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Council matters

Ordinary but not altogether

At one level, last Tuesday’s Ordinary Meeting of council met expectations and was indeed just another ordinary one – but it was not altogether so.

Predictably, there was, yet again, not even an indication of a reformist agenda: such as, for example, ways in which the Audit Risk and Improvement Committee might move towards actual independence – through which councillors themselves initiate investigations and engage external experts; or consideration of the functions delegated to the general manager that warrant a review of the qualifications and restrictions that accompany those delegations; or the development of readily accessible Fact Sheets that address the many unanswered questions raised by the community, etc.

Nevertheless, there was sufficient intrigue, amusement and irritation to be found during the meeting to keep one’s attention. I have just looked through the video record of it and have taken some notes on those parts that caught my interest.

At the 12 min 50 sec time mark, just after the one and only public forum presentation had been completed – by Jeannie Brewer, on the McKay Park Concept Plan - Mayor Innes announced that she would be moving a procedural motion to allow for the meeting to be adjourned for 5 minutes - during which time councillors would have the opportunity to read through a submission made by a member of the community whose request to present at public forum had not been received by council. Although the ‘submitter’s’ name was not mentioned, when the subject matter came up later in the meeting, it was clear that it had been made by Ian Hitchcock, on the matter of item PSR17/025, Amendment to Wharf Road Coastal Zone Management Plan.

At page 23 of council’s Code of Meeting Practice we see that:

Anyone wishing to address Council in Public Form should notify Council’s Executive Support (02 4474 1358) no later than noon of the business day prior to the meeting, specifying the subject of the question and/or presentation, to facilitate preparation of the agenda and so that an attempt to prepare a suitable response (if required) may be made.

Clearly, this section of the Code, along with other sections that are well overdue for amendment, needs to be amended, to allow for the exercise of discretion by the chairperson or the governing body, in circumstances such as this.

And so, the Mayor, having no choice but to comply with this code, found a way around it, to allow the submission to nonetheless be made available to councillors. She is to be commended for doing this – as no previous ESC Mayor who I have seen in action, would have taken such a course. They would have enthusiastically disallowed such an arrangement.

Unsurprisingly, Councillors Brown and Thomson voted against the motion that allowed for the adjournment; and it may be, therefore, that they did not bother reading the submission by Mr Hitchcock.

The minutes of the meeting have this to say on the adjournment:

ADJOURNMENT 17/142 MOTION Councillor Innes/Councillor Mayne

THAT the Ordinary Council Meeting be adjourned for a period of five minutes. (The Motion on being put was declared CARRIED) At 10.14am the meeting adjourned. At 10.19am the meeting reconvened.

So, the minutes tell us nothing of the reasons for the adjournment or of the presenter. Top secret! And, outrageously, the submission itself is not included with the other submission, presented by Jeannie Brewer, on council’s website. We have no record of it!

Of course, staff would tell us that it is only presentations made during the meeting itself that qualify for posting to the website in relation to the meeting. In no way do I hold the minutes’ secretary responsible for this ingrained attitude of ‘withholding’. She does a superlative job.

Then at 22 min and 49 sec we heard a long-overdue admission by Councillor Brown that he is a waffler. After singing the well-deserved praises of those involved in the Narooma Oyster Festival – going on as he does – he actually had the insight to say that “I’ve waffled on too much about this ...”. But he was excused for his waffling on this subject, by the Mayor.

At the 24 min mark the big ticket item of the Batemans Bay McKay Park Concept Plan came before the chamber – but not for the first time it would seem – when, following some inaudible talk between the Mayor and the Director of Planning and Sustainability Services, Lindsay Usher, the Mayor said just to him – but was picked up by the mike – that “I thought we would have a debate and then ... okay”. Apparently she had been persuaded that there was no need for a debate – on what, we were not told.

Then the Mayor told councillors that “You can have a mover and a seconder for which of the options you would like to have put forward”, to which Councillor Nathan said that she would “like to move for option 2; the de-coupling”. Following that, Mr Usher handed the minutes secretary a sheet of paper, from which she commenced typing – and almost all eyes were then fixed on the overhead projection as the typing took place.

When this task was completed, Councillor Nathan spoke to the motion which had not been expressed to the public – except, possibly, to those in the gallery, who could make out the text on the overhead projection. But for those watching live or the archived video, as I have just done, the whole process was as mysterious as any could be at a meeting of council. It had an air of confidentiality about it!

Councillor Nathan’s speech on the motion was well prepared and strongly supportive of the sensible de-coupling option and had every characteristic of not being off-the cuff.

As a reminder, the recommendation put to councillors in the report by staff, as presented in the agenda, was as follows:

THAT Council determine if it wishes to proceed with the consideration of Option 2, the ‘de- coupling’ of the arts and cultural facility from the aquatic and recreation centre and placing it on the northern part of the precinct, and Option 3, reconfiguring the 500 seat performance/theatre space with a 1000 seat capacity multi-purpose event space as recommended by the Batemans Bay Mackay Park Precinct Sunset Committee.

That is, the recommendation included two options, joined by the conjunctive “and”, not “or”. But, in the event, councillors considered only option 2 – and voted in favour of it. There was no debate on an amendment, preceding the ‘removal’ of option 3: the debate that the Mayor clearly, quite rightly, thought ought to happen.

