Council gets a wake up call.

Posted: July 19, 2009 by admin in Uncategorized

Last Monday the Council had an extraordinary meeting to discuss how to restructure its budget in the light of the NSW Minister for Local Government refusing the Council’s request for a Special Rate variation.

The Minister made it clear in her press release that the successful rates variations showed “evidence of community consultation and support as well as a solid business case”. This was a wake up call to the Council that if it wants to get the changes it wants it needs to have the community it serves behind it.

If the reaction of the Council to this news so far is any indication, they didn’t hear the wake up call. In the report itself we are told”It is unfortunate that the silent majority did not provide more tangible support.” Ah… it’s not because the Council didn’t make its case convincingly, it’s because the citizens who supported the rates variation couldn’t be bothered supporting the Council. In another part of the report, we are told that one of the primary concerns of the Department of Local Government was “the community feedback received by both the Council and the Department has been overwhelmingly against the proposed special rate variation.”

So let me get this straight… there was overwhelming negative feedback to the rates variation, but the Council knows that the “silent majority” actually supports the rates variation.  Perhaps someone in the Council could let us all know how they know what the silent majority thinks. And if they do know, why didn’t they enlighten the Department of Local Government about this?

The Moruya Examiner reported that our Mayor, Fergus Thompson, said the Council would be forced to look at cuts in environmental programs and in employment as a way of meeting the $973, 000 shortfall in revenue that results from the refusal of the rates variation.

Today I received a letter in the mail, informing me that the Sustainability Expo for 2009 had to be cancelled “due to constraints with internal resources” so I take it that this is the one of the first casualties of the special rates refusal.

It would be easy to stop at this point, sit back and comment from the sidelines about the actions that the Council is taking to solve a problem of its own making.  The harder, but probably more interesting path is to see if there are any constructive suggestions we can make to ensure that next time the Council approaches the Department for Local Government for funds, it can convincingly show it has consulted the community and has some evidence that the majority is behind its request.

So let’s take the harder path. As I see it, there are two important areas where the Council needs to make some changes in the way it deals with the people it serves.  The first is its image, and the second is the way it interacts with the citizens of Eurobodalla.

Council’s Image

Mayor Thompson told the Moruya Examiner that one of the reasons for the refusal of the Council’s application for a special rate rise was that “the Minister was unhappy with past management practices” He responded “We are the current management and we are going to be the ones to wear it”

The problem is that many in the community don’t see that anything has really changed in the Council over the last few years.  OK we have had an election, but there was almost no change in personnel. Only two new Councillors were elected, or three if you count Chris Vardon’s re-election. This was the will of the people, and a case could be put that this shows that the people were basically happy with what was done by the old management.  It could also be put that there was so little interest in the Council elections that only familiar faces were re-elected with little regard to the policies and interests that they represented.

We have had a change in the General Manager but the Council reports that we get from the Council staff are still designed to hide information rather than to give it; they still have the air of being an unnecessary and tedious interruption to governing, rather than a welcome opportunity to involve the community in the decisions the Council must make.

The gratuitous comment about the silent majority in this last report is a good example of this thinking – how dare people disagree with what we have decided – they must be those nasty people who live on the fringe, not the nice docile people who are so easy to govern. Perhaps those nice docile people have given up talking because they are never listened to, and the negative comments are the desperate attempts of people who actually care about the Council to try to change what is happening.

Let’s assume that Mayor Thompson is correct and that there is a new management in the Council.  We all need to see that this is the case in actions rather than words.

  • We need to see that this is a Council that can be trusted to put the citizens of Eurobodalla first, not corporations or developers or other special interests
  • we need to see that this is a Council that understands that it is there to serve the people rather than to govern them,
  • We need to see that the Council will make decisions that are not designed to punish those who disagree with what they are doing.

Doing these things will be a sign to all of us that we do have a Council that is worth taking some notice of, and is worth engaging with.

