Fewer Councillors or better local government?

Off with their heads

Off with their heads

Is reducing the number of councillors the highest priority in improving local government in Redland City.

It seems that the Mayor and her faction are set on cutting elected representatives from ten to eight or possibly six. Redlands2030 has already commented on this issue in two earlier posts:

Musical chairs at Redland City Council

Eight divisions for Redlands Council?

But would residents and ratepayers be better served by other changes to the way our local council operates? Here are a few different local council “models” for consideration and discussion.

A City-wide “division”

This model accepts that all Councillors should be involved in the “big” issues. The parochialism of divisions may not serve the “big issues” well. Last year at least one Councillor made a critical decision that was essentially at odds with his election stance but it impacted directly on other divisions. In spite of his pre-election commitments he proudly asserted his decision was on the basis it didn’t affect his own division. Such short term and parochial processes should be exposed and then eliminated.

At present, the only “whole-of-city” representative on Council is the Mayor. This necessarily limits the skill, ability and experience available to determine “whole-of-city” issues. Yet by definition, a decision of the Council is a whole of city decision. Divisional parochialism has real problems, although representatives also have a community they can “get to know”.

Multi-Councillor divisions

This model would help sustain different points of view at both the divisional level and at council as a whole. How about 4-5 divisions each of two Councillors? This approach might ensure that a broader range of people and views are brought into the decision making. Such an approach also helps counter the influence of campaigns that are funded by sectoral interests. It also brings competing ideas and contestability into policy making…often touted as the strengths of our market economy.  In the same way, contestability of ideas is a strength of democracy.

The Mayor is elected from and by the Councillors

This approach brings the leadership role and negotiation skills of a Mayor to the fore. The move (in Queensland) to directly elect Mayors is a fairly recent trend.  The approach is fundamentally at odds with the Westminster system whereby the parliamentary leader is elected by members of the government.  The benefits of directly electing a mayor could be questioned.

In recent elections across Queensland the costs associated with a popularly elected Mayor has put paid to candidates other than those with personal means or those with well resourced backers.  A proper evaluation could question the costs and implications of campaigning for office under the current direct mayoral election model.

Multi-Councillor divisions who then elect the Mayor

This model combines both of the above.

Part time Councillors

Queensland’s move to full time Councillors (and Mayor) has had mixed results and has possibly seen professional and business people vacate the “field” of local government. While some Councillors appear to work hard to advance the interests of their constituents, others do not seem so intent on delivering “value for money”. Having full time Councillors is not a model well entrenched across local governments in Australia. It is reasonable to question if a return to part-time councillors, and perhaps mayor, might be better for the city’s residents and ratepayers.

When discussed on Radio 612 ABC the comments by Cr Alan Beard – Deputy Mayor, Councillor for Division 8 were enlightening.  He said words to the effect  ” I have been here for 15 years now and the role of Councillor has significantly changed in that time. Much of the role of the Councillor has been delegated to officers at senior management level. The amount of hours required to do the role have probably significantly reduced and the evidence would suggest at the moment that we are probably over represented.” 

It is reasonable to ask whether the goal of cost savings should be made through the reduction in Councillor remuneration commensurate with the “significantly reduced hours” as asserted by Cr Beard. Referring to the Councillor Remuneration for 2013-14 as reported in the Annual Report the direct savings resulting from a reduction of two Councillors would be about $220,000 per annum. This same saving could be achieved by reducing the remuneration paid to the Mayor and 10 Councillors by about 16%.

The right number in a team for good decisions

Questions about how democracy works at the local government level needs to go beyond a singular debate about number of divisions and the number of Councillors.

A greater concern than the number of Councillors is the number of “heads” needed for “good” decision making, AND in addition, ensuring decisions are made in the public interest.  There are various forms of research which point to a number (7-8 being cited by some).  Others point to the skill of the decision makers rather than the number.  In our Council there is also the need to accommodate leave of absences, conflicts of interest and even those “nice” people who get elected but don’t speak.  Given the risk to decision making the existing structure is familiar to most people and one might ask”if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Community views?

Of concern in the current debate is the assumption that cost alone should drive a decision to reduce the number of Councillors.

