A Saddle Road community group has raised concerns over the selection of a non-Byron Shire resident and planner for a position on the Byron Shire Community Solutions Panel.
After acknowledging it has a ‘trust deficit’ with the community, Council has created a ‘citizens’ jury’ of 28 ratepayers, selected randomly and anonymously, to make the decision on what infrastructure projects the rate rise money will be spent on.
Calling it a ‘bold new trust-building project,’ councillors recently unanimously voted (Crs Hunter and Ndiaye absent) to engage NewDemocracy to run the panel.
But Saddle Road Local Area Management Association (SRLAMPA) president Matthew ‘Cleva’ O’Reilly says he has ‘major concerns with including non-residents’ and a planner on the Council’s Community Solutions Panel.
While stating that he believed that NewDemocracy’s panel selection reflects ‘a fairly good representation of the shire’, and that he has ‘confidence in the process’, O’Reilly said, ‘It’s not a good look having the representative of large Byron property developers – who does not even live in the shire – as a member of the panel’.
Call for permanent residents on panel
O’Reilly called on NewDemocracy, ‘to ask all Community Solutions Panel (CSP) representatives to make a public declaration at the next CSP meeting that they are permanent residents of Byron Shire, not just ratepayers in Byron Shire. Any members of the CSP who are unable to make such a public declaration should be excluded from the process.’
‘This issue has the potential to undermine the integrity and transparency of the entire CSP process and we call on you to keep the process clear and transparent.’
But NewDemocracy’s executive director Iain Walker replied to O’Reilly in an email supplied to The Echo, saying that the individual was ‘captured within this exercise by owning property within the shire… that is sufficient to be eligible.’
‘We would consider any ratepayer as part of the community and likely representative of others in the community in a similar situation.
‘The nature of random groups is that we pick up people broadly in proportion to their prevalence in the community, and the team reported after the first meeting that the group as a whole covers all walks of life. In general terms, we can’t see any skews in the sampling/recruitment,’ he said.
Walker claims ‘no one person can single-handedly skew the deliberations.’
‘That is why we design the panels with this larger number of participants. If you have presented a community solutions submission with the most merit, then I have confidence in a random sample of people from across the Shire being able to judge that on its merits.’
Adversarial nature of politics
Walker then went on to explain the adversarial nature of politics and how his organisation is trying to address that issue.
‘I would ask you to note our decade-long investment in trying to find ways to do democracy better with projects around the country and the results they have produced,’ he said.
‘We see the purpose of democracy not as a venue for conflict, but as a means of finding social cohesion by actively exploring where common ground exists. Pursuing conflict is everyone’s right… but it’s not exactly leading to a better society. The reason we took on a project in Byron is because of the current tendency toward adversarialism and the difficulty of reaching trusted decisions. Therefore it’s the perfect experimental environment for a different democratic model – one that we look to share with other local government areas. We did it with an awareness that the big picture democratic reform opportunity could splinter into a dozen “gotcha” news articles exploring minor points.’
Additionally, O’Reilly claims there is a conflict of interest and it’s ‘inappropriate for Byron Shire Council staff to provide private briefings to [the planner] that may confer on him a commercial advantage’.
After O’Reilly was told by NewDemocracy that the panellists were given ‘additional information on areas including infrastructure condition, value of built assets, known future developments (urban growth areas)…’ he said, ‘We find this direction very troubling given the Draft Byron Residential Strategy is far for complete.’
But NewDemocracy’s Georgina Inwood replied, ‘The panel is not deliberating on developments. The panellists asked for a range of information on issues they believed could impact on infrastructure priorities so that their outcomes would well thought through. Their remit remains to provide Council with recommendations on infrastructure spending.’
I’m feeling a little apprehensive, a bit like a lab rat, at all these ‘bold new experiments’ taking place on my home turf. I don’t like to stymie experimentation but any of these research proposals gone before an ethics committee?
I believe some panel participants are not rate payers, as stated.
Renters are not ratepayers. Do they not deserve a voice?
got a point. it is wrong to use the professionals who will run the panel to select members of that panel. it should be an independent process, if it is to have any teeth or substance. anyone who has sat on or run these sort of citizen advisory group panels ( ive been on both ends of a few) knows that he/she who controls the panel controls the output ! having the ‘knowledge and experience’, setting agendas, chairing meetings, controlling discussions, writing minutes, drafting press releases, briefings, backroom meetings and points of contact with bureaucrats and politicians, and deciding on what sort of detailed info goes to the panel (starve em or drown em)… a very well run panel will even allow the panelists to ‘feel’ like they have some influence if you let them have a win every now and then….these are the possible weaknesses and threats and depend very much on HOW things are run- whats the history of the firm running things as far as outcomes produced? who do they have established relationships with in the past on council and in admin and in industry? what overlap in client base is there in the area? even down to who is the person who will be running the meetings? these are the meaty issues that could use some investigation and reporting- Not so much about do the panelists live here 365 days a year. Some outside living can do wonders for perspective. control of infrastructure spending IS a very significant matter!
Than you for your reply.
I felt all points that you presented as I was part of the panel. But without being sure of what was actually happening. It was my first experience with this kind of panel. I felt a repulsive sense of wrong doing by the “controlers of the panel”. I ended up leaving the panel because of it. But we had an amazing group with some very clever people. I don’t know what happened yet with closure. Also, it doesn’t matter what recommendations are given, in my humble understanding… Our Council is so small. Hardly any staff members to carry out the most needed tasks.
Supervision of road works, and it’s contracts; water ways, landscape Oceanography, etc. There’s no staff. No sympathy from State and Federal funding. Whatever comes from these recommendations, will be a lucky draw. Council will continue to keeping safety first. I was hoping that no “new spending” would be taken, unless it came from general funding or grant’s. This would be pretty much the most important recommendation. I can’t give the names of the panelists, but this idea wasn’t mine. It was the best frame for spending presented to the panel.
By the way, the “planer” mentioned in the article was not only helpefull but agreeing with no more random spending on “new adventures” unless the funding for it would come from General Funding or Grants in “Year 1” and “year 2” if necessary.
I wish that this two panelists were part of Council staff members.
This panel is not a representative sample of the Shire population. The panel is drawn form those who read Council’s communications and were willing and able to volunteer their time. You can draw your own conclusions about the demographics of these people, but one could reasonably argue that parents of young children; small business operators and employees who work weekends; anyone who is rightfully concerned about the negativity that characterizes local politics; or people who work long hours in full time jobs, might all be underrepresented in the sample.
I love Byron and have been involved for many years. I did not put my name forward because it expressly said, YOU HAVE TO BE RESIDENT OF THE SHIRE, and currently I am in Gold Coast for a while. So how did this guy get on??????