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Council -V- the electorate – conflict heats up

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The conflict between the Rural City of Wangaratta and the electorate has deepened dramatically with the “Save the Memorial Town Hall” group taking out a full page advertisement in The Chronicle challenging the RCoW propaganda leaflet justifying its stance on the demolition of the Memorial Town Hall.

(Click image for full screen version of Ad from The Chronicle).

What is the real story behind the conflict? Clearly the community is against the demolition of the Memorial Town Hall, however the real issue lies much deeper than this.

The questions people are asking are, “Why is the Rural City of Wangaratta council so determined to have its way?” – “Why would one third of the electorate sign a petition to block its council?” – “Why would the council spend around $20,000 to hire a contractor to conduct a 500 person survey, publish and distribute a glossy brochure to every household, take out a full page ad in The Chronicle, and conduct a public meeting to justify its decision to demolish the Memorial Town Hall?” – “Why would the council place a ban on one of its own who voiced an opinion?” – and – “Why won’t the CEO divulge relevent information to one of our elected representatives?”

The answers to these questions can only lead to the conclusion that the people of Wangaratta no longer have confidence in their council.

The problem appears to be systemic having first appeared in March 2005 with the abolition of portfolios – an action explained in The Chronicle letters of councillors as a process to bring the vocal minority of councillors into line.

The authoritarian stance of a succession of mayors has not been appreciated by the electorate. The ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations that are never revealed make a mockery of democratic debate in council. Alternatives are rarely discussed. The only topic of discussion in council meetings is the recommendation of the bureaucracy. The council is clearly ‘on the nose’.

The protocols used by council are in the name of good governance. The end result is that the ratepayers are ‘mushroomed’ and they don’t like it. Why else would one third of all voters sign a petition against a council decision?

The ongoing determination of council to demolish the Town Hall has turned many ratepayers against it. But, is it really the council?

We learned last week that the CEO was not prepared to discuss ‘operational matters’ with individual councillors. The actions of the RCoW since the petition was raised have not been discussed in council. So, who authorised the public meeting, the full page Chronicle ad, the brochure and the survey?

We need to know if these actions were taken by the administration under the power of delegation, or by an undisclosed meeting of the council or the councillors. Spending up to $20,000 on a dead horse is no way to win the confidence of the ratepayers.

Either way, something must be done before the whole thing is brought down by the state government.

Chronicle coverage follows …

Town hall supporters promote alternative to demoliltion bid

THE battle for the hearts and minds of Wangaratta residents over the town hall issue has taken another turn.

The Save the Memorial Town Hall Group has taken out a full page advertisement in today’s Chronicle to counter claims being made in a leaflet which has been distributed to all homes by the Rural City of Wangaratta.

The group believes the council pamphlet only puts one side of the picture, and does not give residents the full facts and other options.

Today’s advertisement addresses the same issues as the council pamphlet and also includes an alternative design which retains the current facility but includes an attached performing arts centre area.
Group spokesperson Bill O’Callaghan said the design was an indication of what could be achieved without demolishing the current town hall.

“Our number one aim is to save the town hall. It is the people’s hall, not the council’s, and it was built as a memorial to the bravery of local servicemen and women.

“The current councillors are on the verge of making a major mistake which they will have to live with for years to come,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

The council has accepted a tender design brief to construct the new performing arts centre at a cost of $7.6m – and is anxiously waiting on the State Government to provide $5m of that.

However, the plan involves the demolition of the current town hall – not its refurbishment, which is what the tender brief called for.

In response, Mr O’Callaghan’s group, over a two week period, collected 6000 names on a petition opposing the demolition of the hall.

“And the support is still flooding in,” he said yesterday.

“It is quite amazing the reaction we are getting. People are continually stopping me in the street to offer their support, with many saying they would add their names to the petition if they had the chance.

“The feeling against demolishing our town hall is very strong and very widespread.

“Council is sending out its pamphlet in a bid to win people over prior to conducting its own survey. I can understand them doing that, as they are trying to justify a decision which may not have been their original idea.

“But hopefully our advertisement today will point out the alternatives that are available to council,” he said.

Mr O’Callaghan confirmed that he had been in contact with the Minister for Local Government, Candy Broad, to make her aware of the widespread opposition to the council plan.


Written by Greg Naylor

25 August 2006 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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