The Beagle Editor,
Every 4 years (sometimes 5) Eurobodalla elects a new set of 9 Councillors, voted into their positions by an electorate with a high expectation that the views and ambitions of the Shire’s ratepayers will finally flow through to the regions planning strategy.
But then move forward another 4 years and nothing will have changed. The odd brave Councillor may have worked hard against a bureaucratic headwind for his/her miserly <$20,000 per annum only to suffer marginalisation and be last in line for the cream biscuits when Council breaks for coffee!
And now, a month away, another election and another 9 Councillors.
Sir Humphrey Appleby said when referring to the influence of public servants over elected representatives, “It's always a victory of the heartless over the mindless”. Here in the Eurobodalla, ‘timid’ may be more appropriate than mindless.
Perhaps we expect too much of our Councillors. Council acts basically as a planning authority. While Councillors are expected to consider the community’s views, this does not mean they will vote in favour of those views while fulfilling their role as a planning authority. In effect, Councillors seem more inclined to defend Council Management strategies than to influence those strategies. Council Management is the Councillor’s master, not the community.
Councillors must make planning decisions based on whether a planning application is consistent with the local planning scheme, even if members of the community object to the planning proposal.
Without doing the research, I cannot recall any significant Council Management decision that has been overturned by an agreed majority Councillor position, nor am I aware of any planned project priorities that have been significantly altered.
Intending Councillor candidates for September’s election will shortly trot out the same well worn phrases such as ‘keeping Council honest’ and ‘community interests first’, but the reality is that all power rests with Council Management and their puppet master: the Office of Local Government.
Elected Councillors, however, do have a strong role in Local Government but it is not with the wasted energy of arm-wrestling an already implacable Council. A more useful role would be to regularly communicate with ratepayers to explain and defend those management decisions agreed to by Councillors in Council meetings. There has been precious little of that in recent times. If Councillors cannot defend their support for Council Management decisions face to face with ratepayers then clearly they should be spending their time elsewhere. Kim Odgers