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Dear Members,

We realize that you have not heard from us in a little while - but that doesn’t mean we have not been busy following up Council affairs.

You may recall that the Association made a presentation (details on our website) at a Workshop convened by the Council on 28 July. The purpose was to allow community presenters the opportunity to pass on their ideas to Council and staff members. The Workshop was subsequently followed up on 22 September - allowing Councillors to respond to the observations and proposals put to them at the July assembly. Councillors had been asked to consider presenters’ proposals which they believed had merit and could perhaps be adopted. Councillors Morton and Kowal were absent.
A suggestion that a record of public forum presentations and questions be kept was adopted and Councillor Vardon argued for public access to all Council Workshops - this was also adopted subject to the protection of confidential information.

Councillor Scobie took up the proposal for communities to be consulted on new projects earlier in the process than is current practice. G.M. Anderson agreed with this approach and said it would be trialled in plans for the Hanging Rock precinct.

Council staff Sharpe and Enders spoke in favour of the 20 year forward planning process (Eurobodalla 2030 Community Reference Group). Councillors were skeptical and members of the public mainly opposed - generally on the grounds that if you can’t plan the next 5 years, what hope is there to be able to plan the next 20?

The ERA call for implementation of an externally conducted review of Council affairs was discussed. Councillor Vardon supported the proposal and suggested formation of a committee to develop the Terms of Reference for such a review. No Councillor objected, but none spoke in favour either. G.M. Anderson indicated that he had already investigated consultants for internal review of Transport Operations, Organisational Structure and Business Operations. He indicated that as funds became available they would be applied to Audit Committee for efficiency review and his assessment of review priorities.

Members of the ERA Management Group met with the Mayor and General Manager of Council at Mogo on 3 September. The Meeting was facilitated by State Member, Andrew Constance, who attended and observed the Meeting. Mayor Thomson was handed a sheet containing various concerns of the ERA in relation to areas it was thought that Mayoral performance could be enhanced and noting that the ERA would prefer to work with, rather than against, the Council.

Essentially, ERA came away from the meeting feeling that the Mayor had swept aside the concerns put before him and has no intention of changing his attitudes or mode of operation, although at the conclusion both he and the G.M. said that their doors were always open for further discussion.

The General Manager, Paul Anderson, committed to wanting similar outcomes to ERA, for example: smaller staff numbers, efficient productive staff and agreed to the principle of an Independent External Review. Typically, he described a staff position left vacant for two years as a demonstration of holding staff replacement. But there was no thought as to whether the position should exist at all. Then he mentioned the existence of an “external review” of Council Transport. This is a problem on two counts. Firstly, it represents a piecemeal approach to what is an overall problem. Looking at one area in isolation, or several areas in isolation, does not provide the necessary overview of operations. Secondly, such a review remains essentially an “internal” review, with the G.M. having control over content, outcomes and implementation.

It was also most interesting to hear the Mayor give total and unreserved praise of the G.M’s qualifications, performance and positive contribution to the management of Council affairs.

The ERA decided not to make a commitment to the Community Reference Group because a significant budget was assigned to this exercise at a time when finances are under a lot of pressure. We gave the following reasons for non-participation:

The dysfunctional state of Council’s organization and the parlous financial position of Council. We see time spent on 20 year strategies as a diversion from the immediate need to significantly improve the day-to-day management of Council affairs.
Whilst we agree with the intent of medium/long-term planning, our experience suggests that pressing decisions will be deferred pending the outcome of this 18-month exercise.
After years of similar planning, the Shire does not have an approved Local Environment Plan, a sustainable budget, a workable plan for the urban consolidation of Shire towns, nor an affordable approach to the maintenance and replacement of core assets.
Such community planning is no substitute for civic leadership, which is seen to be lacking in present circumstances.

In addition, there currently exists a Federally sponsored South Coast Regional Development Committee, whose function is to address longer term planning matters. The major focus of this Committee is to plan long-term for the region and aims to provide infrastructure led economic development and job creation, integration of high speed broadband into the area, improved transport and affordable clean energy, education and training, attractive and affordable lifestyle including access to first-class health and aged care facilities and retaining the unique natural environment.

So we question what value is to be gained by Eurobodalla Council becoming involved in a $150,000 duplication of the existing efforts of the South Coast Region Group.

At this point in time the General Manager appears to be promoting his own agenda and control over outcomes. While paying lip-service to the notion of an independent external overview, he is proceeding with contracting consultants for piecemeal internal reviews and simultaneously advertising employment positions to cost at least $750,000 p.a. This is happening at a time when community services are being cut because of the supposed $1m shortfall in rate income.

The General Manager’s position is that he has no funds to cover the cost of an External Review.

The ERA has prepared a case to justify an extensive Externally Conducted efficiency overview of Council financial, staffing, operational and organizational management. To carry this out will require funding, which we hope to obtain through State and Federal Government support.

Keep checking our website in the coming week, because we will be asking you to register your preference on an important policy issue. It will be our objective to have a firm plan of action in place by Mid-October 2010.



Work with us towards a better local government in our beautiful shire!