Saturday 21 November 2009

Saturday SoapBlog: Councillor Pyne considers his worth

Cairns Regional Councillor Robert Pyne, takes the CairnsBlog SoapBlog. He discusses the role and influence Councillors and staff have.

A few days of ill health recently gave me time to reflect upon my role as a Councillor.

The extent of my inability to ‘make a difference’ in my community is something that concerned me to the extent I reconsidered the worth of continuing in my position.
Of course ‘a good politician’ would never admit they are not ‘in control.’ Indeed most are that good at denying their lack of control, that they manage to create the impression they are actually running things. What do I mean?
Well in today’s 'Australia', most elected members simply wait for a positive announcement in there electorate, and then sign off on a media release. That creates the impression that they not only had a hand in the decision, but were the driving force behind it.

A local example for me, was the announcement of funding for a Disaster Coordination Centre in Woree. My Cairns Regional Council budget media announcement proclaimed my involvement and delight in this project. Of course I had nothing to do with it, and only found out about it after it had been announced, via a contact in the media.
On the day it was announced, I went down to the media parade. I did not have the hide to take centre-stage at the announcement, but had I done so, I doubt I would have been able to push Margaret, Kirsten, Jan and Jim out of the way to get in shot for the camera anyway. The only local person who did play a role, Jeff Pezzutti, was not in attendance. Indeed, I don’t think his name was even mentioned.

Where is this ‘confession of a politician’ heading?
It is to state clearly, in no uncertain terms, that all of these big decisions are driven by unelected ‘faceless’ bureaucrats – people who have had power handed to them by politicians, who were more considered with ‘spin’ than making decisions.

They have sacrificed their authority to make decisions, which had been vested in them by the ultimate source of legitimate authority, the democratically expressed will of the people.
At Cairns Regional Council level, elected members do not speak with one voice.
How are decisions made then? The are made, in the main, by senior management level, by the Executive Management Team. Imagine my surprise as a newly elected Councillor, when one general manager, when speaking to me, referred to the EMT as 'The Real Council.'
So how do elected members disguise this fact to the public? Well, we are nothing if not a creative lot.
When Noel Briggs was the CEO, one serving Councillor would sneak in to see him just after EMT meetings and then come into the Councillor's office and proudly proclaim: “I have spoken to Noel, and this is what I have told him we should do.” This ‘spinning’ suggested he was a man of some influence, something that was far from the case.
This was all happening a few short weeks after Council had decided, by a narrow majority, to reappoint Noel Briggs, without advertising the position. In retrospect, I acknowledge my own decision to support Briggs was a mistake, and a mistake that was to ultimately prove costly to the ratepayers of Cairns. However, I plead ignorance. I grew up in an era when the CEO was called the Shire Clerk, and saw his role as nothing grander than human resource management and implementing the will of the Council.
There are no finer examples of such men than Arthur Forno, and of course Bill Mills, who sadly passed away last week.
At the time I could not understand Val’s fury at the Briggs appointment. Of course, now I do. The Mayor in today’s Queensland, is not the authority figure. It is the CEO.

NB: If you would like to get on the CairnsBlog SoapBlog, drop me an email.


Clifton Lurker said...

I moved to Cairns from the USA, a city with the same population as Cairns. In the USA, most cities are chartered as "city manager" governments. The elected officials are part-time, setting direction and policy but NOT "running" the city. My previous city was known to be both well-managed and progressive - in 20 years we had two city managers. Council members are paid $50 per meeting (generally one council meeting per week) to a maximum of $250 per month.

They are provided a full-time field representative to handle the day-to day matters.

This structure serves most small to medium sized cities well in the USA. Politicians don't have the opportunity to meddle in the operations, and professionals perform the daily functions. And yet the pollies are fully able to set the strategic direction for the city, and with them only part-time councilors, you get people who are genuine community-centric leaders instead of failed newsagents who can't find a job.

There is no reason that I can see for ten full-time councillors at a cost of what, $2-3million per year?

Bryan Law said...

Robert, that’s a seriously good story and analysis you’ve put together. I can empathise with the kind of reflection that happens during an episode of ill health. It’s a kind of thinking free of bullshit.

Thanks for acknowledging the harm that keeping Noel Briggs on did to CRC. Thanks for acknowledging your own mistakes. There is still a group of Councillors who don’t accept Val’s legitimacy. To undermine Val, they assert the legitimacy of Briggs and Tabulo instead. Briggs has gone but Tabulo’s here for five more years to steer the Council’s approval process. Thanks to Margaret Cochrane. This kind of “professional” governance threatens us all.

