Who's running this Council ?

 As a result of my piece 'Are they really listening?' I have been made aware of the experiences of many other Port Phillip citizens that confirm the difficulties in spades that many of their fellow citizens have had with the Council over the Triangle.

At the suggestion of a group of concerned citizens, a joint council-community group called the Sustainable Environment Community Reference Committee was set up early in the life of this council; inevitably with a mouthful like that it was called by its initials.  They wrote a valuable report on multiple aspects of water conservation that revealed that the council was lagging in its environ-mental responses.  Some of the officers wanted to shut down the SECRC, it took up too much staff time they said, but strong opposition from some of the community members led to an impasse in Council and subsequently to an independent review.

Consultant Tracey Delaney, who carried out the review, states in her report that the level of distrust between staff and community members was among the worst she had experienced in local government.  So far there has been public silence from the well paid but invisible CEO of the Council about how she proposes to remedy this grave situation.

Some of the councillors agreed with the staff that SECRC should be terminated and many months later the Council has still not been able to resolve whether the committee should continue or not.  One citizen member commented that, 'The staff believe that they're not just rowing, but also steering!'

And it's not just in Victoria of course.  A recent commentator on the proposed Barangaroo harbourside development in Sydney remarked, ' At Barangaroo we can identify the non-participation and tokenism that has been labelled as 'manipulation,' 'therapy,' 'informing,' 'consultation' and 'placation' far more than we can observe the citizen power provided by 'partnership,' 'delegated power' or 'citizen control.'

The council planners, on the other hand, probably regard citizen participators as a bunch of retired old farts with long CV's, out of date experience and nothing better to do.  Some truth in that perhaps, but from what I've seen it's the citizens who are the more realistic and creative ones; all those strategies and policies only get you so far, in the end someone has to have creative ideas and push for action.  Einstein once said 'I have only been able to see further because I have stood on the shoulders of great men,' so it's stupid of the staff not to capitalize on the considerable experience of some citizens.  If the planners had the courage to use their elders as a springboard, we might really get somewhere. The question is how best to do it as the current methods are clearly not working well.  Discussions are still continuing………

Don Gazzard
April 2012

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