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The ERA exists to promote YOUR interests in the Local Government of our Shire

Wed, Mar 19, 2014


Dear Editor Bay Post,

You have taken me to task for withdrawing my three sea level rise motions to amend council’s interim sea level rise policy at last Tuesday’s council meeting and proposing the alternative of an informed discussion with the community at a public workshop. (Editorial, Bay Post, 14 March).

I did so, not to play political games, but because I was persuaded by my colleagues that the motions were premature. They believed that, if the interim policy is to be changed, greater community understanding of the sea level rise issue and council’s policy is required. Also, they were concerned that the ERA’s opponents would move to keep faults in the design of the policy and the economic and social implications of these faults away from community view.

A public workshop, with invited technical experts, is one way to engage the community.

The interim SLR policy, which is based on very high future sea level rise estimates imposed on councils by the last NSW labor government, is costing ratepayers much more than is necessary. These extra costs arise because the last council chose to impose restrictions on a wider area than was done by other coastal councils operating under the same directive. And no assessment of the impact of this wide application was done at that time.

Additionally, council’s inflexible administration of the policy by, for example, not allowing consultants reports to be used for similar adjacent land, adds to costs.

Furthermore, council’s practice of not notifying land owners of the changes to the hazard warning notifications required by law is insensitive and unjust.

Because we are years away from a final policy these faults in the interim policy need to be fixed now. Otherwise, uncertainty will continue to be reflected in higher development costs and affected property resale markets will remain in the doldrums.

In passing responsibility for SLR policy to councils, the NSW government has invited the use of local “evidence” based data and shorter time horizons for future projections. Andrew Constance, the member for Bega, last week urged council to take up this opportunity.

The longest and most reliable set of past land based sea level rise data available in NSW (measured at Fort Denison) was ignored by council staff last time around. We need to know why.

Let me assure you that there is “hope for the owners of properties identified at risk of sea level rise that the issue will be addressed with common sense. “ Consistent with the ERA objectives of better, more transparent governance and management at council, ERA councillors will actively pursue improvements to the interim SLR policy and their understanding and support in the community.

This task is made easier by the Bay Post’s interest in desirable change at council.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Milton Leslight

Eurobodalla Shire Council


The ERA committee wishes all ERA associate members and supporters a happy new year. Last year turned out to be a very busy year at Eurobodalla Shire Council and for the ERA. Much of the groundwork for much better performance by council was done. This year promises further positive change to the benefit of the community of Eurobodalla Shire.
This is the first newsletter for some time. The committee apologises for this. To keep in better touch we will attempt to increase newsletter frequency this year. Important changes in governance and management at ESC are discussed below, as are other matters currently concerning ratepayers.

What are the mayor’s priorities?
Shortly after his election in September 2012 Mayor Brown told the ERA that his priorities were recruiting a replacement for Paul Anderson, reviewing the council’s administrative policies and getting through to Xmas. When these housekeeping tasks were completed in the middle of last year he announced that it was now time for council to do “something strategic”.
Six months on, we have yet to see any elaboration of this suggestion. Consequently, ERA councillors had to fill this leadership vacuum by arranging a meeting with their colleagues to work out the council’s direction. The outcomes of this meeting are discussed below.
It is mayor’s first responsibility to lead the council in providing strategic direction to the council staff on the community’s priorities. While he has thrown himself into his public civic duties Councillor Brown appears little interested in this aspect of his job. If the mayor is to gain community respect for his leadership he needs to be much clearer, committed and energetic in defining and pursuing the interests of the community and promoting these in political forums outside the shire.

What have ERA councillors achieved?
In September last year, council replaced Councillor Peter Schwarz with Councillor Neil Burnside as deputy mayor.

Councillor Schwarz described his time as deputy mayor as follows:

“It has been a busy year for ERA councillors with major results already achieved for the community. By working as a team, we have succeeded in stopping the hemorrhaging of the community’s rates, recruited a new general manager and realigned the priorities of council to focus them on economic and infrastructure development.

