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Council matters

The agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting of council is yet another voluminous and significant one. With its associated papers it comprises more than 300 pages.

But its significance is that it contains what might be considered by some, or many, as the most important document produced by our (now not so) new council: the Draft Delivery Program, for 2017-21 and the Operational Plan for 2017-18, referred to as the DPOP - being the forward estimates and budget for the forthcoming financial year. And what a wonderful coincidence we have: our budget being considered for public exhibition on the same day that the federal budget is to be delivered by the lovely Scott Morrison.

Besides the big ticket DPOP, the agenda items that I believe are worthy of particular attention are:

  • Customer Service Benchmark Results (page 3)

  • Single Use Plastic bags (page 4)

  • Lewis Island Narooma (page 7)

  • LEP 2912 Amendment No.12 – Housekeeping and Other Amendments (page 20)

  • Repeal of Smoke Free Outdoor Areas Policy (page 47)

Unfinished business

But before getting on with the agenda, I am obliged to revisit my unfinished account of the meeting conducted by SAFE at Dalmeny, last Sunday. I committed to commenting on some of the following issues, aired and discussed at the meeting:

  • Transparency and accountability (as they concern council, of course);

  • The relationship between councillors and staff;

  • Councillor and staff competence; and, for some balance

  • Positive outcomes for the community – after hard fought battles!

For my own convenience, and for reasons of diplomacy, I will provide a broad paraphrasing of the exchanges that took place, without attribution.

There was a mix of supportive and critical views of the way council conducts itself.

On the positive side, it was acknowledged that the current council has within it a greater proportion of what might be termed progressive councillors and as a result, resolutions that might have been defeated in the past are getting up – such as: the banning of helium balloons at council-related events; the formalised preference for investments that are not fossil fuel related; support for electric cars; the saving of trees that had been marked for removal (one of which, at Tuross, had made the mistake of growing in the wrong place), etc. And in the current agenda, we see that a Notice of Motion by Councillor Mayne is calling for the banning of ‘single use plastic bags’, through advocating with the state and federal governments.

On the critical side, it was recognised by those at the meeting that there are real problems with the level of ignorance of a majority of councillors of their authority and responsibilities – as expressed in the Local Government Act 1993 (LGA). Some, if not most, very likely would not know how to even independently access the legislation they work under. To exacerbate the consequences of that ignorance is the absence of cohesiveness between councillors. Any wonder the staff are obliged to almost exclusively fill in the void and steer the ship.

And then there is the matter of the room-for-improvement communication channel between councillors and the General Manager and the GM’s obligations under the LGA to “implement, without undue delay, lawful decisions of the council”. I have previously referred to instances of “undue delay” and in the case of the delegations of functions to the GM – during the previous term of council – the non-implementation of not just a lawful decision of council, but a requirement of the LGA.

The question of the independence of the Audit Risk and Improvement Committee - and just who and how, councillors or staff, might initiate an inquiry by the committee - was addressed. There was much groaning on this subject.

To finish off on the Dalmeny meeting, those present heard the words of Rev Tom Slockee, an Aboriginal Elder, read out, in which he expressed his views on the matter of Huntfest and what he termed a “gun culture”.

Now, returning to next Tuesday’s agenda.

Item MR17/003 Customer Service Benchmark Results (page 3)

This item concerns the level of service provided by council’s customer service personnel.

In the 21 years that I have visited the council front desk I have alwa