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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Council Matters

Councillors have an agenda (with associated papers) of just 340 odd pages to look through for Tuesday’s meeting; being far less than the 490 odd pages presented to them at the last meeting. I’m sure that the standard briefing on the agenda provided by staff, the Tuesday before the meeting, will have made that task a lot easier. Though, no doubt, at least one or two councillors will rely on those briefings as a substitute for applying themselves independently to the papers. It’s probably best to take a mixed approach and delve into the details as one sees the need.

Matters arising and not arising

But before getting onto the agenda for Tuesday, there are a few matters that have arisen – and not arisen - during the past week that warrant some attention.

Stepping into the fray

Since he came on board, Councillor McGinlay has been showing himself to be a genuine reformist: always polite but determined to say it as it is. He will articulate questions and make points in a way that I have not so far seen in the chamber. He has, as but one example – and in very reasonable terms - questioned the transparency of the processes and outcomes of the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee. On that occasion we heard of the novel term “referred transparency” in which, it must be assumed, the ARIC refers whatever the subject matter might be, to staff, for staff to decide on just what if anything should be revealed to the public.

And now he has well and truly stepped outside the square, by utilising the electronic media – namely The Beagle – to communicate with his constituency. That is a brave and innovative move. He is not doing as some former councillors have done in the past and used the media to lambast council over a matter of grievance. He is inviting people to make contact with him, to send in their ideas and requests. How much easier for a councillor to simply sit back in silence – having the bare minimum to say at meetings, if anything – than to step into the fray in this way.

Naturally, he has copped (irrational) flak from some quarters. Such is the mix we enjoy here in the Eurobodalla.

And then we have Councillor Nathan who has joined in and taken part in one of the many of The Beagle’s ‘discussion groups’, setting a contributor right on a matter that I can’t recall at the moment – being a little after 9 pm Sunday night - and with my internet connection having disappeared, I am unable to check on just what it was she said. But it was very good to see her name there in the midst of the fray.

[Given that my internet connection has dropped out - unless it comes back on before too long - I’m afraid that I won’t be able to provide quite as many (attributed) extracts or any hyperlinks as I normally do – unless I happen to have the material on my hard drive and can in fact ‘do a copy and paste’. No doubt those who have an aversion to what they ignorantly describe as ‘cut and paste’ will be pleased that they have been spared – in part at least - from the confusion caused to them by such distractions.]

Councillors and ‘operational’ matters

There have been questions raised on the subject of just what involvement councillors ought to have in so-called ‘operational’ matters. Very briefly, councillors are – amongst many other duties - obliged to “keep under review the performance of the council, including service delivery” (section 223 of the LGA). The terms of the General Manager’s contract - as presented at section 6 of the Standard Contract (for GMs) – state:

6.1.2 [the General Manager will] carry out the duties and functions imposed by the Act and Regulation, or any other Act and associated regulations, which include but are not limited to: (a) the efficient and effective operation of Council’s organisation, (b) implementing, without undue delay, the decisions of Council, (c) exercising such of the functions of Council as are delegated by Council to the employee ....

So, the governing body is responsible for overseeing the performance of council, which is overseen by the General Manager. If ‘operations’ are not going as the governing body requires then of course the GM will be advised accordingly – thus impacting upon ‘operations’. Certainly, though, day-to-day operations are under the charge of the GM; but it is always open to the governing body, most conveniently through the mayor, to direct the GM, if that were ever necessary, to maintain compliance with the terms of the contract as they might concern operational matters.

Delegations and Code of Meeting Practice

As to ‘matters not arising’, I am disappointed to see that there is no report on the subject of Delegations (of functions to the General Manager) in Tuesday’s agenda. I am however confident that delegations will be reviewed, certainly within 12 months of the term of this new council but just how they might be reviewed is unknown to the community – at this point in time at least. It may well be that a review of sorts will be conducted by staff and the community will not know about it until after the event. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. And, certainly, let’s hope that a review is not conducted by staff. After all, it is the staff who will be receiving the delegations and it is therefore very important that an independent, expert facilitator undertake the task and that it be available for members of the public to observe. Why would anyone object to that happening?

Also, I had hoped that a report recommending a review of the Code of Meeting Practice would have been on the agenda. Maybe next time!

And so to the agenda:

Electric highways

At page 3 of the agenda we see that Councillor Tait is a real surprise. He voted against the motion of a meeting or two ago by Councillor McGinlay on the divestment of council investments in fossil fuel but has put together an extraordinarily erudite Notice of Motion that promotes the use of electric vehicles and so-called “electric highways” which include “electric vehicle charging facilities”. But surprises aside, his NOM is in my view, first class. It looks to the vehicle transport future that awaits us and to ways of making preparation for it. Full marks.