I am particularly pleased that, following our insistence on closer scrutiny of all expenditures, council’s actual operational costs for FY2012/2013 were $3.5m less than were budgeted last year. Moreover, capital grants received this year were greater than the level expected. While council is still running an operational deficit over the next few years, it is now planned to be about half the size of that bequeathed to it by the previous council.

There has been equally pleasing progress on the management front. All councillors have now agreed to a single set of priorities for this term. These were proposed by ERA councillors in line with its platform of getting the shire moving through much better governance and management. They focus on increased infrastructure development in Batemans Bay, Moruya and Narooma and management improvements within council itself.”

Given the mayor’s detachment and the hostility of some councillors to the ERA’s place in council, the ERA committee is satisfied with the results achieved to date and thanks all councillors for their hard work. The introduction of zero based budgeting played a large part in the improved budgetary position. For the first time in many years, the community can be confident that some of their elected representatives are closely directing council priorities and expenditures.

Management changes at council
After Paul Anderson walked out of his newly negotiated five year contract in January 2012 he was temporarily replaced by Rob Noble, a locum general manager from Queensland. Mr Noble, who had extensive experience in local government but little knowledge of Eurobodalla, kept the seat warm and collected a large salary and expenses. During his time here he had to handle a sudden change of management at the Batemans Bay Beach Resort. He commented that in his long time in local government he had not seen anything like the problem he had to resolve. Unfortunately, he neither provided ratepayers with details of what was done at this publicly owned commercial enterprise nor any forecast of the impact of the problem on the Resort’s marginal financial prospects.

Following a competitive recruitment process, Dr Catherine Dale was appointed as new general manager and commenced work at Moruya in April. She lost no time in consulting extensively with council staff and community groups, including the ERA. While she arrived too late to have much influence on council’s budget and operational plans, she moved quickly to sort out her senior management team. By letting Kerrie Foster go and having the next line of managers (Kathy Arthur - Community, Arts and Recreation Services, Anthony O’Reilly – Finance and Catherine Reilly – Communications and Tourism) report directly to her she demolished the structure proposed by Anderson and endorsed by Blackadder Consultants (four, then three, directors). Importantly, she put the two remaining directors (Warren Sharpe – Infrastructure Services and Lindsay Usher – Planning and Infrastructure Services) on fixed term, performance based contracts. This latter move, long resisted by the previous general manager, brings ESC into line with most other state agencies and implements a long standing ERA proposal to increase senior management accountability.

ERA welcomes these senior staff changes, but notes that they were made ahead of any comprehensive review of the type and level of services council needs to deliver and the community can afford. Dr Dale is conducting a review of services, but at a very slow pace and with minimal community consultation so far. She needs to advise the community of the principles she is bringing to the review, particularly as they apply to the continuing provision of non core services.

Unlike the mayor, the general manager has spelled out the priority management areas she intends to pursue. These are financial sustainability, community relations and communications, organisation culture, land use planning, economic development and risk management. ERA welcomes her approach, which is aligned with ERA priorities. In particular the community is crying out for a more focused and professional approach to economic development.

A small group of councillors is negotiating a performance agreement with her. Let’s hope the outcome is a small number of practical objectives which have associated measurable indicators which are made public. No one wants a return to the unsatisfactory and secretive arrangements between the mayor and general manager which characterised the last two councils.

Independent Review of Local Government
The independent panel’s final report has been provided to the NSW Government. It can be accessed at this link:

Many of the management reforms advocated by the ERA have been proposed and let’s hope they are adopted. The panel recognized that the old local government model of general managers dominating disengaged and submissive elected representatives no longer meets community needs.

We are particularly pleased that the panel has recommended to the Government that :
“contracts of General Managers should not be renewed within 6 months of an election except by means of a full merit selection process………”.

You will recall that ERA publicly opposed the uncontested extension of Paul Anderson’s contract by Fergus Thomson so close to the September 2012 election. Ultimately Anderson’s early departure and the strong field of candidates attracted to the subsequent advertising of the position supported our stand on this matter. To avoid such sweet heart arrangements in future we urge the council to adopt immediately the panel’s proposal as policy.

