THE concerns of several Orange councillors canvassed in today’s front-page story could be summed up as “Who’s running the show, the elected councillors or the paid staff?”
Modern local government is a maze of rules and regulations which govern not only how the day-to-day business of providing services and approving developments is conducted, but also how councillors and staff should interact.
The separation of the roles of councillors and staff has evolved in part to stop councillors from trying to influence the decisions staff make which almost always have commercial implications.
There is also the problem of an overzealous, pedantic or obsessive councillor taking up an enormous amount of staff time with needless questions.
Thankfully Orange has not been a council where the conduct of either councillors or staff has required intervention from the department. There are many other councils where this has not been the case.
It remains however a dynamic relationship which requires a balancing hand from a general manager who is charged with overseeing a multi-million dollar business which interacts with a democratic institution.
It is the democratic and representative role of the council which currently has councillors concerned. It is the 12 elected councillors after all who are directly answerable to the community, not the paid staff.
There will always be issues of a sensitive commercial nature which councillors will be briefed on confidentially, just as there will be issues of a policy or philosophical nature which councillors should decide on publicly.
The question at the moment, as nearly as the public can tell given the confidential goings on, is whether too many matters are being thrashed out in private or being decided by staff which should really be in the realm of an open council.
The number of councillors voicing concern and their many years of experience indicates there is more to this than councillor ego.
If the spirit of open local government is falling victim to expediency, residents will not have heard the last from them.