MidCoast Councillor Peter Epov, from Wingham, has announced that he will be standing for re-election at the Local Government Elections on 4 December 2021.
Councillor Epov reflects on his decision:
‘Whilst to some degree it was a difficult decision, to arrive at, given the challenges that I have faced with this Council over the past 4 years, particularly balancing all the frustration against the benefits of returning to a ‘normal life’, it has become patently obvious to me now more than ever, that we need competent experienced local independent people who are prepared to stand up for this community on our Council.
MidCoast Council is now a major regional Council which has spent over a total of a $1billion dollars, that’s right $1,000,000,000 in the four budgets ending at June 2021. This makes our Council a significant trading enterprise which requires the highest levels of corporate governance, as well as a primary focus on the delivery of core services and community projects.
These large numbers also regrettably introduce greater scope for waste, and what I term as “budgetary laziness and indifference” and even corruption. An attitude of “What does it matter if we are only 8% over budget”. It does matter, it is the ratepayers money and it all adds up, particularly if most projects end up costing more and not on time. The community pays for this.
Over the past 4 years our Council has re-voted or carried over an average of $40 million dollars in projects each year into the next year which must end up costing us more. Even on a modest 5% increase each year it could mean an increase of $2 million each year, or $8 million over the four years, but some of our Councillors have told you re-votes and carryovers are a good thing. Sound financial management is critical as well as the understanding that there has to be accountability – not a blame game, but Council imposing a system to ensure that these carry overs and re-votes do not repeatedly occur to the same scale.
Rebuilding Public Trust
‘It is only through the well-designed purposeful delivery of services and projects and a genuine concerted approach to transparency and accountability in reporting that there will be any hope of rebuilding public trust. Spin and propaganda and constant good news stories about projects that don’t eventuate or take so long that they frustrate most of those concerned and then blow out budgets only serves to exacerbate public confidence.
A positive future
We need to be honest and engage openly and sincerely with our community and actively encourage people from all our towns and regions to participate and contribute to the future of our region. We need to encourage people through consistent practical achievements and a repetition of positive results.
Many people have questioned the performance of this Council since amalgamation, and what has really been achieved.
It is clear that our community now needs to elect representatives onto Council who are sufficiently proficient to the level required to control Council’s finances and to effectively oversee the work of senior executives who manage a staff of over 1000 employees. Also simultaneously representing our diverse communities’ interests in a fair, effective and equitable manner. We need elected representatives who are not afraid to listen to the community, who will speak and engage with the public and are not afraid to justify their decisions, coherently.
Our Council needs significant reform in order to operate as an efficient business, which is in the delivery of vitally important services which can contribute meaningfully to the quality of the lives of all our residents and to advance the social and economic prosperity of our communities. Your future elected representatives need to know how to enact policies and implement strategies to ensure that Council can effectively deliver those vital key services and important infrastructure projects, such as road works, which are enduring, timely and to budget.
More and more I hear this term “customers” in Council as a way of describing our residents and ratepayers – we are not ‘customers’, to be sold services or be exploited, we are the shareholders of the LGA. If not for the residents there would be no LGA and no Council. Historically, the formation of Councils came about through residents combining to share the costs of the delivery of various services.
So if we want real change and reform which will make our Council markedly more effective, we all need to play a greater role in this democratic process on 4 December.
We need local representatives elected who are capable of stopping the waste and ensuring that the services we all need are delivered efficiently and that the public’s money is well spent. Experience is an important element and we must have people who really understand how the Council, that is the elected body, and also how the Administration works. And as well as to recognise the relative tensions between the two, and understand how to resolve this to the benefit of the community. Councillors should not be, nor seen to be, subservient to the Administration.
This requires people with integrity, who have the courage of their convictions and have the knowledge to understand what measures and systems are required to be applied to ensure the organisation performs; that it is truly transparent with how public money is spent and how decisions are made; that it is genuinely inclusive of the entire community and that it is ultimately visibly accountable for its actions.
My aim in running for Council this time in a group is to try to bring new people onto Council, but not my mates, or to put people on my ticket from different places who will help me get elected, or as one Councillor once eloquently put it: ‘as stocking fillers’.
