'Seat warmer' hams it up, Dow gags on August love-in

Geoff Appleby
I HAVE always considered my vocabulary to be adequate by normal standards but had difficulty finding a suitable word to describe last month’s Toodyay Shire Council meeting.
It was the last scheduled gathering before the October 21 shire elections – for which ballot papers have been mailed to all electors – and it was mercifully brief, lasting just 45 minutes.
It was also abysmal (I knew the word would come).
This was a great pity because before proceedings got underway, North Ward Cr Brian Rayner set the scene for what could have been an entertaining night.
As the only candidate in his ward, Cr Rayner was declared re-elected unopposed when nominations closed last month.
Seat warmer: Those who follow Facebook Toodyay Community Forum Have a Chat which has 3148 members will have seen him described there after the poll was declared as the ‘seat-warmer’.
Now, I admire a man with a sense of humour and before Cr Rayner sat down, he removed his jacket and did a slow lap of the council chamber to reveal a large label pinned to his back that read ‘seat warmer’.
When another councillor said two big safety pins holding the label might tear holes in the back of his shirt Cr Rayner quipped: “That’s alright, I get paid enough here to buy another one.”
Well done Brian.
And so on to the meeting which as usual started with public questions.
Feint foiled: Toodyay Progress Association Chair Larry Graham referred to the association’s August  submission to the WA Local Government Department calling for a formal inquiry into the Toodyay Shire Council to investigate alleged evidence of dysfunction and maladministration.
He queried President David Dow’s statement in the ratepayer-funded Toodyay Community Newsletter that the shire had “reviewed the list of complaints and we totally reject the claims”.
Mr Graham asked how the shire’s decision to reject the claims was reached and where was it recorded in shire minutes.
President Dow answered that local government law allowed councillors to meet behind closed doors.
Mr Graham responded that council decisions made behind closed doors were required by law to be publicly disclosed and recorded.
President Dow then revealed there was no council decision to reject the association’s claims and that his public statement about the shire’s response was his own personal opinion.
If that was the case, why not just say so in the first place instead of trying to fudge the answer with talk about meeting behind ‘closed doors’?
Out of hand: Our shire leader looked just as uncomfortable when asked why more than $7500 was spent on three nights’ accommodation at a four-star Perth hotel for a WA Local Government Association conference for which he and Cr Rayner were nominated at the April council meeting as voting delegates, with President Dow’s wife, Cr Judy Dow, and Cr Rob Welburn as proxy voting delegates.
It’s worth mentioning here that the WA Local Government Association is a sort of private club for councillors – it’s not part of government and has no power to do anything except make policies, lobby politicians and provide training courses on things like financial management, council decision-making and how to avoid answering pesky media questions by ‘staying on message’.
President Dow revealed that all bar one councillor (Cr Sally Craddock) went to Perth for the annual love-in and when he saw the cost afterwards thought “gee – this is getting out of hand”.
You said it brother.
Did anyone not think when staying there that seven Toodyay councillors plus shire CEO Stan Scott spending three nights for free at a posh Perth hotel might cost a few grand and raise a few eyebrows?
Instead of punishing this newspaper for exposing shire largesse on the council ‘gravy train’, how about first having a good hard look at how easily Toodyay ratepayers’ hard-earned dollars seems to get spent on councillor perks in a near-deficit budget year?
The final council agenda before this month’s shire elections was predictably light-on for substance and – apart from standard procedural stuff – contained only three items of substantial business.
Tick ‘n’ flick: The list of monthly shire payments was lumped together with several other items for approval without discussion, including payment of nearly $50,000 to 25 out-of-town suppliers of goods and services for Toodyay’s annual International Food Fair during the Avon Descent river race in August.
A total of $21,000 spent on the local government conference in Perth was also passed without discussion, with an undisclosed of amount of partner expenses to be reimbursed to the shire, presumably for meals, bar fridge. etc..
Toilet wall: Having approved a concept design in June for a mural to grace the shire’s new public toilet wall in Charcoal Lane, community input was sought and reviewed at last month’s council forum.
I’m not quite sure what happened along the way but when it came back to council last month, the main recommendation was to proceed with developing a ‘public arts’ policy while continuing to work with Toodyay Tidy Towns to develop the mural.
This shire administration develops more policies that I’ve had hot breakfasts but you’d think they would do the policy first, then the mural, so that it conforms to the new  requirements.
Don’t be surprised if – as with last year’s inordinate delays for the town’s long-awaited entry statement – nothing gets done until next year because we still have to have more community input on final mural designs and then find a suitable artist.
Heritage ban: Planning approval for a new house in Herbert Street was rejected without discussion 7-0 (Cr Paula Greenway absent) because it failed to meet shire heritage restrictions, and retrospective approval for a sea container in Morangup was deferred 7-0 to next month after Cr Rayner said it was next to a shed that might also lack planning permission.
Last Supper: The unusually short meeting ended at 4.45pm when councillors went ‘behind closed doors’ for their usual free feed which President Dow and Deputy President Therese Chitty might have prayed was not a Last Supper before this month’s shire elections.
Good luck to them and Cr Greenway, who also faces the polls.

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