DROMANA area councillor Graham Pittock has played a significant role in the shire council of the past four years.
He has been the leader of a group of five “progressive” councillors who have attempted to make the council more open, transparent and responsive to community concerns as well as encourage the shire to engage with its municipal neighbours.
During his term as mayor last year, he brought the shire into the South East Metro Group, joining Frankston, Kingston, Casey, Cardinia and Bass Coast councils.
The group has been burrowing away behind the scenes, lobbying the state government on common issues such as public transport.
There have been meetings with:
- Ports Minister Denis Napthine about the Port of Hastings proposed expansion.
- Planning Minister Matthew Guy about growth corridors.
- Victoria Police assistant commissioner Luke Cornelius about safety issues.
Cr Pittock championed innovations such as recording of council meetings and the introduction of “discretionary” funds, $10,000 a year for each councillor that enabled them to make small grants to community groups and good causes.
If a majority of councillors agree with a colleague’s request, the money can be quickly dispensed rather than going through a complex bureaucratic approvals process.
He instituted “councillor-only time”, where the 11 councillors have full and frank discussions before formal council meetings unencumbered by the shire officers.
It was tried in the mid-2000s, but lapsed when shire CEO Michael Kennedy insisted on attending.
Cr Pittock started the informal gatherings last year when he was mayor, initially over a few beverages on Fridays after work.
Council colleagues supporting Cr Pittock’s progressive initiatives included Tim Rodgers, Leigh Eustace, Bev Colomb and Lynn Bowden.
Cr Pittock’s year as mayor drew praise for its less formal tone. As chairman of council meetings, he often gave speakers more latitude than had previously occurred.
He has resisted attempted restrictions on public question time at council meetings, believing residents have the right to ask about topics that shire officers and some other councillors might find controversial, embarrassing or presumptuous.
A signature Pittock move was organising a public meeting in Rosebud Memorial Hall in May for people to have their say about an expanded Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre (SPA) on the foreshore at Rosebud, an issue that has divided the council and the community, especially this year.
Cr Pittock and his Sorrento area colleague Tim Rodgers hired the hall, advertised the event and ran the meeting, which at times became rowdy, but was chaired with grace and skill by Cr Pittock.
The holding of the meeting drew praise from many quarters, including state MP Johan Scheffer, but criticism from the six pro-foreshore councillors, who voted down an earlier call for public meetings to explain the SPA project to the wider peninsula community.
The meeting also revealed building SPA on the foreshore did not have the broad community support claimed by some councillors, shire officers and others.
The support has been further eroded in recent weeks as the true cost of the project became clearer. When first proposed more than six years ago, SPA was to cost about $20 million.
The price has risen as each new version has been proposed, with the latest estimate hovering around $44 million, pushed this high by the revelation last month that foundations on the sandy foreshore where the water table is just below the surface will add $7 million.
Cr Pittock and the other two councillors in Seawinds Ward, David Gibb and Antonella Celi, face competition from 11 other candidates.
Seawinds Ward, named after the state park on the western side of Arthurs Seat, takes in the former wards of Kangerong (Dromana area), Rosebud and Truemans (Rosebud West).
It has almost 40,000 voters.
Veteran councillor David Gibb, first elected in 1997, and the council’s newest member, Antonella Celi, who won the 2010 byelection following the surprise retirement of Susan Beveridge, have not fared well in the preferences stakes.
Cr Gibb has been placed in 13th position by eight candidates.
Cr Celi has been placed in 14th position by 10 candidates.
Cr Pittock has been given the number two spot by seven people.