IT WAS just plain common sense that there needed to be a footpath constructed to connect the Bass Coast Specialist School in Wonthaggi to Watt Street and the rest of the footpath network.
Everyone could see that.
And all involved in the campaign to get the path built warmly welcomed the news last Friday that the three organisations involved had agreed to share the $116,000 cost; $30,000 from the State Government, $50,000 from the Bass Coast Shire and $36,000 from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
And good on those construction workers who have got straight in there and started the work.
It’s a great example of how ‘people power’ can be enlisted to get good outcomes for the community when the usual channels of diplomacy aren’t working.
This raises the question as to why shire councils and their communities don’t work more closely together, more often to get better outcomes.
They do work together, of course, more often that we probably realise but to get better engagement, councils have to be completely open and transparent with the decision making process – something that shire bureaucracies hate but that our elected councillors need to insist upon.
Discussions behind closed doors should be the exception, not the rule.
They need to be saying “here are the options, what would you like us to do?”
And there are many excellent ways to survey community attitudes now by using Internet technologies.
The shire council itself should also act as a ‘focus group’ to consider shire initiatives but here again, councillors need to be putting up a range of options and discussing them openly and not falling into the old trap of becoming simply appendages and apologists for the bureaucracy.
What we don’t want to see at Shire Budget time, for example, is a signed, sealed and delivered document for our consideration that no one at the shire has any intention of altering.
We saw this occur only a couple of weeks ago when the shire called for and received a larger number of submissions than usual for changes to the budget, 19 in all, but declined to change even one single line item from the prepared document.
Surely, surely they couldn’t have got it 100 per cent right?
Submissions identified a range of common concerns including the increasing employee costs, insufficient spending on capital works, the level of rates contributed by the farming sector, a need to prioritise expenditure towards environmental initiatives, stronger planning controls in small coastal towns, the distribution of capital works across the municipality, and the need to improve waste services.
And the shire says it is going to take these submissions into account in the future but what it needs to do at budget time is allow enough time for good ideas from the community to be incorporated in this year’s budget.
The other thing the council should insist on is public access to the budget preparation process and an annual list of options for spending that the community can consider – not couched in the usual gobbledygook. Give it to us straight for a change.
You know what, you might be surprised what good information and good will such a process would engender and in the end, the community would assume much greater ownership of the spending program and its council.
Shires and community needn’t be at war – SENTINEL-TIMES COMMENT