Archive for the ‘Local democracy’ Category

What happened at Spit Junction Master Plan public meeting Nov 25

December 11, 2013

IMG_4209The mayor explained that the session was not a decision making meeting. It was designed to provide a briefing to the public to allow questions and comments and to provide further background information for those considering making a submission. A key constraint was that the development was to be cost neutral.

It was clear from the Mayor’s presentation that the focus of the present Council is on the redevelopment of the Council landholding which covers the Council building itself, the car parks, the Library and Library Walk.

Craig Covich, the acting Director Environment and Planning, overviewed the original Master Plan which provided three options for the Council landholding. All options involved demolition of the existing Council building and putting in its place a building with high public usage (Art Gallery, Library, Council one stop shop). All involved significant residential development with outlooks over Alan Border Oval and various reconfigurations of the existing public space and village Green. (more…)


Speak up for Mosman 2088

October 16, 2013

Picture1There is a proposal before the Geographical Names Board, instigated by Mosman Council, to re-write history and create four distinct suburbs in Mosman. Clifton Gardens, Balmoral Beach, Beauty Point and Mosman Bay would each have precisely defined boundaries with Mosman 2088 being confined to whatever is left.

A similar proposal came before the last Council, instigated from a longtime Balmoral resident who has, since postcodes were introduced in 1967 steadfastly refused to give her postal address as Mosman 2088, putting instead Balmoral. Not surprisingly much of her mail was wrongly delivered to Balmoral 2283 or Balmoral 2571 or Balmoarl 3407 or Balmoral 4171 or Balmoral 4552. Needless to say the last Council rejected the idea unanimously.

If you, like the previous Council feel that rubbishing the Mosman 2088 brand and imposing a massive cost in getting stationary and databases updated is nonsensical, make sure you let the GNB know. You can do it here, it is enough to say that you oppose the idea.

Here is the submission I made.

My reasons for preferring the status quo are as follows:

• Mosman, because of its topology and history is rich in local place names associated with geographical features, the estate names of land releases and tramway junctions. People living in the vicinity of these locations identify as living in that area as well as having a Mosman 2088 post code. There are no hard and fast boundaries and people living ‘in between’ these locations simply identify as living in Mosman (see attached map)

• When I am asked where I live, and I say Mosman, I can confidently assume that the questioner will immediately understand as Mosman has a very high recognition factor. I am also free to elaborate that the area of Mosman where I reside is Beauty Point if pinpointing is required. My postal address is clear and unambiguous as Mosman 2088.

• Before postcodes were introduced there may have been an argument for fine-grained locality naming. Now, more than 40 years after the single Mosman post code was introduced a change would cause decades of confusion and mis-addressing until the new system settled down.

• The cost imposed on the community in getting all stationary and databases updated would be considerable.

• The proposed boundaries force certain locations that have never identified with the place name that the proposal would give them to have that name, for example the East side of Spit Rd from Parriwi Junction would become part of Beauty Point which has only ever been identified with the West side of Spit Rd and half the shops in Mosman Junction would be in Balmoral Beach and the other in Mosman

• Any attempt to define arbitrary boundaries to divide the suburb would result in similar inconsistencies and confusions as for example the fact that houses on the ridge 100m above Balmoral Beach and a considerable distance from it would still have a Balmoral Beach address

• The proposal rides rough shod over history by redefining boundaries of that were associated with particular land releases

• Dividing a community which works very effectively as a coherent whole would be a backward step

• The reasons being advocated for the change are spurious. There is no danger that a locality name will disappear simply because it is not part of the formal postcode based addressing system. Is there any danger that Circular Quay or Wynyard will slip from usage simply because they lie within the Sydney 2000 post code zone?

• The proposal was unanimously rejected by the previous Council

Death by a thousand cuts

July 4, 2013

I reproduce here, with permission a letter from long time Mosman resident Damien Stapleton to Mayor Abelson on the topic of he Mosman Rider . It represents my views exactly. It appears that if a service is not useful to the present Council’s very well heeled backers then it is to be scrapped, no matter how vital it is the vulnerable young and elderly. Not immediately of course, given contractural obligations, so it has to be death by a thousand cuts. One can only surmise that the reason they rejected signing up to an attractive five year contract was they wanted to get rid of the service when the current contract expires in two years.

