SORRY KIDS, WE’VE AXED THE PET EXPO

Shire councillors followed a staff recommendation at the 23 May council meeting to “immediately” axe the Peninsula Pet Expo, paving the way for reallocation to other pet-related projects of the $80,000 which shire officers claimed the expo cost in 2015.

The money could go to an education campaign to promote responsible pet awareness, especially cat ownership, and a six-month trial opening of the shire animal shelter on Saturdays with no requirement to book an appointment. Cost: $3000 for labour over the trial period.

An attempt by Cr David Gill to get approval for one more expo this November at a cost of $20,000, with the rest of the $80,000 reallocated to responsible pet ownership programs, lapsed for want of a seconder.

Expo-Pet Expo advertJPGThe item, 3.8 on the agenda, was titled “Discontinuation of Peninsula Pet Expo”. This was clearly not to be an objective “review” or “consideration” of the event’s future. Shire chief executive officer Carl Cowie, who authorised the agenda item, had clearly rolled out the tumbril and run a sharp bastard file across the guillotine blade, confident of councillors’ support.

■ Shire advert for the 2015 pet expo. (Click to enlarge.)

During the ensuing debate, which ran for nearly 45 minutes, the two Nepean ward councillors, Bryan Payne and Hugh Fraser, stringently criticised the process by which the matter had been brought to council and the dearth of documentation that shire staff provided in its report to councillors.

Cr Payne, a former shire CEO, blasted the bypassing of the normal budgetary process. “I’m appalled at the report, that it doesn’t go into [detail of the sort councillors had discussing in the meeting]. Every councillor here has got a different expectation of what the $80,000 is going to be spent on,” he said.

“This makes a mockery of our budgeting system … we’ve got, at the last minute, a new sub-part of the recommendation [a Part B to the motion, which was not dealt with in the officer’s report]. The report lacks detail, and we’re allocating $80,000 – for what?

“I think it lacks propriety.”

Cr Fraser backed Cr Payne’s comments and added: “This is resolution and policy making on the run. This could have been dealt with through the budgetary process.” There had been “absolutely no explanation” why this did not occur, he said.

Through the budget proceedings, Cr Fraser said, the public would have had an opportunity to comment on the proposal “and had their views heard. At the moment we haven’t heard what the community’s views are” on the pet expo, which has been part of the shire’s calendar “for many, many years”.

$80,000 “is a very sizeable sum of money in the community’s expectation and for us to allocate at this meeting tonight that sum of money without any particulars whatsoever … is dereliction of our councillor’s duty.”

Cr Antonella Celi, supporting the motion, added a Part C – “That officers provide to Council a detailed listing of responsible pet ownership awareness and other promotional activities to be undertaken within two weeks of this meeting” – whose ambiguous wording went unchallenged in the confusion then prevailing. The motion was then carried.  

■ Shiver of apprehension as little girl meets snake at Red Hill Show.

expo-snakeShire manager of communications, media and events Mr Mark Kestigian, who brought the report to council, had said alternative ways for the shire to raise awareness about responsible pet ownership included microchipping. Mention was made of this possibly being a free service for cat owners.

The shire case against the expo was supported by the briefest and least detailed report to councillors Bandicoot can recall in nearly a decade of attending council meetings. The “Discussion” section ran to a mere 50 words:

“With decreasing crowd numbers, it was decided in 2011 to change the event from annual to biennial.

“Even with this change, there was not a measurable increase in attendance. During the last event in November 2015, there were less than 2000 attendees, which represented a significant decline from previous years.”

That was followed by an “Issues” section of 53 words:

“The [expo’s] budget has doubled from $40,000 in 2011 to around $80,000 despite declining attendance.

“Furthermore there are limited animal-related entertainers and stall holders available to take part. For the past two events, stallholders were provided with free marquee hire. Without this incentive, a large proportion indicated they would not participate.”

No figures, nor any other evidence, was provided to support these assertions – nothing to back the claims of decreasing crowd numbers (who was responsible for measuring the “decreasing” crowd?) and why the number of animal-related entertainers had shrunk. The recent Red Hill Show appeared not to have a problem finding such entertainers. Reptiles and sheepdogs, and their handlers, abounded.

Lack of any mention of community consultation made clear no such consultation had occurred. Nor was any material provided to demonstrate that the budget had doubled to $80,000 between 2011 and 2015 – a massive rise that surely should have been accompanied by evidence.

As councillors Payne and Fraser had argued, the report offered no precise information on reallocation of the $80,000 or why the figure should remain at $80,000. Neither did it explain why the decision was suddenly rushed to council in May, six months before the expo was due and when the 2017-18 budget is pretty much locked up.

From the paucity of the report it was difficult to conclude anything other than the shire executive is now confident councillors will follow its recommendations without the necessity to provide them with timely, objective and properly detailed information.

expo-sheepdogBandicoot also sees the handling of the matter as an example of a growing remoteness in the council executive’s attitude to the community. As well as apparently seeing no need to consult the community on this community matter, it seems to have little comprehension that the pet expo is effectively a children’s event – as acknowledged in the shire’s ‘Peninsula Wide’ advertisement in September 2015 for the last one.

■ Sheep stoic as sheepdog awaits master’s whistle.

Although it contained a large picture featuring former councillor Anne Shaw and current Seawinds councillor Antonella Celi, the focus was on “Free Family Fun” with miniature ponies, free face painting, Farmer Dave and his Muttley Crew, all offering “a great opportunity for children and adults to get up close with animals … demonstrations including horse displays, sheep herding and shearing demonstrations”.

But, the agenda said, “there are already more than 30 events held each year that are funded by Council and which are characterised as family fun day events”. No list to substantiate this, to enable councillors to judge whether the expo was the most logical event to get the chop.

Who, then, made the decision to axe the expo? Apparently it is now for the executive to decide, then put to councillors as a recommendation, such a decision with almost no accompanying evidence.

Bandicoot’s regular readers might recall that councillors were suddenly presented on 28 February this year with a proposal from the council executive to discontinue the long-standing community meetings, at which the public is provided with a meal at which they get an opportunity to meet their councillors before the meeting itself begins.

(See http://morningtonpeninsulabandicoot.com/2017/02/28/community-meetings-scrape-in/)

These community meetings scraped back by a single vote, 6-5.

For retaining these most democratic and egalitarian meetings – Bev Colomb, Sam Hearn, Hugh Fraser, Kate Roper, David Gill and Simon Brooks. Against – Rosie Clark, Antonella Celi, Frank Martin, Julie Edge and Bryan Payne. 

Bandicoot suspects that a money-first ideology is abroad in certain quarters of the shire on every line item in the budget. While care must be taken not to waste ratepayers’ cash, many readers will recall Oscar Wilde’s remark that “a cynic” (later changed to “an accountant”) is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.

There is much exquisite value in the faces of small children confronted with their first lamb, or puppy, or carpet snake, or getting their face painted for the first time. These children are, properly, local government matters. Shire executives and councillors must never forget that, no matter how tight finances get. 

 Go to https://paulbernal.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/the-price-of-everything-and-the-value-of-nothing/ for more on the difference between “price” and “value”. One or two shire executives may find it instructive!