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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 always found the staff to be absolutely first class: smiling, pleasant and very helpful. I had no idea that there was a measurable need for improvement but, as a believer in the need for constant improvement, I suppose I am pleased to hear that the GM signed the ESC up to CSBA Mystery Shopping Benchmarking Program, in 2014. Especially given that, as we have been advised in this mayoral report, the staff have achieved first place in the quarterly competition conducted by CSBA: a genuine congratulations to them all!

You will see from the link I have provided above that there is a potential total cost of about $12,000 (per annum?) to participate in the program but I assume that whatever has been and is being spent on participation in the program, is worth it; that there has been some sort of cost/benefit analysis done before entering into the program.

The newsletters issued by CSBA provide further information on the program.

Item NOM17/007 Single Use Plastic Bags (page 4)

This Notice of Motion by Councillor Mayne is surely certain to receive unanimous support. It is calling for: the education of local businesses and the community to reduce the use of disposable plastic items; the formalisation of a policy to ensure that all council activities and events on council land seek to eliminate the use of such items; to advocate with state and federal governments for a ban on these items, etc.

Plastic bags can be so convenient but there is no doubt at all that they are scourge on the environment.

Item QON17/003 Lewis Island Narooma (page 7)

This Question on Notice by the energetic and conscientious Councillor Constable is not necessarily of significance in itself, to those living north of the shire - to rescue the integrity of an island in the Wagonga inlet - but what is significant, as far as I am concerned, is that this QON is yet another example of Councillor Constable’s commitment to his community.

Item GMR17/012 Exhibition of the Draft Delivery Program for 2017-21 and the Operational Plan for 2017-18 (Page 9)

This is indeed a big item in every sense. Abbreviated as DPOP, many hours have clearly gone into its formulation and its significance for the future of the shire is obvious.

The draft is to be placed on public exhibition for at least 28 days (councillors may decide to allow more time), during which period members of the community will have the opportunity to make submissions on it: commending or condemning or suggesting improvements – or any combination of these options.

Incorporated within the DPOP, is a Statement of Revenue Policy and the dreaded Fees and Charges schedule, based on council’s Pricing Policy, which is up for review (page 55) and which itself is based upon the user pays/cost recovery philosophy, if anyone was wondering.

I have had only a flip through these documents – a solid week would be required to do it justice – but an acquaintance has pointed out, as but one item in a multitude, the costs associated with the delivery of water to the shire’s urban residents. Eurobodalla residents appear to be paying considerably more than that paid by our neighbours in Bega and the Shoalhaven.

A visit to the respective websites reveals that as far as water services in 2016-17 are concerned:

ESC. Fixed charges: $294; usage (forming part of the rates base rather than as a usage fee): $352 per annum on the assumption of annual 100 kilolitre consumption at the rate of $3.52/kl)

Bega. Fixed charges: $207; usage $2.75/kl

Shoalhaven. Fixed $82; usage $1.70/kl

Make what you will of these figures. It may well be that the figures, having been quickly gleaned, are not correct, and/or there is a good explanation for these apparent disparities.

Item PSR17/019 (Page 20)

There are 5 amendments being sought to be made to the LEP 2012. The only item that catches my attention is that which concerns the amendment to “rezone and reclassify a certain parcel of land”: just the very general description to draw one’s attention.

But, the recommendations as a whole, described as a Planning Proposal – concerning all 5 proposed amendments – includes a recommendation to consult with the community after receipt of the so-called Gateway Determination. This seems to me to be odd, especially given the details of Step 2 of the Gateway Process, which refers to “public consultation” – as does Step 3, entirely.

The parcel of land in question presently has the status of “public reserve”. The proposed rezoning, from E2 (Environmental Conservation) to E4 (Environmental Living), is part of the changes necessary to allow for the sale and development of the parcel in question. Details are provided at Appendix 5 of the Planning Proposal.

Item IR17/027 Policy Review – Repeal of Smoke Free Outdoor Areas Policy (Page 47)

This policy is to be exhibited for public comment – as part of the process of review of existing policies. [We are still moving through the approximately 100 council policies that must be reviewed within the first 12 months of a new council coming on board: a burdensome, but important process].

The policy was adopted by council in 2010, even though, as I understand it, the NSW Government’s Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 imposed the same restrictions on smoking in public, which council’s policy did. However, it has now been decided that there is no need for this duplication; hence the proposed repeal of the policy.

But of significance is the following statement made in the policy document:

Eurobodalla Shire Council recognises its obligation to promote public health outcomes where Council provides assets and services intended to be of benefit to children and other members of the community.

Now, given that cigarette smoke is regarded by council – and the state government - as a serious public health issue and that council recognises its obligation to promote public health outcomes, why would it be so determined to reject consideration of the AMA’s position statement on firearms; in which the AMA has stated that Possession of firearms in the community represents a public health issue ?

I ask that question, as a gun owner myself, because it needs to be answered, as a matter of course.

Council proudly boasts of its recognition of its “obligation to promote public health outcomes” yet, bizarrely, refuses to address the AMA’s position statement referred to.

This is not about whether guns are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That is in any event a silly question. It’s about a local government authority simply walking its talk and dealing with the AMA’s statement as a straightforward policy debate – and come to its own position, with reasons.

#PeterCormick #Opinion #Council #LocalStateFederal

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