So far we appear to be getting old management, not new.  The measures that the Council is taking appear to be all designed to affect the more vulnerable, through job freezes,  reduction of involvement in job training schemes, and reduction of services provided by the Council, or by retreating from more progressive approaches the Council has been taking recently regarding the environment.  There was not a mention of increasing charges on developers, or working with environment groups and green businesses to see how we can make better use of the resources available to us in the Eurobodalla. There does not seem to be any thought about being innovative in the way services are provided to ensure they make best of the resources available.  It’s all about cutting services, retreating from innovation, hitting the most vulnerable and allowing the powerful to ride on their backs:  all old management, so perhaps we can be forgiven for thinking nothing has changed.

Better Consultation

The Minister for Local Government cited lack of effective community consultation and support as a key reason that the rate increase was not approved. This Council does not have a good record on community consultation, and it will need to lift its game if it is going to develop a better public image with the Community it serves.

At the minute, community consultation seems to be viewed as an optional extra. We had the unedifying situation where instead of Council staff  providing for Community consultation as a matter of course,  Cr Vardon had to move for an extension on the controversial LEP so that there could be public consultation on the changes it was going to make to approval processes in the Shire. The public meeting that was then called was badly organised, and from all accounts chaotic, leading to dissatisfaction from all parties.  There was similar feedback about the public meeting to discuss the Management plan for the Shire. I would have thought that most senior public servants would have strong skills in consulting the people they serve, or would ensure that they had access to staff who did. I would also have thought that developing an effective consultation process to explain major changes to public policy would be an integral part of working through the policy. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Perhaps the Council needs to take a few steps back and look at its consultation processes.  There are many ways now that people can be involved in the Council’s deliberations.  Not only do we have the traditional methods of meetings and focus groups and discussions with interest groups; now we also have access to many different ways to consult and get opinions through the net.  How about using a public wiki with drafts of papers to get opinions on different approaches to an issue.  Twitter is another new tool that could be used to collect opinion about an issue.  All of these are powerful and often very cost effective consultation tools.

There is a lot of interest in the Council, which is evident in the overflowing meeting hall when there was a chance to make our opinions known about the LEP, and the development of sites such as The Peoples Council, and other local sites dealing with local issues.  These are NOT threats to the Council but can be powerful allies in helping the Council to develop an effective dialogue with the people it serves.  The sites are freely available to anyone who wants to log on; it’s possible to write an opinion piece like this, and get feedback almost in real time. The feedback is multi faceted – it’s not just between the author and those who read the piece, but it is also between the readers themselves, and this does provide the opportunity for new and unexpected perspectives to appear. These sites are often run by people who are passionate about local affairs, who would gladly devote time to improve communication between the Council and the Community.

There are also many people in the Eurobodalla who are retired or semi-retired who have strong consultation and policy development skills.  With the right approach the Council may well find that these people may also be prepared to work with the Council to improve consultation.

If the Council wants to improve its image in the Community it needs to make sure that it communicates well with the people it serves.  At the minute there are many examples to show that the Council is not communicating well, and is not using the avenues available to it, with the advent of new internet tools to effectively hear the views of the people it serves.

Council got a wake-up call with the refusal of the additional rate rise, making it clear that it needs to communicate better with the people it serves to obtain their support.  The Council can ignore the message it is receiving and believe that only the fringes disagree with what it is doing.  It does this at its peril.  There will be less interaction with the Council, but it will be because people have given up trying, rather than because they agree with what the Council is doing.

If the Council heeds the wake up call, and Mayor Thompson is right that we do have new management in the Council, we could find that we have a vibrant future ahead of us.  There may be some fireworks, but they are colourful and give illumination; there may be disagreement, but that means that we hear and can evaluate different points of view. We will also see innovation, a willingness to find common solutions.  I hope the Council is under new management and that we will see the mayor and senior council staff looking to improve their communications with the people that they serve.


saltwater-january-2009-008

Welcome to the new look Peoples Council!  I’ve been playing around for a while, trying to find a way to have the voting and commenting advantages offered by my original Peoples’ Council format, as well as having an attractive “newsletter” feel about the site, and I think this achieves that goal.

With this new format you can:

  • Make comments without needing to register. You will still need to give a name and an email address so that I don’t drown in spam, but only I and the computer sees your email address, and you can choose whatever name you like while you are on the site – I use a “nom de plume” most of the time myself…

However, if you want to vote  or make comments on individual reports you will still need to log in to the site. That makes it easier to keep things honest with the voting.

