By Michael Giles
IF prospective councillors relied solely on the advice of Chief Executive Officers like Bass Coast’s Paul Buckley, for example, they might come to the view that standing for council is a complete waste of time.
Certainly, since the Kennett Government changed the Local Government Act, a municipal CEO does have wide-sweeping powers.
And Mr Buckley was at pains to stress the “separation of powers” between the council and the workings of the shire, including its administration, staff and services at a candidate information session this week.
He’ll also hammer that home to any new councillors that arrive after October 22.
In his own words, the council appoints the CEO, and he or she does the rest.
And to be fair, Mr Buckley also said that the most important document for a council to get right, when setting the agenda on policy, services and projects is the council plan; revised and prepared each year. The budget, he said was the next most important document, where council decides how the program would be funded, with the Bass Coast Planning Scheme and its Municipal Strategic Statement among the other important guiding documents for the CEO and the shire’s administration to follow.
But it can be a snow job too and councillors do have to have the capacity to beat the administration at their own game in order to get outcomes for the community.
Because the reality is that there’s actually a lot that councillors working as a team can do in the best interests of the community.
And having set the right agenda, they also have to have the processes in place to ensure the CEO and the administration delivers.
By both setting the agenda in the council plan and also setting the agenda for implementation, they can drive their CEO and its administration, rather than being driven by them.
According to the MAV assessment of the role of the CEO; “Councillors should not be seen as simply an addition or, for that matter, an impediment to efficiency. Instead the administration needs to acknowledge that councillors have been elected by the community to represent its vision and goals.” Amen!
Unfortunately, the way the Local Government Act is set up, it is skewed towards waste within the operation, and increasing shire staff and executive wages and conditions as a priority.
And as more and more of the municipality’s scarce funds are soaked up by waste and wages; community expectations will inevitably be disappointed.
Councillors must work hard and smart to drag back more money for the community and remember, division on council is gold for administrators who want to run the show on their own. That’s why we need smart, strong, community-minded people to run.