Dear Beagle editor,
When I wrote to you in December and referred to what appears to be a dysfunctional, disengaged, secretive and defensive council, I had, on reflection, felt that my criticism was possibly too harsh, even unjustified. But on reading through the recent contributions on the McKay Park development and the 50 m pool stoush, my conscience is very clear. Though, more disturbing than council's with-impunity serial flouting of proper process and the law, is the revelation that the Office of Local Government, which I have learnt is meant to oversee the conduct of councils, is itself dysfunctional.
From your recent report, it is clear that in its apparent determination to protect our council from justified condemnation, the Office provides opinion and advice that conflicts with its own earlier opinion and advice on the very same subject, including by the same person, a Mr John Davies, who, according to the letter you have published, is the Manager of Council Governance! I can't help but wonder if some elaborate joke is being played here. Surely, it can't really be that the very person responsible for ensuring that councils conduct themselves according to the law and guidelines on governance matters, and who has already advised council that it must publish the minutes of its meetings in full, has advised whoever his letter is addressed to that council has handled the confidential matter in question, appropriately. Surely not. And then, to take our collective breath right away, he suggests that the correspondent access the minutes of the confidential meeting through a formal application under a 'government information access act'. He can't be serious, can he? It would seem that Mr Davies is due for some stress leave.
Returning to the council, it can sometimes be a difficult thing to fairly describe what appears to be sheer incompetence, as corruption. One possible criterion that one could measure against in deciding whether the line has been crossed, is whether the (apparent) incompetence is of a serial nature and if it consistently involves non disclosure of processes involving the expenditure of public funds. It must surely be said that given the account you have presented of the confidential meeting CON16/009 and especially given the letter from Mr Milton, who was a councillor at the time, there are genuinely serious questions of possible, if not likely, impropriety and even corruption, concerning the way this matter was dealt with at the time - and continues to be dealt with.
From the contributions made to the Beagle - and they seem to have not been challenged - very significant, unanswered questions continue to hang over just how the purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club from the Catalina Club was initiated, by whom, and whether a cost-benefit analysis preceded the decision. It seems clear from Mr Milton's letter that there was no analysis undertaken; that the decision was from the hip. Surely, this matter requires an audit. Has one been undertaken? If so, why has it not been made available? If it has not, why not? Does the NSW government have any interest in such matters - in achieving value for (public) money? I would have thought so.
But what has to me been most stark during this long period of turmoil, is the stunning silence of the councillors. They appear to be no more than passive, disinterested bystanders to a major, continually unfolding disaster. Their passivity amounts to a complicity in council's now-countless contraventions. They are culpable. Why did they stand for council? Why are they there?