A major election issue for The Echo was Council’s failure with the tendering process.
Regulating commercial use of public spaces to ourselves, be it beaches or market sites, should not be an impossible feat.
It should allow established businesses to operate and not be bumped by cost. It should foster localisation where possible. This fault rests entirely with Council, both staff and councillors, not the businsesses who gave a ‘blind bid’ in the surf school tender process. There is little doubt staff and the outgoing/returning councillors have the knowledge to solve this, but the message is still muddled, which indicates confusion. And the result is inaction, which has affected the livlihood of those at the Byron Bay Surf School.
Here’s a clue: the NSW state government controls the supply of surf school licences. Does this not demonstrate that we are fooling ourselves and the state is ultimately in control?
It’s no secret that local government is not recognised by the constitution.
Here’s some of the things the state government has done to Council and this community:
They are apparently looking at splitting Fishheads’ rent from the Byron pool (leaving us with nothing) and they grabbed some Brunswick Heads caravan parks and turned them into commercial ventures that Council won’t benefit from.
The Echo looks forward to seeing whether Cr Woods’s claims of Greens mismanagement are indeed correct – or does the state do as it pleases? The state also doesn’t appear interested in funding a night doctor for Mullum hospital since our night cases are so low (despite overwhelming public opposition).
When asked directly whether E2 coastal zonings were scrapped from the draft LEP, Don Page ambiguously told The Echo, ‘Some aspects of Byron Council’s draft LEP don’t comply with the Department of Planning template and have been amended prior to public exhibition.’ Is that a dodge or doesn’t he know?
It should be acknowledged that as our local member of parliament, he now has clout in NSW parliament but remains ineffectual or uninterested in these issues. Having influence in the Sydney-based parliament would be hard for an outsider but we deserve better, even if it is tokenistic.
The great fear of course is that our lack of ability to self- regulate will land us with being administered directly by the state. As outgoing Jan Barham’s ‘freakout’ demonstrated at Thursday’s Council meeting over publicly talking about the tender process, ICAC is very familiar with us. Thankfully she added later in the day that amalgamation wasn’t on the cards as ‘nobody would have us’.
All the best for whoever wins on September 8.
With the election countdown upon us, it’s time for the candidates to sway us over with a cost-analysis of their promises.
Potholes are of course an issue, but how are we going to fund it? Council’s operating budget was fairly tight last year, as is exemplified by the kerbside collection being scrapped.
A festival to replace roadside rubbish collection is also very left field, especially coming from the usually politically astute Paul Spooner.
And turning rail into cycle paths? Apart from the state government’s current rail feasibility study (which is the first sign in years something may actually happen), would there be a huge uptake in cycle use between towns, given the long distance?
The Mullum Woolies legal battle has been kicked around as a waste of public money, along with other legal forays.
However The Echo agrees with standing up to inappropriate development and there is a long history of it in this region.
In Woolies’ case it was totally appropriate and Council was correct in doing what it could to preserve the town’s character.
It’s worth remembering that underdeveloped areas on the planet have real value because they are underdeveloped.
So far, the mayoral campaign ‘brevity’ award goes to Hemp Party member and independent Jack Sugarman, even if some of his policy statements are completely at odds with most constituents. You have to admire the uncompromising underdogs.
But all six contenders have contributed spirited and worthy debate to what is surely the hardest gig in town. No-one has jumped ahead of the pack, to The Echo’s knowledge. Thankfully there’s still more time.
Any message communicated through writing is best served stripped of rhetoric, pandering and pap. It wins debates hands down every time. Trimmed and lean language is vital to democracy and many politicians lack this ability. Bridging the gap between what is often bland bureaucracy and how it affects us is a study in itself.
In addition, negativity towards opponents is a predictable and pointless exercise that only serves the lowest common denominator.
Unfortunately it works in most cases with an uninformed public, but thankfully that has not been a feature of debate so far.
