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Byron Shire
June 20, 2021

Byron Council staff enjoy complete immunity

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Is it in the public interest for Council compliance staff to hassle Matthew Hartley over his caravan?

Is it a good use of ratepayer money and resources?

And how does it improve public relations to charge landowners $180 for a self-invited visit regarding an anonymous compliance complaint (if alleged to be correct)?

Such questions don’t appear to be part of Council’s governance model.

Of course, only through the prism of law does any corporate organisation such as Council operate.

Given Mr Hartley’s case, and others The Echo has reported on over recent years, Council’s statements about creating a ‘culture of trust’ and ‘being open, genuine and transparent’ look like meaningless platitudes that don’t attract any accountability.

Such empty rhetoric is described as an objective in 5.2 of Council’s Community Strategic Plan, for example. Others are listed in Council’s Community Engagement 2018 Policy.

Council’s Compliance Priorities Program for 2020 has four categories: very high, high, medium and routine. Council’s tedious quibble with Mr Hartley appears to fit the medium category.

In other words, by Council’s own priority list, this issue does not pose a ‘serious harm to the environment or public health and safety’.

The ‘flexibility’ within legislation allows Council staff to basically pursue what and who they want.

And while it’s important to have some mechanism at Council’s disposal given ramshackle dwellings can pose health and safety risks – surely there is a better way to spend ratepayers’ money?

Is this to set an example for the rest?

If so, what is the end game?

Council’s Public & Environmental Services Manager, Sarah Nagel, suggested to Mr Hartley that if he is dissatisfied with Council staff conduct, he could contact the Minister of Local Government, The NSW Ombudsman and The Office of Local Government.

Yet it shouldn’t have to come to that.

It’s the general manager, (GM) Mark Arnold, who can improve behaviour and provide better leadership.

It’s his team. 

And being the largest organisation in the Shire, with policy making powers, it has the potential to wield its powers unfairly, if left unattended.

Left unattended, unwieldly insitutions diminish public trust and can cause great damage.

The question is whether this culture will change after the upcoming September election.

It appears councillors gave up governing long ago.

There’s little evidence that improving policies were ever a priority. Councillors, as the elected CEOs of a large local corporation, do have powers to make improvements and demand better. After all, they employ the GM.   

News tips are welcome: [email protected]

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  1. If only I could “like” without going through Fakebook. I don’t wish to be one of Zucker’s Suckers, so this is my “like”. Okay?

    Hans: Keep the bastards honest – or at least on their toes! Local government in AU increasingly becomes irrelevant and disconnected; dysfunctional at many levels, some of those being essentials of local government – e.g. rates, rubbish, and potholes … .

    As for council employee immunity … hmmm. Surely the buck has to stop somewhere. Managers? Drudges? Elected councillors? Can no-one be held accountable for maladministration; for not tightening the wheel nuts; for mixing the wrong herbicide; for pranging a council vehicle … ?

    Do we need a “sack or impeach” purge? Or a change of rules?

    Roll on, September!


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