The above screen dump comes from council’s proposed actions to support the community during the current COVID pandemic. As with countless other municipalities, Glen Eira recognises that residents, businesses and sporting clubs need assistance. This is to be commended. What is not to be commended however is the lack of financial detail and communication that is clear and unambiguous.

For instance, we are told that there will be: ‘rent relief for Council Community and some Commercial tenants…….’. Exactly what does this mean? Will there be zero rent for 3 months, 6 months for community groups renting council facilities? Will they instead have a 50% reduction, a 25% reduction? And what does ‘some Commercial tenants’ really mean?– which ones and on what basis will they be eligible? Nor are we given any indication as to how much any of this will cost? The only clear statement from this paragraph relates to sporting groups and even here we don’t know the eventual cost to council.

Compare this shadowy report with what Kingston has provided. Admittedly these are only ‘guesstimates’ but at least Kingston’s ratepayers have some idea of how the sums have been calculated. Also worth noting is that they are willing to defer rents for all of their community rentals unlike Glen Eira.  Here’s one page from their report and we’ve uploaded the full report HERE

Our objective is not to quibble or argue against what is proposed. Our concern rests entirely with the lack of substance and hence transparency that permeates this report. We are told that cost to council will ultimately be $7.4 million, but the only figure that is provided in both item 8.3 and item 8.4 states that council will lose $500,000 in late fee interest for payment of rates. How we get from $500,000 to $7.4 million is thus anyone’s guess! Compounding this even further we do not know how many staff, especially casuals, have been stood down and what ‘saving’ this represents to Council, nor how it will affect essential operations.

We appreciate that projections may be difficult. But the nature of these reports continues the tradition in Glen Eira of vague, unsubstantiated claims, lack of detail, and councillors voting something in without enough information to arrive at real informed decision making! This has happened far too often in Glen Eira for it to be anything but deliberate!

PPS: We have perused what other councils are doing in terms of increased funds to the CEOs under delegation. Surprise, surprise, there is not one single council that comes close to what Glen Eira is proposing! The following quotes all come from the March minutes of these councils:

HOBSONS BAYawarding a contract or the expenditure of council funds exceeding the value of $3,500,000(inclusive of GST), with the exception of insurance premiums, Workcover premiums andemployee superannuation payments;

DAREBIN: Temporarily increase the financial delegation of the Chief Executive Officer from $500,000 to $1M including awarding a contract for the purchase of goods and services or for the carrying out of works not exceeding the value of $1M (including GST) to be used only in the event that Council is unable to meet because of circumstances related to the COVID19 pandemic subject to;

  • The expenditure being included in budget.
  • Compliance with the provisions of the Local Government Act and Council procurement policy and practices.
  • Receive a report at the next available Council meeting on the use of the temporary delegations.

FRANKSTON: It is proposed that during a state or national emergency, the expenditure limit for the Chief Executive Officer will increase from $500K to $2M, exclusive of GST. This will enable the Chief Executive (CEO) to enter into contracts during these periods. The expenditure limits for the Directors, Managers, Coordinators, Team Leaders and staff will remain unchanged

MORNINGTON: $1 M

The agenda for next Tuesday night’s council meeting contains several items that make us wonder whether the proposed initiatives are nothing more than bureaucratic opportunism which would result in the increased power of unelected officers and the further sidelining of residents and councillors.

We acknowledge fully the ongoing COVID crisis and the impact it is having on all sectors of the community  – including councils themselves. What is proposed in several items is the following:

  • Changes to CEO delegation empowering her to grant contracts/tenders of up to $20 million
  • The abolition of Delegated Planning Committee hearings and Planning Consultation Meetings for all planning applications
  • If no quorum at council meetings then CEO and/or delegated officers have power to grant, refuse, amend permits.
  • The cessation of public participation at council meetings. All public questions will be recorded in the minutes.

We will deal with these sequentially.

