The Agenda for the next Council meeting is out and it is looking very dull. Once again there are no Questions on Notice or Notices of Motion from the councillors which indicates that they have nothing to ask, nothing to suggest or have been gagged from asking anything which is quite surprising when you consider that this council is in a turmoil that has not been seen since the great Dismissal of 1982 when the NSW Minister for Local Government, Mr Gordon, dismissed the Eurobodalla Shire Council and appointed an administrator to handle council affairs. For those of you not familiar with the history of this epic event in 1982 Mr Gordon said "the dismissal followed an examination of all aspects of the council's activities by inspectors of the Office of Local Government and the Department of Planning and Environment. The Canberra Times article of Thu 23 Sep 1982 "Eurobodalla council dismissed" By MARK WALLACE stated "It follows allegations in State Parliament last week by Mr John Hatton (Ind, South Coast) that members and senior servants of the council had been involved in bribery, improper land deals and "had used their positions of public trust to further their own personal gain". Mr Hatton told Parliament on Wednesday, September 15, that two councillors "should be sacked" and that police investigations should be carried out "to see whether charges could be laid". Mr Gordon said the Governor of NSW, Air Marshal Sir James Rowland, had authorised the council's dismissal on the advice of the Executive Council. Mr John Wickham has been appointed as the Administrator. The report of the inspectors is available only to electors of shire at the council chambers in Moruya. Mr Hatton called on Mr Wickham yesterday to continue the inquiries of the government inspectors to see if there was sufficient information for charges to be laid. Mr Wickham said he would be in Moruya from Mondays to Fridays for "some time at least". His role would be to "discharge the role and function of the council and to deal with the inspectors' report", which was about 220 pages long "plus appendices". He would call for comment from the former council. Any person in the area would have an opportunity to respond to it. Mr Wickham reappointed the staff which had been dismissed but said he could be making recommendations in that regard after studying the report." With such a record behind them it is understandable that there is a continued call for openness and transparency by the community to ensure that councillors and senior servants are seen to best be representing and serving the community. However things have slipped in that regard as more and more decisions are being made behind closed doors and in secret meetings that have neither agendas or minutes with signed confidentiality agreements the order of the day.
The disconnect that we are now seeing between the Council and the community has not been like this for decades. There appears a distrust of Council at every turn and the many positive projects are at hand for some reason appear tainted in the hands of Council such as the debacle that has become the Mackay Park project, the continued argy-bargy of the Corrigans Reserve, the proposed sale of Batemans Bay Community Centre, the conflicts around recreational fishing infrastructure, the acquisition of and future of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site, the new Batemans Bay bridge project and its traffic consequences on the Bay CBD, the blinkers placed on the Clyde foreshore remodelling project and the insistence by council of controlling and constraining the highly successful Sculpture on Clyde event. Each soured in one way or another by Council clearly driving their own agenda whilst doing lip service to "public consultation". All too often they have said "they are listening" whilst with the above there is little evidence of it. The most recent mayoral media release is a perfect example where, with no consultation with her fellow councillors and with total disregard for the as yet summarised survey results for the new Aquatic Centre the Mayor announced what she INTENDED to have declaring what THERE WILL be and what WE WILL be building. This Mayoral release has run ripples through the council chambers and the wider community. To many it offers evidence to the fears held that once again the feedback sought would end up ignored "as was the case the last time and the time before that" making a mockery of the endless meetings, focus groups, requests for ideas and submissions, previous public surveys and even previous Council resolutions that have all been ignored. At this point it is critical to remind readers that while Councillors may have agreed to a 25m pool for the Mackay Park Aquatic Centre it wasn't their idea. They were in fact signing off on a staff vision of economic rationalism that started back in 2013 when Council Planning Staff first introduced its preference for a 25m pool for Batemans Bay. The 25m pool we have now before us at Mackay Park is a staff vision that has never been put out to the community and the manipulation of the recent Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy prepared by staff to endorse their preference with no public consultation has to remain one of the most underhanded moves this council has made in recent years. Whilst it wasn't done by Councillors they allowed it to be done under delegated authority and said nothing, even after community outcry. Councillor Anthony Mayne however