A gathering storm
IT’S CLEAR that the election of three new Toodyay shire councillors has created a powerful new dynamic in council affairs.
Within a few months, they have lifted the level of public scrutiny and council debate to a new level and challenged the long-standing orthodoxy that councillors act basically as rubber stamps for local government bureaucrats.Read more
This is particularly true in the area of financial management, where the professional business expertise of the three newcomers has exposed alleged budget shortcomings that most other councillors either don’t seem to think exist or don’t regard as important.
This new scrutiny of the shire’s internal workings has been met with predictable resistance and – at times – sneering condescension.
We saw this earlier in the year when another new councillor quit in disgust after receiving an abusive email from a senior shire employee for questioning why important information was being withheld.
That approach was repeated last month when the word “hysterical” was used officially to describe public responses to the shire’s latest 2.2 per cent rate rise.
New Cr Bill Manning described it as an appalling use of “denigrating and dismissive” language and “supercilious throw-away lines” that demonstrated a “low regard” for ratepayers.
Cr Manning is a former WA Government commercial lawyer who helped draft and scrutinise important State Agreements worth billions of dollars.
He appears to operate in a principled way that is calm, thorough and fair, and shows that he takes the time to carefully examine everything that comes before the council.
The same cannot be said of some of the other longer-serving councillors who seem to arrive at council meetings without having read or understood documents on which they are required to make decisions.
This is not helped by an administration that drowns them in hundreds of pages of official paperwork, much of it written in bureaucratic jargon, acronyms and quasi-legal language that most ordinary citizens would find utterly incomprehensible.
While most in the council chamber seem to think this is normal, the new councillors clearly don’t.
If last month’s 2000-strong rates petition and packed public gallery are any guide, the remaining councillors will need to reassess their positions or face annihilation at next year’s shire polls.
The community has had enough.