IN JANUARY WBBC published a front page story showing Baw Baw’s mayors since 2012, Murray Cook and Debbie Brown, did not think it was the council’s role to innovate on policy, a very different position to that of the leaders before them.
First published in the 16 January 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
The paper has since received a number of lengthy replies to the article. This first of these was a comment from Ruth McGowan, posted at warragulcitizen.com:
I’m making these comments as a former Baw Baw mayor and councillor who is somewhat confused about what this current council actually stands for after reading the recent comments in the Warragul and Baw Baw Citizen.
It is often said “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” As ratepayers we aim to elect leaders, not bureaucrats.
“Advocating for the community” at various forums should be a part of a councillor’s job, but not the main focus, as it’s also something that the council CEO and directors do as part of their normal, everyday work. Surely we as ratepayers aim to elect leaders not bureaucrats?
By definition, if current councillors just “follow the lead” of other innovative councils then they are not leading, just managing, and our well-paid council staff can do that.
Ideally, leaders should inspire us, as a community, with a vision to take us from point A to point B. And then, take the community along with them. That’s how the Baw Baw 2050/Shaping the Future vision was established five years ago. With extensive community consultation, a strategic plan was developed to take us into a future, designed by our citizens. That plan is bearing fruit as Warragul and Drouin face a growing building boom and development. Without it, now we would “just be another Pakenham” as so many people feared.
The previous council was progressive, because things had to be done. As a member of that 2009 – 2012 council I make no apologies for having a vision of what this community could be. An example of our innovative planning was making it a requirement that “active by design” guidelines were built into all new housing estate developments to assist people being active; an important thing to do when obesity rates are climbing. This initiative won Baw Baw a national award from the Heart Foundation along with many other programs Baw Baw used to show leadership in. Other initiatives such as the Youth Council set up in 2009 to prepare tomorrow’s young to be leaders have now been scrapped by the current council.
So, I’m confused – do we want followers in the chamber or do we want leaders? I guess the next election will demonstrate the community’s wishes now that the (in)actions of this council are becoming obvious.
Responses to the article were largely critical to the more conservative approach of the present council, however one letter to the editor from Walter Sholl of Trafalgar supports recent developments:
Compare the current “conservative” council with the previous so-called “progressive” council. It is all very well to be progressive, but at what cost? The last two years of the progressive council’s term resulted in rate rises of 11.2 per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively.
The example given, in relation to the smoking bans, is a state government issue, not a local government matter as rightly stated by Baw Baw mayor Debbie Brown, and was not funded by the state government. There is also the point that one must take responsibility for one’s own well being and that of those nearby.
Australia is still considered to be a Christian country, built on Christian values and I applaud the former mayor, Cr Cook for reinstating an opening prayer at Council meetings. For those who don’t hold Christian beliefs, these could be times of silent reflection on their purposes for being in the community’s services.
The comparison of the former and current councils can be summed up by the ratepayers’ response at the last election when six of the nine “progressive” council members were not re-elected, including Julie Grant (who was also quoted in WBBC’s article), because basic infrastructure such as roads and drainage were being neglected.
It should be noted that Ms Grant, although having stood for council on a number of occasions never won a seat in her own right and when eventually joining council, it was on a count back following the resignation of another councillor. One can only take Ms Grant’s comments as sour grapes.
As a former councillor and shire president of another Gippsland municipality, I congratulate the current councillors on their “back to basics” attitude, particularly their attention to the budget and getting on with the job they were elected by the ratepayers to do.
Walter’s letter was the only one received indicating support for the council and an online poll conducted by WBBC (albeit with a tiny sample size) suggested people in Baw Baw think their council should lead with innovative policies.
The majority of comments received on the issue were critical of the present council. For example, this post by “Jack B” on our website, warragulcitizen.com:
True leadership takes guts and courage to stand out from what everyone else is doing, when it is needed by your community. Sadly, it seems that genuine leadership is missing with this council.
We finish on this suggestion from “Tony“, also posted at warragulcitizen.com:
As ludicrous as this sounds, if you have an idea on how to improve something in our community, suggest it to a neighbouring council and get them to implement it and gain the benefits. Then, and only then, will the Baw Baw Flat Earth Society take it seriously!
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