MANAGING the $160 million budget of a public organisation can’t be easy when you compare it to a private business.
Apart from financial disclosure with various agencies and fair trading requirements, a business can largely operate for its own interests without the added burden of having to remain open to the public, at least not to the extent a council does.
With pressure from higher levels of government to run a tight ship, councils have to get the best value for ratepayers’ money, but at the same time keep those ratepayers in the loop.
So while moving things into confidential committees when a decision needs to be made and putting matters in briefings when they are still in progress protects the council as a business, to the public it smacks of secrecy.
But Orange councillors are telling us that perhaps the perception would not be so acute if other matters, matters which have already been in the public arena, were not placed in briefings.
They tell us that everything from the Forest Road bridge to the Northern Distributor Road to road maintenance priorities to the Robertson Park toilets have been on briefing agendas since September.
Of course we mustn’t forget that this is a fresh council with five first-time councillors and the complexity of an organisation the size of Orange City Council is a lot for someone to get their head around.
We have been told many of these briefings were put in place to help the council with this task.
But concerned councillors, incumbents and newcomers alike, are raising concerns about the number of briefings held – we understand almost every week since the election – and whether some of the matters would not be better dealt with in an open way.
Two councillors have told us they feel as though they’re being conditioned to vote a certain way when decision time came.
This issue was last raised more than three years ago with very similar concerns and while the council at that time changed its policy so councillors were briefed before the council released details on various matters to the public, the issue of what should be thrashed out in the open and what should be closed off remains contested.
Limiting confidentiality to only the necessary issues makes sense and it is hoped councillors will be more successful this time.