Proposal to affect councillors
A PROPOSAL by Corporate Services director Andrew Ireland could see Southern Downs Regional councillors stripped of their power to decide which community organisations get grants.
The report to the Corporate Services Committee meeting last week had eight councillors at loggerheads.
Councillors Mally McMurtrie, Denise Ingram and Jo McNally and Deputy Mayor Peter Blundell favoured councillors stepping back from the decision-making process, which would instead be done by three council staff.
Mayor Ron Bellingham and councillors Vic Pennisi, Cameron Gow and Ross Bartley were passionate that, as elected representatives, it was their responsibility to decide which organisations would get what share of ratepayers’ funds.
Mr Ireland was instructed by councillors last month to research new guidelines for processing grant applications. Under the proposal, grants would be offered twice yearly and applications would be processed by council staff, then chief executive Rod Ferguson would be delegated authority to approve payments.
Community services director Tony Minuti would provide an annual report to the council about which organisations received donations and grants.
Mr Ireland said the guidelines would provide “more structure than currently exists” to the grants and donations process.
Cr Bellingham was unhappy about the proposal.
“I don’t want to abdicate my responsibility to officers who may not have our knowledge across this area,” he said.
“Some of them have a limited period of time with us.
“Bluntly, it is ratepayer money we’re talking about.”
Cr Bartley said if the guidelines were adopted, he wanted some changes.
“I’d be reluctant to see a six-monthly report. I’d rather see a monthly report to see where the money is going,” he said.
Cr Gow agreed.
“It is imperative to have that local knowledge,” he said.
However Cr Ingram believed the guidelines were a good suggestion.
“I have some concern with the old boys’ idea,” she retorted.
“I feel quite happy with what the director of Corporate Services has suggested.”
Cr Blundell said the new system would take the decision-making process away from the “political argy-bargy” of the committee table.
“The problem we have sitting around this table is none of us are impartial ... I’m as guilty as anyone.
“The great advantage to having a panel of officers would be objectivity,” he said.
This did not convince the mayor.
“As for impartiality as councillors, I deny that, because frankly that’s the challenge to councillors,” Cr Bellingham said.
“I’d like to get this at a full arm’s length but, at the end of the day, we have the responsibility.”
He said if the guidelines were approved, a councillor should be appointed to the committee.
Cr Ingram disagreed.
“I think (the new guidelines) works out quite well. We asked the director to come up with something and now he has,” she said.
Cr McNally said she believed the new system would be a “fair outcome” and moved in accordance with the recommendation.
Cr Ingram seconded but the decision split councillors.
Crs McMurtrie, Ingram, McNally and Blundell approved the guidelines, with Crs Bellingham, Pennisi, Gow and Bartley voting against.
Committee chair Cr McMurtrie used her casting vote to approve the recommendation.
Leyburn Sprints Committee president Ann Collins said she believed it was the councillors’ responsibility to make the decisions.
“Some of the councillors could be biased, which is fine, but so could some of the community services officers as well – they’re part of the community too,” she said.
“I would like to think that the councillors make that decision because we, as a community, need to be able to approach councillors.”
Mrs Collins also urged councillors to consider being more flexible with the upper limit of the donations.
“I’d like to see that change a little bit so it’s proportionate ... I’d still like to see the councillors make the decision but not be so black and white,” she said.
The issue will be discussed again at the general meeting tomorrow.