Monday, November 2, 2015

Mayor Brown needs to wait until full time before claiming stand alone victory.

ERA Newsletter - 2 November 2015

Mayor Brown needs to wait until full time before claiming stand alone victory.

Mayor Lindsay Brown's welcoming of IPART's recommendation that Eurobodalla Shire Council is "fit for the future" as a stand alone council is premature and goes right over the top. He has claimed that " ...the outcome of the IPART review is evidence that we are delivering value for money and operating efficiently" and that ".........there is no evidence supporting perceptions that Eurobodalla Shire Council is a "bad" council, or has poor management, or that it obstructs growth."

Apart from misrepresenting the IPART analysis, these claims are way out of line with the lived experience of the ratepayers of the shire. More importantly, they show an ignorance of government decision making.

IPART was given a very narrow, financially based, time constrained task by the government. It was not required to, nor did it, comment on council management. Its methodology has been widely criticised in the local government community and by a powerful all party committee of the NSW parliament. The parliamentary committee's first finding was that " ......IPART...... does not have the demonstrated skills or capacity to assess the overall "fitness" of councils as democratically responsible local bodies." This finding underlines the need for the government to take into account a number of other important matters, particularly the management competence of councils, in reaching its final decisions on amalgamations.

Our local member, Andrew Constance, has pointed out that ESC's history of past poor management requires it to engage genuinely with the FFF process and make a real effort in reform, including a proper discussion of amalgamation options with the community and our neighbouring councils. He has said that, notwithstanding the IPART advice, a merger of ESC with another council or councils remains in play. Regrettably, council pays as much attention to Andrew as it does to the community and has chosen to go its own way by resisting any serious examination of the considerable opportunities arising from these options.

The controversial way council formulated its fit for the future proposal, although ignored by IPART, has been brought to the government's attention by the ERA. In particular, we are unimpressed that council rejigged its forward financial estimates using accounting tricks to paint a much more optimistic picture than was advised to IPART and the community during council's very recent Special Rates Variation application. The fact that this sudden change of tack was not drawn to the community's attention is a public disgrace. Additionally, rather than attempt to meet the IPART specified scale and capacity requirements, council relied on an earlier and less detailed test applied by the Independent Local Review.

Mayor Brown has seriously misjudged the government's determination to effect real change through the fit for the future process. Other councils have been more responsive. For example, last week Wyong and Gosford councils agreed to commence merger talks, after previously proposing to go it alone.

Mayor Brown and his mates have left the community right out of the decision making process. Simply telling us that he has spoken to the mayors of Bega, Shoalhaven and Palarang councils and that together they oppose amalgamations doesn't cut it with ratepayers who know that no serious analysis of the options has been done. The proposed shared services memorandum of understanding with Bega is little more than last minute window dressing.

So Mayor Brown's view that IPART's recommendation is a ringing endorsement of his leadership and council's management is just wrong headed rhetoric. And his assertion that there is no evidence supporting perceptions of bad management is ironic given the way the council's fit for the future proposal was developed without public consultation.

Over the seven years of the ERA's life there has been considerable improvement in council's performance, but it is too early to claim that the shire's governance and management is operating at a level acceptable to the community. And the improvements cannot be reasonably attributed to the mayor's leadership. After all, he long opposed an early return to a balanced general fund budget before he was mayor and, more recently, in the SRV application.

Mayor Brown has wrongly and arrogantly claimed a premature victory in his quest to keep ESC's insular culture isolated from the modern world. He now runs the risk of having the NSW government impose politically determined boundaries on the shire when the real decisions are made later in the year.

2 November 2015

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