  1. Delegations

We are informed that according to the legislation, councillors have to be present in order to cast their votes. Hence, if some councillors may have to self isolate, there is the possibility that no quorum will be available and hence, no council decisions can be made. The argument is that in order for council to continue functioning, that more power be delegated to officers and the CEO since there is no legal avenue for online communication and participation when it comes to formal council meetings. The agenda cites the ‘advice’ provided by Local Government Victoria:

“Present” means being physically present at the meeting. This requirement mirrors Parliamentary practice in which a Member must be present at a Division to vote. While there can be advantages for remotely located councillors to be able to participate in meetings without being physically present, this must be balanced against other considerations including the public transparency requirements on decision making by a publicly elected body.

What is not revealed in the agenda is that this ‘advice’ is dated the 18th March 2020. Since then there have been several more restrictions placed on meetings due to COVID. Furthermore, the Municipal Association of Victoria, plus plenty of other councils, have come out urging the Premier/Ministers to ‘fast track’ changes so that councillors can complete council business via electronic means. Currently, both NSW and South Australia permit council meetings without having councillors physically present in the chamber. See the following especially the quote from a government official that makes specific mention of meetings :

https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-01/councils-worry-local-democracy-being-compromised-by-coronavirus/12111270?pfm=sm

We’re working with councils to consider the implications of coronavirus on their operations, including the welfare of staff, compliance with the Act, elections and their meetings.

MAV MEDIA RELEASE:

“With streaming and virtual meetings now widely available, we call on the Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek and the State Government to make this common sense decision and enable one of these options to be implemented as as alternative to meeting face to face.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp is also calling on the State to fast-track changes.

“The community relies on councils to make decisions that impact their daily lives, but in the current climate we are handcuffed by the restrictions in the Local Government Act.

“We need to prioritise the health and safety of our communities while also continuing to deliver results,” she said.

South Australian Decision (https://www.lga.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?c=87606)

The Electronic Participation in Council Meetings Notice (No 1) 2020 (Notice 1) was made by the Minister on 31 March 2020 and provides variations to the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act) and the Local Government (Procedures at Meetings) Regulations 2013 (Regulations) to enable some or all council members to participate in a council meeting by electronic means. Further information, including a link to the Notice and an explanatory paper prepared by the LGA, is available in Circular 14.1.

It is our view that allowing an unelected individual to have control over $20m is not in the best interest of this community – regardless of the current situation. It also begs the question of why Moreland City Council can decide to grant its CEO only $2 million in the exact same circumstances. Here is what Moreland decided on the 25th March 2020

Notes the delegation temporarily increases the financial limit of the Chief Executive Officer from $700,000(excludingGST)to $2million (excludingGST),including awarding a contract for the purchase of goods and services or for the carrying out of works, with the increased delegation to be used only in the event that Council is unable to meet because of circumstances related to the COVID19pandemic and subject to:

i.The expenditure being included in budget; and

ii.Compliance with the provisions of the Local Government Act in force at the time and Council’s Procurement Policy.

The only ‘safeguard’ in terms of transparency and accountability that is provided to Glen Eira residents comes with the following:

  • Council will make available (where practicable) on its website, a list of decisionsthat would have been dealt with by Council, but were made under delegation dueto Council being unable to form a quorum due to illness of Councillors or the needto self-isolate by Councillors;
  • the CEO will (where practicable) consider and take into account the views ofCouncillors in making the decisions that would have been dealt with by Council atan ordinary council meeting or special council meeting, but for the coming intooperation of Schedule B of the Instrument of Delegation; and
  • the Instrument of Delegation, when in force, will be reviewed at least once everythree months and that Council at an ordinary council meeting or special councilmeeting will resolve whether to vary, revoke it or leave it in place.

Why do we have such phrases as ‘where practicable’ included? Who decides what is ‘practicable’? What does the term mean anyway given that publishing up to date items on council’s website should be simple given the millions that this council has spent on its IT and website upgrades!!!