You can also make your own contributions to the Peoples’ Council, but you will also need to register before you can write your own stories.

  • Read and write stories directly rather than read a summary first This format looks much more like a newsletter and I think that makes it more attractive and easy to read. You will still be able to read individual reports as a PDF file, by clicking on the link to the story, and you will also be able to go to the summary and voting pages by clicking on links
  • Use graphics and video easily The header for this welcome was very easy to insert, and it isn’t that difficult to insert a video clip in a story as well, so feel free to send in your thoughts as a video rather than as text.  I can also add in clips from youtube or other similar sites if  you find  something relevant to the Shire.

You might also have noticed the header for the site. These are all (well almost all) pics I’ve taken of landscapes in our beautiful shire. Every time you refresh the site such as when you go from one page to another, a different graphic will appear.

If you have a special landscape or other photo you would like to include in the top header, send it in to me.  Graphics will either need to be your own (and by sending them to me you are giving me permission to use them on my site), common domain, or you have permission from the person who took the photograph to distribute it and for me to use it – Sorry just a bit of making sure I don’t break copyright there…

Graphics can also mean maps and other graphical material, which will be useful in discussing things like the draft LEP.

Make links to sites relevant to the Shire I’ve already added in a link to the Council, and also to the Tuross times, which is an interesting weekly website, detailing all the activities that are happening in Tuross.

If you have a site that you would like to link to the Peoples Council let me know the address and I’ll add it to the links on this site.

There is also limited space for advertising.  If you are interested in this, contact me on david@thepeoplescouncil.com

I’ll make space available for free on the sidebars for community events and activities, such as the slow food festival. If you are interested in this please contact me.

Looking forward to feedback and suggestions on the new look site. If you feel inspired to write a story for the site, please feel free.  If you would like some help contact me at david@thepeoplescouncil.com

David Grace

Phone: 0428 725030

Email: david@thepeoplescouncil.com

Searching for Direction: May meeting of the Council

Index

Click on the heading to go straight to the story:

Prayers at the Council

Shire Water supply

Residential Reuse of Water

Costs of the Moruya to Deep Creek Pipeline

Moruya Slow Food Festival

Draft LEP

Draft Plan of Management 2009-2013

The Council meeting on May 26 has an agenda which in many ways focuses on the direction we may want to take in the Shire.

The five agenda items I’ve picked for special attention this time provide food for thought about the directions that we want to take the Shire.

Prayers at the Council

Councillor Scobie has introduced a Notice of Motion proposing that Council be opened with a prayer, which would be read by a member of the Moruya Ministers Fellowship on a rotational basis.

Apparently this practice was cancelled at the commencement of the current Council without consultation with the Councillors.

Councillor Scobie is giving us all the opportunity to discuss exactly how we want religion to influence our politics.

Some questions that I think need to be considered very carefully in this debate are:

1.      Do we want to ensure that we have a separation of church and state, and is saying Christian prayers at the beginning of a session of a Council blurring this boundary?

2.      How do we decide which faiths can make prayers at the beginning of the Council. Is it OK for a local Imam to call on Allah to give the Councillors wisdom (I would certainly hope so…) What about a Rabbi? What about people who are atheist, and may find the whole idea of prayers offensive?

What about Buddhists or Pagans? What about people who are following their traditional aboriginal beliefs?

3.      How do the people who employ the Councillors (that’s you and me) feel about a particular faith having the opportunity to publicly put its imprimatur on the proceedings of the Council?  What provision is being made for Community consultation on this issue?

There is no doubt at all that the Councillors make important decisions at the Council meetings, and reflecting on the gravity of what they are about to do may well help Councillors in their task.

Perhaps this could just as easily be achieved by having a minute of silence for all in the Chamber at the beginning of proceedings, where participants can pray, meditate or just sit quietly and reflect on what they will be doing at the meeting.

What are your views on prayers at the Council? You can contribute to this topic by clicking here.

Read the report

Back to index

Shire Water supply

In the Council agenda this week, we have two reports on water supply, one looking to the past and one looking to the future.

As climate change develops, access to water will be an issue we have to face.

Perhaps the time has come to have an extensive review of our water needs and the best ways to guarantee its supply into the future.