With only weeks to go to the election, The Echo will look closer at the dynamic between councillors and council’s staff, its operating budget and what is possible within our constitutional rights.
Another renegade mayoral candidate, Morgan, assumes reasonable knowledge of constitutional law; however, it can only be described as ‘untested’ at a local level. Still, the theatre of politics is usually limited to tit-for-tat, so any deeper understanding of
our constitution is a welcome relief, especially in light of local government (council) not being recognised constitutionally.
This Shire sets precedents for many other councils across the continent, and that means leadership and vision, which also means being informed and transparent. But the tendering process – for example – is unacceptable in The Echo’s view, in regards to both the long-suffering Byron markets policy and more recently the surf schools. Clarity is yet to be provided by Council on this and on its public/media gag orders, which go against NSW state guidelines.
Even local government MP Don Page’s media advisor is on record as saying (in a convoluted way): ‘Nothing under the Local Government Act or Regulation would prevent a council from putting in place restrictions of the type contained in the Byron [tender] policy.’
Those seeking further information on any candidate or mayoral hopeful can visit The Echo’s online profiles at www.echonetdaily. net.au. Click on the ‘Elections 2012’ tab and then ‘Byron Shire special coverage’. It’s the most comprehensive election coverage of the region ever attempted – Ballina, Byron, Lismore and Tweed are all included. But if mayoral hopeful Jack Sugarman gets his way, it will all b e ‘ carved up ’.
This week’s online mayoral hopeful Q&A can be found at www. echo.net.au/opinion-piece/mayoral-hopefuls-qa. It’s entirely in their own words and is unedited for length. It provides the public with a great way of determining substance over waffle.
With elections heating up, there is no doubt a sharper focus on the councillors’ current performance and past achievements.
And if you were to just take The Echo’s front-page story as an indication of their abilities, it would be an unfair judgment.
The job entails a workload completely at odds with remuneration and it will never live up to the public’s expectations. But the expectation is to get it right, and obviously something went very wrong with the way the surf school tender process was handled. The Echo looks forward to the results being made public in the hope it won’t be repeated in the future.
So what does this mean for councillor hopefuls?
In case they were interested in what happened at the last meeting on Thursday (there was only a handful of them present):
Public access started at 9am, which gave an opportunity for the public to lobby for their DA, for example. But it has also been known as a chance for the public to stand in front of councillors and staff and whinge. That was followed by a short break before a long, long, long day of considering and debating a 380-page agenda.
That’s 380 pages of notice of motions (NOMs), submissions and grants, reports by divisions, committee reports, councillors’ questions with notice and not forgetting confidential reports and late reports. The minutes from this average-sized agenda noted that 67 items were discussed. Yours truly left around 5.30pm and it looked like they were just settling in.
Despite the ideological differences that day (and all others), there appeared enough cohesion to get things done. And the sad fact for ratepayers is that knowledge hard-won over four years is mostly lost, especially on this occasion when all but three Councillors are retiring.
So to all 29 councillor hopefuls: good luck, you’re going to
Being present in the Byron Bay courtroom last Friday was like watching a slow motion implosion. It was never going to be a happy ending for the accused.
Oh but what theatre: a casually dressed and slightly over-confident Shai Major claimed he couldn’t afford a lawyer (legal aid refused) and struggled with some of the legal jargon. Adding to that, English is his second language. He was charged with ‘development without consent’; in other words he organised a group of schoolies to board at his Byron Bay share-house for a week.
The prosecution included two Council lawyers with a town planner and a Council compliance officer as witnesses.
Despite his very bad odds, The Echo is not sympathetic to Mr Major’s case – he did after all break the law. But fining an unemployed person nearly $100,000 only means two things: declare bankruptcy or pay back $12 per week, as per Centrelink’s debt repayment plan. That equals 160 years of debt, and the prospect of ever recovering Council’s legal fees of $20,000 is remote.
Rules to consider if unrepresented: never talk over the magistrate and don’t make assumptions in any questions you ask.