Mayor Abelson in his July occasional letter claims it was a controversial matter in the community with passionate supporters for and against. What he omitted to say was that the against side was made up of his and Cr Bendall’s supporters who loved to hate the previous Council. It appears that this Council is out to white ant and then knock over anything and everything the previous Council set up. What Mayor Abelson also failed to mention was that those in favour of he Rider were users of the service -either because they relied on it, or they shared the previous council’s view that substituting the Rider for a car trip was more fun, more social and good for the environment.

Serving Mosman, Mayor Abelson’s political party, campaigned on a platform of bringing in a new era of a Council that listened to the community. At least he now acknowledges that the community is not of one mind. Does he now accept I wonder that the previous Council did listen to the community , but not to those with the loudest voices, as he has opted to do. Will his thinking evolve to the point of recognising that given there is a diversity of views in the community, Council needs to be not just guided by opinion, but by values.

Here is Damien’s letter

It is most disappointing that Mosman Municipal Council has reduced its very successful initiative, The Mosman Rider community bus service, during winter months.

I regularly use the service and have signed the citizens’ petition presen tly before Council, which protests that reduction. Having not owned an automobile for 24 years and leading the extremely active life I do, I am totally reliant on and aware of the Public Transport options in this area including The Rider, as I pursue my many daily activities.

I have resided in Mosman for 41 years and we are greatly advantaged here by a very good Public Transport system which puts us in contact with linking train, ferry, bus and even air services, to all points of the compass. The Rider is now an integral part of the local Public Transport grid.

It is an invaluable asset to the area servicing many parts of the Municipality hitherto not serviced by any Public Transport eg providing transport for school students from Pearl and Quaker’s Hat Bays, transporting the less mobile to shopping, health care, and entertainment commitments and lessening cars on the road thus contributing to the environment. It is also a beneficial tourist attraction. The Rider service does not compete with, duplicate or militate against any Government Transport in the area. Government bus services are not threatened by the service.

The buses are air conditioned, clean and comfortable and drivers are extremely courteous and jovial and very cooperative and helpful, particularly to elderly passengers and those with young children. It is particularly convenient that passengers may hail the bus in spaces where it is legal to do so and are not limited to conventional bus stops.

The Mosman Rider was the quid pro quo resulting from the decision of Council some years ago to install Parking Meters at Balmoral Beach. It was to be and is funded from revenue from those meters and from infringements arising where

Parking provisions are not complied-with. It functions therefore at no cost to Mosman Ratepayers whose obligation to pay for parking vehicles does not exist, is minimal or results from poor time management. I am reliably informed that such revenue from this source now exceeds $2 million and the present Rider service costs $275,000 and that most of that revenue is derived from motorists who live outside Mosman.

The installation of the meters became necessary to control abuses of free-of-charge parking at the beach including inter alia: long- lunchers parking all afternoon and being too intoxicated to drive so leaving cars overnight for collection the next day, teachers and students from the local private girls’ school parking all day and yachties’ parking their trailer and car for days as they cruise the blue, hogging two parking spaces with no regard for the inconvenience they caused.

These abuses and their ilk had to be remedied and I must point out that one in particular of your fellow Councillors based his expensive presidential and humiliatingly unsuccessful 2012 campaign for control of Mosman Council, on Council’s Parking Meter initiative at Balmoral. It is interesting however that Council now seeks to massively increase revenue from meters at Balmoral Beach by increasing parking charges and expanding the meter culture to Spit Junction while installing a Parking Infringement Review Panel whose only function can be seen to be the overturn of parking fines with the effect of reducing the authority of Council Rangers and being left exposed to claims of cronyism where the infringements of mates are able to be overturned.

I supported and still do, the installation of Parking Meters at Balmoral and its resulting bus initiative and they are an inextricable package. I support any reasonable revenue-raising initiative of any public body including Local Government.

In its decision to reduce the Rider service, Mosman Council is in severe breach of its covenant with its citizens who have been grossly betrayed by Council in this matter. In other words the case is made that the service should in fact not be reduced but increased and Council would still have change.

Our adjoining Councils Willoughby and Manly, operate multiple free-of-charge bus services at Ratepayers’ cost.

Mosman is a wealthy small Council in the most affluent demographic in the Commonwealth of Australia. Its liabilities are minor in proportion to larger Councils with great social problems. To argue that because a service provided at no cost to its ratepayers does not bring a financial return; is a cost to them, is absolute nonsense and an insult to the community intelligence. Using such logic the argument is made that Council services which are totally Ratepayer-funded such as Balmoral Beach, our parks, public toilets, The Art Gallery, Senior’s Centre and Meals on Wheels to name but few, should all henceforth be closed,

The only deficiencies I see in the Rider service are those I suggest should be remedied as I suggest below.