Dog recreational facilities at Batemans Bay

At page 6 we see that Councillor Mayne has asked a Question on Notice (QON). As Deputy Mayor, he is presently acting as mayor, while Mayor Innes is taking a well-deserved break and he will therefore be chairing Tuesday’s meeting.

The QON seeks a progress report on the implementation of council’s resolution on 13 December 2016 concerning dog recreational facilities in the shire. More specifically, it concerns the progress that has been made on the establishment of “dog recreational and training facilities in the Batemans Bay area”. In a nutshell, all that has happened in the past 4 months is that a meeting has been held, on 28 February, between a staff member and several interested members of the community, the outcome of which is yet to be learnt. Another such meeting is scheduled for April/May to discuss “the four sites” proposed as possibilities by staff. I expect that there will be at least one public forum presentation on this item on the day.

Motions for submission to the National General Assembly (of local government authorities Australia-wide) At page 8 of the agenda you will see that the General Manager has recommended that council approve two motions for consideration by the Australian Local Government Association for submission to the NGA. As you will also see, on page 9, the motions concern the release of helium balloons and the divestment of fossil fuel related investments. I can’t imagine any rational person opposing this recommendation.

Community Strategic Plan (CSP) (at pages 13 to 17)

The CSP is, as we are told in the report, “the highest level plan that Council will prepare as part of the Integrated Planning and reporting (IPR) framework”.

The draft CSP is to be placed on exhibition for 27 days (if my arithmetic is correct), being one day short of the required minimum period of 28 days (see section 402(6) of the LGA (internet connection just back on!) which states that the draft CSP must be placed on exhibition for “at least 28 days”). But time is running out to have this most important Plan endorsed by councillors, by 30 June.

There is so much that can and needs to be said about the draft CSP - and much of it positive – but that will need to wait for more conducive circumstances. But I should say that anyone who wants to (attempt to) influence what council does and its priorities, really should study the draft CSP and, making as much sense of it as you can, have your say.

In flipping through the draft I am struck by many aspects but particularly by the “Monitoring Progress” section at pages 33 to 36. Just where the “set of [48] key community indicators” have come from, I have no idea but looking at them I am bewildered not only at just what they are but more by their order. “Community services and facilities” is placed at the bottom!! “Condition of water ways” and “Employment” and “Economic growth and diversity” are well down; with “Self-reported health” and “Adequate physical exercise” up at the top. There must be an explanation for this apparent nonsense and I will look for it when I have time.

Delivery Program Review – Citizens’ Jury (page 18)

Council staff have prepared a response to the report provided to council by the Citizens’ Jury on 13 December 2016. Even given that there have been four months in which to prepare this response it is nonetheless clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into preparing it - and that it has been very well written. Its 86 pages dwarfs the 14 page report that it responds to.

In summary, council staff have not supported just 7 of the 86 recommendations made by the CJ. (Yes, the number of pages in the response equals the number of recommendations made by the CJ – but there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the recommendations and the pages of the response; just a quirky coincidence or maybe not.) I for one – on a quick read – am persuaded by the explanations given for not supporting the 7 recommendations in question.

But I am very disappointed that the community does not learn of what our representatives think of the CJ’s recommendations. Our councillors are simply being asked to “receive the response” as provided by staff. That is not what I hoped for or expected.

I am well aware of the workload of the conscientious councillors and that to go through and provide responses even remotely as thorough as those provided by staff would have been impossible, but I think that we are entitled to know what each of our representatives think of the Citizens’ Jury exercise and in general terms what they think of its report.

We can expect a draft of the Delivery Program itself (4 year forward estimates) – and the draft Operating Program (the budget for 2017-18) – to be put before councillors next month, to then be placed on exhibition.

Draft Emissions Reduction Plan (page 26)

“The current Greenhouse Action Plan (GAP) 2012-2017 is due for review ... The next version of the Plan will focus principally on emissions reduction opportunities and as such it is suggested to be titled the Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP)”.

It is recommended that the draft ERP be placed on exhibition for 28 days. As you will see, it is an excellent, comprehensive production and those responsible for it should be commended.

Tuross Head Progress Association and the fees for the use of Kyla Park Hall

The remainder of the agenda is relatively routine (adoption of policies, review of policies, etc) but among those items buried at the back there is one in particular that has drawn the ire of a number of Tuross residents and at least one of them will be giving full voice to his ire during public forum on Tuesday. The item concerns an application by the Tuross Head Progress Association to have its fees for the use of Kyla Park Hall waived. Staff have recommended against waiving.

Given that I know only a fraction of the case against the staff’s recommendation I won’t attempt to present reasons why the recommendation should be rejected; but the individual I have referred to will be giving a desk-thumping chapter and verse history lesson on the Kyla Park Hall to everyone in the chamber – including those who might not need the lesson.

If you can’t make it to the meeting itself, you can watch it webcast, starting at 10 am on Tuesday.

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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