appears not to want to be "spoken for" in the Mayor's "Royal WE" media statement saying on his blog: "I look forward to reading the survey results of the 3 preliminary concepts for the new centre. The survey only closed on Sunday. I made a statement in Council last year that this project needs to be affordable for it to be viable. I welcome the grant funding and support from both Liberal and Labor. However, before “We can get on and go for it,” we need to ensure that the business case stacks up and that we can deliver within budget. I look forward to reviewing the business case, which will be central in mapping out the way forward. At the end of the day though, the funding does provide for a wonderful opportunity for our Shire and I welcome the ongoing discussions with our community." It is understood that there are other Councillors who, before committing to the project, also look forward to reading the survey returns and the comments made by the community and coming to their own conclusions of the community sentiment rather than simply accepting a staff summary. The remaining vestiges of the Mackay Park Sunset Committee, now in disarray with resignations, indignations and frustrations have played their role allowing Council to tick a box of "primary stake holder inclusion". The recent rhetorical Information Kiosks and survey ticks another box. Many now consider that the community survey and the feedback on the three Mackay Park concepts was a waste of time as they "know" Council will "just do whatever it wants". A similar perspective is developing with another handpicked community committee also sworn to secrecy. Many on the Batemans Bay Foreshore Committee, charged with giving input into the design opportunities around the new bridge see themselves as little more than a group that ticks a box of "public consultation" whilst gagged in being able to reveal any detail of discussion. They are reminded constantly that their scope of interest is clearly bounded and as such they are constrained to basically only being able to talk about toilets and litter bins. What is becoming clear to the group is that Council will "inherit" all of the landscaping and infrastructure and therefore already have in mind what they want to own, maintain and replace. Rather than considering designed foreshore parks that have feature trees and plantings, wandering pathways, storyboards and public space that might offer Batemans Bay a green civic drawcard the vision is overrule with argued maintenance practicalities requiring straight line paths and grasses. Meanwhile the Foreshore committee goes through the machinations, unable to add their own agenda items, its members mindful that the council observers on the committee have most likely determined what they want and are there to ensure they get it, one way or the other. One good thing that has come out of the Foreshore Committee is the results of the wave study that clearly prove that floating pontoons along the Clyde River from the "T" Wharf to the Starfish Deli are more than viable. The best news on that is that the "T" Wharf, that is limited in use to the wider community, can be remodelled to be a functioning public facility offering far more to the boating community. The floating pontoon, installed to replace the primary wharf section can be adapted to join half of the leg of the existing facility by a gantry bridge enabling it to be the perfect place for tenders from visiting cruise ships. In turn it could serve to the fleet of houseboats, the recreational fishers, sailboats and tourism fleet. To date there has been good feedback on the idea with, as yet, no justifiable objection to having the wharf perform as a multi-functioning public facility. It is understood that neither Mayor Innes nor Council's Director of Engineering were present at the last meeting to offer their perspective.
Above: a smaller version of the option of a floating pontoon for the "T" Wharf on the Clyde Foreshore in BBay Note the provision for pumpout - the dimension for the new pontoon would be twice as long and three times the width of the one above
With positive feedback it is understood that a soon to be formed independent Clyde River Foreshore Group will push for this upgrade as well as holistically looking beyond the limited scope of the existing Bridge Foreshore committee to assess private, commercial and recreational needs along the river from Nelligen to Hanging Rock. So what we appear to have now is a disengaged Council that clearly doesn't represent the community nor engages with them but chooses instead to tell them what they intend to do. Even the Mackay Park project has its smoke and mirrors that hide a myriad of concerns.
We hear that Councillors have delegated the buy out of the Mini Golf lease to the General Manager and that while the councillors have, in principle, agreed to the buy out they have not defined a budget other than to say they will support whatever the figure might be in the next budget. Keep in mind the last time they delegated such a task to the GM it resulted in Council paying $2.73m that many, including two councillors on the day, considered to be worth $1.5m at the most with the comment made "we had not choice". How much will the Mini Golf Buyout be? We won't find out until the transaction is done. No doubt however the councillors are all over the above as they go to chambers next week with No Questions and No Notice of Motion. The wild card will be the Mayoral Minute.