QUESTIONS

  • Why is there no mention of this pressure for change in the officer report?
  • How was the figure of $20m derived and why?
  • Why does one council consider that $2m is sufficient for the continued smooth operation of a council and Glen Eira feels that ten times this amount is necessary?
  • Why the rush to push this through when change is undoubtedly imminent given the outcry and the existence of this in at least 2 other states?

 

2.Abolition of DCP & Community Planning Consultations

Ceasing the operation of the above does ostensibly make sense given the requirement for social distancing, etc. at this time. What does not make sense is council’s failure to even consider the possibility that these important avenues for community involvement could be done via the multitude of different phone and online conferencing tools.

Instead, the only time that this possibility is even mentioned in the officer’s report, and then totally ignored comes with this paragraph:

Council is presently working towards instituting online platforms which will allow a Delegated Planning Forum and a Planning Conference to be conducted without having to physically meet. Given the nature of these meetings and the diversity of stakeholders in the planning process, it is important to ensure that any on-line platform is stable, reliable and facilitates accessibility, inclusiveness and transparency in the planning process.

What on earth does ‘presently working towards’ really mean? What is the proposed time line?

Surely there would be no cost or very little cost in implementing such tools immediately. Here’s what Corangamite was able to do in the space of less than a week for its first live streamed council meeting:

The Shire’s first live stream, hastily put together in response to the coronavirus pandemic social distancing requirements, used existing equipment and the free Facebook platform, incurring no cost to ratepayers. (https://www.corangamite.vic.gov.au/Council/News-and-Media/Latest-News/Online-Council-meeting-call)

 

CONCLUSIONS

We can find no sound reasoning that would condone:

  • Granting one individual the power to spend $20m
  • The continued sidelining of residents and councillors when technology can be used to continue meetings
  • The real potential for the further erosion of accountability and transparency

 

PS: By way of contrast to how other councils have handled the current situation and CEO delegations, we’ve taken 2 screen shots of the recent March minutes from Monash and Port Phillip. Please note the requirement for complete and open transparency. The question then becomes: why isn’t this part of the Glen Eira Council approach? What’s to be gained (or hidden?) in the way Glen Eira has determined things will run?

 

Gazetted today:

Question after question has sought answers to what is really going on with our neighbourhood areas (activity centres) that do not have any controls on height in the commercial and mixed use zoned shopping strips.  Council’s response has been consistent: not enough ‘resources’ (presumably this means staff), plus not enough money. That they are flat out on the structure plans for Bentleigh, Carnegie, Elsternwick, East village, Caulfield  and recently added, Glen Huntly. Well, Bentleigh and Carnegie are now on the desk of the Minister awaiting permission to advertise. East Village is done and dusted as far as rezoning is concerned, and Caulfield is largely work being done by the Victorian Planning Authority. Yet, residents are still being told that controls for South Caulfield in particular are at least another 2 years away.

Nor have residents been able to get any clear response from council as to their ultimate objective. Language has varied considerably over the past 18 months. We have been told that ‘structure plans’ are in the vision. Next this becomes mere Urban Design Guidelines or a Design & Development Overlay. There is absolutely no guarantee forthcoming that our neighbourhood centres will have structure plans.

As for the delay in introducing even the most minimal controls, we do not for one second buy council’s excuses. Our theory is:

  • Council has always envisaged Glen Huntly Road from Kooyong to Hawthorn as being one single precinct – ie the expansion of the South Caulfield activity centre. Only stern opposition in 2002 prevented this from occurring.
  • Delaying controls facilitates the pro development agenda. We now have at least 5 applications in for Caulfield South (including one in Caulfield) that sit between 7 and 9 storeys and literally hundreds of apartments. Once these get their permits, probably within the next 8 months, it will be almost impossible for council to argue that the building heights under even a structure plan should be 5 storeys! We speculate that this is totally deliberate on the part of council.

