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Editorial July 16th 2021

Welcome to this week’s editorial Disgust, Disappointment and Désolé Readers may have wondered why I haven’t reported on the last meeting of Council. The three words above only begin to describe my views of the meeting. The first is Disgust. Disgust that Council responded to clearing the Council owned land at Broulee saying they had sought legal advice, and based on that advice they did so. The Disgust comes from the fact that in 2003 the Council staff were told to make the land (an unformed road) community and place it under a Plan of Management for Reserves. They failed to do so. So legally the Unformed Road was not Community and legally they could clear it. But morally they disgust me. Five weeks before they cleared the land they were advised, and recognised, their blunder and failure to action a 2003 Council directive. Rather than respect the wishes of the community they instead sought legal advice that enabled them to proceed with an arrangement that benefitted the developer and snubbed the community. Legal? Yes. Morally reprehensible? Yes. Note that this was not the Councillors. This was the senior management. The second occurrence of Disgust was during the Pubic Forum session where a member of the Broulee community was addressing the Councillors and Senior staff. As the speaker was saying “The General Manager and senior staff have shown utter contempt for the principle of community consultation” I noticed that Council’s senior planner was distracted by his phone. For the entire seven minutes of a presentation by a well respected Community Association member aimed squarely at the Planner and senior staff the Senior Planner scrolled his phone. The third occasion of Disgust on the day was the fact that the Public Forum was being chaired by the Deputy Mayor instead of the Mayor. The Disgust came from knowing that the Mayor, Clr Lindsay Brown and Clr Jack Tait were present in the building but chose not to attend to listen to their community present. There were eight solid presentations delivered that morning on Agenda items of the day including impassioned deliveries from members of the community regarding the proposed sale of Council owned land at Dalmeny. The Disappointment The Disappointment stemmed from the disdain that was being shown to Councillors by their peers and the aggression that was on display from both staff and councillors to anyone who indicated an alternate view or had the audacity to ask a valid, opposing question. I won’t even begin to describe the slithy, tovey, narky, bitter, whinceworthy, Gollum like display of one councillor as another addressed the chamber and gallery. Nor will I bother to elaborate on a senior staff member stepping over the line to publicly dress down a Councillor for not being at a briefing . Had that staff member bothered to enquire they would have discovered the Councillor had a valid reason to be absent. The outburst by the staff member was clearly of a vindictive nature intended to discredit a Councillor. Also of disappointment is the game that is played by Councillors who, under new rules, demand copies of presentations to be read the following day during Public Forum and Public Access. The stated intention is to give Councillors time to digest, research and then form questions to ask of the speakers. That is the intention they offered to justify the new rules. The fact of the matter is that they use the time to formulate confrontational questions that often begin with “Are you aware?” This was played out once again this week with the intent of belittling a Public Forum speaker by suggesting it was they who had failed, and not Council. The giveaway this time was the prepared prop of a printout of a Dalmeny Zoning Map being waved about. Time and time again the blatant Dorothy Dix questions from the chamber floor suggest there is a premeditated collusion between councillors and staff. The Disappointment continued when the Councillors voted 6-3 against a deferral until “no earlier than the first meeting of the newly elected Council body” and “that Staff plan for a period of formal community consultation in relation to this matter to be completed prior to any decision being made”. This most reasonable motion was voted down 6-3 with the majority of Councillors who voted instead to support the staff recommendation and negotiate the sale giving negotiation delegation to the General Manager. This vote was made even though the Councillors had before them 219 pages of submissions from the community written by many with expertise and what Clr McGinlay noted as “legitimate concerns”. On top of this was an electronic petition with 1596 signatures. To add insult to injury it has been revealed that the Councillors voted (by majority) to sell the land without knowing how much it had been valued. When the Staff-recommended sale of this land was explained at a briefing to Councillors on Tuesday 15 June, Clr McGinlay requested that Councillors be advised of the estimated value of the land as outlined in the professionally commissioned valuation report for the land. That request was denied by the General Manager. It wasn’t until July the 7th that she consented, but only if Clr McGinlay looked at the valuation in her office with no copy made. Basically Council staff do not trust our Councillors. There has been one occurrence already where Councillor tablets and phones have been demanded to be returned, to be trawled by staff looking for evidence of confidential information leaks. The Désolé (Fr. sorry) I am, what the French say, “Je suis vraiment désolé”, by the entire sordid, fetid underbelly that sees Senior Staff doing as they please, Teflon coated and without accountability or consequence. In the thirty five years I have lived in the Shire I have never seen the level of toxicity we now have between the community and the Council. As I said last week the blame might well sit with Councillors for having given too much control away under delegation, but the fact is that the Senior Executive are at the helm. But at the helm of what? Behind all of this is a thing called Fit for the Future that demands Councils become more self reliant. This means that the grant gravy trains are drying up. In order to Tick The Box for State and Federal Government loans Councils must prove they are Fit for the Future. This needs evidence of revenue. Rates are Revenue—more houses means more rates. Fees and Charges, and Water and Sewer fees all must rise to cover demand and overheads. No budget means a reduction in services. If there isn’t enough then let’s have a justifiable Special Rate Variation. Development is good for Council. More development is better. It means more income. The argument is that more people will see an increase in services and expansion of key facilities such schools and hospitals along with job opportunities and affordable housing. But our councillors have been played as muppets for the past five years to a Bigger Game and our Executive, in turn, are being played as puppets on a much bigger stage. And while this is the case the Us and Them, we have will continue. The question is “What can, and must, a new Council do to turn the tide? Until next—Lei

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