An interesting discussion about what information has been made to Councillors in regards to proposals that are massive infrastructure project has been occurring via local social media sites over the past 48 hours.
By The Editor
In a Coffs Coast Independent News (CCIN) Facebook discussion thread Cr Tegan Swan was asked; “have Councillors read copies of the contracts that have been drawn up between Council and the architect BVN Architects and Lipman Constructions ?
As I have read your extensive analyses, I would have thought that the contracts that Councillors have voted on to accept would have been made available for their scrutiny and assessment?”
This is the reply from Cr Swan;
“We don’t ever get to see the contracts or actual tenders.
It was only after a lot of requests we got to see the majority of the airport documents.
I can understand the rationale behind not always giving us everything as it is an overwhelming amount of information and we do have council staff and outside consultants who provide summaries and reports for us.
I personally believe though that we need to have access to it all along with the summaries and reports. If we read them and feel comfortable with that… happy days but if we want to understand or look further at something then we should be able to access all of the associated documents.
In reality it all comes back on us in the end if it goes wrong.
I don’t ever feel comfortable approving things I haven’t seen fully but previously I’ve just accepted that’s the way it’s done. I’m now questioning that more and more.
Unfortunately I was informed in no uncertain terms on Thursday night that my questioning and introducing outside information was undermining council and questioning staff professionalism. (CCO emphasis added)
This was devastating to me as I am only trying to do my job to the best of my ability with all available information I can find and compare. Originally I thought it was maybe a bit of an ego or culture thing but with the anomalies I’ve found even more of over the weekend I’m concerned it’s something bigger than that now.
I feel sick about it all really.
I think it’s definitely time for some changes and I’m just going to have to live with the resistance and push back I get when I have tried previously to suggest different ways. It’s frustrating because I’m made to feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about or I’m being unreasonable. It’s on me though for believing that to be true even when it doesn’t feel right to me.”
Here we see the mind set and culture of our paid employees, the senior Council Executive, laid bare.
Namely a culture and mind-set that appears to be secretive, bordering on paranoid and is afraid of accountability. All of which appear from the alleged comment above to be aligned to what can only reasonably be seen as a form of bullying.
The following comments from the same CCIN Facebook thread pick up on this;
Rob Trezise: “This is an intolerable state of affairs for you or any other Councillor to be put in. At times it must seem as if you are only there to rubber stamp whatever the Executive puts in front of you. And if you baulk, you run the risk of a citation for a breach of the Code of Conduct. As an elected Councillor chosen by the community to represent the community’s interests you should not have to be subject to such treatment by what amounts to a Council employee, unelected who has inside knowledge to matters that Councillors don’t. It would appear on the surface to us it is a case of the “tail wagging the dog”
Gabrielle Brabander: “Tegan Swan seems to me you are simply following due diligence with regards your commitment to community. This is not about trying to undermine anyone, it is about a massive infrastructure project that has generated significant debate and public interest. Information is empowering not something to fear. Keep asking the questions.”
Martin Pundyk: “Tegan Swan please never doubt yourself in this. This is exactly what you have been elected to do. ….represent the Ratepayers. The dressing down you apparently received is bullying pure and simple. We are all impressed and grateful for your personal application and research on this as it mirrors what has been going on in the community but unlike you we have little influence on things. You have the communities’ support. Stand strong.”
Peter Watt: “Tegan Swan you are right to question and query information it is your responsibility. If that means you are testing the staff professionalism then so be it. They are not the ones who ultimately are held responsible. Good work Tegan.”
The accusation allegedly made to Cr Swan that “questioning and introducing outside information was undermining council and questioning staff professionalism” is both absurd and arguably is a form of bullying.
Heads of Government Departments and their senior advisers at both Federal and State level are regularly called upon to front up to Senate and Upper House Estimates Committees where they can expect to be rigorously questioned for sometimes half a working day or more at a time.
Yet apparently our highly paid senior council executives, some of whom are on $200k upwards per annum, are not capable of handling some new information and issues raised by an elected representative at a Council meeting? Really! So why are they getting paid the big bucks then?
As I commented myself on the thread; “Poor things. I wonder how they would go as witnesses in cross examination in court?”
As President Harry S Truman once said; “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”.
This endless need to hide mountains of information behind “commercial in confidence” and similar obscures whether broad managerial best practice such as scenario building, SWOT analysis and in depth due diligence has been done by those who have a fiduciary duty to manage the ratepayers money.
Here is why questions need to be asked and new information considered
A recent example we highlighted was the calculations used and presented to Councillors to analyse the cost of interest on loans for the proposed CCS in Gordon Street.
We understand the analysis may have been done solely on the basis that TCorp would loan to the CHCC for the whole building at 2.36% for 30 years.
We argued such a scenario appeared very optimistic given interest rate trends over the previous 30 years. See; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/can-councils-ccs-interest-rate-estimate-be-believed/
And lo and behold look what was reported ton he very same day we were writing our article;
“Financial markets are challenging the Reserve Bank of Australia’s interest rate guidance, pricing in the first post-COVID-19 rate rise late next year – about two years ahead of the RBA’s expectations.
The roll out of vaccines, high mining commodity prices and a more than $2 trillion spending stimulus planned by US President Joe Biden are fuelling more optimistic economic sentiment.”
See the full story at The Australian Financial Review here; https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/interest-rate-rise-bets-for-2022-spook-market-20210223-p574zo
This is why assumptions must be questioned, new information considered and questions asked. Not to do so would be failing one’s duty to ratepayers.
Cr Swan 1 – CHCC Executive 0