By Jess Baker
Southern Downs Regional Council has established a new advisory committee, which Mayor Vic Pennisi said will help the council tackle challenges associated with waste, population growth, and income.
The council voted to adopt Terms of Reference for the Southern Downs Innovation and Development Committee at an ordinary meeting on 26 May.
Cr Pennisi said in June that while he hadn’t yet met with the committee, its members had been established.
“So what I did was I basically invited expressions of interest from a heap of people and I said if you’re interested send us your CV,” Cr Pennisi said.
“… we’re down to six members plus a couple of government departments, state development, and the innovation arm of Minister Hinchcliffe’s.”
Cr Pennisi said it will be the decision of the members whether to share their identities with the public, as they “don’t need to get caught up in the politics of it all”.
“But (the committee) is there to try and help us steer this local government in a direction where we embrace innovation and we do it in a way without the politics,” he said.
The mayor said the first topics on the committee’s agenda would be innovation in waste, population growth, and alternate income streams for the council.
He said those three topics were the council’s “really big inhibitors”, closely followed by water and sewerage.
The committee’s Terms of Reference were not wholly accepted by Southern Downs councillors when brought to a meeting in May, with Councillor Cynthia McDonald the most vocal critic.
Cr McDonald shared at the meeting that while she believed the intent of the committee had merit, she had several concerns in regards to the Terms of Reference tabled.
“The first being unelected officials would be setting the agenda, not elected members,” she said at the time.
“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 asked the council why the meeting details would be confidential, given the council was looking to provide transparency.
In June, Cr Pennisi told Warwick and Stanthorpe Today that the correspondence provided by him to committee members would also be shared with the media.
He confirmed minutes from the committee’s meetings would be “circulated around”, though not about matters which are commercial in confidence.
The council’s decision to form an advisory committee has faced some criticism from the public since May, but Cr Pennisi said they are no new concept.
“Look, I’ve known many, many mayors in the past and nearly all of them have had some sort of advisory group,” he said.
“The only difference with this mayor is I’ve let everyone know.”
He revealed that former Southern Downs Mayor Tracey Dobie had an economic development committee and former Mayor Peter Blundell had an advisory committee.
“In fact, my understanding is that the previous Mayor Dobie was on Mayor Blundell’s committee,” Cr Pennisi said.
“But I didn’t know who was on their committees, it didn’t matter. Those committees, in many respects, are irrelevant because whatever the outcome is, it has to be approved in the boardroom.”