Council Matters

It’s rather late in the piece and most of what took place – and how it took place – at last Tuesday’s meeting has already been said by contributors, as well as The Beagle’s editor. But there is still room to make further comment – even if it is very difficult to find time amongst the seemingly constant waves of invasions by holidaying family. A quite hour or so has appeared this Sunday night.

Watching your representatives at work

For those who are not yet familiar with the live-streaming and archived videos of council meetings, then can I suggest that you do familiarise yourself with this excellent source of information on what your representatives get up to (and don’t get up to) when meeting in the chamber – and what staff have to say when called upon. The archived video of last Tuesday’s meeting provides yet more information on the performance of councillors – and staff. You may have already seen the report cards in The Beagle.

You will also see – and hear – some very good presentations by members of the community. The presenters and the items addressed are as follows - and the written version of the presentations can be viewed on council’s website:

  • Robert Loftus on Dog Recreation Venues

  • Owen Cartledge on the Delivery Program Review - Citizens' Jury

  • Allan Rees on Draft Emissions Reduction Plan

  • Lei Parker and Gary Cooper on Tuross Head Progress Association – Fees for use of Kyla Park Hall

In viewing the meeting you will be able to not only hear what is said but you will also be able to see the body language of councillors and staff. This is a most important element to a proper assessment of the attitude of councillors in particular, to the subject matter under discussion and to the presenters, during public forum.

Councillor Pollock was absent from the meeting and so his well-known disengaged presence in the chamber (though, admittedly, when he does come to life he usually speaks very well – and passionately – even if unconvincingly) could not be observed but we were able to see up close both the established manner of Councillor Brown and the developing manner of Councillor Thomson, both of which take the form of an active disengagement, rather than the passive kind.

The disdain shown by both of these councillors for presenters whose subject matter did not please them could not have been more obvious and was in my view bordering on a breach of Council’s Code of Conduct (being the Model Code of Conduct). Paragraph 3.3 of the Code requires “officials” (staff and councillors) to “treat others with respect at all times.” It was clear to me that both these councillors, by playing with their phones or ipads or doing whatever, other than focussing on the presenters, could barely contain their irritation. And then, when a 3 minute extension was sought for the presenter to complete the presentation, by not raising their hand, they voted against an extension.

I have come to expect (but of course do not accept) this sort of painful, smiling churlishness from Councillor Brown but had hoped for much better from Councillor Thomson. And it’s not as though he has brought to the chamber any depth of knowledge or intellectual rigour that might somehow provide a counterbalancing, compensatory effect. In this disdainful behaviour it could be argued that they fail to fully comply with the requirements of the Local Government Act (see sections 223 and 232 for example), particularly s232(1)(e), which requires each councillor to “to facilitate communication between the local community and the governing body”. At the very minimum, they should make an effort to at least appear to be interested – as a courtesy. Not a good start for Councillor Thomson but there is plenty of time to recover – if the will is there.

And you will see that there are degrees of disrespect displayed within the chamber: councillors talking to one another, and to staff, while a councillor is addressing the chamber. That needs to stop.

But on a positive note, our Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mayne, who chaired the meeting in the Mayor’s absence, did a first class job in engaging with the presenters. He has a natural, pleasing and inclusive manner. He is expert at courtesy. And he has a very good sense of humour. I particularly liked his corny joke (I like corny jokes) of referring to the electric highway matter (as raised in Councillor Tait’s Notice of Motion on Electric Vehicles – at page 3 of the agenda) as a “current issue”.

Public Forum matters – the matters that concern the community

Dog Recreational Facilities

The ongoing matter of ‘Dog Recreational Facilities” for Batemans Bay was addressed by Robert Loftus during public forum and then again when the matter came up in the meeting, under the heading of a Question on Notice, as posed by Councillor Mayne (at page 6 of the agenda) – in which he sought further information from staff on how the matter was progressing. He asked in particular “What sort of timeline are we looking at to finalise the dog park [at the Bay]?” The chamber was advised by staff that staff are “... working through the 20 different sites [that have been considered]” and that that exercise is “being finalised in the next couple of days ... [to be brought back] to council to consider all sites ... and then back to the community”. But a timeline for finalisation was not provided: a pity.

