Tuesday 24 November 2009

Councillor Pyne: "I am not sure what Val believes"

Cairns Division 3 Councillor Robert Pyne, continues his dialogue from his CairnsBlog SoapBlog.

Robert discusses the role and influence Councillors and staff have, and their ability, or lack thereof, to make a difference in the community. He questions who really runs the show.

On Friday, tune into CairnsBlog as Robert presents the final part in this debate.

To understand how decisions are made at Cairns Regional Council, people need to have at least a basic understanding of the corporate structure.

The Executive team, inherited by the current Council from the Kevin Byrne administration was...

  • Noel Briggs, CEO
  • John Hawks, GM of Works and Services
  • Peter Tabulo, GM of Planning and The Environment
  • Bruce Gardiner, GM of Water and Waste
  • Brett Grosser, GM of Finance and Corporate Services
  • Ian Lowth, GM of Sport, Art and Community Development

The biggest myth about Council is that Mayor Val Schier and the current Councillors have overseen a move to a chaotic and left of centre 'green' Council. The truth is, the daily business of Council goes on, in the main, the same way it did prior to the last Local Government election.

I am not saying that is a good thing, but it is what I believe to be true.

I mentioned in the SoapBlog on the weekend the extent to which elected Councillors willingly participate in the media spin to create the impression that they are running the show. Nowhere is this more the case than with Mayor Val Schier.

I am not sure what Val believes, but I am fairly convinced that she has voted in favour, and spoke in favour, of many policy initiatives that she does not in her heart support. Why would she do this?

For two reasons: One, it creates the impression that she is in control or in charge of Council. This is most certainly not the case, but it is an impression Val, for whatever reason, wants to portray in the media.

Secondly, it is a show of faith and loyalty to the senior management team. She supports them and follows their recommendations in the hope they will 'give her some ground' when she wants something of them. Of course all the Managers realise the Mayor is only one vote – or three at most, on this Council, and that is a factor in their thinking.

Certainly, by my first anniversary as a Councillor, in March of this year, I had realised the most influence I would have, on this Council at least, was in how I cast my vote on senior appointments.

Anyone who sits in the public gallery can see that more than nine out of every reports or recommendations put by officers, are adopted. These recommendations are signed off on by the relevant general manager and in many cases the CEO, before they come to a Council meeting.

Councillors only get them as part of an agenda they receive on the Friday prior to meeting, which happen on the following Wednesday.

Following the departure of CEO Briggs, Peter Tabulo became the interim CEO. Peter is a very talented man with a great depth of knowledge, but is also a man of strong opinions who I feel does not have a great deal of humility. He also, like former CEO Noel Briggs, sees “leadership” from elected Councillors, as the commitment to implementing a corporate decisions, regardless of the scale of public opposition.

This manifests itself most often in development approvals that are inconsistent with community desires or expectations. Here, CairnsBlog readers are bound to be thinking, but surely a majority of Councillors can stand up and vote down recommendations that the people do not support? They can, but they don’t do so, for one of two reasons.

Either they unequivocally support any development application put in front of them, and Councillor Sno Bonneau is apologetically in this category, or they are scared that to vote against the officer’s recommendation would damage their relationship with the relevant general manager. Try getting a spare wheelie bin for a sporting team, a stretch of footpath or a bus shelter from a GM you have not supported on the floor of Council. I am yet to get one new bus shelter despite 18 months of emails, calls and letters.

Like many in our city, I was hopeful that the appointment of new CEO Lyn Russell would usher in a cultural change, that would allow individuals and issues that have continually been marginalised within Cairns Regional Council, to get a fairer hearing. This may happen or it may not. Only time will tell.

Like you, the good folk who read and participate in CairnsBlog, I am watching and waiting, with great interest.


nocturnal congress said...

