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Bureaucracy at its best, or perhaps not

I had looked at the agenda for today’s (July 31st 2018) meeting of the Eurobodalla Council and had thought that it would be only marginally interesting. Nonetheless, I had committed to my illustrious editor that I would attend although that commitment was based on his offer to stand me coffee afterwards. Sitting through the two hours or so of the meeting was perhaps the highest price I have paid for a cup of coffee. This is not to say that the meeting was not without its highlights (or more accurately, lowlights) and I am not sure that any decision taken today by your Councillors will significantly shift the course of world history. But I should not be cynical. Meetings like this, dull though they may be, consider things that are important in their way and in their place. You will be pleased to note, inter alia, that Council agreed to transfer $1,500,000 from Sewer Fund cash reserves to the 2018-19 Sewerage System Asset Renewals budget. This will enable the provision of a new sewer rising main from Long Beach to Surfside and this no doubt will please many a local resident, in particular those who like to stroll along Cullendulla Beach where erosion is a big problem.

I found my mind turning, as it often does, to the etiquette that governs a Council meeting. Maureen Nathan had sent her apologies (she did, in fact, turn up later) and Council duly voted on whether they would accept her apology. They did accept it but I was left to wonder what would have happened had they not. I expect that the answer is buried in some arcane document and no doubt there is some bureaucrat who would be able to point me to the relevant section.

Above: The sewer pipeline on Cullendulla Beach was exposed by storms in January 2018

One of the things that the Local Government Act, or possibly the Council’s own protocols, allows is for concerned residents to present a petition. I found out about petitions by looking in an exciting document that contains our Council’s policy on the conduct of meetings. I wanted to do this on your behalf because there was such a petition presented at today’s meeting. This petition was designed to “save the last area of remnant bush on public land in Broulee Village.”

Now, you may not be a Broulee dweller and, in consequence, may not be unduly concerned about this matter but that is not the point that concerned me. I find that you can present a petition that will be considered by a Council meeting so long as you lodge it “in writing with the General Manager or their delegate no later than 4.30pm on the Friday preceding the distribution of the agenda for the meeting of Council at which the Petition is to be considered.” This process had clearly been followed and a man called Andrew Bain spoke to the petition from the little desk that is provided for members of the public to harangue their Councillors. I was surprised when, after Bain had finished, the Mayor decided to observe that duplicate signatures on a petition was Not A Good Thing. I am sure that the Mayor was right in her observation. It was not, I thought, appropriate to make the observation while a specific petition was being discussed. It sounded to me as if Bain, and the Mossy Point Community Association, were being accused of inappropriate practices. I did not think that this was a good look even if it were not the case. It becomes less of a good look when I noticed in the Council’s policy on the conduct of meetings that petitions must “contain at least five signatures.” Now gathering 5 signatures is hardly an onerous requirement and even allowing for duplicates (which would be hard to check for) it is probable that the Mossy Point Community Association was comfortably above the 5 signatories needed. This was not the only low point in the meeting. Some of you will be aware that something called the Rural Lands Strategy is causing flurries in several dovecotes. Some of these flurries may be justified and some may not be. I have commented before on our Council’s inability to communicate effectively with its constituents and the Rural Lands Strategy is another case in point. There is, I concede, a “Guide to the Rural Lands Planning Proposal” but this is over 8,000 words long and not particularly easy to navigate. I cannot say how many words there are in the strategy itself. One of the flurries that clearly exercises Cllr Mayne is that the Council has decided in its wisdom to reject some of the advice that it has been given in relation to the development of the strategy. I think Cllr Mayne is right to be concerned about this, especially as some of this advice appears to relate to matters of public safety. Nonetheless, Cllr Mayne’s interests were probably not best served by his raising this during a discussion on the 2018 Floodplain Management Conference. I leave it to you to read about this conference. Mayne’s comments led to some rather less than useful and not always sensible exchanges about their relevance and the difficulty of accepting advice.

There is another odd thing to point out about the matters discussed at this meeting. One agendum was entitled “Selection of new member for the Public Art Advisory Committee.”

Above: The papers relating to item MR18/004 Public Art had attached several pictures of public art in Eurobodalla There was a paper that contained a recommendation that “the recommended community member be elected to the Public Art Advisory Committee for the remainder of Council’s current term.” Who is this “recommended community member”? I searched in vain; there was no name. So, your Council was being asked to agree to appoint an unknown person. Now, I am sure they all know who it is but for some reason they cannot tell us. I was confused. A similar agendum was the “Selection of new member for the Disability Inclusion Advisory Committee” but here the Council was asked both to approve the appointment of an anonymous person and to agree that the unsuccessful (and of course unknown) applicant be notified and thanked for their application. I cannot see why people cannot be informed that they are the preferred candidate, nor why that candidate’s name cannot be published. Their appointment is then conditional on the approval of Council. It just seems like bureaucratic silliness to me though I should be delighted to be put right on this.

After two hours, I staggered out into the beautiful winter sunshine with my esteemed editor who lived up to his promise and bought me a cup of coffee.

Post script: You can find the policy on Council’s “Code of Meeting Practice” here. Its 77 pages are a real page-turner. It is still not clear to me from this august document why Council needs to vote to accept an apology. Paragraphs 3.4 and 3.5 may have the answer but, if so, it is well hidden.

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