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Byron Shire
December 6, 2023

Editorial – Byron Council report card

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Your new elected councillors Mark Swivel, Duncan Dey, Mayor Michael Lyon, Salma Balson, Sarah N’Diay, and Peter Westheimer. Photo Jeff Dawson

Did you know it’s been six months since councillors were elected? They have another two years to go, and while a usual term is a gruelling four years, this time, it’s shorter, owing to a disrupting bat virus.

Voters on December 4, 2021, elected inexperienced councillors and others who had some knowledge of the fishtank.

The ones with local government experience are: Mayor Michael Lyon (Independent, former Greens), Sarah Ndiaye (Greens), Cate Coorey (Independent), and Alan Hunter (Independent). Cr Duncan Dey (Greens) and Peter Weistheimer (on Cr Lyon’s ticket) returned to Council after a previous stint.

One would expect those councillors to understand how complex processes works, and how to efficiently execute policy.

Those new to Council, to be expected, are in need of a gentle guiding hand by the executive staff to understand everything from planning and infrastructure to budgets.

They are Asren Pugh (Labor), Mark Swivel (Independent) and Sama Balson (on Cr Lyon’s ticket).

Is six months long enough for a honeymoon? Given their personal access and closed door meetings with Council staff, the answer should be ‘Yes’.

Yet it’s more like ‘Yes Minister’. If you dare to spend your time listening to any Thursday meeting, where they create policy, debate, and then vote, there appears a lack of understanding of how complex processes works, and how to efficiently execute policy. They spend a lot of time debating pointlessly for hours, which was one hallmark of the previous Council term.

Egos are on full display, as is their lack of preparation and knowledge of local issues. There’s also a genuine lack of curiosity around governance, and that should be of concern to all residents.

Despite being in his position as acting mayor before the last election, Cr Lyon still stumbles through meetings like a novice, and there appears a real vacuum of direction.

Thankfully, councillors are guided by the executive staff.

To be precise, it’s Shannon Burt, head of planning and compliance, along with Legal Counsel, Ralph James.

The General Manager (GM) Mark Arnold, should be across all aspects of governance, yet he often defers to them when asked questions in public meetings.

While there could be the perception that The Echo is too hard on councillors, and the staff that lead, um, guide them, it’s done purely out of love.

It’s a love for a unique community that expects those who make the big local decisions to know how policy works, so they can effectively represent the electorate.

It’s also love for a community that understands that staff have their own agenda, which is to generally minimise costs and protect questionable operations, often at the expense of the community.

Councillors need to understand all of this. Yet do they?

It’s essential they do, given the devastation of the floods, COVID-19 and the increasing risks from development to Byron’s unique biodiversity.

Hans Lovejoy, editor

News tips are welcome: [email protected]


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1 COMMENT

  1. This Article reflects more upon the writer than it does on the Councillors .

    They obviously have a better idea of how a Council should operate ,even , without your um ‘love’.

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