Maranoa Regional Council.
Maranoa Regional Council.

MINORITY: Ratepayers deserve open and honest councillors

The minority of Maranoa councillors have reminded their colleagues that it was only a short time ago they campaigned on being ‘open and transparent’ and pleaded with them to ensure they’re being honest during discussion of the organisation’s estimated million-dollar restructure.

Despite mayor Tyson Golder labelling it a “historic day” for the Maranoa as his proposed restructure was passed by majority of councillors at the meeting on Wednesday, March 24, three councillors ensured their voices were heard right up until the last minute.

Councillors Cameron O’Neil, Joh Hancock and Wendy Taylor remained unconvinced of the mayor’s proposal since it was drafted in mid-2020, proposing various amendments including the budget figure and officer’s recommendation be provided to the public, saying it will ensure councillors are being “open and transparent” with the residents that elected them.

Cost of restructure will not be disclosed to the public:

Councillor Hancock noted the figure of the restructure had been shared around the council table and ratepayers deserved to know, pushing for an amendment to reveal the cost.

“I just would think the ratepayers deserve to know what we know, what the budget figure is for this or structure,” Cr Hancock said.

“That’s actually being open and transparent, and it’s really important when we are making a big decision and when it’s a lot of money for the ratepayers that a budget is actually in the resolution.”

Cr O’Neil questioned councillors if they truly believed the cost of the restructure was not significant, then why wouldn’t they want it shared with the community.

“There are councillors here and candidates who were not successful at the last election, who campaigned solely on having an open and transparent decision to council. Now, here is an example how we can illustrate to the community the warts and all,” Cr O’Neil said.

“I know there will be questions councillors are asked down the street and mayor if you’re right it’s going to cost next to nothing well let’s share that, but if it’s not we should open and transparent and be accountable to the ratepayers who put us here … because at the end of the day we are dealing with other people’s money.

“So, I wholeheartedly support the amendment.”

Voting against Cr Hancock’s amendment, the mayor said the restructure won’t incur a significant cost and money will be saved in other areas.

“I totally disagree, obviously this motion put down … that this change will be funded, fully funded in this budget,” he said.

“I also disagree that it will cost a large amount of money, actually I think it will cost a small amount of money which we have a lot of vacant positions that we fund anyway in the council budget each year … but when looking to $80-100 million budget, the savings can be made by looking at what we do which far outweighs the difference between vacant positions and utilising this and it’s really about efficient service delivery that we will be focusing on.”

Understanding the figure will be released to the public in the budget, Cr Hancock asked why council would not just opt to release the figure now as they know the approximate amount.

“Once again, I understand you are going to tell people the budget and that it will include this, but we have been given a figure right now … you are about to adopt an organisational structure that will cost the ratepayer money,” Cr Hancock said.

“And we know what the approximate figure is, and I think that in the same resolution when adopting a structure, it is open and transparent and to include the estimated annual cost of what it will be to ratepayer, that’s why I believe to be open and transparent we should have the figure of the organisational structure.”

In favour of Cr Hancock’s amendment was Crs O’Neil and Wendy Taylor.

It was voted down by Crs Golder, Geoff McMullen, Guthrie, Mark Edwards, John Birkett and George Ladbrook.

To allow the public to hear executive feedback:

Further, councillor Hancock attempted to provide the officer’s recommendation to the public, however it was also shut down by the same six councillors.

“Once again a lot of work put into the report by officers and I just think for open and transparency that it would benefit to put into open agenda, to have an open and honest debate,” Cr Hancock said.

Supporting Cr Hancock, Cr O’Neil asked the mayor if there’s nothing to hide, why doesn’t council elect to include the officer’s recommendation.

“ … the people who are interested in this can see that we are being open and transparent … there’s nothing to hide but if this is not supported to be included, then people will assume there’s something to hide and that’s just wrong, so why not support putting this out into the community and allow people to see the information that has been presented to us in making this decision…,” Cr O’Neil said.

The mayor said there’s already a clear indication on where councillors lie on this topic so there’s no need to include the officer’s recommendation in an open agenda.

“I certainly believe we have done an enormous and thorough process, consulting and getting information out there, there’s a clear direction of council at the last meeting what we decided so I do believe depending on what happens on this motion that’s up, all the information is here what council has moved from previous meetings,” Cr Golder said.

Councillor Hancock’s amendment was voted against by Crs Golder, McMullen, Ladbrook, Edwards, Birkett and Guthrie.

To understand what each councillor thought on each topic of the restructure:

In her last attempt to make a difference, Cr Hancock requested councillors be able to vote on each of the eight points individually.

However, Cr Golder said councillors would not vote on each motion individually.

