At Tuesday night’s council meeting, residents gained further insight into the ills of Glen Eira Council. Please listen carefully to the following which occurred during item 8.3 on an application for a 4 storey development in a local centre.

Not for the first time are we informed that:

  • Councillors are not provided with enough time to thoroughly digest and analyse information fundamental to their decision making. Hardly surprising when some agendas are well over 1000 pages!
  • It’s also been made clear by some councillors that they have not been provided with important consultant documents prior to making major decisions. Or, if these documents are available, then they are provided at short notice. Hence we argue that this is anything but informed decision making.
  • When it is the CEO who sets the agenda with mayoral ‘consultation’ and there is no genuine notice of motion option in Glen Eira, then we are on a hiding to nothing.
  • The fact that councillors had to ask for all community consultation feedback on the housing strategy, rather than simply the ‘summary’, shows how little information is provided to them as a matter of course. And in response to a public question on Tuesday night, this practice of withholding the raw data is set to continue.

So what does all this mean? Put simply, we have a major problem in local government. Yes, some councillors have been found to be corrupt, and yes, some are bullies, or simply using local councils as stepping stones to far more lucrative careers in parliament. But what of bureaucrats? Who can pull them into line when every aspect of the Local Government Act practically empowers them to act with impunity? As managers and directors, all senior staff are beholden to the CEO for their (continued) contracts and ongoing employment. Councillors have no say in this and nor are they privy to their annual reviews or their Key Performance Indicators. That remains solely in the CEO’s domain. This breeds compliance and cow towing – especially when salaries are in the $230,000+ range.

Admittedly councillors have the right to sack CEO’s – but this can become a very expensive business and invite plenty of negative publicity and more investigations that could reveal other skeletons in the closet.

We have said on numerous occasions that councillors in general are regarded as a necessary evil at worst and as unnecessary appendages at best. Their ideal role is to merely rubber stamp whatever the administrators put before them. In theory, they are supposed to provide oversight; to analyse, question, and be provided with enough information so that their decision making is beyond question. Most importantly, they are meant to work in the interests of the community and to listen to resident views. This is impossible when they are denied access to timely information, or when they are so overloaded that it becomes impossible to do their jobs satisfactorily. We would love to know how many of these councillors even bother to read the hundreds upon hundreds of pages each week or simply rely on the reports from officers.

One article in yesterday’s  Age has officers calling for more constraints to be placed on councillors. In turn, some councillors are seeing this as an attempt to further emasculate councillors and to ensure that all become nothing more than ‘lemmings’ following the lead of the bureaucracy. (See: ). Which ultimately leads to the question – do we need councillors and do we even need local government when real power is vested in officers and not our community representatives?