Bat in the Belfry
IT’S OFFICIAL – Toodyay’s new shire president admits “it is the general feeling among councillors that we are not very good”.
Most of us already knew this but it was encouraging to hear it announced publicly at last month’s council meeting.
Now all we need is for the shire CEO to follow suit, and then for the whole lot of them to do something about it.Read more
The first was about how meetings should be run, and the second covered council budgets, balance sheets, financial statements and other important money matters.
All good stuff – let’s hope it sinks in.
However, problems have stemmed from attitude as well as comprehension, and that needs to change for improvement to occur.
For instance, public question time was an even more embarrassing farce than usual with written questions on notice to the CEO either lost by him, answered evasively or written in such obtuse language as to render them meaningless.
‘No clue’: New Cr Ben Bell said on Facebook later that he didn’t have a clue what CEO Stan Scott’s answers to his 13 questions on notice meant – and Cr Bell is no fool.
The whole thing was so confusing that 10 days’ later, the shire still hadn’t published minutes of the meeting to inform the rest of Toodyay what had happened.
If other councillors think this is good business practice for a publicly accountable elected body, then President Rayner surely has his work cut out.
After the first few responses, Toodyay Progress Association Chair Larry Graham gave up asking questions because no real answers were forthcoming.
He agreed for his remaining queries to be taken on notice for the next council meeting.
A similar thing happened to President Rayner when he tried later in the meeting to answer a question during a debate.
Mr Scott cut in and told the president not to respond until he – the CEO – did more research and had drafted a written response for the president to give at a later date.
There’s a saying in business and politics that he who controls the agenda controls the meeting.
This is something our elected representatives might like to ponder if they are serious about wanting to improve their performance.
Brick cheque: Before general business got underway, Midland Brick Quarry and Distribution Manager Garry Price presented a cheque for $36,500 to the council to compensate for wear and tear by his company’s trucks on local shire roads.
Only two agenda items were debated publicly.
Cockatoo concern: Despite the CEO’s best efforts to get councillors to approve a new 5.28ha (13-acre) Chitty Road gravel pit in Hoddys Well, the item was deferred to assess claims that the required native tree clearing might destroy nesting hollows for black cockatoos, including Carnaby Cockatoos which are listed as an endangered species by the Federal Department of Environment and Energy.
Earlier in the meeting, Toodyay Naturalists’ Club member Desraé Clarke made an impassioned plea opposing the “desecration” of habitat for what she called an “iconic” local native bird.
Mrs Clarke said a gravel company report that the birds would not be affected was based on a site survey completed early last October when black cockatoos were absent because it was outside the local nesting season.
“Does the money we get from these companies replace our icons, the cockatoos?” she asked.
“I think not.”
Mr Scott said the gravel pit needed Federal approval to proceed, which meant that council approval wouldn’t affect the outcome as far as cockatoos were concerned.
However, Cr Sally Craddock disagreed, saying she had many questions that had not been answered.
The shire’s environment officer had not even visited the site to assess the situation, she said.
Approving the gravel pit despite local concerns about black cockatoo habitat would send the wrong message to the Federal environment agency.
Cr Craddock’s motion to reject the gravel pit was lost 3-6 (only Crs Paula Greenway and Bell supported her) but Deputy President Therese Chitty foreshadowed an alternative motion to defer the decision while the CEO gets more information about local wildlife.
Cr Rob Welburn agreed, saying: “I would prefer to defer so we can have a proper assessment done otherwise we will get chopped to pieces in SAT (the State Administrative Tribunal) and it will cost us thousands of dollars.”
The deferral motion was carried 9-0.
Bodger secure: The second issue discussed in public was an application by a Morangup amily to keep five dogs, which exceeds the shire’s two-dog policy.
Bindi, Marley, Max, Bodger and Brian are aged two, three, seven, 11 and 15 years respectively.
Shire rangers had assessed the situation and supported the application, which was moved by Cr Craddock and seconded by Cr Greenway.
The only opposition came from Cr Judy Dow who referred to a growing number of dog attacks in the shire.
The resolution was carried 8-1 with Cr Dow against.
Split decision: The council then went behind closed doors to discuss a motion on notice from Cr Di Granger that the council establish a new CEO performance review committee which – after about half an hour of debate immediately after the dinner break – was lost 3-6.
However, Deputy President Chitty joined Crs Granger and Bell to support the failed motion, which means that the shire’s elected leadership – president and deputy president – disagree over how the council should manage the CEO’s performance.
We know this because Cr Dow took the extraordinary step of asking for the names of all six opposing councillors – including herself – to be recorded in the minutes as voting against Cr Granger’s motion.
No prize for guessing what that was all about.
Even more intriguing, according to the minutes, was that the CEO was present in the chamber for all of the debate over how the council should manage his performance and – if past form is anything to go by – probably had plenty to say about it too.
Comic finale: The public was allowed to return for the evening’s final act – 13 questions on notice from Cr Bell on a variety of topics, including jobs for local contractors, legal costs, landfill and council compliance with State law.
His Facebook comment after the meeting says it all:
“Brief and concise – two things you can’t accuse this shire of being when answering questions.
“Having been supplied answers to my questions at tonight’s council meeting I still haven’t a clue what on earth the responses mean.
“Check out the answers when they are published.
“A classic example of how to answer someone without saying anything all.
“Many of these answers would make (US comedian) WC Fields proud.
“So … looks like there are going to be quite a few follow-up questions from me at the February meeting.”
I rest my case.