Monday 23 March. Venue: Mt Martha Life Saving Club. Briefings at 5pm, meal at 6, council meeting at 7. Salmon and salad for a pleasant change and a naughty second helping of dessert. A very good crowd, overflowing available seating when the meeting started. Extra parking at nearby shops for latecomers.
CHANGE can creep up on you, or crash through like Brendon McCullum taking hold of the bowling in the run to a ton. Was it change at the council meeting when the redoubtable Fred Crump of Mornington got away with an 84-word question on illegal rubbish dumping?
No matter. The next question came in at 42 words, eight under the limit of 50, followed by the last at 61 words. Only three questions, a contrast to the 21 put at the previous meeting. Mr Crump, you must learn to précis!
For significant, remorseless, serious change, listen to new CEO Carl Cowie, a little later in the agenda, delivering some remarks in support of his monthly report to the community. In view of his recent, and continuing, impact on the life of the shire and its ratepayers, Council Watch provides you with his words, almost verbatim.
He opened by lauding the “open community budget process where many members of the public put forward their ideas for inclusion into next financial year’s budget”. He and his officers are working hard “to try to shoehorn as many of those initiatives into the budget” as they can.
He was very impressed with the quality of the submissions. “I understand that’s because you’ve had plenty of time to get these right; they perhaps haven’t always got in,” he said, drawing a smile from a veteran budget submitter or two in the public gallery.
Mr Cowie had “also been engaging with a number of community groups as I get around different parts of the peninsula. I’ve really enjoyed that in terms of getting a stronger sense of what you’re looking for in the communities, which will help, I believe, me and the team streamline services to the community”.
End of overture and into the first movement, sostenuto assai: “So on that in particular, there were a couple of significant presentations in the month of February, which council had asked me to do for them, the first of which you probably have seen reported somewhat in the press – the review of where the shire offices currently are and whether there is a better option down the track for Mornington Peninsula Shire to be located, either in one position or not.”
The press, in the form of CW, adopted the Alert posture. This surely referred to a report some weeks ago in this newspaper, essentially on whether the shire would build a new headquarters at Wannaeue Place, Rosebud, or stick to the existing pre-amalgamation three-office arrangement.
Mr Cowie continued, adagio espressivo. “So that work was done in January and for the foreseeable future the proposal was that we would leave things as they are.”
The final movement was pure allegro molto vivace, rising to a minor key crescendo:
“I also, as you know, began on the first of December last year [and began working on] an organisational review, which I undertook on behalf of council. That was presented to council in late February as a first presentation, if you like, of my review of where I felt the shire organisation was at.
“And so that was received by council and further things have happened, as you know, and which you’ve also read about, and they’re ongoing at the moment.”
The “further things that have happened” refers to the slimming-down of the shire staff list. Anyone who thought this would not occur has been getting up too late of a morning. CW understands some former staff were discovered not really to have a job, which was not the fault of Mr Cowie, any more than a gallstone is the fault of the doctor or the patient.
This is a procedure smacking more of Wagner thunder than Mozart minuet. There is nothing pleasant about telling people they no longer have a job. That old saying “Needs must when the devil drives” comes to mind. Mr Cowie is doing the hard job he was hired to do. His words as reported above are his most expansive explanation so far of his progress.
The fact that there’s more to come is contained in his words “further things have happened … and they’re ongoing at the moment”.
Councillors have circled the wagons protectively around Mr Cowie. Stony silence reigns. All he can say, in the time-honoured journalistic tradition, is: “More news as it comes to hand.” That’s the job of the media.
But Mr Cowie is well aware he is responsible to, and paid by, the community. Private enterprise this ain’t. Giving us a glimpse of what he sees at the end of the tunnel would be a comfort.