Bandicoot is delighted, rhapsodic even, to bring you the very good news that community council meetings will continue unchanged, at six per year – one in each ward – for the foreseeable future.
To have terminated them should not even have been contemplated.
Governance supremo Joe Spiteri went all swivel-eyed when questioned about the item and why it had been sprung on councillors with no warning. Councillors are usually well briefed on such matters.
The agenda merely stated that “Council has sought advice on the advantages and disadvantages of Community Council Meetings”. No mention of who, if anyone, had raised the matter (Mr Spiteri said a councillor or two had) or from whom the advice was sought.
Community meetings begin at 5pm with briefings to the public on happenings in the ward, plus other community news, a session that runs until 6. A meal is then served; councillors and voters mingle and chat about issues of concern.
This is democracy at its egalitarian best, the glory of local government. Bandicoot applauds it.
For the record, the vote to retain the meetings-with-a-meal was 6-5, as close as it can be in an 11-councillor chamber.
Debate focussed on the first of three options offered to councillors – to retain the meetings as is. Other options were to continue with the community meetings but serve no community meal, or to abandon them.
The two most passionate contributors to the discussion were Hugh Fraser (for retention of the meetings) and Antonella Celi (against).
Against were Rosie Clark (Briars), Antonella Celi (Seawinds), Frank Martin (Seawinds), Julie Edge (Watson) and Bryan Payne (Nepean).
The last two options were hardly mentioned. The second could not be seriously entertained, since councillors always dine before a council meeting, after pre-meeting discussion.
They are entitled to a meal after an afternoon of briefings, Bandicoot feels. If option 2 had been approved, were they to walk out on their guests, leaving them to twiddle their thumbs during the councillor meal? How rude!
The entire discussion was heavily surreal. The executive and councillors gave the appearance that they were dealing with “their” money, not community funds. Perhaps they are inclined to forget they are custodians, trustees, protectors of the ratepayers’ money.
Cost of the meeting meal was the sole “disadvantage” raised in debate. Bandicoot listened, puzzled, as it was explained that catering for some 100 attendees, including councillors, was about $37 a head, or $3700, per community meeting. Just over $22,000 per year.
Loooxuury! as the Monty Python Yorkshiremen said. Not once in the debate, from any side, did Bandicoot hear mention of where the meal money came from. Not one councillor saw fit to point out that this is rates money – attendees had paid for the meal they would enjoy.
This tiny gesture is just another service the community pays for in its $220 million annual budget, along with road maintenance, libraries and footpaths, pavilions and beach cleaning, sports ground mowing, waste collection … and councillor expenses, also decided at the meeting that night.
Here Bandicoot pauses to inform readers of one councillor expense item. They are reimbursed 89 cents per kilometre for a four-cylinder vehicle and $1.09 per kilometre for a six-cylinder vehicle, driven to attend to council business in their private cars.
A councillor covering, say, 10,000 km a year for four years will be reimbursed $8900 per year over their term, or $35,600. Someone with a bigger engine will get back $10,900 a year, for $43,600 in total.
The Australian Tax Office allows reimbursement of just 66 cents a kilometre for private car use, no matter the engine size. The previous councillors – including Bev Colomb and Antonella Celi – voted against the officer-recommended ATO sum late last year because one councillor wanted more and his vote was needed to get the expenses policy approved.
Bandicoot listened spellbound as Cr Celi (pictured), arguing to end the immensely wasteful practice of feeding the multitude, stated that most people didn’t stay on for the council meeting: they went home after the meal.
For a Seawinds ward councillor, representing some of the neediest folk on the peninsula, this seemed to Bandicoot well up the insensitivity scale, especially in light of last year’s controversy over her alleged $9000-plus expenses overspend.
Cr Sam Hearn, in his contribution to the discussion of “free” meals, told the meeting he volunteers to serve breakfast to needy schoolchildren, at least on Wednesday mornings. He probably won’t thank Bandicoot for reporting this, but it speaks volumes for his commitment to community.
To hungry pensioners who look forward to a “free” meal at the next community council meeting – welcome! Go back for seconds. We remain a compassionate community, by and large.