Stay on topic and defend the facts. As hard as he tried to highlight the hypocrisy of holiday letting and counter-accuse Council and APN media of racism and unfair treatment, leniency wouldn’t be applied by any reasonable magistrate because it’s off topic. Pleading guilty may have been a start, but that means you acknowledge accountability.
Hopefully this result will widen the debate over community housing versus holiday letting in a town where the main currency is tourism. Clearly defined areas need to be applied under Council’s Local Environment Plan (LEP) so there is little doubt what constitutes someone’s house or party dorm accommodation.
Would Mr Major have continued to host schoolies if his neighbours didn’t dob him in? Does this send a ‘strong message’? Who’s next? Will Council continue to act upon the small fry?
The Echo very much looks forward to a new Byron Shire general manager being appointed and some fresh councillor faces after the September 8 elections.
So far the debate has been mainly rhetorical, but now is the time to talk about how this community can pull together and work more collaboratively. Sounds like a joke, right? But nobody can deny it’s desperately needed.
There are so many conflicting egos and ideals in this region that whoever lands the vacant spots of general manager and mayor will be under immense pressure to produce at least some level of unity. Previously both ended up in a tit-for-tat squabble where the only winners were lawyers.
Here are a few issues to ponder over until ballot day:
Address and review unexecuted Council motions. Councillors’ many requests to staff has led to a cyber graveyard of well-intentioned but forgotten motions.
There is no doubt that tourism is the dominant economy, but what of other sectors that, with the right nurturing, could provide the resilience that this community continually espouses? Food production, manufacturing, creative arts and IT come to mind.
Addressing affordable housing could perhaps be achieved by investigating working models in neighbouring shires.
Byron Bay has needed a bypass for over 20 years, and as the Ocean Shores population is almost as large, it too could do with basic infrastructure.
An equitable festival policy is needed as well; it’s not just two major events we have in this Shire, it’s two major event companies who want to ramp up their event sites that we have to deal with.
Other big elephants in the room are holiday letting and the social problems caused by a binge-drinking culture. And let’s not forget potholes and grubby public toilets.
One last thing: a great start to freshening up Council would be to rename our infrastructure. Poor language usage divides and confuses. Until something vaguely cultural is held there, the Byron Regional Sports and Cultural Complex should be just called the Ewingsdale Sports Facility.
National and global media continually analyse this community whether we like it or not. Those outside our bubble often mock our differences and ridicule the commitment we have to the environment and social issues.
Let’s be a smart unified council so we can tell them – and the NSW government – to go fuck themselves when needed.
It’s broken but thankfully it’s not broke. Despite cuts to community services, the Byron Council budget forecast is for much of the same. Unfortunately the stagnation continues. While our neighbouring shires push for development to ‘stimulate’
a stalling global economy, this council is left – in the most part – bickering and incapable of making even the slightest improvements to infrastructure.
Perhaps this perceived incompetence actually works in our favour. Dealing with any Council DA is a well-known nightmare. Such bottle-necks result in a low level of development and therefore we remain unique in a world trying its hardest to aspire to economic growth at any cost to the environment.
Policy and operation – or councillors and staff – have been at each other for some time now. Through the recent code of conduct actions instigated by the general manager (operation) against the mayor (policy), it is clear that we have reached a dysfunctional state. Not that the mayor doesn’t give it back – she consistently berates staff in council meetings for a lack of transparency, reports and results.
Part of the problem is the ideological divide between councillors who whole-heartedly support staff and those who claim they are being fed bullshit. The supporters of staff include Cr Woods, the oft-mute Cr Heeson and the long-serving Cr Tucker.
‘Let them get on with their job’ is often heard in the chambers, particularly from Cr Tucker, and when you consider the disparity in pay between staff and councillors, it isn’t a surprising attitude. But that’s not what democracy is about. Why be a councillor if staff run the place entirely? It’s no secret that Crs Tabart and Barham have the biggest axes to grind, while Crs Staples and Richardson are usually less combative.