Redland City’s current Council has progressively reduced the number and times that Council Meetings are open to the public.  The hours under public scrutiny were drastically reduced since it took office. During 2014 the current Williams Council held about two meetings per month with slightly less than 3 hours of proceedings open to the Community. This compares poorly with the typically 7 to 10 meetings and about 10 hours of proceedings open to the public per month over the period of the Santagiuliana, Seccombe and Hobson Councils. It appears Councillors now have little need to properly prepare for meetings as discussion of Council business is carried out behind closed doors.  A variety of views in those meetings seems an imperative given the current reduced levels of public scrutiny.

When covering this story the Redland City Bulletin reported “it is still unknown if axing divisions or cutting the number of councillors will be put up for community consideration”.  It is hard to contemplate a decision that is so close to the core of representative democracy than the number of its representatives. To have such a critical decision made by the current Council or by executive fiat ……without any community input….. is considered an attack on democracy.

Improving governance is not just a numbers game! Community consultation should be mandatory!

There are many options by which communities select or elect local representatives and these should be canvassed as a means of improving our democratic processes, improving representation AND looking at efficiency targets.  The challenge should be about a group that makes decisions that are:  more productive, more accurate, high-quality solutions,  faster, more effective, more  efficient, etc.

Our Council’s staff,  should test all options in any report to Council on the broader issues and encourage community discussion and input…before a final decision is made.

Future Redlands2030 posts will examine issues and options that could be considered as a means of helping make the Redlands a leader in renewing democracy and our democratic institutions. Any suggestions for a better political structure (with citations, if possible) would be welcomed by sending suggestions to: thereporter@redlands2030.net

COMMUNITY ACTION: If you are concerned about your Council’s decision making processes, its transparency, or accountability – then tell them. Email/phone/txt your representative Councillor and/or the Mayor. See contact details on Redlands2030 Council Contacts page.



Please note: Offensive or off-topic comments will be deleted. If offended by any published comment please email thereporter@redlands2030.net

5 thoughts on “Fewer Councillors or better local government?

  1. Mayor Karen Williams is talking rubbish when she says that the boundary changes and the number of divisions is up to the state government. The Council makes the recommendations and they go to the State Government. It’s so obvious that the Mayor is planning to change the divisions to suit herself, along with the developers who support her. With one fell swoop she can get rid of a truly independent Councillor, either Cr. Wendy Boglary or Cr. Paul Bishop, two who really care about their own constituents and the whole of The Redlands.

  2. Interesting thoughts.
    On the issue of a Councillor elected by the whole of the community, this would make it very difficult for the average independent person to run a campaign financially. The cost of a Mayoral campaign would be about $80,000 – $90,000, this comes from either funds from the development industry and people with a wish to have fulfilled or from a personal bank account, which many don’t have the money to risk. That cost would have to be spent by all Candidates if they ran for the whole of the city
    A councillor campaign would be about $8000-$9000, the only ones prepared to run for the whole of the city would be very cashed up, as an example Tweed Council had Councillors for the whole of the City and the Council was sacked a few years ago due to corruption, as the team elected were funded by the development industry and they spent up big against the Independent candidates most who were unsuccessful.
    Divisions represented by two Councillors were in place in Maroochydore a few years ago and a few Councillors informed me that on many occasions one Councillor worked very hard the the other was very slack, so for four years one Councillor in some Divisions rode the gravy train. At least if there is one Councillor per division there is more accountability

    Mayor elected by the councillors, this is similar to a team funded by developers and they just elect a like minded person, same result.

    Comments by Alan Beard are not surprising, to think any Councillor would delegate Senior management to make decisions for their community is shameful.. That Councillor cant even work out that he has been there for 13 and half years not 15 is interesting but dont think he did any more work back then than he does now..

