The new 2022–2023 councillor students, along with the re-elected ones, will be attending their first class, this Thursday February 3, at the Council Chambers in Mullum from 9am.
The first meeting has generally a lot more of the back patting, accolades, platitudes and self-congratulatory guff than Council watchers have to suffer at normal meetings.
Yes, we’re all at the ‘Getting to know you’ stage, as Julie Andrews sung in the 1956 Rodgers and Hammerstein hit, The King And I.
But the dispensing of power and responsibility is where the real action is.
Staff powers will be delegated, oaths sworn, advisory committees created, councillor representatives determined, and all sorts of things will be adopted and affirmed.
One document authored by staff, the Draft Code of Meeting Practice, proposes to prohibit the public from asking questions at Council meetings.
Public access precedes Council meetings, which are aimed at providing residents, developers and lobbyists a platform to address Council.
Report authors Ralph James and Heather Sills say the changes they propose are ‘non-mandatory provisions’, and justify their rationale by saying, ‘There is an array of avenues for the community to bring matters to Council attention short of it being posed as a question or a submission at a meeting.’
It’s a move that seems at odds with supporting democracy and increasing accountability.
But bugger that – it’s 2022! The age of tyrants is well upon us.
Newly elected councillors will also be asked adopt Council’s delegation powers. These are thresholds around whether councillors, or Council staff, decide large DAs, as well as how to manage legal proceedings and the like.
The staff proposal for powers of delegation would continue to grant General Manager Mark Arnold powers to determine ‘designated development’ applications that have an estimated value below $10,000,000 ‘or for subdivision of land that would create 20 or more lots’.
The only safeguard is Council’s Planning Review Committee.
Another interesting, and lengthy, report, by planning director Shannon Burt, paints a bleak picture of an overworked, under-resourced planning staff.
With a never-ending thirst for more profit, the state government are placing what appears unrealistic goals on council planning staff across NSW. So much so, that Ms Burt believes her department is at risk of being taken over by an administrator.
As such, she requests/recommends that councillors provide what can only be described as unqualified support for the quality of staffing services.
Is it fair on the incoming councillors to provide such support, given they are unfamiliar with said staff performance?
Good luck to all councillors on Thursday.
Remember – they are there to represent those who elected them, and should not be the tools of staff or the state government.
♦ News tips are welcome: [email protected]