Accordingly I call upon Council to immediately:

• reverse its decision to reduce the Mosman Rider service,
• increase the Mosman Rider service to a half-hourly service
• commencing from Balmoral Beach 0700-1800
• every day and
• embark on an advertising and promotional campaign to make the entire community aware of the service, how it affects their individual neighbourhoods, how best for them to use it, the benefits available to them and the community from using it.

The new planning system – getting the balance right

October 11, 2012

In a recent lecture given at the Royal Society of the Arts in London, Matthew Taylor used the success of the London Olympics to make some important points about what makes policies effective. The NSW government would do well to pay attention to Taylor’s insights, particularly with respect to its current reshaping of the planning system.

According to Taylor, the London Olympics worked because there was the right balance between the inputs of each of the three key players – the authorities (ie governments at all levels and their agencies), the community, and individuals. The authorities put in place the necessary structures, and systems and rules, the community threw their full weight behind the project (the volunteer program, the enthusiasm, the atmosphere) and finally it was the enterprise, passion and commitment of individual athletes that made it all come together as a hugely successful event.

The message for governments is that effective policies require more than setting rules – they need have broad community support and have built-in incentives for individuals. Taylor goes further in noting that the optimal balance between the government, community and individual drivers of change will evolve over time. Set and forget simply doesn’t work. A further insight from Taylor was the need to view policy development as a design exercise – one which acknowledged the different interests of different stakeholders and seeks to find a solution that represents the best compromise. (more…)

And now the end is here, and so I face the final curtain….

September 13, 2012

So I am to go down in history as one term councillor. I had hoped, perhaps naively, that once the dust had settled after certain controversial decisions like the parking meters that the Mosman community would come to appreciate the wisdom of those decisions and give us the credit. People talk about good leaders as being courageous and that is certainly the case – you are basically putting your job on the line, risking all because you believe you will not only be proved right but also that the electorate will come to see that you were right (often in the face of a vigorous campaign by hard-line opponents)

I am very disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity of serving Mosman for a second term. But if I had had my time again I would still have voted for the parking meters, the Mosman Rider, the MDAP, the smaller Council and the abolition of wards, undertaking a community consultation about Spit Junction. Better to go out with a record of achievement after one term than simply occupy a seat for two or more terms. My arguments in favour of each of these reforms still stack up, with one exception. I argued that the abolition of wards would, inter alia, make for a more representative council and reduce the risk of capture of Council by a party or interest group.

What has happened in this election has proved me wrong. Even with no wards and thus a quota of 1/7 of the votes, a group can still capture Council and perhaps more easily that if there were wards. When there are wards the interest group or party need to get a majority in each ward – that means finding popular candidates and running separate campaigns in each ward albeit under the one party. When there are no wards, the campaign can be focussed on a single outstanding individual – a much easier sell. If the campaign is successful, as clearly it was in this case, that party will get the mayorality and a number of other candidates on the ticket elected as councillors

I think the Mosman community has done well in their choice of the next Council (apart of course from choosing not to elect me!). It is highly desirable that there is some turnover of councillors each term. The new Council is a little light on experience, only three councillors from last term continuing and only one with more than one term of continuous experience. But this lack of experience is more than compensated for by the energy and very diverse mix of passions that the new councillors bring. The average age of Council must have dropped by at least ten years and would now be much closer to the average age of the population. Pity, though that there are now only two women. My congratulations to my former colleagues Tom, Libby and Simon and to the new councillors Peter, Carolyn, Roy and Peter.

If you are one of the 817 voters who gave me their first preference vote I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart and apologise for letting you down by not getting elected. Rest assured, that having spent the last four years getting up to speed on all the issues I have no intention of abandoning my interest in Mosman or in local government generally. But now instead of attempting to be a model politician I will experiment with what it means to be a model citizen; the sort that all the text books about community engagement assume exists – fully informed, with an open mind and willing to provide comprehensive feedback when asked to do so.

So its goodbye from Cr Yates but hello from citizen Yates. I will continue this blog, commenting on what is happening with Council and in particular on the how Mosman is shaping up in the face of the six mega trends CSIRO has identified–Reports/Our-Future-World.aspx

What Monday’s forum reveals about the Mayoral aspirants

August 29, 2012

One attendee observed that one very useful outcome of the forum was that it gave voters a chance to see something of personality, style, approach and demeanour of the candidates as well as their passions and ideological bent. Reading the flyers you might get the impression that it was a matter of six of one and half a dozen of the other – we are all in favour of motherhood. What was on display on Monday night was a much better differentiator, a much better basis of choice.

