LAST Wednesday morning, in a special meeting of South Gippsland Shire Council held to consider Council’s draft Financial Statements and draft Annual Report, the praise – by shire councillors – for all that Council has achieved was effusive.
Mayor Warren Raabe, for one, said that Council “does an astonishing amount” and “we don’t tell our community enough about what we do…We should celebrate our Annual Report.”
Later that same day a vastly different view of Council was presented by Andrew McEwen. The Meeniyan resident (and former shire employee) is standing for Council in Strzelecki Ward in the forthcoming elections. According to Mr McEwen, Council lacks vision and “has a poor track record on delivering positive outcomes”.
The shire’s strategic vision – or lack thereof – came in for particularly strong criticism from Mr McEwen, who was making a presentation on the shire’s draft economic development strategy.
“I am concerned that the South Gippsland Shire’s proposed draft economic development strategy is badly letting down farmers, the agricultural sector and indeed the wider community,” he said, urging Council to work in partnership with the agricultural and business sectors and do more to support farmers in particular.
“It is important that Council works collaboratively with the farming community and organisations to address escalating energy and fertiliser costs, explore the potential of carbon farming and assist in addressing succession issues,” he said. “Council’s performance in economic development could only be described as pedestrian.”
He said that South Gippsland has had “a decade of lost opportunities” and “requires new blood to provide the leadership to promote sustainable economic development”.
He lamented the dearth of a strategic vision and called for a “genuinely shared vision for the future of the shire,” saying “If you don’t know where you are going you are unlikely to get there.”
In response, the mayor acknowledged that the shire’s vision has not been updated for some time. He said he expected it to be one of the first tasks of the newly elected Council, and he looked forward to contributing – as a community member as he is stepping down from Council – to a new strategic vision to be prepared early next year.
However, in discussion of the shire’s Annual Report (which Cr Jim Fawcett described as a report card on the shire) the mayor was overwhelmingly positive.
Cr Raabe singled out for special mention the “staggering” amount of $3.4 million in grants secured by the shire over the course of the year, thanks largely to the efforts of grants officer Penni Ellicott.
He also said it was wonderful to see that as many as 9864 people or 35 per cent of the South Gippsland population had library membership, and that the L2P driver education project was running very successfully, with 60 young people in the program. He had lots of praise, too, for Aged and Disability Services, pointing out that council staff from this area had won an ‘Outstanding Project Non Grant Funded’ award and were finalists in the ‘Outstanding Team Contribution’ award. As for Children and Family Services, “Haven’t we been busy in this area!” He cited the opening of the Prom Coast Centre for Children at Foster and the progress being made on plans for a similar centre at Korumburra.
Cr Mohya Davies congratulated the staff who prepared the Annual Report for producing such a readable document, clearly set out in dot points and beautifully illustrated with photographs.
“It’s hardly bedtime reading, but it is a good document to show the community,” said Cr Mimmie Jackson. The report, she said, listed some significant achievements made by Council over the past year, among them the introduction of a fortnightly Nyora mobile library service and the completion of the Waste Management Strategy. She said the road crews had faced enormous challenges in making road repairs over the inordinately wet and windy winter South Gippsland had experienced and the completed work was to their credit.
Cr Jackson said that the corporate area did not tend to get the attention it perhaps deserved, so she wished to say how grateful she was to the IT staff who helped her with computer technology and what a good job the finance staff did. She said also that it was good to see that occupational health and safety incidents had reduced in number. “It’s good to see the staff looking after each other.”
“I encourage people to read it,” said Cr Fawcett, explaining that he had much the same positive view of the Annual Report as the mayor. “I’d like to be able to say it should be required reading!”
Recommended – if not required – reading, the Draft Annual Report 2011-2012 is accessible via the council website or by contacting South Gippsland Shire Council on 5662 9200.