Can new Byron GM renew community trust in Council?

New Byron Shire Council GM Mark Arnold. Photo Jeff Dawson

Aslan Shand

With community trust in Byron Council at its lowest ebb in years  the question now is what will the new GM, Mark Arnold, bring to the table to get the council back on track.

Mark is no newbie to the Byron scene, having worked as the director of Corporate and Community Services for ten years. He has filled in as acting general manager since former GM Ken Gainger’s departure in January.

While Mark says that ‘every general manager brings their own unique qualities’ to the role, when asked if there was anything that he will be doing differently from his predecessor, he focused on working with the council and the community as being a key part of his role.

The three key elements that Mark would like to see the council improve during his five-year term are infrastructure, management of growth and its impacts, and working with the community on Council’s decision-making process.

Delegated powers

Asked if he felt the previous GM had breached his delegated authority in the management of the Butler Street situation, he said that he felt the GM had ‘acted within his delegations that were there at the time.’

Nonetheless a new set of delegated powers for the general manager will be put to the August ordinary meeting of Council ‘and inside those delegations there will be a restriction or a guidance on when matters that are brought against Council have to be reported and the regularity of that reporting,’ said Mark, highlighting that he is ‘looking to learn from the feedback and put that into the delegation.’

‘Obviously when the delegation goes up, there will be community input through public access and other means and we’ll find out whether or not we’ve got that right or whether or not there are other things that Council and community will want to look at inside the delegation. I think it is important that we not only report up when matters are instigated by Council but when they are brought against Council. And we’ll be looking at similar guidelines in respect of both.’

While the Butler Street Bypass is still slated to go ahead it will be dependent on the state and federal governments coming to the party over the $8.5 million shortfall in funding. If these grants don’t come through, Mark has said the council will need to rethink its position and determine if it is prepared to fill the shortfall.

Engaging community

Recognising that the Byron Shire community is very engaged, and often has different points of view on an issue, Mark is keen to look at how ‘deliberate democracy’ can be used to engage with the community. While the citizen jury was one approach, he said balancing cost and engagement was important.

‘At this stage we are working with Council to see whether or not it is possible to have a model that is the “Byron model”: one that is cost effective and can be used when you are dealing with those tricker questions.’

Financially the council is in a better position than it was five years ago and has a ‘sound base’ for going forward. Mark said he recognises the community’s desire for more ‘granular’ and ‘in-depth’ reporting on Council’s finances and that ‘how we report has changed and continues to change’.

While the council’s new website has been a source of frustration for many in the community with development applications being difficult to locate, historical documents missing and agendas and attachments too big to download for many, Mark has highlighted that they are in the process of improving the website. But he also noted ‘there is work still to be done’ and Council is keen ‘for people people to provide feedback on how to improve’.

Council is also looking to launch a new website by the end of July that will be dedicated to reporting on Council’s management of the sewage treatment plants (STP).

The site will include information ‘around rainfall, inflows and outflows and will include any reporting of breaches’ to the EPA said Mark.

It is apparent that the incoming GM has the nexus between community firmly in his sights.

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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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