The other question of course is WHY? What is the real reason that council is so gung ho on more and more development – especially when Glen Eira is well and truly above its housing needs to cater for population growth? Why have they caved in so easily on removing the mandatory height limits in Bentleigh & Carnegie and substituting ‘discretionary’ height limits? Yes, it is very easy and convenient to have Wynne as the scapegoat and put the onus on government rather than themselves. When other councils can fight tooth and nail for their residents in terms of pushing for greater land use control, knocking back panel reports, or sending out thousands of mail to their residents, our council distinguishes itself by either total silence, or complete acquiescence. The tragedy is that our councillors have all been complicit in this agenda.

Logic would suggest that there must be some ‘pay back’ or ‘benefit’ in adhering without question with government that is given greater priority than residential amenity, sustainability, and general welfare of constituents. We can only hypothesize, but suggest:

  • More dwellings, with miniscule restrictions on development, amounts to more incoming revenue.
  • More revenue is required for the grandiose schemes of at least $52 million to ‘redevelop’ Carnegie swimming pool; $5 million for a library that was ‘redeveloped’ less than 3 years ago; and the list of projects goes on and on. Please also keep in mind that residents have not been privy to any business plan (that is, if they even exist!!!!)
  • A quid pro quid with government so that grants increase? (ie the nonsense of the Inkerman Road safe bicycle track)
  • Also on the cards is the flogging off of council land to developers in order to proceed with high rise/multi level car parks. Envisaged by Monash to cost around $18 or so million for one. And all the while pathetic little done about procuring more and more desperately needed open space.

We certainly are not privy to the discussions that have occurred behind closed doors with state authorities, and even between councillors. What we do know is that strategic planning in Glen Eira continues to be a disaster. Residents can no longer accept excuse after excuse about the lack of money and resources that council claims is behind its ‘do nothing’ agenda. This excuse must be seen for the furphy  it is, especially when planning applications are down, and council’s staff numbers continue to climb, plus rates and charges also continue to climb. Residents need a council that will put ratepayers before large developers!

Last night’s council meeting showed the first public sign that maybe things aren’t as hunky dory within this councillor group as they would like us to believe. The feathers were definitely flying with Delahunty, Davey and then Athanasopolous getting up on their high horses to implicitly criticise and condemn Esakoff.

All of this related to the ‘debate’ on the Parking Strategy. Esakoff, as is her right, spoke against the strategy. Mind you, she spoke for just on 10 minutes without getting a time extension. So much for the meeting procedures, eh? The bone of contention related to her use of the term ‘social engineering’ (twice in this 10 minute speech).

Here is the full audio of what she said:

Delahunty then rose to object to the terminology. This was followed up by Athanasopolous’s Right of Reply (see below).

Social engineering originates from social science and the term was first used in the 1890’s. In this context of social and/or political science, dictionaries provide the following definitions:

Wikepedia: means of influencing particular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale

Oxford: the use of centralized planning in an attempt to manage social change and regulate the future development and behaviour of a society.

Webster: management of human beings in accordance with their place and function in society

Collins: is the use of planned measures, for example, measures that affect people’s social or economic position, in order to create a desirable society.

One could quite reasonably ask: Does Glen Eira Council practice social engineering? When we look at recent policies and strategies developed by this council, then the answer is clear. Yes, council does engage in ‘social engineering’!

Here are some recent examples:

  • Waste reduction and food scrap containers.
  • Parking strategies
  • Bicycle strategy

The stated objective(s) of all of the above endeavours are to bring about behavioural change. To basically introduce programs, policies, and laws that will ‘encourage’ people to moderate their behaviours. That’s the purpose of the current Parking strategy – to get more people to use public transport and the Inkerman Road fiasco is supposedly to get more people riding bikes. Providing food scrap containers and changing what can go into green bins is another example of trying to influence behaviour.

We are not discussing the value or efficacy of these programs. What we would like to know is how on earth Delahunty, Davey and especially Athanasopolous can get up on their high horse and protest vehemently about the ‘language’ that Esakoff used. This strikes us as hypocrisy of the highest order. More to the point, it raises the question of WHY this outrage and why now?