Jim Reid came across as the elder statesman able to build on 20 years of experience.

Peter White showed that he has not just creative flair, but commitment and the tenacity to follow issues through (in this case the state of council’s finances).

Libby Moline reminded us that all the qualifications in the world are of little value unless matched with a big dolop of common sense. Libby’s leadership qualities were revealed when she, much to everyon’e relief called it a night while we were all sytill having fun.

Simon Menzies was justifiably proud of what Council had achieved this term. Given zero notice to come up with a choice for a community project for 2013, he demonstrated amazing fleetness of mind in coming up with the Tour de Mosman idea. This resonated nicely with the Five Bay Bash that the Active Transport Working Group have been working on at the suggestion of ATWG members Brian Watters and John Goddard (more…)

If only…

August 28, 2012

My friend Juan Roberson has passed on to me some delightful commentaries on how a Quaker meeting is managed, and with the substitution of ‘for the good of the community as a whole’ for Divine will, it is not a bad template for council meetings. Peter Abelson and his Serving Mosman team want to restore politeness and decorum to our Council meetings, but perhaps we need to make even more significant reforms and approach the Quaker model. Here are a few excerpts from Quaker literature for your interest; there are one or two observations with a wonderful turn of phrase. (more…)

Party politics in local government

August 15, 2012

Since the last local government elections two new measures have been introduced to enhance transparency and they are very much reforms that I support.

The first is that it is now illegal for any candidate to accept a campaign donation from anyone other than an individual whose name appars on the electoral role somewhere in Australia. As a consequence businesses or organisations of any type can no longer make donations.

The legislation has further provisions that puts restrictions on people with close links to owners or board members of development companies, or corporations in the tobacco, gaming or alcohol industries. Funneling of corporate donations through individuals might appear an easy work around but the legislation has got this well covered to the extent that it would be very unwise to attempt such a deceit.

Even such innocent activities as passing around a bucket at a fundraiser, or running a raffle are now illegal unless each donation or ticket sold can be linked to an individual, and each individual verified as being on the electoral role

The second measure is to require all candidates to place on the public record any membership of a political party that they currently hold. Many councillors who stand as independents are in fact members of political parties. The fact that they are independent simply means they haven’t been endorsed to run for the party.

It is not surprising, nor is it in anyway a bad thing, that some independent councillors belong to a political party – after all a strong interest in politics is one of the main motivations for people to want to offer themselves for public office. Often which party is of minor significance. In the 1975 Wranslide Dom Lopez slipped out of the election night commiseration party being held at David Arblaster’s Beauty Point home and joined the celebrations at the ALP victory party next door and put out feelers for getting ALP pre-selection at the next State election – it was clear the ALP was going to be in power in NSW for many years to come.

But even if wanting to be in power is the main driver of party affiliation and the party has no control whatever on how the councillor chooses to vote, electors do have the right to know where each candidate is ‘coming from’, which way they are leaning, ideologically.

In Mosman many past and present councillors have had strong links with the Liberal Party – some even having sought pre-selection as Liberal candidates for state and federal elections. I myself have been a member of the ALP (although not a particularly active one) for over 40 years. The Mosman branch of the ALP is much much older than that (it was founded in 1910) and has included in its time luminaries such as HV Evatt Laurie Short, architects Anatol Kagan and Otto Neumann and academics Bob Connell and Ted Wheelright

For me membership of the Party has given me the opportunity to debate policy issues with like-minded people at regular monthly meetings. We don’t always (or even usually!) agree with what Labor governments do or how they conduct themselves, but we are passionate about the social justice values the Party espouses – prosperity for all without eroding social capital or trashing the environment.

Unavoidable(?) Waste

July 26, 2012

I am often asked ‘don’t you think Council could be a leaner operation? – there must be a lot of waste’. My answer is to say yes, there is a huge amount of waste, but not in Council’s internal operations, which in my view are very efficient. The real waste is imposed upon council as an unintended consequence of the (usually, but not always) well-meaning actions of the State Government, the courts and individuals.

When the party in power at the State Government level changes there is inevitably a wholesale scraping of systems set up by the previous government. A case in point is the planning system. Under the previous government councils were required to mould their LEP’s and DCP’s into new standardised forms. In Mosman’s case this was an extremely time consuming process as the draft needed to be approved by the Department of Planning and many iterations were needed before the DoP understood Mosman’s unique issues enough to agree to what was required. The draft then had to go on public exhibition and amended as a result of the feedback and finally submitted again for approval. In the meantime the DoP had changed the rules. A very wasteful and frustrating period for staff, but early this year the document was finally adopted by Council and become operational.

