Food stays on the table at community sit downs

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DINNERS will still be dished out to ratepayers who sit down to break bread with councillors at regular community council meetings despite some misgivings about the cost of the meals.

The meetings, held six times a year, see elected representatives mix with the people they represent, but some councillors at the latest public council meeting, on 27 February, questioned spending ratepayers’ money on feeding ratepayers.

Council officers had prepared a report – at the request of unnamed council-lors – that suggested the meetings either be axed, continue as they are or offer finger food instead of a full meal.

Governance manager Joe Spiteri advised councillors “high 30s [dollars] per head just on catering” was spent on dinners for attendees.

The yearly cost was estimated at about $25,000.

Cr Antonella Celi wanted council to continue hosting the community meetings but believed costs could be lower.

“I think that council really needs to seriously consider and revise the amount of expenditure that we’re actually doing at the community meetings,” Cr Celi said.

“It’s great to see them [residents] at a meeting, but most of them go after dinner and a lot of them don’t remain for the rest of the meeting unless there’s an item of interest for them.”

Community council meetings are held before public council meetings where councillors debate and vote on municipality concerns such as planning matters.

Cr Hugh Fraser was troubled that community council meetings could be on the chopping block.

“It’s rather unfortunate and distressing to see that this council seems to be retreating from its engagement and consultation with the community,” he said.

“The community loves to see its councillors at work and see its representative and structures happening and operation and, what’s more, being carried to the four corners of the shire.

“It’s in Mt Eliza, it’s at Mornington, it’s in Rosebud when we meet, it’s in Hastings, it’s in Somerville. We go to the community. We are representatives of the community.”

Crs Sam Hearn, Frank Martin and Bryan Payne were also concerned at the cost of meals and thought a less lavish food spread  more appropriate.

“I believe we’re putting too much emphasis on food for the community. The prime thing we want to do is get the community here,” Cr Martin said.

“Do we have to bribe the community to get here? I don’t think we do.”

Cr David Gill backed the continuation of community meetings but said they “are a little bit boring” and should be more structured and give ratepayers the chance to ask formal questions of councillors “in a Q and A session”.

“We need to lift our game a little,” he said.

Cr Hearn noted that Cr Gill – often a lone voice against council resolutions early in the new council term – had been trying to spark interest in council meetings.

“I’d like to thank Cr Gill for his personal contribution to making our council meetings entertaining and unpredictable this year.”

Councillors voted to maintain the status quo and keep hosting community meetings, meals but not entertainment included.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 14 March 2017

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