Power play at City Hall
RETIRED explosives inspector Brad Bauer lit the fuse of dissent in the council chamber yesterday and watched the councillors explode with derision...one by one.
The 63-year-old from Frenchville was so upset by the way he had been treated by the organisation he spent a year analysing what was wrong.
And yesterday he was awarded a rare chance to enter the corridors of power to tell the councillors and senior bureaucrats why they were failing.
His withering account of ineffective elected representatives, poor communication, dismissive staff and inappropriate use of power might have made the officers squirm.
But it was gleefully received by the elected members.
Mr Bauer said the way the council interpreted the Local Government Act placed far too much power with the chief executive and his staff and left the representatives of the people impotent bystanders.
He presented the councillors with a blueprint for seizing back power and authority and said he had been appalled to find a culture in City Hall where officers denigrated the councillors and displayed a lack of respect.
His hackles were raised when it took the council eight months to answer a simple question about a local law.
"It's just not acceptable," he said.
"If councillors, who are there to represent us can't find out what's going on, that's just ridiculous."
He said councillors were hated by the public, but in his opinion they had been stripped of their authority.
"The mayor is the elected leader and should be in charge.
"The chief executive should answer to him and help councillors to do what they have been elected to do," he said.
Deputy Mayor Rose Swadling thanked Mr Bauer for his analysis.
"It's obviously been done out of frustration. Most people have a moan but do not offer us answers," she said.
A number of councillors used the opportunity to vent their own frustrations.
Cr Bill Ludwig said changes in the Local Government Act over the years had given councillors more responsibility but less power and it was now time to "put the power back in the hands of the elected representatives".
He said the barriers between councillors and staff had to be demolished.
"When councillors can't get a response, what chance do ordinary constituents stand," he said.
"The system is failing to deliver and you wonder why councillors are cheesed off. We are being kept in the dark."
Cr Tony Williams said he believed the council's bureaucrats had interpreted the Act too literally and had made matters worse.
"I was gobsmacked the other day to learn that, during an induction meeting for new staff, they were told that they must not talk to councillors.
"There's nothing in the Act that says that."
Cr Glenda Mather said there had been an unacceptable tension for the entire term.
She described communications as poor and said there was a perception that there was a constant battle - councillors versus staff versus public.
Councillors unanimously supported a proposal by Cr Stephen Schwarten aimed at stopping bureaucrats from ignoring maintenance requests from councillors.
In future the chief executive will have to report monthly on each maintenance request updating when each job has been completed and where the matter remains outstanding, an explanation of why the job has not been done and a date when it will be completed.