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.’