I have identified and selected through my Exploratory Committee investigations earlier this year, a number of smart, qualified independent women and men from varying age groups, who are capable of overseeing an organisation of over 1000 employees and a $280 Million dollar annual budget.
Passion and a desire to represent, are important but has to be tempered with experience, qualifications and capacity. I have found many “newbie councillors” fall into the same trap as some of their predecessors. I have watched this phenomenon since 2012; all sorts of pre-election claims are made but once elected, those promises are either abandoned or face the reality check of being in the local government system and having to deal with the Council Administration.
I am not urging nor recommending that you re-elect many of the old lot back, far from it, I am asking you to think about how you should vote in this election. We can’t afford to end up with a chook lotto, with people who have no vision, no agenda, nor expertise and knowledge, but want just to sit on Council as a judge, who are content to accept whatever recommendations are made by the Administration, (which they mostly often don’t actually understand), who stumble and mumble, or can’t express themselves, and resort to heckling others who can. We don’t want this for another three years. This isn’t what local government is meant to be.
In my 9 years of council experience I have seen people from a number of councils who all know how to get elected, but once they’re on Council they really have no idea what to do. So they get led by other Councillors or the awaiting Administration.
Frankly, the Administration thrives on newbie Councillors, hoping for the return of the sycophants and enthusiastic apologists for the Administration.
Independent Community Focused People
We need community focused people who have previously worked as volunteers in the community and for the community. People who won’t be intimidated nor seduced by the Administration. People who have hopes and dreams and fresh ideas of how to improve and advance our community, and at the same time understand finance and how to spend public money wisely and achieve outcomes to the maximum benefit of the entire community.
Council is a complex creature, which, for some Councillors takes a number of years to truly understand how it operates. Some never learn, and just go along with the recommendations of the Administration until they drop off the radar and are not re-elected.
Councillors don’t read the Agenda Papers
I have heard stories that some Councillors don’t bother to read their Council Agenda papers, which can run from 200 to over 1000 pages per meeting. Too often they are only made available to councillors 4 – 5 days before a meeting. So lazy councillors read the 3 or 4 paragraphs of the ‘Staff Recommendations’ and vote on the matter. As a bare minimum to be on Council you need people who are able to read and comprehend all of what is being proposed. Plus understand the consequences of the decision they are about to make for the entire community.
Some of these people also fall into the trap even without realising that the formal (and legal) decisions they make at Council Meetings are theirs alone, and they are accountable to the community. Councillors should be able to explain, intelligently and coherently, why they are making certain decisions, both inside the Council Chamber and in the public arena. Too often it’s left to the Administration’s media machine to explain.
A healthy Administration
Such a situation is neither healthy for the community nor for the Administration. A successful Administration and Council need to be constantly and consistently tested and held accountable. This is how continuous improvement is achieved. If questions are asked and honestly and openly answered then public confidence grows.
At a Council meeting most of the decisions that are made, are by way of ‘Staff Recommendations’, that is the staff produce a report and make recommendations which councillors consider, then theoretically discuss / debate the proposal and then vote. Once the vote is taken, the responsibility for the decision rests with the Councillors and not the Administration.
So if the Council makes the right decision and describes that decision accurately in their resolution then the system should work with a successful outcome. Unfortunately often the right decision may be made but without a clear explanation nor understanding of the method of implementation.
Councillors must represent the Community
Councillors are elected to represent the community to make smart, clear decisions that not only get the job done but ensure the Administration is accountable throughout the process.
It is not the Councillors’ role to micromanage but it is their role to ensure all the necessary mechanisms are in place to achieve a positive outcome and not to be mates with the Administration, nor to cover up failures.
All Councils need their Administration’s activities to be scrutinised, that is how you develop what is called ‘best practice’. Without genuine scrutiny and review any organisation or any business will falter, and ultimately collapse.
I have put together an outstanding team of local candidates. Each one is linked to their communities, each are more than capable of stepping up to being a Councillor. They’re qualified and experienced people with an independent view and conscious of the responsibility of serving the community.
The election system being the way it is does not provide equitable opportunities for people running for Council on their own and “below the line”. This is why we have come together as a group.
In this Council election think carefully who to vote for. Talk to your friends and neighbours. Vote for proven people whom you can trust.”
Cr Peter Epov