods employed are, seemingly, neither questioned nor varied.”

My response to your elaboration of the “old saying”, and Allan’s question, is that, yes, like many – yourself included – I have indeed been bashing my head against a brick wall over the years, in trying to get council to do things differently – but I have not always been bashing my head. I have made some ground, here and there. But, admittedly, the effort has been disproportionately huge – as, I am sure, is the time and effort you spend at the keyboard. I like to think that your contributions are directed to informing and to making positive change and that’s why you keep at it – in spite of so often not being listened to or not having your beautiful Perry Mason questions to senior staff sensibly answered.

Sure, my nature compels me to keep at in spite of the poor results but it is simplistic to assume that my and others’ efforts are simply a repeat of what has gone before. For a start, we have a new council – which does actually have a number of independent thinkers, who want change, in a greater proportion than I have seen before. As we all know very well, change can only take place through the councillors and I think that this time round we really do have a chance.

By the way, you might recall that I made an attempt to replace at least a part of the brick wall with a responsive ear when I ran for council at the last election. And against my keenness, we ended up with the irony of some of our new councillors actually having no wish to be on council, finding themselves at the top of the list.

And so, in my view, it is not sensible to describe the various strategies and approaches, as they are applied to changing contexts and circumstances, with the simple label of “methods” – as though there is just one set of methods being applied to an unchanging entity. The entity is changing and so are the methods. The Beagle is a prime example of a change in the “method”. It is a medium that is enabling more people than ever before in this shire to become informed – and inform - and to express their views, and thus exert influence on our representatives.

Secondly, Jeff, I see that you have given a blanket “Good advice“-approval to former councillor KD’s considered views – as though they could not have been better said. Strange bedfellows but it’s always good to see harmony where it is least expected. And then you speak of the frustration of the long-running method of public forum not being used to address “so many issues raised here [in The Beagle]”. Now that is confusing. What are you calling for? Are you wanting people to hit their heads against the wall by presenting at public forum? In any event, in my mind, public forum will always have its place as a “method” for bringing councillors’ attention to matters of concern to the community. As I say, we now have a majority of councillors who want change. A unified approach by them is the challenge; hence my suggestion that they get together, away from the staff and, yes, off centre, away from the chamber – maybe out at the racecourse.

And thirdly, and finally (for the time being) Jeff, I agree wholeheartedly that the meetings need the return of the tea break – introduced by the very affable Ferg Thomson but done away with by his successor, the current Councillor Brown. The tea, coffee and bickies at 10 paces did occur at times but, overwhelmingly, the event – which would run for around 15 minutes and sometimes more – did wonders for good relations. It provided an ideal opportunity for anyone attending (from the public gallery) to meet with his or her representatives and the senior staff. Even community awards would occasionally take place during these breaks. Our mayor would do well to reintroduce the tea break.

On another matter that has come up from a Beagle contributor – on the subject of “anger” (towards council): a commentator on the letter headed “And what of the BBay Aquatic Centre” has said that “And, now, Peter McCormick wants to know why some in the community get so angry”. I ask that contributor (whose name is given as “Don’t spook the council”) to please read my 13 March Council matters again and he will see that I know very well some of the reasons why people get angry with council but I object to the ways in which that anger is sometimes expressed.

Now, to yet other matters:

The Unofficial Noticeboard

The Beagle’s Unofficial Council Noticeboard is a recent and very welcome addition to the wealth of freely-available information that The Beagle provides to the community. It is “Unofficial” because it is not provided directly by council to The Beagle, even though The Beagle has requested direct access to it.

As you will see from the report at the preceding link, council is “considering” allowing The Beagle to have direct access to it. I understand that it has been “considering” for about two months!

And you will see from the report that the local newspapers – the Bay Post, Moruya Examiner and the Narooma News are provided with a copy of council’s Noticeboard, by council. So, if you want to see the Noticeboard, other than through The Beagle, you will need to buy a hardcopy paper. And since council does not provide its Noticeboard on its website (at least I can’t see it there), citizens are compelled to pay for information that clearly ought to be available free of charge.

So, as well as causing the public to be charged for information that should be freely available, The Beagle is being treated by council quite differently from the way it treats the standard papers. In fact it is being treated punitively. And this in spite of council’s own Media Policy which, at section 4, states that

Media organisations and their representatives will be treated equally and without bias.

As well, this position adopted by council flies in the face of the “Object” of the section 3 of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, GIPA, as presented at section 3 of that act:

3 Object of Act

(1) In order to maintain and advance a system of responsible and representative democratic Government that is open, accountable, fair and effective, the object of this Act is to open government information to the public by:

(a) authorising and encouraging the proactive public release of government information by agencies, and

(b) giving members of the public an enforceable right to access government information, and ....

Surely, councillors will address this matter at the earliest opportunity and direct staff to follow both council’s own policy and the requirements of the GIPA.

Off-leash Dog Park for Batemans Bay – a step closer

On 28 February I attended a small meeting at council on the subject of an off-leash dog park at Batemans Bay – previously briefly reported on elsewhere. The meeting arose from a resolution of council on 13 December 2016 – as described in the 17 December Council matters.

Just as it happened at the 13 December meeting of council, at this small meeting – of a council officer and four community representatives – a great deal of attention was given to the funding of an off-leash park at the Bay. This expectation, of community funding, has been a constant theme since the matter was first raised in the chamber on 22 November 2016, during the non-agenda public forum (Public Access session). At that time both Councillors Brown and Nathan made a thing of the expectation that the community would step forward with funding for such a project.

The point was made at that time by public forum presenters that such parks are the norm elsewhere in the country and that this shire is completely out of step. Elsewhere they are provided as a matter of course, just as sports fields are.

In researching the availability of off-leash dog parks throughout the country, I came across one council that rather jumped out at me: that of the City of Boroondara, in Melbourne, the council that our General Manager was previously CEO of. You will see that they know how to provide for off-leash dog parks in a big way.

I wonder just how much money was obtained from the dog-loving Boroondara residents – other than through rates and other charges – for the establishment of these parks. I am quite sure that our GM could enlighten us on that one.

The incomplete (truncated) presentation of section 14 of the Companion Animals Act 1998, as shown at page 21 of Council’s Companion Animal Management Plan 2015-19, which excludes reference to sub-sections 14(4) and (5) of the act (being those conditions and locations for which dogs are NOT prohibited), begs questions about the attitude of our council to dogs per se and more generally to the importance of dogs within our society. But I must remain positive!

Returning to the meeting held at council on 28 February, it was very well facilitated by the council staff member and I, along with others, am looking forward to hearing back on what council is prepared to do to meet the requests made at that meeting.

The next meeting of council is to be held on Tuesday 28 March and given the cancellation of the 14 March meeting, together with the need for the Draft Delivery Program and Community Strategic Plan to be placed on exhibition, we can expect a very big agenda on that day. As a reminder, the agenda for that meeting can be expected to be available on council’s website on Wednesday 22 March. And if you want to say anything to councillors, in the chamber – either about items on the agenda or not (but relevant to council) – you will need to register to speak by 12 pm on Monday 27 March.


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