Coun­cil plans for the fu­ture

Euroa Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By WILL MUR­RAY

IN front of a busy pub­lic gallery, the Strath­bo­gie Shire coun­cil­lor se­lect were sworn in on Tues­day night last week at the shire of­fices in Euroa.

Fol­low­ing councillors Ma­son, Thomson, Wil­liams, Swan, McClaren, Stothers and Lit­tle tak­ing their Oaths of Of­fice and agree­ing to the Coun­cil­lor’s Code of Con­duct, it was down to busi­ness.

In the weeks lead­ing up to this first coun­cil meet­ing it was de­bated just how much of an im­pact the new councillors would have on the shire’s op­er­a­tion.

Many ran for elec­tion on the ba­sis of bridg­ing the per­ceived gap be­tween coun­cil op­er­a­tions and its con­stituents and ratepay­ers, and were keen on en­cour­ag­ing greater com­mu­nity en­gage­ment with the rep­re­sen­ta­tive body.

This sen­ti­ment was echoed in the coun­cil­lor state­ments fol­low­ing their swear­ing in.

Newly elected mayor Amanda McClaren, re­turn­ing coun­cil­lor Deb Swan, Mount Wom­bat Ward coun­cil­lor Alis­tair Thomson, and Honey­suckle Creek rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kate Stothers all took the op­por­tu­nity to guar­an­tee that this coun­cil would be as open and wel­com­ing of pub­lic in­put as pos­si­ble.

“I want to be part of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that em­beds it­self within the com­mu­nity,” Cr Stothers said.

“We need to be for­ward think­ing in terms of our strate­gic plan­ning, and em­power all our com­mu­nity mem­bers and staff… be­cause lo­cal coun­cils are a fun­da­men­tal man­i­fes­ta­tion of our democ­racy.”

“There are two things we need to keep in mind in or­der to be suc­cess­ful as a coun­cil,” Cr Thomson fol­lowed.

“One, we must con­tinue to mea­sure our progress through­out and com­mu­ni­cate this with the pub­lic, and two, in­volve the com­mu­nity in every way we can in or­der to har­ness their ex­per­tise.”

The new coun­cil wasted no time in mak­ing changes from pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tions.

This year there will be no deputy mayor.

In­stead, all councillors will be re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing sup­port or chair­ing meet­ings if the need should arise.

Fur­ther­more, meet­ings will be held in dif­fer­ent venues across the shire on a ro­ta­tional ba­sis from this point on.

Cr Thomson pro­posed the amend­ment, which was even­tu­ally passed 4-3, on the ba­sis that “there was no prac­ti­cal rea­son not to, and that the ben­e­fits would far out­weigh any dif­fi­cul­ties”.

“We should be think­ing about de­cen­tral­is­ing the process so as to give as many peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in the op­er­a­tions of coun­cil,” he said.

How­ever, other councillors raised con­cerns that a sim­i­lar sys­tem had been tri­alled be­fore, and the lack of pub­lic sup­port and at­ten­dance had ren­dered it a fail­ure.

They ar­gued coun­cil meet­ing were less-con­ducive to pub­lic dis­cus­sion than pub­lic fo­rums.

There­fore, mov­ing meet­ings would be an ex­pen­sive and in­ef­fi­cient process, yield­ing lit­tle ben­e­fit to the pub­lic.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the ‘fail­ures of the past’, Mr Thomson replied, “It’s not about ef­fi­ciency, it’s about en­gage­ment, and if the cur­rent for­mat of ques­tion time is in­suf­fi­cient, then per­haps we need to amend that also”.

Mayor McClaren also sup­ported the amend­ment, en­cour­ag­ing her fel­low councillors to sup­port the sym­bol­ism of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment do­ing what it can to reach all com­mu­ni­ties.

“This is some­thing I’ve thought long and hard about, and I think it’s some­thing we should be do­ing,” she said.

“If fo­rums of­fer bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­gage­ment than meet­ings, why don’t we have both?”

De­tails of the changes to meet­ings will be­come avail­able in the com­ing weeks.

Coun­cil also de­cided on rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the var­i­ous com­mit­tees, with Cr Lit­tle reap­pointed as chair of the plan­ning com­mit­tee.

Cr Lit­tle praised the work of his pre­de­ces­sors and the out­door and ex­ec­u­tive staff on res­cu­ing a coun­cil that was “a bas­ket case a few years back”, to make it now a sus­tain­able and suc­cess­ful shire.

PHOTO: Will Mur­ray

FULL HOUSE: The statu­tory meet­ing of the newly elected coun­cil was well-at­tended by mem­bers of the pub­lic last Tues­day.

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