After much public protest the panel has changed its earlier structural recommendation that regional county councils should be formed to take over some of the most important functions of councils. In Eurobodalla’s case the Nowra based county council suggested covered Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Bega Valley shires. This grouping of councils was out of line with the existing South East Regional Organisation of Councils (SEROC), which better reflects the economic and social ties in the region.

The new proposal is that regional joint organizations are formed, with similar core functions to those proposed for regional county councils. The recommended joint organization comprises Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla, Bega Valley, Bombala, Snowy River, Cooma-Monaro, Palerang and Queanbeyan. There is no regional centre nominated. This new grouping of councils is also out of line with SEROC and ESC will need to evaluate its merits carefully. Moreover, some of the proposed core functions of the regional organizations direct conflictly the philosophy of the planning legislation reforms currently before the NSW parliament. In particular the ability of local communities to participate in local planning (ie development of DCPs and LEPs) will be greatly diminished if this function is taken over by a large and remote regional organization.

Anticipating a forced amalgamation, Mayor Brown told ERA that he expected to be the last mayor of Eurobodalla. While the threat of amalgamation appears to have passed it is not apparent to the ERA that the mayor is ready for the political argy bargy that will inevitably accompany the formation of the legislated regional joint organizations. He needs to discuss urgently the shire’s interests in any new joint arrangements with the community so he can protect them in these important negotiations.

ERA councillors and social issues
ERA councillors are required occasionally vote on social issues when they are come up at council. Often these matters are raised by small community groups with strongly held views. Sometimes they are opposed by groups with equally strongly held views. Generally, they are on subjects which are strictly outside the responsibilities of local government. Recently same sex marriage, unhealthy soft drinks and recreational hunting in state forests have arisen. There has been some discussion in the community as to how ERA should handle these types of issues.

ERA’s priorities are the reform of governance and management at ESC. A key part of this is better responsiveness to community concerns, whatever they may be. To achieve this we ran a diverse group of people as candidates at the 2012 election to ensure that the composition of council was representative of the community. About 40% of the voting community elected four ERA councillors, all competent and experienced people from a diverse range of occupations and parts of the shire.

The ERA councillors and ERA committee members do not hold uniform views on social issues and we have not developed social policies. However, councillors have all demonstrated a willingness to listen to the concerns raised by community members and to vote on what they see as the merits of these concerns. Moreover, individual ERA councillors may take a leadership position on a particular social issue, as Councillor Schwarz did on the availability soft drinks at council functions, and seek to persuade his colleagues of the merits of his arguments. In all cases, the over-riding consideration should be that community members are free to get on with their lives without interference from council, provided that the activity proposed is legal and not costly to other community members.

The way ahead
In the year ahead ERA councillors will continue to focus on getting council’s financial position back into shape. The long term financial plan needs particular attention to ensure it contains realistic estimates of the costs of those major projects required for the shire’s future prosperity. Additionally they will focus on completing the rural aspects of ELEP 2012 completed, producing a Coastal Zone Management Plan to manage sea level rise cost effectively and getting business and government investment moving again in the shire. Also, they will seek improvements to grant application, contract management and building approval processes.

It is only when council gets on top of these problems will ERA councillors be satisfied they have demonstrated the improvements in trust and competence the community elected them for.

Stay in touch
For practical reasons the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association and the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Action Party have been merged and all ERA activities are now under the direction a single committee.

ERA councillors can be contacted as follows:
Neil Burnside : Mobile 0418156389 Email clrneilburnside@eurocoast.nsw.gov
Peter Schwarz: Mobile 0418466471 Email clrpeterschwarz@eurocoast.nsw.gov.au
Liz Innes: Mobile 0418193518 Email clrlizinnes@eurocoast.nsw.gov.au
Milton Leslight: Mobile 0418491264 Email clrmiltonleslight@eurocoast.nsw.gov.au


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