A massive agenda with a most secret matter
The agenda and associated papers for tomorrow's meeting of council comprise more than 600 pages and if we were to include those further pages deemed confidential – being unavailable to the public - I expect that the figure would exceed 700: far too many to even attempt to run through. It is possibly the most voluminous agenda of all time. And so, because of my significant time constraints and countless many higher priorities, I will address just those items that catch my eye.
But of course, there is much, much more to this agenda than just what catches my eye – such as the Community Strategic Plan (page 3), the Emissions reduction Plan 2017-2021 (page 20), the Draft Integrated Economic Growth and Development Strategy (page 29 and while not necessarily endorsed by him, a very well credentialed resident economist has told me that he is very pleased, possibly impressed, with what the draft strategy and action plan – to be placed on exhibition – seek to achieve), the Batemans Bay Mackay Park Precinct - Short Term Interim Use And Disposal Of Equipment (Page 35 – see comments on this, below) and the numerous policy reviews (page 52 on) and the tortuously drawn out, unproductive matter of Dog Recreation Areas – Batemans Bay (page 69)
The most significant of the policy reviews is – in my view at least - the Code of Meeting Practice. It is not a policy as such but it has been included in amongst the policies up for review. If you have an interest in maximising the opportunity that council meetings provide for the community to learn of how its representatives conduct themselves and to have meetings function in the most transparent and productive ways possible, this code is deserving of your close attention. Remember, meetings of council provide us with the only portal into the workings of our representatives – and senior staff. You will have the opportunity – over a period of 42 days - to suggest amendments to the code. And keep in mind that meetings can be watched via the internet: either as they take place or through the archived collection of videos of meetings.
But the most significant items on this agenda, by far, and which did catch my eye in a big way - as much by their obscurity as by their hidden, unnamed yet known content - are those that appear at page 84, right at the end of the agenda:
CON17/002 Personnel Matter
Item CON17/002 is confidential in accordance with s10(A)(2)(a) of the Local Government Act because it contains personnel matters concerning particular individuals (other than councillors) and discussion of the matter in an open meeting would be, on balance, contrary to the public interest.
CON17/003 Personnel Matter
Item CON17/003 is confidential in accordance with s10(A)(2)(a) of the Local Government Act because it contains personnel matters concerning particular individuals (other than councillors) and discussion of the matter in an open meeting would be, on balance, contrary to the public interest.
What on earth is this about, you might very reasonably ask. The extreme obscurity demonstrated here goes right to the heart of so much of what is wrong with our council: an obsession with secrecy. And the majority of our councillors appear to be unaware that they can dictate the rules – not the staff – to open the place up – if they have a mind to!
The mystery items, as most people in the shire now know, concern the General Manager’s performance review and the recommended renewal of her contract (which is presently due to end in April 2018).
If we are to believe what has come to public attention over the past week, during last weekend councillors met to review the general manager’s performance over the past 9 months and during the meeting, on the heels of the review, a majority of councillors supported a renewal of the GM’s contract. Just who initiated this highly significant and contentious additional consideration, and why – some months ahead of when it would normally be raised - we are yet to learn; but nothing has been formally decided yet. That vote is to occur tomorrow (Tuesday June 13th), when council is due to go into a confidential session, to deal with the mysterious ‘personnel’ matters, as described above.
There will be at least two presentations during so-called Open Access, starting at 9.30 am on Tuesday, during the half-hour prior to the commencement of the meeting at 10 am, which will, in generic fashion, address the matters of confidentiality and transparency, particularly as they relate to the review of a general manager’s performance and renewal of contract. It promises to be interesting.
According to the Code of Meeting Practice, one is not permitted to address council on an agenda item during the Open Access session: it must be on an item that is not on the agenda. Also, I have been told by a staff member that according to the code one is not permitted to address an item that is to be considered in a closed meeting. This particular provision of the code (at page 23) that I was referred to – on having applied to be registered to speak during public forum on the mystery items - has been misinterpreted but a telephone conversation was not the place to sort that out. In the event, no one will be permitted to address the mystery items concerning the review of the general manager’s performance or the renewal of her contract, during public forum, nor may one address those items – as expressed in the agenda - in Open Access, since they are on the agenda! But one may of course ‘generically address’ the matter of general mangers’ performance reviews and contracts: and that can be expected to happen during the open access session prior to the meeting, as mentioned above.
