David Lovejoy, Echo co-founder
The delays in holding Council elections are frustrating, the more so because what we have seen during the long period since the last vote has been an experiment in governing by the zen method of no government.
The staff are professionals, councillors argued, so we should allow them to do their jobs, unfettered by community concerns about overdevelopment or environmental degradation.
Council’s Planning Department can be trusted to make the best decisions, and contending with greedy developers is a never-ending drain on our finances, so it is not worth fighting them in court.
In some ways, the experiment appears to have been successful.
Given that we are all paying twice as much in rates as we did a few years ago, there has been money to tackle potholes, warped bridges and washed-out roads, and some worthwhile projects, and some controversial ones, have been mounted.
The residents who, with their objections routinely ignored, found new buildings looming over them with views into their gardens and windows may have felt differently, ecologists who track the health of our natural systems may not agree, and perennial ratbags like Fast Buck$ will never be satisfied, but the incumbent Council can say it had a consistent policy: Don’t interfere with the smooth running of the bureaucracy.
However, running smoothly is not always running well.
Never mind the lack of planning controls attuned to community expectations, never mind the eyesores and the surrenders to wealth. Local government that is not responsive to the culture of its residents can produce painful cognitive dissonance.
As a small but telling example, just consider the tone-deafness required in a council for it to label its vehicles with the word ‘Enforcement’.
There is ‘Parking Enforcement’ for the parking inspectors; there is ‘Animal Enforcement’ for the dog catchers; and there is ‘Community Enforcement’, which elicits a WTF response from anyone not mesmerised by bureaucratic jargon.
Notoriously little power resides in the office of councillor. If the staff choose to be obstructive, they can Yes Minister the crap out of any attempt to get the things done that you were elected for. But councillors should nevertheless try to exercise some supervision, and they should have a plan for preventing the spirit of Byron Shire being buried under a crass built environment.
The departing councillors failed in these aims; indeed the majority of them did not even espouse them and spent most of their time arguing with themselves and their critics.
On top of that, the pandemic has twice extended the life of the current Council beyond what any of us can bear.
It is truly time for change.
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