Dear Bass Coast Post readers
I thought it was important to provide a personal insight into my first two years in office and to outline a blueprint for the future of Bass Coast Shire Council.
Clearly, any new council has the right to undertake a review of all services which the Shire provides to ensure all reasonable requests and policies of the councillors are taken into consideration in the way the council operates moving forward. The right to review includes financial management and annual, long term and strategic plans. Council has the right (and responsibility) to set the annual budget and determine each year what the level of rate increase will be.
That said, it is important to understand the obligations, role and responsibilities of councillors and what demarcation exists regarding rights and responsibilities of the CEO as set out in the Local Government Act and the rights and responsibilities of the council.
It should be expected and understood that any incoming council would have many expectations, policies and requirements which may differ from the outgoing council. It is also reasonable for councillors to claim they have a mandate where particular policies were announced and were in the public domain prior to the election.
Without doubt, any CEO would understand this and should be expected to respond positively to any reasonable request made by the new council. Where there are clearly defined demarcations under the Act between the powers and responsibilities of the CEO and the council then of course these cannot nor should be expected to be breached.
I fully support councillors meeting in camera between themselves and deciding changes, policies and plans both long and short term they wish to have implemented.
Early in the term, I envisaged this list would necessarily not be exhaustive in the first instance. In the annual and long term council and strategic plans, all policies would be more thoroughly addressed.
Once councillors have decided on their immediate and other desired outcomes it is important for councillors to meet with the CEO to outline and explain the decisions and policies councillors have decided they would like to see immediately implemented. It will soon become apparent if the CEO has the preparedness to work with the new council to implement the requests.
In the short term, the new council could seek to have a full review of the functions, operation and policies which are currently in place. A review involving benchmarking (utilising the Victorian Auditor General’s latest Report on Local Councils) would be both instructive and a good starting point.
Time will not permit me to be exhaustive, but of course the reason a council exists is to service the needs of the community, including ratepayers and residents, in an effective and efficient way, and this fundamental is so often overlooked. The best interests of these stakeholders should always be at the forefront in the decision making processes and this includes being mindful of costs at all times.
Once the governance framework has been decided and councillors decide what the role and operation of the council is to be, all decision making processes and plans should respond to these requirements.
In short, the council should review its entire operation to identify what roles it presently carries out, what roles are needed, do they meet community needs and are they carried out in an efficient and cost effective way. Some services may be scrapped or modified and possibly some new services introduced.
Similarly, a complete review of the proposed capital expenditure program is necessary. Clearly, maintenance and renewal of infrastructure are vital areas and should attract high priority funding levels.
In deciding the needs, items which usually gain priority include the identified needs of the community, customer service, governance, transparency, finance, employee costs and a policy to establish the rating strategy and level of rate increases possibly aligned to CPI or the State Government mandated rate cap or somewhere in between.
Once fundamental requirements and priorities are established, the entire organisation and how it operates should be reviewed. It may be that current employee costs are high and have not been adequately controlled. The level of debt, finance, governance, procurement of consultants and contractors, assets, quality and risk, IT, marketing and communications, transparency, customer satisfaction and a zero tolerance policy for wrong doing are all areas that require focus.
It is also important to obtain briefings from:
- Chair of Audit Committee without CEO or other council staff present
- CEO to be given the opportunity to give a frank briefing (without other council staff present) on the key areas, including an outline of any shortfalls in the budget area and overall financial sustainability.
As the council is one of the three largest public enterprises in Bass Coast (along with health and education) it is vital that it operates efficiently. If it is transparent in its dealings (within reasonable parameters) and treats its customers with respect and provides good service then community satisfaction should lift accordingly.
In meeting with the CEO to hopefully establish a professional relationship to achieve the council’s needs and objectives, he/she should be asked to come back within an expeditious time frame with proposals for implementation.
My final comment is that it is vital to win the hearts and minds of the majority of the people, acknowledging that we will never win them all. In this regard, excellent communication and engagement is essential, and it is important to clearly communicate all good proposals and decisions to the community on an ongoing basis, and in a way that people understand and hopefully, by a large majority, support.
I look forward to working with council’s new CEO to start afresh, whilst still recognising the current council’s significant achievements over the past two years.