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LETTER: council’s behaviour towards property owners and rights

Margaret Strelow wasn’t leading an aldermanic team in the council election (John Baxter, 8 April) and her re-election is only a win for residents and ratepayers if she improves on her past performance.

If you’re impressed by zero depth water play areas in parks and coloured lights in Quay Street perhaps you can believe Margaret Strelow is a successful Mayor.

I’m a good deal more concerned about substantial matters like council’s misbehaviour in regards to urban property rights.

Margaret Strelow has been mayor for 16 of the last 20 years, including the last eight years in a row, so it is hard to argue that she has had no influence on the culture of the council and the staff employed there.

As a landholder, resident and ratepayer I’m a law-abiding citizen.

I pay my rates on time, I obey council bylaws and I expect to be treated like a team player by council.

In fact I often feel that I am being treated like the enemy.

Over the past 20 years, so many of my experiences with staff of this council have been distressing to the point that my heart is my mouth any time I have to engage with them at all. The counter staff are fine but the rest scare me.

There are many ‘drainage issues’ around North Rockhampton.

Myself and my neighbours and others in these suburbs know that at best these issues lead to property damage and devaluation, and at worst can sometimes put human lives at risk.

This is especially so when occupiers assume a modern lowset house won’t be subject to inundation, and yes I can give you several examples that didn’t make it to the media.

Council engineers have voiced opinions to me on occasions that amount to “water can flow uphill under its own steam”.

I recently had an experience where council charged $962 to complete one small part of a much larger land title document but failed to do so correctly.

The document was sent back to me to get council to fill out the third line.

In the end council told me that I should have just filled it out myself, despite it being a legal document.

I have no problem with letting council onto our property and council knows this – I have written to them about it multiple times and I have never once refused them access.

But on multiple occasions council workers and contractors turn up without notice and expect to have immediate and open access to the property.

I’ve been horrified to come home and find council has accessed my land by breaking a boundary fence, used machinery to push over trees I’ve planted and left broken boundary fences where my animals can wander off (for which I am legally liable and for which council can fine me).

Council continues to ignore my concerns to this day and as recently as 3 months ago I was startled to find a group of men with equipment wandering around without having notified me.

If Margaret Strelow is really serious about being a Mayor for the 21st century here are some business improvements she could make right now:

1. Have ongoing training programs in place to ensure staff understand their responsibilities. This includes everything from customer service to professional and ethical standards.

2. Develop a central database of landholders and residents and ensure all information received by any business unit is uploaded into that database. Each property and each owner is unique, and unique information needs to be collected and collated instead of binned.

3. Issue maps to all workers when they go out into the field. Maps to include names and contact numbers of all owners of property adjacent to where the work will be happening.

4. Link from map to database so that field workers can access all info if needed at short notice when in the field.

Disclaimer: the views expressed are my personal views and not those of my employer.

Susan Cunningham, Koongal

Response:

Each of the measures that Ms Cunningham has suggested are already in place and have been for some time.

Council has training programs on responsibilities, customer service and appropriate behaviour. I am amazed at how calm our customer service people can be in the face of sometimes very difficult circumstances.

Council has a database with all of the region’s landholders and customers and tablet devices that have maps and database available for infield staff.

Ms Cunningham raises two issues.

The most recent matter is in relation to a Form on which a council officer did not insert the words ‘Rockhampton Regional Council’ in the appropriate space. The line was left blank.

This is information that is normally completed by the surveyors.

If council officers had noticed that the line was blank they would have inserted the words ‘Rockhampton Regional Council’ in the appropriate space. I also had to sign the document (which is the registration of a subdivision) and I didn’t notice that the line had not been completed either.

We have apologised many times.

In relation to the matter of council access onto her land and comments about bulldozers, it’s important to give a little context.

Ms Cunningham’s land adjoins a creek. In the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Marcia, council crews and the army moved quickly to try to clear waterways.

There was a second rain system starting to work its way down the coast and our creeks were full of fallen debris. In the urgency of the clean-up process one of our teams didn’t realise there was a boundary fence to Ms Cunningham’s property until it was too late.

There were fallen trees and branches everywhere. Similarly there have been multiple apologies and council reinstated the fence.

We genuinely do try to do the right thing – and when we make a mistake we apologise.

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow



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