And now, to a contribution I have received from the much-missed Jeff de Jager, who has sent me an email with the following comments on the agenda. He gave his permission, by way of not objecting, to the publication of his comments. And so here they are:
Mackay Park Precinct Interim Use of former BBBC
Like the GHFFs, it appears there are some consequential aspects to the BBBC site’s purchase that are coming home to roost in Batemans Bay!
As well as the required $120,000 for general repair and air conditioning upgrade costs and the annual $86,000 provision towards end-of-life renewal/replacements itemised and other operating costs over the four years totalling $480,000 as mentioned in the agenda report, no reference is made of either the on-going loan or any other ownership costs. Annually, interest alone would be in the order of $70,000, notionally insurance might be $10-15,000 and loss of rate income would be in the accounting mix if we were to be fair-dinkum! Then there are the expenses associated with the purchase itself, subsequently calling for and analysing EOIs, running the sunset committee, Otium’s consultancy fees, and so on.
I hope some switched-on councillors have asked if the building is to be used for a purpose other than a club, would not any such “change of use” necessitate a DA which if approved, would no doubt require the whole site to brought up to standards to satisfy all current building/development requirements. And if compliance is required, what further costs would those requisite alterations entail?
The same councillors, if they can’t recall the site being re-classified as operational within three months of its purchase, might ask, anyhow, can all these things be considered for activities on community land (See section 31 of the Local Government Act as at April last year and remaining unchanged at April this year)
What a relief it was to see that demolition of the club and construction of a temporary carpark will only cost $685,000 – I was expecting a figure closer to $800,000! Phew!
It might be good news that the RMS is interested in using the club site but wouldn’t the change of use thingo click in, not to mention the other repairs and costs? Would the RMS be prepared to pay for all these costs plus rent? Would they have enough left in their own budget – it’s only $110,000,000 - to do much more than to bring the old punt back out of retirement? (Slight exaggeration for levity’s sake in such a dilemma!)
Even with the local member egging them on, 2021 sounds pretty soon for RMS to have completed the bridge ……. or is that just when they will be finished with the office space requirement? Has anyone, perchance, watched the progress of the very much simpler bridge construction nearing completion at Burrill Lake?
Naming of Corrigans Beach Playground
What a mouth full! I note that councillors are given just two options to chooses from. There’s a third outcome of course and that’s to name it Corrigans Beach Playground (nearly said Payground!) and even a fourth option might be to defer the naming until something better comes along during which time, and/or also for option 3, signage acknowledging contributors can be displayed for all to see.
Batemans Bay Dog Park
For the record, I am a dog owner and happy with what council already provides in Moruya and Tuross Head for both on and off-leash exercising. Naturally, I am sympathetic to the plight of the poor animal owners in the Bay who envy the rest of our facilities (?) but I would resist council having to do much more than is being proposed to be done at Nelligen. I guess spending money on a fence around a dedicated space in the Bay area might not be too hard a pill to swallow as long the space was available for anyone and their canines to use.
If dog training clubs, or an organised group, wants use of the space exclusively then they should pay for such times. If they, the groups, need to install equipment, council could assist them in obtaining grant funding or whatever but I don’t reckon council should pay for the gear, or even maintain the space, if it becomes dedicated to be exclusively used by a single group or number of groups.
My recollections of the initial public forum submission discussions include a statement along the lines of the proposers not being representatives of an incorporated body but operating under the umbrella of some animal welfare group until a site could be secured and then they would become incorporated and their own fundraising could get underway. It follows that whatever is decided on Tuesday that any expenditure or dedication of land by council would require the group’s incorporation and insurance indemnifying council, etc. for any exclusive usages, along with licences/leases as appropriate.
[PC: Jeff’s uninformed views in support of council’s woeful attitude on the dog matter can be expected to be addressed during public forum on Tuesday. In the meantime, those who remain ignorant of the way things are done elsewhere might like to look through the Shoalhaven’s Dog Off-leash Guide. It’s only in the Eurobodalla that off-leash parks are regarded as out-of-the-ordinary. Elsewhere, they are provided in the same way that sports grounds are – as a matter of course.]