Back to index

Residential Reuse of Water

This report provides the opportunity for Councillors to make some decisions about the use of recycled water in the Shire.

The report recommends a go slowly approach, where efforts to recycle water would be concentrated on agricultural use. Residential reuse schemes would be considered in new developments.

Community consultation on this issue is important, as water recycling schemes can easily be derailed if the community is not convinced of their need. The report recognises this and recommends extensive community consultation if the Council wants to take steps in this direction.

Recycling water is one of the tools we can use to ensure that we have adequate water for our needs. It is good that the Council is looking at the feasibility of recycling schemes, and is preparing the community to consider this issue.

What are your views on Recycling water?  You can make your contribution here.

Read the report

Back to index

Costs of the Moruya to Deep Creek Pipeline

Now…going back to traditional approaches to supplying water.

The Shire now estimates that the Moruya to Deep creek Dam pipeline.  will cost $31.455 million.

The pipeline is now complete and all it requires now to work is ummmm…water. The Moruya River presently does not have enough flow for the pipeline to work.

Many are saying that this pipeline is  an expensive and unnecessary approach to maintaining the Shires Water supply.

The money has been spent on this project now, but it does give us the opportunity to reflect on how best to spend other money that becomes available to improve our water supply.

I’ve heard people talk of the advantages of making water tanks available to every residence in the Shire, rather than spend huge amounts of money on traditional dams and pipelines.  Would this have been a more economical approach to ensuring our water supply than this pipeline.

What are your views on the pipeline and its costs? Make your contribution here.

Read the report

Back to index

Moruya Slow Food Festival

There is another procedural report to Council on the Moruya Slow Food Festival, so this gives me the opportunity to give it another plug…

Moruya will have its first Slow Food Festival between 19-22 June. There will be around 30 stalls and slow food guru Jacqui French will be the key note speaker.

As well as celebrating all the fine food and produce that is available in the Shire at the Riverside park on Saturday 21 June the Council has worked with the Moruya Chamber of Commerce backed organising Committee to make land available on the outskirts of Moruya to demonstrate horticultural techniques to those who are growing their own produce.

In the longer term, the committee plans to use this land as a demonstration plot for both small scale commercial growers and for home gardeners.

It is good to see the Council and the community working together to celebrate our growers and producers and provide opportunities to encourage food security by developing horticultural skills.

If you would like more detail on the Slow food Celebration, visit their site at www.eurobodallaslowfood.com.au

or speak to Stuart Scobie on

02 4745903

You can read the report and comment on this story here.

Back to index

Draft LEP

The Council released its draft Local Environment Plan (LEP) this month, and as you would expect with any document such as this, there is community concern and interest about its implications both at a personal and community level.

You can read the Draft LEP here.

The full LEP documentation can be viewed here

Councillor Chris Vardon is proposing that the exhibition period for the Draft LEP be extended for a further three weeks to the beginning of July to allow further community consultation and discussion on this important document.

I’ve been approached by a number of people who are concerned about the possible implications of the LEP on their businesses or properties, and it is important that these concerns are raised and dealt with adequately before the LEP is accepted.

I’ll do a special issue of the Peoples Voice in the next week which will concentrate on the LEP and its implications for the Shire.  I’d welcome any contributions people would like to make to this edition. You can contact me at

david@thepeoplescouncil.com

or phone 0428 725030 if you would like to make a contribution to the LEP edition, or if you want to talk about an issue that concerns you.

Back to index

Draft Plan of Management 2009-2013

On the subject of drafts, the draft management plan is also on exhibition until the end of this week.

You can read the draft management plan here

The Council is proposing a special rate increase this year and is seeking your views on it.  You can see what these rate increases will be here

This includes the special levy that was discussed at the Council meeting in March.  You can read that report here.

The Draft Management plan is one of the most important documents the Shire produces. It is the document that details the direction will be taking over a five year period, and how it proposes to raise and spend the money it needs.

If you are interested in taking an active role in the Council’s activities, reading and responding to the management plan is one of the most effective ways of having your say in Council affairs.

There’s only a week left to go, but that is plenty of time to get your submission in to the Council on the Draft Management plan

Back to index

Editor

David Grace

Email: david@thepeoplescouncil.com

Phone: 0428 725030