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Council castigated for its failure to communicate with community

Yesterday's Council meeting saw three presenters at Public Forum voice their dismay in the complete failure of Council to advise the community of a letter from the Minister for Local Government dated 21 June 2019 which in part said of IPART recommendations to Rate review “if implemented could substantially change our local government system and impact directly on communities”. The Minister, rightly, in her letter, goes on to say that “it is important that councils, community members and organisations representing the interests of local government should have the opportunity to fully consider these issues before the Government proceeds

with a final response to the reports”. But until the agenda for Council's meeting was published, very few if any members of the community were aware that such changes were being considered let alone knowing what impacts those recommendations might have or even that they could have access to a process to seek further information or make their views known. And no-one in the community knew that they were invited by the NSW Government to make submission of their own. Sadly and most disappointingly the General Manager, who most would expect would inform the community, sat po-faced, indifferent to the speakers asking why the community wasn't informed, her demeanor indicating no responsibility, leaving it to Councillors McGinlay and Mayne to fall on their swords of saying they could have advised the community if council staff had handled it differently. It was revealed that Council had received the letter had been received 11 weeks ago at the end of June and had been posted into the Councillors confidential newshub along with a 200 page document. Three councillors admitted that they then expected staff to look at the document, prepare a report, offer briefings and advise the community. Instead the staff read the document, determined their own response, providing Councillors a copy of their recommendations on the 23rd August with a briefing on August 27th with a followup briefing on Sept 3rd. All of those briefings are confidential therefore NO councillor was able to advise the community of what was going on behind closed doors. It was not until the Council's agenda paper came out that the community became aware of the report with just days to absorb the report and draft a presentation. The staff report came before Council on Tuesday morning in a cloud of outcry that had been voiced in the Beagle and on Social Media. The presentations by the public to Councillors during Public Forum added weight, as did the fact that the Mayor of Bega had said NO to being rushed into a response saying that she wished to engage with her community first. It was clear that Eurobodalla Council had failed in their communication with their community and it was clear that if councillors endorsed the staff's submission there would be an immediate backlash from the community who had seen, one too many times, submissions being written by staff to be rubber stamped by councillors at the eleventh hour with no community consultation. As a result of excellent presentations, the councillors recognising the failures and also smelling blood in the wind the original recommendation was replaced at the the final minute by one that the Mayor just happened to have at hand. It was clear that this was a prearranged move by the Mayor as she gave the councillors time to read her replacement motion. Once again this indicated that the councillors are kept out of the loop and in this case were not party to the drafting of what they were all about to endorse. Councilor Pat McGinlay said he wanted on record that he was not comfortable with endorsing sch a submission with it having so many unexplained unknowns and that while he might vote to endorse the new motion he wanted on record that he was not voting for a change of rates but for any suggested change to come back to the community to decide in full consultation. With little hope of any apology to the community from the General Manager for the failure to advise the community of the something so serious that “if implemented could substantially change our local government system and impact directly on communities” the gallery and those watching via live streaming instead hear the apology of the failure from Councillor Mayne saying: "We could have handled this a bit better. Apologies to our community for not taking you on this journey". Councillor Anthony Mayne

VIDEO: Bought to task by several speakers for failing to engage with the community over the issue Council have now revised their submission along similar lines taken by Bega's mayor, Kirsty McBain saying "At this time this Council does not support the introduction of CIV. Council has not engaged with the community on this issue."

In this wrap-up from Eurobodalla Shire Council, Mayor Liz Innes talks to a proposal on how rates are set, managing wattle on sand dunes, and gives kudos to Council's water and sewer team - recently acknowledged with a prestigious award.

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