Wrath of Wroth, backflip and more pool promises

Geoff Appleby
THE TOODYAY Shire Council’s ordinary meeting last month was extraordinary in more ways than one.
Firstly, councillors agreed unanimously to reverse a controversial decision made the previous month.
Secondly, Shire President David Dow took the unusual step of asking councillors to bring that item forward on the agenda – something he has previously been pointedly reticent to do with other agenda items – as a courtesy to 14 visitors and two senior Telstra staff in the public gallery.
It meant – unlike at other times in the past – visitors didn’t have to spend two hours waiting at the back of the chamber and another hour outside while councillors and staff ate their dinner before getting to the agenda item they had come for.
Risk twist: And thirdly, President Dow – for reasons known only to himself– made his first ‘Presiding Member’s Announcement’ in 18 months to state that Toodyay was not listed as an “at risk” council in a recent  question asked in State Parliament.
President Dow said the list tabled in Parliament covered “the last four years”.
“As far as the Department of Local Government are concerned, based on their criteria, they do not regard the Shire of Toodyay as an ‘at-risk’ council at this point in time,” President Dow said, perhaps backing himself before next month’s shire elections when his and four other council seats are up for grabs.
“I would be happy to provide a copy of this list to any members or persons in the public gallery who would like a copy.”
However, this is somewhat at odds with WA Local Government Minister David Templeman’s parliamentary answer on August 9 which said that the last local council risk assessment was done in 2015-16, and the 2016-17 one had yet to be completed.
Why our shire should suddenly want to incorrectly trumpet outdated news remains a mystery.
But first, to an extraordinary reversal.
Bees backflip: Councillors at their July meeting voted 4-2 – with Cr Paula Greenway absent and Cr Twine out of the chamber after declaring an interest – to refuse to allow a 60m Telstra mobile phone tower to be built in Julimar under the Federal Government’s $220 million “mobile black spot” funding program.
The strongest objection at the time came from a local restaurant owner, wine maker and apiarist who produced an overseas study to claim that mobile phone transmissions from the tower could cause his bees to get lost and harm his business.
President Dow said refusing the tower would only waste shire money on legal costs because an appeal would be upheld by the State Administrative Tribunal.
However, he and Shire Deputy President Therese Chitty were out-voted by the four other councillors, including his wife Cr Judy Dow and Julimar Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade member Brian Rayner.
Fast forward to the August meeting when the same councillors – plus Cr Greenway – voted 7-0 the opposite way after an extraordinary backlash by Julimar firies and Toodyay ambos who presented a petition tabled by Cr Judy Dow and took turns at the public podium to unleash a series of increasingly scathing submissions to the council.
Firies fume: Chief Bush Fire Control Officer Craig Stewart told chastened councillors their July decision was “incomprehensible” while Julimar Fire Control Officer and Toodyay St John Ambulance Chair Charlie Wroth called it “pathetic” and a “slap in the face”.
The former shire president said he wrote to Shire CEO Stan Scott three years ago that lack of mobile phone coverage in Julimar was an emergency services safety risk but got no reply.
“How can you have someone who is the head of an organisation not respond – it’s pretty pathetic,” Mr Wroth said.
“Only one of nine councillors responded and that was to say ‘it would be looked at’.
“It just goes to show how little respect you have for emergency services volunteers.”
President Dow tried to interrupt with a call to order but Mr Wroth – himself a former shire president – cut him off, quickly changed tack and kept talking.
Mr Wroth said volunteers who rescued a girl who recently broke her ankle at right angles in Julimar State Forest had no mobile phone and limited radio reception at the scene.
Fire fighters also risked being trapped in dangerous conditions because they could not be contacted by mobile phone or radio from fire control headquarters.
“Here is the one thing you could have done to help and you rejected it,” Mr Wroth said.
“For goodness sake, do something for the community and our emergency services volunteers.”
Mr Scott’s report to the council said shire staff had searched the internet and found a number of different references, including “most tellingly” from the US Department of Agriculture, that debunked any link between bees and mobile phone towers.
Why nobody thought to do this earlier is puzzling – perhaps “incomprehensible”– but the good news for firies, ambos and long-suffering locals without mobile phone reception is that Telstra says the new tower should be up by the end of the year.
Pool news: Now don’t quote me, but Toodyay’s long-awaited public swimming pool finally looks like it might be a real goer.
The latest cost estimate is just a little more than $5 million.
That’s a lot cheaper than a pie-in-the-sky $27.6 million sport and recreation precinct announced in 2014 for tennis, football, cricket, soccer, hockey, rugby, basketball and netball, and a 180-seat function centre, 24-hour gym, creche and commercial kitchen, followed in Stage 2 by a $3.7 million pool.
If only it had been the other way around we might now be gearing up for Toodyay’s first swim season this summer.
Not to worry.
All we have to do now is convince the State Government to chuck in $1.6 million and get the rest with a $100,000 Bendigo Bank donation, $120,000 from the swimming pool committee, pull $105,000 out of the shire’s 1996-97 swimming pool voluntary levy fund, raid $755,000 from the shire’s recreational development reserve, get ratepayers to cough up an extra $380,000 in next year’s budget and borrow a cool $2 million more from the bank.
Easy; where’s me towel?
Perhaps Northam’s recent success in scoring $3.2 million in federal funds for a new heated public swimming pool to replace its old one has jolted a few heads.
Or maybe it’s because shire elections are due next month and councillors want at least to be seen to be taking notice of ratepayers who for decades have wanted a pool only to see their hopes repeatedly dashed.
Whatever the reason, councillors voted 7-0 for Mr Scott to pull on his togs and apply for a new $1.6 million sport and recreation State grant to get us back in the swim.
Three dogs: Next we had a resident listed as living in Bejoording who wanted to keep three dogs instead of two – it seemed a simple request.
However – oops – the property turned out to be actually in West Toodyay.
After yet another agenda correction, a 10-minute adjournment to fix errant paperwork and an ensuing torturous debate that had Telstra visitors in the public galley throwing bemused glances at each other, the extra pooch got a provisional nod – woof-woof.
Councillors then raced through the surrender of a Morangup easement, adopted a new local cat law, authorised the CEO to ask Canberra for a better GST carve-up, appointed Cr Greenway’s husband Mark as new Toodyay radio station 2J2 Air Live’s representative on the shire’s community depot advisory committee (Cr Greenway declared an interest but said she would be impartial and stayed in the chamber to vote for her husband) and, (after Cr Rayner also declared an impartial interest), appointed 13 bush fire control officers – including Cr Rayner and Mr Wroth – before the 6pm dinner break.
Surplus shaved: The main item after the break was the shire’s 2017-18 budget which passed with little discussion except to correct some minor typos after being thrashed out at two previous shire workshops and a special council meeting to adopt higher rates.
Recommendation 11 warned that a new $98,000 shortfall in Federal funding had reduced the shire’s 2017-18 budget surplus to less than $20,000, with further cuts possible in the September 7 State Budget.
Mr Scott was asked to look for further cost cuts and report back to the council in November, after the shire elections.

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