For Athanasopolous to bring up Pol Pot, Stalin, and presumably Hitler in what amounts to a personal attack on Esakoff is quite unbelievable. We are not in the business of defending Esakoff. However in this instance, the response to her use of the term Social Engineering is way beyond the pale, especially when council is the supreme agent of its own social engineering which is often accomplished in the face of stern opposition from residents. May we even suggest that by ignoring community opposition, such actions would resonate beautifully with Stalin and his aberrant version of ‘social engineering’.

Council has released the results of its community consultation on the proposed Parking Policy and set out several recommendations for councillors to adopt.  However, the tradition of drowning residents in so called ‘data’, coupled with conclusions devoid of real supporting evidence continues with analyses and recommendations that would fail any grade 7 mathematics exam/test. Dubious assumptions that then become the foundation for subsequent recommendations abound. We can only suggest that had the initial questions been more water tight, and unambiguous that the ‘results’ would be far more credible.

The resulting policy/analysis purports to present data from two distinct surveys. A general one that was freely available online to the entire community, and a second ‘survey’ that was directed to the 450+ registered users of Community Voice. (CV) Of these latter 450+ community representatives,(CV) council only received 190 responses. For the community wide survey there were 592 responses. Thus, the ratio was 3 times as many ‘answers’ from the wider community as there was for the Community Voice survey. Yet incredibly, far greater credence is given to the CV responses time and time again in the accompanying officer’s report and in the recommendations put forward to council. Here are some examples:

When considering if the proposed introduction of a fee is fair/reasonable for resident car owners in Glen Eira a majority of respondents to the community survey either disagreed or strongly disagreed (76 per cent). This was reinforced by 18 letters/emails an 9 phone calls to Council which explicitly referenced issues around permit fees. Concerns and questions were expressed around the fairness of the proposal and a perceived entitlement to free permits under Council rates. When considering if this approach is fair/reasonable for the wider Glen Eira community the majority of respondents who disagreed or strongly disagreed reduced to 53 per cent. 

Community Voice members were also asked the same question. When asked if this approach is fair/reasonable for resident car owners in Glen Eira a majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed (54 per cent). When considering if this approach is fair/reasonable for the wider Glen Eira community this majority of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed increased to (62 per cent). 

And the final officer recommendation is: Officers recommend retaining the residential permit fee structure as consulted within the draft Parking Policy (Attachment 2- Residential Parking Permit System, section 3.3.6).

Also extremely important in analysing any of this data is the makeup of the various groups and how their circumstances might have influenced their responses. For example: we are told that the vast majority of respondents from the community wide survey were in possession of residential parking permits (440 out of 576 responses). For the Community Voice participants only 48 out of 190 had these permits. Thus 76% versus 25%!!!!! Secondly, we need to consider the physical attributes of the various suburbs that these participants live in and their probable parking arrangements.

The following screen dump does have these percentages (not numbers we note).

One could quite reasonably question the value of the above data given the following:

  • East Bentleigh has the largest proportion of single detached dwellings in the municipality. Presumably a large percentage of these homes would also have onsite parking and therefore parking is not necessarily the problem it is in other areas. This is reflected in many of the Community Voice (cv) responses.
  • The Community Voice responses were significantly lower in those suburbs where parking is an acknowledged problem ie. Elsternwick/Gardenvale; Caulfield North/East. Where higher (ie McKinnon and Murrumbeena) the issue is not so urgent.
  • What valid conclusions can then be drawn from such numbers? We posit very little!

What irks us the most however is the following.

Please note:

  • Are we comparing apples with oranges?
  • What is this supposed to prove when the community wide survey includes both ON and OFF street results and the Community Voice simply lists ON STREET?
  • Comparing the two graphs reveals NOTHING as to the real numbers parking on the street. Interestingly 37% of the Community Voice people also park cars overnight on the street.
  • Why wasn’t the identical question asked of the Community Voice participants? ie do you park on or off site?

The most contentious argument in the entire policy rests on the following statement and its accompanying table:

When considering car ownership and access to permits the draft Parking Policy, the community survey shows that out of 493 permit eligible households,182 accessed more residential permits than they have vehicles. This indicates that as many as 37 per cent of current permit holders who completed the survey are accessing more permits than they need.