You said “[Elected representatives] have sacrificed their authority to make decisions, which had been vested in them by the ultimate source of legitimate authority, the democratically expressed will of the people”.

I see two ways forward. The first practical reality is that we help and support Val Schier to become an authoritative Mayor – or we have someone else (Richard Ireland, Bill Calderwood, Margaret Cochrane?). Urk. I think we should get onto making Val stronger, and I think you need to get active in that process.

The second reality is that (the people) in Cairns are pretty pathetic. A lot like sheep, actually. We all need to strengthen the performance of community groups (Clifton Beach, Freshwater sand mine, Earville Lavis constrainers) that regularly emerge to take up issues of amenity, integrity, and sustainability in their area.

An active, engaged and informed community can give even Peter Tabulo effective direction.

Factman said...

Interesting post and I hope you're feeling better, Rob.

Geez, I miss Jeff Pezzutti these days. He was brilliant - not to say his successor is any less ... :>)

I don't wish to say to much about the power/influence of the CEO except to say that I never recalled the CEO/EMT having much influence over the previous Mayor.
In fact, it was probably more the other way around.

Best wishes to Lynn Russell - I've met her a couple of times and I am impressed.
I believe she will be successful in whatever goals she sets herself.

And she likes tropical Friday shirts ha-ha.

See - ya Rob.

hieronymus bosch said...

Factman is spot on. Although Cllrs are not allowed to "direct staff", not in your wildest dreams did KB stick to this. There is no doubt he set the agenda and, like Capt Picard, said, "make it so".

Having said that, there is also little doubt KB and the GMs would have been in concert on most issues anyway.

Miss Chief. said...

Well done Rob!
It's refreshing to hear someone actually admit to their failings and those of a top heavy beaurocratic mishmash. Why do we ever have council elections? Joe & Jane Public have no chance when our councillors are treated as imbeciles. I miss Arthur & Bill too...but then I really miss Tom Pyne the most. The gentlemen seem to have left the building with the advent of KB's error...opps that should read era.
Keep on telling it like it is Rob.

CBD Warrior said...

If Rob feels this strongly, he should resign.

He's obviously ineffective to his division and unable to resolve his personal problems.

Ross Parisi said...

CBD Warrior your comments are totally uncalled for in Rob's scenario.

Comments like yours are the ones that discourage Politicians/Councillor to be frank and candid.

Instead of tearing down Rob, why do you not urge the other 10 Councillors and the local Politicians to tell it how it is without the obligatory spin.

Unknown said...

this is a typical stunt by a councillor who is as mercenary and dishonest as our friend mr snake.

and it should come as no surprise to anyone that Lying Bore has taken the opportunity to lick his nether regions.

when you see that fat old publicity hound supporting someone, you know to run a million miles in the other direction. Cyclone Bullshit is about to hit.

taxman said...

I recently met the new CEO of Cairns at a business function. She's a ball-breaker and anyone who steps up against her will have a battle on their hands.
IMO, toughest women this council has seen in a loooong time . lol I'd love to be a fly on the wall...

Cairns Resident said...

Re: Criticism by the Clifton Lurker
Implementation of a Corporate agenda by corporate leaders and senior political appointments, without reference to the people, is the definition of fascism - is this not the case?

Dutchie said...

I have said it all along. Councillors are nothing more but lobbyists.

Kirsten Lesina said...

Rob must have forgotten that it was the councillors who decided to make the Disaster Coordination centre a priority for the federal government's Regional communities and Local Government Infrastructure program. And it was our mayor, Val Schier, who got it onto the agenda in Canberra and lobbied for it to be funded amongst the couple of hundred projects that missed out. Council officers did the right thing by having identified a site where a Disaster Coordination centre might be identified.

Alison Alloway said...

Whatever, after the tsunami scare a couple of years back when all the arterial roads were quickly bottle-necked, we not only need a Disaster Co-ordination Centre, but a proper evacuation plan with suburban "wardens" or whoever to direct traffic, organise help etc.

John McKenzie's mis-information that day really highlighted in a stark way, just how unprepared the city is for a disaster.

Raj Patel said...

Rob, you really have to look at all the good you have done for your division especially the little things like footpaths, the trees etc ,that is more important to the people who elected you then all these big picture items

Raj Patel said...
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