Editorial June 11th 2021

Welcome to this week’s editorial,

This week saw the Council chambers Public Gallery packed out with fourteen speakers ready to passionately present on the issue of Coopers Island Road.

Before I venture into the outcome of the issues raised around Council’s intention to sell the road and how they cocked up I must say how delighted I am to see the positive processes of democracy at play.

Right across social media there is a rise of voice by the community as they learn more of how the Council is failing them. Currently the issue on social media is around the failure of Council to provide clean toilets. Here are just some of the 128 comments on the Moruya Notice Board alone:

“Broulee surf club as a smell is disgrace, “The last time I went to Caseys Beach toilets all of them clogged and there was no toilet paper and just filthy... went home to use the bathroom then back to the beach,

“I have complained previously about both public toilets at Moruya. Using snap send and solve and ringing council.

"Yes they’re disgusting when you compare to other areas that take pride in there town and keep them clean even providing hand wash more so since Covid.

“Maybe some of our counsellors or the top council workers may need to use them one day

“The toilet blocks in Tuross over near coila beach are the same the smells disgusting

“All I can say is I've used cleaner, better equipped toilets in the back blocks of China

“I have found both sets of public toilets at Broulee, one at North Broulee beach & the other at the Surf Club, in a terrible state lately. Not only very, very dirty, but often no toilet paper. And soap? Soap has never been provided, pandemic or not!

“Why doesn't everybody ring and complain to council. Work department 44741391. Complaining on Facebook won't fix the problems. Response “I’m sure thousands have complained it will take till one of them need to use these toilets for anything to be done; I have rung next to near useless, e-mailed a letter zero response.

“Every Saturday at the markets people comment how disgusting the toilets are. We want visitors to the town but what a welcome they get…putrid toilets and there have been many complaints made. Council don’t care.”

It is obvious, as you look at the Notice Boards across the Shire that we have a similar problem with all of our toilets. The question has to be asked “Are our Councillors aware of the issue and outcry or do the management not advise them under the pretext that it is an Operational Matter to be handled by them under delegation.

When Councillors are elected they delegate many of their roles down to staff. They delegate, through the General Manager, the authority vested in them by the State Government down to the senior managers. This allows the organisation to “get on with it” without the need to bother the councillors or seek their approval of every action. It makes sense. But who keeps an eye on the management to ensure they don’t overstep the mark and take unauthorised power into their own hands? Who controls the controllers?

This week we learnt of yet another example of staff overstepping the mark when we discovered that a council ranger had given verbal permission for a farmer to erect a gate across a public road. The ranger had no authority to do so and, as a result, the festering sore around the illegal gate has been allowed to build for two full years. Council management were aware of the stuff up right from the get-go. But the Councillors were not. They were kept out of it by a decision made by management who were hoping the entire issue would go away.

But it didn’t, and this week the issue finally came before the councillors and the public, who learnt, for the first time, of the cock up. Such a occurrence is no longer considered unusual practice for Eurobodalla Council who now have a long record over the last two terms. It is however, an eye opener for the community who are learning that the management quite often keep the councillors in the dark of information, such as the recent communication from the Office of Local Government sent to the General Manager offering concerns around the ongoing affordability of the new $71 million Bay Pavilions in Batemans Bay. The councillors were not shown that critical communication, nor the Audit and Risk Committee, and it was a decision made by a member of staff that Councillors not see it. But a code of conduct complaint saw her exonerated on the grounds that they already had access to a lot of other information. Really?

At the council meeting this week it is suggested that management pulled another “swifty” by altering the agenda motion of Coopers Island Road at the eleventh hour. That morning the Councillors sat and listened to fourteen speakers present on the report that was coming to Council offering TWO Options. Without letting on our councillors sat through it all saying nothing about there now being ONE option that they had been briefed on half an hour before; One Option alone, based on nothing other than learning an electric fence had been removed. That morning management advised a vastly different option to either of the two the public and public knew of. In essence the management moved the goal posts and the public were made to look like fools as they presented. But it was done, in a back room during briefings, and with the knowledge of a select few. To say that it was a manipulation would be an understatement. But it was legal, all nicely done in confidence.

The question is “How much else is done under delegation? How much authority do the council staff have and how much authority should councillors give away?”

There is so much that the community don’t know. It is more than disconcerting when the Mayor openly says “The community know what the community know”. The same thing seems to apply to the councillors as well, in many cases, who learn of issues for the first time via The Beagle. And that appears to be just how senior management like it.

In the meantime the show goes on as we approach the September elections. There is mounting disquiet in social media around the state of the shire, from garbage bins to pot holes and parks maintenance. While we now know that the responsibility for budgets, priorities and accomplishments now sit with senior management it is the councillors who are copping the heat, and they will be the bunnies who suffer at the voting booths based on the failures of others to perform the minimum requirements of the Three R’s Roads, Reserves and Rubbish under their delegation.

Until next