Community conversations crash!

Last month, MidCoast Council commenced its latest round of community engagements entitled “Community Conversations” supporting the opportunity for people to have their say directly to Council Executives and Councillors.

Events were held at Old Bar, Nabiac, Stroud and Halliday’s Point, yielding record numbers of attendees and Council executives seemed to be quite chuffed with the results. 

But then came the announcement of the fatal decision by Council, on 10 April, where, by [Nine (9) Votes to One (1)] they voted to proceed with the office Centralisation / relocation to the Masters warehouse in Taree. 

Since then, attendances at Council Community Consultation events have hit the wall.

Poor attendance

Clearly, the good burghers of Taree and Forster / Tuncurry and Gloucester have been seriously outraged with this latest decision to proceed with Masters Centralisation and they have turned their backs on Council. Only seven (7) people from a population of 27,000 came to the Taree event and twelve (12) from a population of 21,000 to the one at Forster. Gloucester also wasn’t much better with twelve (12) attendees. In the old days of the Great Lakes Council, community engagement events attracted hundreds of people.

Lack of Trust, Respect and
Confidence

And whilst the Council apologists are already out there making excuses, blaming the community as being apathetic, the real issue is clear, and it is that this Council’s failure to honestly and effectively communicate with people, to listen to their views and to genuinely build trust and respect has soured the community and they’ve slammed their collective doors in Council’s face.

Trust and respect can only be established through a process of progressively building confidence, by engaging the community with integrity, by being inclusive and transparent, by making engagement accessible (by not relying on a website, or by issuing junk mail flyers, which may be out of date by the time they arrive), something this Council doesn’t seem to understand, nor, most importantly, strives to engender. 

Ridiculous decisions like naming the entire area as the ‘Barrington Coast’, originally touted (and promised) as only being limited to a ‘domain name’ for the internet, and now being propagated and worse, crammed onto  to our road signage (to further confuse tourists). And now the recent $40 Million (plus plus??)  Office Centralisation to the Masters warehouse, despite overwhelming public opposition, have seriously frustrated and outraged people to the extent that they won’t come to Council events. 

The Council has been given up as a bad job, run by crones, bullies and arrogant indifference to ratepayers, while the poor long suffering staff try to make the best of it. And most of whom do not want to move to Taree. 

Road Show

For this current round of community engagements, rather than following that old Glenn Handford roadshow model, where people were lectured at by the former General Manager for over an hour with a PowerPoint presentation, followed by questions, Council has adopted a new format in the hope of engaging with a very estranged and disillusioned community.

This latest format, at least on the surface, appears to engage attendees and seeks peoples’ views of projects and programs that they would like to see in their area; and over an hour is dedicated to brainstorming ideas, projects and programs which are then refined into priorities for Council to act upon. 

The cynics of course, would say it is a very deliberate attempt at diffusing the hostility of people who have come to ask some very hard questions, for, by the end of the night, when it comes to question time, after ninety minutes of collegiality, human nature being what it is, a great deal of the outrage has considerably mellowed.

Raising Hopes

And whilst it’s a crafty move to get very well meaning and genuine people to undertake dialogue and thoughtfully share their hopes and dreams of a better place, the reality comes in the next step, which perhaps the Council Executives have failed to recognise. And that is,  by raising peoples hopes and artificially elevating expectations, Council will have to deliver on their promises. Then in six months time if they don’t come good, all sorts of excuses will flow, and the public will rightly savage them. 

General Manager

Our General Manager is no longer the new bloke on the block, but he remains an enigma. At these events Mr Panuccio is always present, he stands at the front of the room, but has very little to contribute, and when he does speak, he lacks any real authority or engagement. Is someone else actually running the show? This is his first time as a General Manager, but it’s time he took off the training wheels. One can’t help feeling he might actually be stifling a yawn.  We are the first rung on his career ladder, and it feels like he will be moving on at some stage, and one doesn’t get the feeling he is engaged with, or committed to, our area. 

He appears to be oblivious to the fact that he is considered hostile and dictatorial to staff. The senior staff are also engaged in their own war of attrition – amongst themselves and their own factions, while the poor minions in staff ranks are at war and morale is the lowest it’s ever been. 

This paper has received emails from dispirited staff who feel they’re in a war zone, they don’t want to move to Taree and are worried about the travel time, and costs and disruptions to their personal lives. They simply don’t trust, like or respect the senior staff and management who are fighting for their own turf and power. 

History has it the Forster/Taree staff are on opposite sides. MidCoast water were glad to be out of it and ran an efficient, effective and placid ship. They are now feel like the bottom of the barrel in council’s hierarchy. Throwing them all together under one roof is asking for outright warfare. 

But we are  the real losers. The community. Council has no idea of the deep hostility and anger about this whole Masters debacle.  If they think a laughably inaccurate superficial number crunching fabrication will persuade the community, including some seriously efficient financial experts, that they are right with the numbers, they are treating us like idiots. They totally underestimate the deep degree of anger in this community over this whole Master’s fiasco on a floodplain on the edge of town with a major road block traffic hazard nightmare for anyone travelling at peak hour.  

As Council has in the past, it will of course use these events to demonstrate to Government and other authorities how well they have fully engaged with the community, and they will possibly massage these events (and the attendance at these events) to justify their actions.

Failure to communicate

A very strong theme coming from many of these consultation events is Council’s failure to effectively communicate with the Community. People have been making the point that just because an item is placed on Council’s website, somewhere, it doesn’t mean that the Council has effectively communicated with the residents and ratepayers.

Not representative

The combined attendance of 19 people from Taree and Forster / Tuncurry out of a population of 48,000 people seriously compromises the credibility of any assertions which may be made by Council as being representative of public sentiment across the entire community.

Interestingly there has been no reference at these events thus far, nor any accountability,  on the Community Strategic Plan, nor the Delivery Plan, nor the state of Council’s finances.

Shattering Aspirations

Council has promised to post all the ideas, dreams, aspirations and projects that people have come up with in these sessions on their website. There are hundreds of great ideas with which to forge a wonderful community, unfortunately the cruel hoax in all of this will be that Council will eventually tell us that they don’t have the money to fund all these great things and or it will take years, and why? You guessed it – the yawning black hole of $40 million dollars (plus?) to Masters!

So anytime you hear a reason why Council can’t do anything or they don’t have the money, put it down to Masters! And have a word to any one of the nine of your elected Councillors who gave it the go ahead, several jumping over the fence. Only Cr Peter Epov stuck to his guns.

Here Comes The Band 

There has been a sudden rush by opportunists to jump on the Master’s bandwagon, being driven by self promotor, accountant to the movers and shakers, Mr Graham Brown. You can’t miss him, with his best mates in the media, (except us, as we’ve never been approached by Mr Brown who saves his utterances for the local Great Unread.) He has rallied some local businesses to make the best of it all. He cites opposition to Masters as a “noisy minority.” (In reality you may be surprised Mr Brown.)  

It’s fine and dandy to be pro-active and positive and try and put a happy spin on all the good things that will rain down on Taree when Council is in residence in two years time. And there’ll be a stampede to grab the spoils up for sale. (Wouldn’t the old Council Chambers make great waterview apartments? A complex of more shops and who knows what.)

Meanwhile has a deal, or a strategy, to get in the next mayor, (or should that be mayoress?) been set in motion? The factions in Council are gathering their troops. 

How stupid do they think we are? We’re watching. We need to consider our votes for this coming election. Same old same old? ? Or, let’s take a leap off the cliff and break the mould?

This Masters issue is more than a building, and a done deal by a shonky former GM and mates.  

Masters may well show who’s really in charge of the ship.

Us.

DM

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