Now the new government is proposing to wipe the planning slate clean. There will no longer be LEP’s and DCP’s but instead Local Land Use Plan. For the planning staff at Council that means scrapping what has taken over five years of investment, and starting all over again. Of course it is right and proper for the new government to overhaul the planning system, one can only hope that they do such a good job of it that the system won’t need continual amendment, and will still be in place decades ahead.

[Aside: It does highlight the downsides of totally inexperienced mayoral candidates promising to sweep all aside with a new broom.]

Another area of externally imposed waste that Council has had some success in tackling is the legal costs of defending its decisions in the Land and Environment Court. Depoliticising DA assessment through the use of an independent expert panel (the MDAP) has greatly reduced the number of appeals but there was recently a case where a neighbour, unhappy with a consent, initiated proceedings in the Land and Environment Court. It was a case that Council was certain to win, but nonetheless it was necessary to prepare the case and Council’s legal fees were quite high. In the end the litigant pulled the case, and because the rights or wrongs of the matter hadn’t been decided by the court, the judge thought it ‘fair’ to require the litigant to pay just 25% of Council’s costs leaving council many thousands of dollars out of pocket.

I have blogged earlier on the need for us residents to at least be aware what resources are involved when we engage in lengthy sequences of letters, emails, phone calls and visits to resolve some issue. I am not saying that we should stop holding Council accountable – just asking that before embarking on such a crusade we do a cost benefit analysis given the expenditure of ratepayers money involved

The luck of the draw

July 5, 2012

Local government is like Henry Longfellow’s little girl with a curl. When it is good it is very, very, good and when it is bad it is horrid.

Which way things turn out is frighteningly random – it all depends on who stands and who gets elected.

Many factors contribute to the randomness. First there is the general disenchantment with governments and the fact that of all three tiers of government, people are most apathetic about councils. People are understandably immersed in their own lives and few have either the time or inclination to confront the strengths and weaknesses of the different candidates, or acquire the information that would enable them to make an informed decision.

This is problematic as the role of councillor is quite a challenging one, requiring as it does balancing representing their electors with masking decisions that are in the best interests of the community as a whole, with the overlay of monitoring and reviewing the performance of council itself. These three roles, if pursued seriously require hard work and diligence. If taken together they require a high degree of dedication and a willingness to acquire a complex set of skills.

Unfortunately local government not only attracts people with this level of commitment. It also attracts the sort of people excited by the mechanisms and manipulations of political life but disinterested in policy issues. These individuals operate under the paradigm of winning or losing. They have few skills and little experience in working collaboratively, as a result competing political interests lead to adversarial behaviour at the expense of co-operation.

A council dominated by councillors with the winner take all, ‘big man’ mentality will have little appetite for genuine community engagement before big decisions are made. They will be much more likely to mobilise their support base to capture whatever community engagement exercise that is embarked upon to ensure their point of view prevails.

By good luck rather than good management the citizens of Mosman elected a council for the 2008-2012 period that was both diligent and collaborative and as a result much was achieved. There was a healthy difference of views when it came to just how far council should challenge the recommendations given by staff and strong differences of opinion on specific issues. Nevertheless, verbal attacks on fellow councillors were extremely rare and without exception at the end of every meeting all councillors shared some convivial time together.

It has not always been thus. The 2004-2008 council was adversarial in the extreme – on one occasion physical blows were exchanged. Diligence was also in extremely short supply – attendance rates of many councillors were shocking and on at least one occasion a council meeting had to be cancelled for lack of a quorum.

This forthcoming council is exposed to another risk, and that is having a mayor elected who belongs to the ‘big man’ school and a council that is committed to the collaborative approach or vice versa. Either situation would severely compromise council’s effectiveness. I suspect the small majority of voters that expressed their preference for a popularly elected mayor did not appreciate to what extent they were, in consequence, exposing the community to the risk of a dysfunctional council.

So please Mosman voters, be wary of heavy handed campaigning and candidates that clearly have strong financial backing. Any of the existing councillors that are standing again (whether as mayor or as councillor or both) are a safer bet. They have proven themselves to be collaborative and you know what you are getting – their voting record, their questions without notice and their notices of motion are there for all to see in the minutes of council meetings. In my case you can also wade through over 100 blog posts, (But that really is asking for dedication beyond the call of duty!)