Thanks Rob for your candid comments. It angers me that we did not vote for the 'Executive Team', but they wield most of the influence in Council decision making. What also infuriates me was the cunning, sleazy manner in which Cochrane, Blake etc ran as "Independents" during the Council Election, but faithfully follow the old Byrne line on everything. To quote an old Italian saying, "A leopard may change its spots, but you can't change the nature of the beast." (Thanks, Nonno.)

Oliver Redlynch said...

There is an element of logic and sound business sense in the way council is organised, the operational staff are generally well qualified for the tasks in hand, and have to take a "long term" view of their decisions rather than petty short-term political gains. Take the Freebody water-park for instance, a quite disgraceful overriding of expert staff's considered decisions simply for "mates" favouritism. Isn't there a word for such dealings - corruption"?

Now please Robert, explain to me your voting decision to put the power of deciding community grants into the hands of the individual councilors rather than through consultation with the community reference groups? Isn't this contrary to your entire point about the electorate having control and feedback? You lost my respect with that decision.

Anonymous said...

I am happy to. Who would be on such a group? Someone from tennis? Hardly fair to other groups. Someone from hockey? Hardly fair to tennis and other groups. Or should it be basketball? Perhaps every sport - OK I can consider this, but what if none of them are involved with clubs from Edmonton?

I am yet to see how such a system can work fairly, especially in sport (eg will AFL or Rugby League be on the group). Though there is heaps of politics in 'the arts' as well, so appointing a small group and saying they represent 'the community' is a bit of a hoax.

Brett Hitchens said...

Such an interesting thread.
For mine I agree with Rob about the grants committees provided the councillors aren't closed to applications from groups beyond their personal interest.

But Rob I can't understand how you voted to approve the waterpark against such weighty professional argument especially considering the legal precedent that decision sets for domino development in the delta.

Oliver Redlynch said...

Whilst I'm prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt Rob that as an individual you will be equitable to all minorities that may lobby you with respect to grants, I'm less convinced that the other councillors won't play favourites for individual political gain. Its academic, a simple statistical analysis of the grants applied for and those actually granted will tell the public exactly what they need to know at the next elections.

At least you have the balls to engage in discussion on this forum, pity we don't see the same from the other councillors - maybe we'd get some real public engagment that way.

Factman said...

Rob ... I'm kinda disappointed in a couple of your comments, let me explain.

1. "I am yet to get one new bus shelter despite 18 months of emails, calls and letters.".

You know damn well that the State Government has mandated the requirement to have existing bus shelters made "disabled friendly".
You attend the "Access and Equity" monthly meetings where the decision was made to allocate all funding to achieve this. And you know that while Council spends $300,000.00 per annum for this purpose there is no money for new shelters.
Perhaps you could use your influence as a Councilor to get more funding from the state. After all, public transport, and the provision of shelters is not a local government responsibility.

2. "I had realised the most influence I would have, on this Council at least, was in how I cast my vote on senior appointments."
Well you certainly did with voting for the early termination of John Hawkes.
That little "pay-back" cost the ratepayers over $300,000.00 - think of how many a "spare wheelie bin for a sporting team, a stretch of footpath or a bus shelter" that money could have provided.
Not to mention Briggs and Hull's payouts.

No wonder the grass roots staff get a bit pissed off at times !!!

warm regards ...

nocturnal congress said...

Stuffed if I can understand Rob's voting either.

Kimio at Cityview said...

I agree that Rob's voting has been incomprehensible. Is his depth of analysis so shallow that the doesn't see the ramifications of, for example, allowing the construction of the water park (or anything else) in what is both a dangerous as well as troublesome location previously barred?

The biggest problem is that we're saddled with intellectual lightweights. They are ill-equipped to do battle with the likes of Peter Tabulo, who "build at any cost" mantra has affected all areas of Cairns negatively.

'To be or not to be that is the Question' said...

Perception is one of politics major residual consideration. At this point in time it is accepted that Bonneau, Blake, and Cochrane are there for the sole purpose for self aggrandisement while Cr Rob Pyne is showing inclination of being a populist.