    Before this term of Council, there were a number of committee meetings held during the month, where staff would give a detailed explanation of reports and recommendations, the community was given the opportunity to attend and listen to discussion, much debate was had and a General meeting was held to finally approve the committee reports. Now meeting held behind closed doors, and the General is nothing more than a tick and flick. A good example was regarding the “Error of Capalaba” opps Era at 401 Redland Bay Road, where a developer requested a huge discount, sounds like a decision was done behind close doors and when the General was held, some rolled over and voted against the decision, how the community became aware, was when Cr Talty said “but that wasnt what we decided on” and she was left egg on her face
    Public consultation should be a requirement on this issue, all the facts on the table, if not, the community will be again left with another poor outcome

  3. I think the Councillors are finding it difficult enough to remember what their stance on election promises were and I’m not sure they’re doing an outstanding job for their electorates either. How is this going to be improved by increasing the electoral area and decreasing the number of Councillors? We definitely need to keep the number of Councillors the same, but I think we should try to find some honest community members who have their heads screwed on correctly, who are able to know what their beliefs are and who are able to take on board the thoughts and wishes of their constituents and act on these in the best interests of the majority of the community members. I mean, none of us are stupid enough to expect that every community member is going to be 100% happy with decisions made. Maybe this is where more communication, more interaction with the constituents comes in, so THE BEST POSSIBLE DECISIONS FOR THE MAJORITY CAN BE MADE.

    It’s 2015. Isn’t it time that we were able to use the words `Councillor/Politician’ and `honest’ in the same sentence? I pray for the day when someone is elected who works tirelessly to uphold their electoral promises, who is able to continue to fight for what they believe, but who is also flexible enough to be able to see new information, and learn within their role and make more informed decisions. Why is this so difficult? There must be someone within the Redlands who has these characteristics? Here’s a thought…. wouldn’t it be refreshing to see candidates with electoral promises that are achievable and realistic – not just hollow words that they know are going to get them elected. Electoral promises of contacting each and every constituent, who wants to be contacted. The promise to raise issues with the community and to speak often and regularly with them, so the Councillor is aware of the approach he/she is required to take in order to represent the people he/she has been elected to represent. Regular, honest emails should be sent that not only highlight the achievements, but also the issues the Councillor is having difficulty with. I’m fed up with receiving emails or flyers that only show the achievements (and I use the word `achievements’ loosely) or worse still that `bag’ the other person/political party. Community members of the Redlands are smart people – we understand that every political party/Councillor puts their own spin on things in order to be able to present a positive façade. But quite frankly I would prefer honesty – the good, the bad and the ugly; life isn’t all roses you know! Food for thought. I hope someone takes the time to think about these points raised.

  4. Frankly I’m not surprised Our mayor god bless her basic incompetence at taking the people with her. She is only follower her first Conservative mentor’s attitude… Don Secombe ( the most provably the divisive mayor since before Eddie Santaguiliana), that its better to ask forgiveness than for permission and better again to not to ask for forgiveness either.
    It is fact that before him the cost of running and therefore ability of a truly representative average genuine councillor to be elected ceased. Now the councillor need deep pocket donors that simply mean that businesses particularly developers have a greater default influence. When was the last time You rang the mayor on something important to you and your community got through? Under Eddie I actually spoke to him on issues that affected the then Shire 3 times. One time He even organized for me to view records under FOI.
    Make no bones I didn’t often agree with him and he knew it.
    My point is that this mayor is all about her power and her view of what is good for us. Perhaps it’s her school ma’am training or simply her ego ( i.e. her once most important achievement a Country singing tour of NZ), need for the limelight. What ever it is I’d suggest this move to less councillors is more to enable her control over the reigns of power… easier to stack the council with like minded development happy councillor who also need the largess of developers and businesses ( who coincidently don’t have a vote…. I wonder why that was enshrined hmm)
    In the light of the article in the media today on the nearness of consequences of ACC (less than 15 years away), one clearly has to ask how plugged into the medium/long term best interest of the ratepayers? In my comments on the article of his striking out on Mr Robinson . The same imminent issues face the Redland more so because it is a bay side city. What is done is done but should we really commit our rates to the inevitable problems this mayor and the proposed stream lining will accelerate and amplify.
    Regardless of who is mayor and I hope not her shrinking the council representatives’ numbers is false efficiency and reduces democracy, for the reason of an unchecked regime like hers ( as I’ve shown) will cost Us the ratepayers more in the long run.

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