Council (staff’s) response to the Citizen Jury report

Owen Cartledge made a forceful and critical presentation on this matter and opened by recommending that “one or more councillors organise a Notice of Motion along the following lines: Council requests the formation of an Expenditure review Committee to conduct a total rethink of the financial culture of the ESC. The cost and utilisation of the 450-500 staff be examined. The ERC should include outside consultants as well as insiders”. In my view, his presentation is very worthy of serious consideration and I am hopeful that at least one councillor will take Mr Cartledge’s recommendation on board.

He described staff’s response to the CJ report as “defensive” and asserted that “the ESC is always looking for new sources of revenue to meet new expenditures rather than reducing expenditure to meet revenue.”

Councillor Nathan asked Mr Cartledge to please elaborate on his reference to her part in the revelation that staff costs were not included in the total publicised cost for the Citizens’ Jury exercise, being (apparently) $100,800. His point, as was Councillor Nathan’s when the CJ report was brought before councillors in December of last year, was that had staff not been working on the CJ exercise they could have been employed on something else – that may have been more beneficial to the community – and that therefore their employee costs should be factored into the total cost of whatever task they might be charged with.

Draft Emission Reduction Plan (ERP)

Allan Rees’ presentation on this matter was positively received by all and as well as stressing the importance of the measures proposed by council within the draft ERP, he too commended staff – and others – for the quality of the draft ERC. Significantly, the draft is now on public exhibition, until 10 May, during which time people may make submissions on what they think about it and make suggestions for its improvement.

For those naysayers in our community, who cannot get their heads around the reality of genuine reliability of and on alternative forms of energy, there are many in this shire alone, who rely on alternative energy, either completely or almost completely. My family and I are a part of that group. The sun has ‘a lot to offer’. We only need to utilise it - and with batteries there is power aplenty even when the sun ain’t shinin’.

At the end of Allan Rees’ presentation – during which he referred to climate change and the warming oceans - Councillor Tait referred him to an article that he (Clr Tait) had read in which it was suggested that Cyclone Debbie could have played a part in preventing further bleaching of parts of the Great Barrier Reef! Finding that suggestion to be rather wild, to say the least, I have tonight (again, on Sunday night) Goggled and find that indeed such a suggestion had been made but was subsequently dismissed – because of a timing issue!

Tuross Head Progress Association – Fees for use of Kyla Park Hall

It was this matter that drew particular attention to the failings of Councillors Brown and Thomson.

Public Forum presentations were made by Lei Parker and Gary Cooper. If you pay attention to the body language of both of these councillors during these presentations you will see just how determined they were to express disinterest in what was being said.

They both dismissed the history of the THPA and the halls as of no relevance and simply wanted to get on with it. Councillor Thomson’s contribution to the debate was to say that “we’re getting a bit bogged down in history ...We’re here to make a decision about the fees. Let’s do it!”

And Councillor Brown’s contribution to the debate in this matter was to raise a point of order, claiming that Lei Parker had had long enough to have his say and wanted to put a stop to hearing anymore annoying facts.

It’s all very well to ‘move forward’ but without an understanding of the relevant history one may very well – if not likely - move forward in the wrong direction. An understanding of the relevant history is most important.

And to finish off, Councillor Brown told the chamber that if council were to accept Mr Parker’s request to waive hire fees for all community organisations in the shire, council would forgo some $330,000 per year. That is utter nonsense. The amount would be closer to $3,000. The $330,000, if it has any basis is reality, would almost certainly include fees obtained from hiring that includes weddings and other functions. The agenda item is concerned just with hire fees for a community association, for its meetings – a matter of several hundred dollars. To the extent that councillors were persuaded by the $330,000 nonsense, Councillor Brown – and staff, for not correcting the misinformation – should be ashamed. The decision may well have been quite different had that astronomical figure not been referred to.

In my view, council staff failed councillors – and thereby the community - in failing to provide them with a cogent, comprehensive account of the subject matter.

I suggest that staff get hold of the latest (3rd) edition of the NSW Ombudsman’s publication Good conduct and administrative practice. At Module 9, starting at page 54 of the publication, guidelines are given on the provision of advice to decision-makers. Councillors too, would do well to get hold of a copy of this publication. When, in the future, it becomes the user manual for all council staff – and is complied with – I doubt that there will be a need for any of us to take council to task. Read also the highly relevant Module 7: Complying with the law, directions and policies. This publication will be much referred to in the future.

Above: Councillors would do well to get hold of a copy of this publication

#PeterCormick #Opinion #Council #LocalStateFederal

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