With aspiration of the Mayoralty in his long term vision he will need to make tough calls. His articulation in his contribution to this Blog are somewhat in conflict with his spoken mantra.

While its is fashionable to be critical of the Mayor, the person/s casting aspirations need to be consistent to retain creditability.

Perhaps, Cr Rob Pyne could address his voting inconsistencies with another piece on the Blog,

Anonymous said...

Actually, some of that is fair. I have left meetings with Val and Tabulo and said to myself, ‘why didn’t I say that’ and ‘I wish I had said such and such’. I do try to be honest though. I honestly will not run for Mayor, and my inability to engage in and win such conversation and debate is a part of the reason, I also do not feel I am a polished enough public speaker. I could not win without the backing of one of the big parties anyway (and that will never happen).

I do have a couple degrees (politics and law) so I am not the intellectual pigmy some suggest. In relation to ‘fact mans’ comments, I had a priority list for bus shelters 3 months ago and I had 3 in the top 7 in my Division. Yet when 10 new shelters were approved recently, none were in Division 3. No, the operation of aspects of Works and Services is still a bit of a mystery.


Dotted Quad said...

Every year it seems that more and more control over what Councillors can change and influence is being striped away from them. Now people will blame the non elected members (staff) for this, but in truth they are bound to follow the legislation set by the state, however some do take the opportunity to exploit it as well. In part these legislative changes are simply reactive changes in response to a few misbehaving Councillors somewhere in the state or nation. Rather then establish stronger penalties for such behaviour they assume Councillors simply can’t be trusted with such authority so its being taken off them. Its the old rule in western sociality being if something happens treat it as the rule rather than the exception, that it most likely is. Net result is everyone suffers because of the behaviour of a few.

I am a strong believer in the separation between elected and non elected members within the organisation and I do agree that too much control is now in the hands of faceless bureaucrats. I differ slightly with you Robert on the level you believe is doing the influencing. Yes EMT allow it to happen, but its the Branch Manager level where the issues really come from

See the other inconvenient truth is that the General Managers and Branch Managers aren’t in control of the place either. Mostly because the majority of them lack the basic management capability and intellect to administer their areas of responsibility. Policy and procedure can be followed or not as there is no consequence or reward for doing so. Managers who lack the skills to “manage” staff try to be either the bully or the buddy. You would be amazed at the lengths some managers will go to “get’ staff on some trumped up charge rather than deal with the real issue at hand.

GMs have coined the phase “The frozen layer” in describing Branch Managers, which amazingly doesn’t register for them as an admission they aren’t doing their job.

These are just some facts that the new CEO, Lyn Russell, will have already begun to see and the big question is if she will be able to do something about it. The majority of staff are hoping like hell see can and she will find supporters within the ranks. Just make sure Robert you and the rest of Council are ready to back her when the blow back begins.

Alison Alloway said...

You are to be congratulated on your candour, Rob. Your comments here reflect a certain amount of honesty and courage. This is your first term as a Councillor with the CRC, so you are still on that immense learning curve. I don't think you should put aside aspirations for the Mayoralty and waste these four valuable years. One thing you have competently demonstrated, despite your handicap, is your ability to engage effectively with the public!! Regrettably, other Councillors cannot say the same.
Leadership isn't a genetic attribute. It has to be earned and learned, often very painfully. Leaders distinguish themselves by standing up for what is right, even when the chips are down and the world is "agin" them and leaders never "go with the flow" just because it is comfortable to do so.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit surprised that Cr Pyne doesn't know what Val believes in - I am sure that she has articulated her vision for this region many times - perhaps you weren't listening? On the other hand - what do you believe in - flip flop decision making after being bullied by Margaret Cochrane? Or perhaps Division 3 over everything thing else? Or maybe pretend that you're scared of public speaking so that's why you don't speak up?? Give us a break. You need to grow up mate and accept that you are a councillor for the whole region and not your own divisional interests and that the recommendations of council officers are consistent and non-biased - unlike your own.