An idea to cut costs for the ratepayer:

In order to save ratepayers money, Cr O’Neil moved that council consider merging two director roles into one, for a trial period, saying there’s similarities between to the two.

“There are some real synergies between what the Director for Roma will undertake … and the Director for Regional Development and Lifestyle … I’m not suggesting this is set in stone and we trial it and then it comes back to council for further consideration,” he said.

“I think it’s upon us … for those to wish to support the proposal by the mayor and ensure we are mindful we are spending other people’s money, yes we are ratepayers but we are the custodians of other people’s money.”

He questioned the mayor of what would be lost if they just trailed this idea.

“If we need to recruit for two separate positions, but there’s opportunity to show some flexibility, rather than simply adopt what was proposed 12-months ago,” Cr O’Neil said.

To keep the ball rolling, the mayor said this would be a backwards step at this point in time.

Councillor O’Neil’s motion was voted against by Crs Golder, McMullen, Edwards, Guthrie, Birkett and Ladbrook, but voted in favour by Crs Hancock and Taylor.

Lack of consideration of staff and community feedback:

Councillors Hancock and Taylor both noted that between the draft proposal of the restructure to now, there has been very few amendments despite negative staff and community feedback.

“I am disappointed this resolution has had no change from the very first draft the mayor presented all those months ago, and after all the community, staff feedback; reports we have read and there was a lot of them, surely you would have thought there would have been some tweaks, changes, surely it wasn’t just perfect and with a lot of people’s perspectives and things change,” Cr Hancock said.

“I think there needs to be changes and support locals, but I don’t think there needs to be eight directors, more than Brisbane City Council, to the cost of the ratepayers … I think councillors are spending a substantial amount of money to make it top-heavy, rather than fix the issues at hand.”

Similarly, Cr Taylor said the proposed restructure from the mayor has come in the same way it’s going out, with little changes.

“I have nothing new to say about this and I honestly still don’t understand how it come to the table and it has not been debated or discussed or simply a conversation with the nine elected members in the chamber,” Cr Taylor said.

“It’s come as a major proposal and goes out the same way it came in.

“I cannot understand also that the five new directors will not have to necessarily live in the town that they are directing, I know you cannot make that a condition of employment, just don’t know how you get local out of someone who pay only visit the town twice a week.

“Of course, the other concern is can we afford it … I have no idea and I’m going to say none of my other fellow councillors can answer that either.

“I just need someone to know that I think it is wrong that I as an elected member to have a voice around this table, no one is asking for my opinion on something that I think could have turned into something far better with the input from all around this table. Just think it’s sad the only time I am listened to is when I object about the lack of conversation, discussion, debate … I just want to be a part of responsible decision making.”

Cr O’Neil said he was “bitterly disappointed” that no feedback was seriously considered.

“This is the most extensive consultation I’ve witnessed since first elected in 2012 … the community feedback, staff feedback, which is really an important step, to understand the people who feel passionate enough to put pen to paper or behind a keyboard – whether staff or community members, I have taken on board what they had to say and I’m bitterly disappointed none of that feedback has been incorporated in moulding an organisational structure,” Cr O’Neil said.

“The community just simply want a council that delivers those services but doesn’t need to cost more dollars.

“But sadly, none of the feedback has been seriously considered. And there’s no other way that it can be spun, because the organisational structure before us, is the same structure presented to council some nearly 12-months ago.

“I would have liked to see the opportunity at the pointy end, we as an elected team could have worked together on the final look of the organisational structure.

“There’s been no opportunity to flesh and mould to have an unanimous vote within the council table and by the looks of it, it will be another 6-2 vote.

“If this organisational structure, which I have no doubt it will today, there’s been no community feedback listened to, nor staff and quite frankly councillors may have a different perspective to provide, none of that has been listened to and where we started 12-months ago is where we finished.”

In the mayor’s final speech, he said he found it offensive that councillors said they were not being listened to.

“We have spent an enormous amount of hours listening to, I think it’s rubbish to say no other things were considered, just because you don’t have what you put as what was adopted, does not mean that you are not listened to and I have taken all the staff feedback very, very seriously … but each of us councillors which have a vote, do it in the best interest of the local government, it’s not a popularity contest, it’s not doing what you would like done, it’s about what the people want,” Cr Golder said.

The move forward with council’s organisational structure was carried six votes to three.

In support of the mayor’s motion was Crs McMullen, Birkett, Ladbrook, Guthrie and Edwards, with Crs Taylor, Hancock and O’Neil in opposition.

You can view the councillors discussing the restructure HERE:

They begin the discussion at 1:34, then continue at 2:44:46.

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