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.
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.