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Theatre of the absurd

Dear Beagle Editor and Beagle readers,

We understand that Eurobodalla residents have long held concerns that the unelected & unaccountable bureaucrats run the day to day operations and decisions and the Councillors have little idea of what the bureaucrats are doing and are most often kept in the dark on quite serious matters that directly affect residents and ratepayers.

A little over a month ago, Bega Valley Shire councillors were confronted by the dreadful reality that their decisions might have little or no meaning & that their involvement in local government via council might amount to little more than an extravagant piece of theatre, where they are little more than self-important ‘extras’.

Through the diligence of Cr Nadin, it was discovered that the requirements of a planning decision taken by the elected council relating to a proposed viewing platform at Short Point had been arbitrarily & significantly changed by an unnamed bureaucrat, without reference to the elected council.

Cr Tapscott appeared to be outraged on discovering that most decisions of council could be arbitrarily changed by unelected & unaccountable bureaucrats, without prior approval from the elected council.

Since then we’ve learnt that Cr Dodds has come to the rescue by offering to draft a flow-chart that council could use to keep track of its decisions. We remain unsure as to what council’s General Manager is doing given this ‘takeover’ of operational matters by councillors.

More seriously though, the association has previously highlighted the fact that the revelation experienced by Cr Tapscott & her colleagues came as no surprise to many in the community, in particular those whose lives have been turned upside-down or inside-out as a result of them falling victim to the same arbitrary & capricious behaviour by council bureaucrats.

For example, it appears that the developer of a key site * in Merimbula was successful in persuading a member of council’s planning department to remove significant conditions from the development consent, explicitly placed in the consent by the elected council, to afford nearby businesses some protection from potential damage arising from the development, but without the knowledge or consent of the elected council.

The failure of the elected council to re-impose conditions that were intended to protect the livelihoods of local business operators is grossly negligent & suggests that the elected council is simply impotent in the face of council bureaucrats.

In another situation last year, a member of the association was made aware of an incident where illegal fill was allegedly placed in a Pambula wetland. Notwithstanding our member’s persistence, senior council planners did not disclose the fact that the planning department had compromised the integrity of the wetlands by permitting a developer to fill a small section of the wetland in return for council acquiring some land from the developer in return. The association understands that the elected council was completely unaware of the arrangement between the developer & council’s planning department.

And in what was possibly the most dreadful example of bureaucratic abuse in recent years, council wrongly approved an amendment to a development consent almost five years after the original approval, based on an application that contained inaccurate information that wasn’t checked by council officials & without a neighbour who had previously objected to the development being advised of a proposed significant change.

The effect of this appalling action by council was the destruction of the longstanding access the affected * family had to their property in Jellat, effectively destroying their livelihood, their amenities & placing their wellbeing at significant risk overnight.

Again council bureaucrats stubbornly refused to accept any responsibility for their actions, while the elected council simply failed to act.

The association has maintained for years that council’s planning department operates as a “law unto itself” while the elected council simply looks the other way.

Following the latest incident, the association suggested to councillors that it was open to them to adopt a motion making it a mandatory requirement that any action being contemplated by council employees that would be contrary to a resolution of the elected council, must be referred to the elected council for approval, before that action is taken.

More than a month later, there is no evidence that the elected councillors intend to assert their authority over the irresponsible & out of control organisation that they are supposedly responsible for.

And as to the part to be played by residents & ratepayers in this theatre of the absurd?

Just keep paying. John Richardson Secretary/Treasurer Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association * names removed by Beagle editor

Looking across the fence