Some Redland City Councillors recently voted to restructure portfolio responsibilities. Instead of each councillor being involved in some aspect of the Council’s administration, we now have a system where only a few have portfolios.
The public interest
This is a significant and fundamental change to the governance of our Council. There was no public input, no explanation of the benefits and the result has diminished the roles of 40% of the elected councillors. The note to the Council meeting made a passing reference to “greater efficiency” although no measures, no evidence and no precedence were cited.
Major changes to policy and governance arrangements are issues of public interest. The changes to the portfolio arrangements, the surrender of the community’s planning powers (in calling for the Priority Development Areas) and even the changes to the Council meeting times are examples where this Council has acted in a high handed and unilateral manner, not in the public interest.
The limited discussion about such crucial issues calls into question the motives and ethics of the Councillors voting for these changes. In this latest instance, the councillors who voted for this system were for the most part the ones that ended up with portfolio roles. This raises some important questions:
- Do we have the most capable and experienced councillors managing Council activities?
- Will all councillors really have access to information about what is going on in some of the less well lit corridors of the Council’s offices, like the places where important planning and development decisions are made?
- What “backroom” deals were done and promises made before the voting to implement the new portfolio arrangement and allocate portfolios?
- How does the new structure deliver on the Vision Outcome for “Inclusive and Ethical Governance” established by “our” community in the Redlands 2030 Community Plan?
- Where is the assessment of the “public interest” and how do the changes ensure a test of ”public interest” is applied to all decisions when there are now so many elected representatives who sit “outside the tent”?
City Plan 2015
Redland City is currently preparing a new planning scheme, City Plan 2015, which will decide what can happen next door to each and every one of us.
A recent Land Supply Review states that there is enough land already zoned to hold the likely population growth “target” set by the State. But it appears that some councillors are keen to allow extensive land development in areas that are outside the City’s current urban footprint. This is regardless of the City’s land supply needs and principles set out in the Community Plan.
To ensure that the City Plan 2015 receives a social licence, all councillors must be given full access to all information being used to prepare the new plan.
City budget and financial situation
The Council is now budgeting an $11.5 million operational deficit for 2014/15 and shows no capacity to grapple with the challenge of matching expenses to revenue. This was demonstrated at the last Council meeting when a majority of councillors voted to add a Community Events Officer to the payroll at a cost of $100,000 per year without any business case being put forward.
Forecasts for future years are likely to blow out when the Mayor’s “optimistic” assumptions of efficiency savings are found wanting. The City lacks a clear and agreed strategy for setting rates with many areas claiming that they are being treated unfairly.
A way forward
Redland City needs to undertake a thorough review of its finances in order to match revenue and expenses over the long term. This is a project that will require high level leadership and commitment.
We now have some experienced and capable councillors who have just been freed up from portfolio responsibilities, like Crs Boglary and Ogilvie. Appointing them to lead a Financial Strategy Task Force should be implemented by Council without delay.