Crs Morrisey and Cameron tend to vote slightly in favour of letting staff do their job without too much question or interference.
On Monday night, a week ago, councillor hopefuls for the upcoming election were invited to an info session at the chambers. Despite a healthy turn-out of 27 or so (though the session covered other shires), there was only one face recognisable that regularly turns up for Council meetings – Jim Beatson’s. Another face in the crowd was the Byron Community Centre’s Paul Spooner.
Much of this job is not glamorous. The legal and policy language is a study in itself and dealing with the crazy locals – both wealthy and not so – has never been an easy task.
Upon returning from lunch to Council’s gruelling Thursday marathon meeting, I discover a fan placed next to the chair in the media booth.
It’s hot in the room so I welcome sitting in the cool breeze. But then I realise that I can’t hear anything the councillors and staff are saying.
Instantly a different perspective emerges – body language now replaces largely meaningless words. Cr Cameron mumbles in the same tone as Staples and Tabart, so there is no discernible difference of opinion. It’s great to have an altered state of perception in the Council chambers for once.
But it doesn’t suit them, and soon frustrations rise over the lack of microphone and audio quality in the chamber. Councillors ask staff to speak up, and those in the gallery ask the councillors to speak up. It’s a cacophony and the fan is still going, so I turn it off.
Cr Tony Heeson, who I have never heard say anything before, stops the yabber yabber in an instant.
He leans into the microphone and clearly says, ‘If the microphones were extended we wouldn’t have to do anything.’
Proving his point, Cr Woods leans forward – almost climbing onto the desk – to reach the mic as she speaks next.
Perhaps Cr Heeson’s suggestion could be acted upon. All it needs is an electrician/handyman to reposition 16 microphones closer to the edge of the desks. No reports, no notice of motions, no discussions. Just please do it.
And while on the topic, to all councillor hopefuls out there planning to run for the upcoming elections: please start turning up to meetings. There is no other way of learning how the factory operates other than seeing the spectacle for yourself.
Democracy triumphed over appalling policy last Monday week. Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the draft market policy meeting held at the community centre is that everyone, from business owners, stallholders and the public, had a go. Good questions were asked and a lot of ground was covered.
And as to be expected Kerry O’Brien did an excellent job as chair; he was on topic, asked pertinent questions and kept it tight and light. Best of all he aimed for a resolution at the end of the meeting which gave councillors the clear message that the draft policy did not reflect community wishes.
Some critics claim that breaking the Byron market monopoly held by the Community Centre could potentially uncover a racket, and/or free it up to be administered more democratically.
It appears like sour grapes. Everyone – ie the stallholders – at that meeting was in total support of current management. As Community Centre manager Paul Spooner said at the time, no-one else is better placed to administer local markets than a community centre.
But our state government overlords have spoken (have they?) and it must be open to tender. Councillors fear that now the state is grabbing at caravan parks previously managed by councils they could turn to public lands such as sports fields and parks. To prevent that, they say, policies like this need to be properly enshrined to protect community assets from state takeovers.
Council’s problem is that it still has no constitutional recognition as part of the third tier of government and remains in thrall to the state government. The only thing that appears to give any state government reason to act (under either party) is the legislation they are bound by, or perhaps bad press.
However, as with anything legal, the winner is the one with the best advice, and as elections are held every four years, there’s a lot of ignoring that can happen in between when it comes to bad PR.
A lot is at stake. Many livelihoods. I know stallholders who are paying off property and feeding families (partly) from market income. It’s a cornerstone of our identity, it’s a major tourist attraction and a regular local hang.
The best speech all night was from a quietly spoken farmer who simply said to the audience, ‘You allow us to do what we love. It’s not a huge income, but without this, we wouldn’t be here.’
Let’s hope the second draft of the market policy will allow localisation to thrive instead of whatever it is the state government wants.