We learn of just what the amended motion was when we go to the minutes of the meeting and see that it was:

PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY REPORTS PSR17/024 BATEMANS BAY MACKAY PARK PRECINCT CONCEPT PLAN – CONTRACT VARIATION File Ref: E12.6442 17/145 MOTION Councillor Nathan/Councillor Mayne THAT Council proceed with a contract variation to include option 2, the ‘de-coupling’ of the arts and cultural facility from the aquatic and recreation centre and placing it on the northern part of the Batemans Bay Mackay Park precinct.

It was all very confusing. But what was clear was that there had been plenty of pre-meeting discussion, if not debate. It begs the question of whether a position had been formed by a majority of councillors prior to the commencement of the ordinary meeting of council. Such practice is of course strictly verboten! You will see that (around the 31 min mark) Councillor McGinlay tells us that he had not formed a final view on the matter until having heard all that had to be said at the meeting - in particular, what Jeannie Brewer, representing PerfEx, had to say – and that he had then, consequently, changed his view and voted in favour of adopting option 2, but not option 3. In fact, option 3 was not put to the vote – at least not in the video recording I have looked at. Yet we see on the council website that option 3 “was rejected by councillors, who noted this alternative could be examined further into the project after considering responses from the private sector.” Certainly, Councillor Nathan suggested that it could be “worked on later” (at the 29 min mark); but it was definitely not debated and therefore not formally rejected by the governing body – which simply voted on the amended motion, to adopt just option 2, as amended pre-meeting, it appears.

At the 31 min 40 sec mark, the Wharf Road Coastal Zone Management Plan was debated. Councillor Constable referred to the submission made by Ian Hitchcock – made available to councillors during the 5 minute adjournment referred to above - and sought to have the matter deferred until the next council meeting so that the submission could be further considered and a briefing be provided to councillors. However, after having heard what Mr Usher had to say, especially in relation to the opportunity now being presented by the state government to buy the lots in question – and that the offer might not remain – Councillor Constable was persuaded to vote in favour of the recommendation (at page 14 of the agenda).

During the debate on the Wharf Road matter, Councillor Brown asked a number of questions of Councillor Constable and Mr Usher, directly – not through the Mayor. In fact, throughout the meeting, he consistently either spoke directly to the relevant staff member or if addressing the Mayor, never addressed her as “Mayor”. It would appear that he cannot bring himself to do so.

Then, on item IRIT/032, Local and regional Roads Risk management (at around the 64 min mark), we heard a series of Dorothy Dix questions, put directly to Warren Sharpe, Director of Infrastructure Services. What he had to say, over about 15 minutes, in answer to questions put directly by Councillor Brown and Councillor Nathan (who did put her question through the Mayor) was informative and worthwhile. The unavailability of that sort of information to the community, otherwise, is yet another example supporting the need for Fact Sheets to be made available by council – covering all that council deals with and which the community ought to at least have the opportunity to know about.

In amongst the answers given by Mr Sharpe, reference was made to the Local Roads Congress – making Our Roads Work, to be held at the NSW Parliament on 5 June. The congress is conducted by both the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia and Local Government NSW. In fact, as you will see from the program for the event, Mr Sharpe is the President of the NSW Division of the IPWEA (NSW) and will be playing a significant part in the congress.

But true to form, on hearing Mr Sharpe refer fleetingly to his part in the congress, Councillor Brown (at 69 min 14 sec and then 72 min), as though in a pub, shot back with “You’re not the only star there Sharpie” and then “[there will be a] ... highly esteemed panel of experts ... and I’ll be a part of that panel...”. And it is true, as you will see from the program; he will be a part of a panel on Risk Management!

At the end of this information session on roads (at the 80 min 40 sec mark), the Mayor suggested to Mr Sharpe that he “put out a report” on the subject ... “some homework for you director!”

At the 90 min 50 sec mark the rather seemingly sensitive matter of the Batemans Bay Beach Resort was addressed: in particular, the matter of voting on the acceptance (or otherwise) of the preferred tenderer for taking over the contract for the management of the resort.

Councillor Brown asked about the future of the resort but was quickly closed down by the Mayor, who insisted that the item concerned only the matter of the tender – and in fact called a point of order to prevent Councillor Brown from continuing with his line of questioning, which included the issue of a possible sale of that which council owns of the resort. I have a recollection of the Mayor proposing the sale of the BBBR during last year’s election campaign, as a means of funding the sought-after aquatic centre in the Bay.However, as Councillor Nathan learnt, in answer to her question of just what does council own – what is it that the tenderer is actually contracting for? – Council does not own the land that the resort occupies. It is owned by the Crown. Council simply manages the land. So, the successful tenderer will acquire the right to manage the resort and make whatever profit might be had. How such profit – or loss – is shared with council, I don’t know. No doubt the figures are buried somewhere in the financial document but I can only wonder why they were not included in the report.

It may be because, as I have heard from several sources, council actually incurs very significant losses through its involvement with the BBBR. I look forward to substantiated detail on this subject being provided to the community – ideally through the questioning by one or more of our representatives.

"Us turkeys just love struttin...." boasted Terry; though everyone just ignored him knowing Thanksgiving would bring him undone.... Editor

#PeterCormick #Council #LocalStateFederal #Opinion

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