Murphy’s Lore: Councillors need to lift their game

Murphy’s Lore: Councillors need to lift their game. Alan Murphy. 4 November 2014

The Moonee Valley Council completes the first half of its four-year term this month with many major planning and development issues to consider. All are politically sensitive, including the east-west link, Moonee Valley racecourse development, multi-storey towers at the front and back of Flemington racecourse, and a huge development on the former market site in Hall and Margaret streets, Moonee Ponds. Then there is the Avondale Heights TAFE site, which has stalled yet again.

The council certainly deserves a pass mark for its handling to date of the projects which, if they proceed, will change the face of the city. Their impact on infrastructure will be huge. Traffic and parking remain major public concerns and, unless the issues are fully addressed and an action plan developed, we won’t like what is ahead of us.

But the conversation at Kellaway Avenue is that the council’s heavy workload is being carried out by only five of the nine elected councillors. Attendance at formal meetings by some councillors has been disappointing.

No longer do councillors provide written reports on their work, which is meant to be tabled at the council meeting. Instead, we hear brief verbal reports – some call it grandstanding – that provide ratepayers with little or no knowledge of the work councillors are meant to be doing on our behalf.

Attendance at functions is sometimes poor. Just three councillors attended the Anzac Day commemoration service in Queens Park. Attendance was abysmal at a function for the 58th battalion to present to the council a book of remembrance for citizens who died in World War I. Briefing meetings are similarly poorly attended by some.

The member for Wills, Kelvin Thomson, a former City of Coburg councillor, says he has seen a “steady erosion in our local government democratic system” and its ability to represent local communities. He believes it is a recipe for corruption.

Councillors, he says, have a lot of power, a high workload, and low salary and, courtesy of proportional representation, low accountability. A perfect storm, in which residents ultimately lose, he says.

Mr Thomson contributed to a local government electoral review, which began after the 2012 elections following a record 456 complaints. The review called for a cap on campaign donations, postal voting, nominating in person, and a review of councillor allowances.

Low pay, heavy workloads and pressure are not good variables, Mr Thomson says, if we want to attract high-calibre candidates.

There is no suggestion of corruption within Moonee Valley Council.

The issue is that some elected councillors could do a lot more work. More ratepayers are now finding their way to the local offices of our parliamentarians for help on what are essentially council matters.

Mr Thomson believes we would be better off returning to single-member wards. That would improve councillors’ ability to represent their communities, improve residents’ access and reduce the risk of inappropriate behaviour.

mayor leads the way

Mayor Jan Chantry has done an excellent job in her second term leading the city. Managing the diverse political views has been challenging but the headlines for the Moonee Valley City have largely been positive.

This council now goes into the second half of its term, when controversial planning issues will be determined. The only certainty is, when the developments are finished, it will be a different valley from what we now enjoy.

The final word …

Before deciding to retire, take a week off and watch daytime television.

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