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