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May 6, 2021

Scrap community roundtables, says Byron GM

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Outgoing Byron Shire Council general manager Ken Gainger. Photo supplied

Paul Bibby

Byron Council should scrap its community roundtable meetings and take a careful look at the ‘squeaky wheels’ on the Byron Bay Town Centre Masterplan (BBMP) group if it wants genuine community participation, council’s outgoing general manager said in a report to councillors.

The recommendations came from GM Ken Gainger in a no-holds-barred report on the effectiveness of Council’s community engagement, to be discussed at the upcoming meeting this Thursday.

Citizen juries

Written as part of the council’s ongoing attempt to give residents a more direct role in decision making, the report recommends that the roundtables should be replaced by ‘citizen juries’ – groups of randomly selected community members tasked with developing policy solutions.

This would address what Mr Gainger described as a ‘palpable lack of trust by the community in the council’ and its decision making.

Two sets of consultants hired by the council to help it engage with the community had found this absence of faith in the council, he said.

In a stinging evaluation, Mr Gainger pointed to ten different council processes and policies contributing to this situation. These include the previous council’s decisions to push through its strategic land use agenda and its flawed Coastal Zone Management Plan without adequate consultation.

Council’s planning processes for Byron’s town centre also came under scrutiny. Mr Gainger said that while the BBMP had been a success, there had been angst within the community over implementation.

This had been caused by ‘confused expectations and a lack of understanding’ within the community and ‘exacerbated by the intervention of influential self-interest groups more intent on preventing change’.

Mr Gainger also made cutting criticisms of the BBMP Leadership Group (BBMPLG). He questioned if the membership truly represented the community’s views, saying it had been ‘stacked with squeaky wheels’ from ‘particular interest groups’.

The co-chairs of the BBMPLG Chris Hanley (OAM) and Donald Maughan did not repsond to The Echo regarding the criticisms.

The community roundtable process – regular meetings of local community representatives with council staff – also came in for criticism.

Mr Gainger’s claims that the meetings ‘regularly deteriorated into council bashing’ and that ‘This initiative has not been successful by any measure,’ and that they should be replaced by citizen juries was disputed by Community Alliance for Byron Shire (CABS) president Matthew O’Reilly.

‘Ken Gainger has never attended a community roundtable that I was at and I’ve been to almost all of them so I’m not sure what that opinion is based on,’ Mr O’Reilly said.

‘As far as I know the mayor has only attended one… The last two [roundtables] have worked exceptionally well.’

Mr O’Reilly said there is a strong argument for both forms of consultation.

‘When there are complex problems citizen juries are a great way to nut out a solution. Roundtables provide new information that the council may not be aware of.’

The Echo understands that the mayor does not support scrapping the roundtables.

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  1. I truly hope that this is not a few cheap shots by Ken Gainger at community consolation as he leaves building. You’d want to think he’s better than that.

    The real issue here Ken is that council is a servant of it’s rate payers and resident not a dictatorial third level of politics.

    Community consultation is a democratic process that in some instances slows progress but it goes a long way to ensuring outcomes that reflect the values of it’s communities and not just the values of dollar driven interests.

    Bangalow Paid Parking is a great example of Council ‘bullying’ a community to accept something that it didn’t need. Bangalow doesn’t have a parking problem but council does have a revenue problem.

    Community consultation is a democratic right and the sooner you come to terms with that Ken the more peaceful you may be in reflecting on some of the good things you have done in your term as GM.

    • Parking is a major problem for councils – it costs money to build & maintain all those “free” parking spaces that not everyone in the community actually use. Only about 70% of the population have a licence let alone a car (95% between ages of 25 & 65) and the rates are dropping. 85% of Australia’s roads are owned by councils and paid for out of council rates (Not rego or fuel excise! They go towards highways and major roads, not council roads.) whether the rate payer drives or not. Charging for parking is a much fairer way for councils to raise funds for road maintenance since it directly charges the actual users who parks their private property on public property.
      Charging for parking encourages higher turn over which usually helps businesses. Many studies have shown that people who walk, ride bikes or use public transport spend MORE money in local shops than drivers. (They haven’t wasted it on petrol!)
      Charging for parking encourages people to use other modes of transport which reduces traffic problems. It also reduces pressure to raise rates and parking is something we can choose to avoid.
      Personally I’d prefer to pay more in parking fees and less on rates since I can control what I spend on parking but I have no control over rates.

  2. The community round table sessions need to continue.They provide a much needed informal connection between community groups,council staff and councillors who choose to attend.The comments made by Mr Gainger were surprisingly injudicious and inaccurate. See his report in the BSC Feb l meeting agenda,item 13.2.

    We need to develop more effective and sincere collaboration between Council staff,Councillors and the community.It could help Council avoid some predictable local crises. We in the community have lost faith in much of BSC process.More effective community engagement was an the last election campaign and it seems it was yet again highlighted as a major concern in the feedback received in the recent Byron Community Strategy workshops/ consultation .

    The Citizens Jury idea may help solve some one off issues but it is not the answer as Matthew pointed out.More change is needed eg.rejig and reintroduce the Local Action Management Plan groups (LAMPS)from the late 90s.

    Councillors and staff come and go but many in the community stay put.There is a wealth of collective local knowledge and experience sitting with many in the community who care about and want to see good change in the Shire.We should not be dismissed as Council bashers.BSC needs to trust our voices.


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