Even if we accept these figures, the questions keep coming. Permits are currently linked to specific cars. Residents have to fill out a form and provide a license plate number. Thus, how is it possible that someone with 2 cars should have 4 permits? Doesn’t council check what they are applying for? Are residents lying and making up license plate numbers? Have respondents confused ‘residential’ permits with ‘visitor permits’ in their responses? To then conclude that the parking policy is aimed at these drivers in particular and the aim is to change ‘behaviour’ is laughable. Behaviour will only change once there are adequate options. No figures are provided as to how many of these 37% of permit holders even have access to on site parking. Nor do we know where they are located. Assumptions on top of assumptions should never be the basis for policy!

Other assumptions are also worth commenting upon. Here is an extract from the report that focuses on the proposed charge for the second and third parking permit:

To understand the impact of permit fees an assessment (Attachment 4) has been undertaken on the car ownership and access to permits data provided within the draft Parking Policy community survey. To assist with this assessment the following assumptions have been made:

  • A minimum of one car will be parked off-street. Therefore, charges for permits will not begin until a household owns 3 cars.
  • A fee for a third permit has only been applied to those households within the bus only(Bentleigh East) precinct.
  • Approximately 18.4 per cent of residents in Glen Eira are aged over 60 years.Therefore, a concession rate has been applied across 18.4 per cent of households.

As a result of these statements, we can reasonably ask:

  • On what basis can the assumption be made that one car will be parked ‘off-street’ – especially since there is no correlation with where these residents live, nor how many of these permit holders do in fact have off street parking available?
  • Why conflate the NUMBER of residents over 60 in the municipality with the number of households? Surely there must be 60+ residents who live together and not in single member households?
  • Is this simply a ploy to assure ratepayers that council is not gouging more and more from our pockets when we are told that revenue will only amount to $149,099 per annum? And even this amount is likely to be less because council goes on to state: However, due to the introduction of a fee, it is expected that a portion of the community will change their parking behaviour (including utilising off-street parking such as driveways and garages, or parking in unrestricted areas). This has been estimated at 30 per cent. When applying this behaviour change reduction, the total amount raised from permit charges is estimated at $104,369 per year. No explanation has been given as to why there is this assumption of 30%. Nor are we told anything about the likely lack of parking in the proposed ‘unrestricted areas’ if these streets become the only option for parking.

There are literally countless assumptions made throughout the report. To comment on all of them would require many more pages. The bottom line is that residents deserve better. Survey questions need to be precise, unambiguous, and clearly related to unearthing data that is valid, relevant, and consistent.

Until this council learns to produce genuine consultation, and to produce reports and analyses that actually tells the real story, residents of Glen Eira can have no confidence whatsoever in any consultation that this council undertakes. More to the point, they can have no confidence that their voices are being listened to.

Council’s ability to deliver real community benefit on its financial arrangements keeps cropping up. The latest example is the agreement with the National Trust for a 3 year lease that will allow Glen Eira residents access to the Ripponlea gardens for free. No doubt a very worthwhile idea. But at what cost? And why is it that other councils can achieve the same outcome but at a cost of 5 times less? Who negotiated this deal?

The following screen dumps compare what Port Phillip managed to achieve for its residents at the cost of a maximum of $50,000 per annum and good ol’ Glen Eira is paying $250,000 for exactly the same thing!!!!

The Glen Eira resolution:

Now for the Port Phillip agreement:

History tells us that this council is woeful in negotiating anything. A $25 million loan was ‘negotiated’ at a fixed 8.4% for 25 years. To ‘renegotiate’ for a lower rate it cost ratepayers quite a tidy little sum. Of course we mustn’t forget the pathetic 4% and 5% that the Caulfield Village (MRC) development is paying for something approaching 2,500 dwellings. Every major project that this council has undertaken has resulted in time delays, over budget, and countless court cases. It is a history of poor financial management and poor decision making.