Councillor’s concerns over ‘secretive’ advisory group

Councillor Cynthia McDonald's fierce opposition to the terms of the new advisory committee was met with no response.

By Jess Baker

A Southern Downs councillor has criticised plans to establish a council advisory committee, raising concerns about it being secretive, an unnecessary financial burden, and an inhibition on the democratic process.

A draft terms of reference for the Southern Downs Innovation and Development Committee was tabled at the 26 May Southern Downs Regional Council meeting.

The report stated the council is in the midst of a “rapidly changing environment” and needs support to meet both existing and emerging demands.

“The key overall objective of any local authority is to protect and improve the … wellbeing of the community, and to encourage development across the public and private sector that is fit for purpose and sustainable,” it read.

“These are not simply matters for government itself but must include the attraction, holding and supporting of desirable and sustainable private investment.”

Six to eight members will be appointed to the committee by Mayor Vic Pennisi, with involvement to be on an honorary basis.

Only Cr Pennisi and Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley will represent SDRC on the committee and be privy to full discussions.

Councillor Cynthia McDonald said she was concerned that there would be no open selection process for members of the committee and that hand-picking them could be perceived as “favouring political allies.”

“The mayor is the first among equals, we’re not running the council by an executive order of the mayor or deputy mayor,” Cr McDonald said.

“Therefore, any advisory role should be the entire council from my perspective.”

Cr McDonald questioned the appropriateness of having unelected officials influence the mayor and the council’s decisions.

“This type of process could be considered as undermining our democratically elected members who have been appointed by their constituents for their experience and qualifications,” she said.

According to the draft terms of reference, the committee meetings will be confidential and only “agreed general notes will be taken and circulated.”

“The (committee) shall report regularly on its activities, provide SDRC with guidance (and) make recommendations to SDRC through the provision of the (committee) meeting minutes to SDRC,” read the report.

Committee members are not expected to have any interaction with the council, SDRC staff nor other external third parties, and the costs associated with committee meetings will be met by the council.

Cr McDonald reflected on the council’s past inability to finance a car for her to conduct a reconnaissance on potential saleyards sites, and asked where it would find the money to support a new group.

“How are we going to fund this? Where are we bringing these people from?” Cr McDonald asked the council.

Despite Cr McDonald’s vocal opposition to the draft terms of reference, she was the only councillor to vote against adopting them as they were presented at the ordinary meeting.