Category Archives: Governance

Governance

THE “REAL” 2013 INCREASE IN OPEN SPACE

Those of you who have been following our previous posts on the 2013 Draft Open Space Strategy will be aware that GERA has been requesting details of the strategy’s reported 11.9 ha (119,000 sqm) increase in Glen Eira’s Open Space from that reported in the 1998 Strategy.  GERA’s initial (3/12/2014) and follow-up requests do not stem from a desire to  “nitpick” but rather a belief that the practice of “good governance” (and its principles of openness, transparency and accountability) requires advising the community when a change of definitions has occurred and providing an analysis of the impact of the definitional changes when presenting documents to the community.  The significance of Glen Eira’s well documented lack of open space* and the community’s long held and well expressed governance concerns adds emphasis to this requirement in this instance.

GERA received the requested details (ie. the 1998 Open Space Strategy’s Working Paper C – Public Open Space Inventory and Inventory of Buildings within Open Space Areas last Friday (7/2/2014) and has undertaken Council’s recommended D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) comparison/reconciliation.

The comparison/reconciliation results are very disconcerting due to the disparity of the results;  area differences are recorded for most parks (whatever the size) and those differences are often contrary to expectations.  The statement that “From these definitions it can be deduced that the 1998 strategy did not include Council leased facilities such as tennis courts, bowls clubs and croquet, etc.”  indicates a reasonable expectation of area increases in those parks with such facilities and a zero area change to  those parks without such facilities.  Yet surprisingly, and inexplicably, this is not necessarily the case.  For example, Bailey Reserve records an area decrease of 1.37 ha or 13,700 sqm, Duncan McKinnon Reserve records an area decrease of 0.27 ha or 2,700 sqm, and the Glen Rigney Memorial Reserve has doubled in area – 1998 0.03 ha or 300 sqm to 0.06 or 600 sqm in 2013.  There are numerous other such discrepancies. 

Such unexplained anomalies raise many questions re the detailed knowledge and management of Glen Eira’s extremely valuable open space assets and the validity of the data presented in both strategies.  While doubts may be readily cast on of the 1998 Strategy,  doing so legitimately raises additional questions related to the time elapsed (16 years) to identify the 1998 “errors” and the validity of park master plans (all based on the 1998 strategy and which Council indicates are strictly adhered to, eg. the recent controversial Caulfield Park tree removal).

With reference to our earlier posting querying the 11.9 ha (119,000 sqm) increase, please note the following results recorded in GERA’s comparative analysis of the 1998 and 2013 surveys

  • Mallanbool Reserve (2.21 ha or 22,100 sqm) was not included in the 1998 survey and is a valid addition to Glen Eira’s open space in the 2013 Strategy.
  • Even without detailed data,  a rough calculation that factors into the 11.9 ha (119,000 sqm) increase
    • the unexplained reduction in the Bailey (1.37 ha) and Duncan McKinnon Reserves (0.27) and East Boundary Road Reserve (2.46 ha), and
    • the addition of Mallanbool Reserve (2.21 ha), Booran Road Reservoir (1.7 ha) and Packer Park (1.99 ha**).

indicates that most of the net 11.9 ha increase is attributable to “definitional change” and  highlights the governance aspect raised above.

It also highlights GERA’s comment, included in our  submission to the 2013 Draft Open Space Strategy  that Council’s exclusion of the Centre of the Caulfield Racecourse on the grounds of “restricted public access” is fundamentally flawed when the “definitional change” allows for the inclusion of leased facilities that cumulatively approach the Centre in size yet have more restrictions to public access than does the Centre.

**  the reported increase in Packer Park (1.99 ha, 19,900 sqm) includes the purchase of two house lots and the previously leased bowls club that Council proposed to sell to raise funding for the purchase and rehabilitation of the 2 house lots.  Generously assuming that the house lots comprised 0.4 ha (4,000 sqm), the remaining 1.5 ha (10,500 sqm) of the 1.99 ha increase constituted Council owned and leased land and as such is considered to be a definitional change.  Under the revised definition of open space, had the  Bowls Club remained it would have been included in the 2013 Strategy.  Council’s rehabilitation works changed public accessibility rather than the area’s definition status.

Packer Park labelled picture T

GERA believes that, as mentioned in our previous posting, in the 16 years since 1998 little has been achieved with regards to increasing Glen Eira open space and that which has been achieved has been primarily the result of government grants and which have not been augmented by Council actively seeking purchasing opportunities.  In the past 16 years, open space acquisitions (ie. “real” rather than definitional) have been limited to the

  • Mallanbool Reserve (2.21 ha, 22,100 sqm) – Crown land (State), management rights granted to Council
  • Booran Road Reservoir (1.73 ha, 17,300 sqm) – Crown land (State), management rights granted to Council in 2010 – rehabilitation works scheduled to commence in 2015/2016.
  • 2 Packer Park house lots of unknown area (assumed to be 0.4 ha or 4000 sqm – refer above) purchased in 2011 ($1.911m).

This limited achievement comes despite residents continually expressed open space long term goals, a rapidly rising population and Council statements recognising Glen Eira’s need for increased open space and promises of active acquisition (via purchase and government grants).  The 1998 strategy’s “suggested” expenditure of the developers open space contributions as 50% split between acquisition and existing park improvements has been ignored.  Aside from the Packer Park house lots, open space contribution ($12.8m for the period 2003/4 to 2011/12) has been spent on capital works in, or maintenance of, existing parkland.  This is an imbalance that needs to be rectified.

GERA re-iterates the points made in our 2013 Open Space Strategy Submission (insert link)

  • Increased frequency of Open Space Strategy reviews
  • Open Space Contributions to be held in reserve for the purchase and rehabilitation of the purchased additional parkland.
  • Regular reporting of open space contributions – revenue received and expenditures
  • Ensure that the current maximum open space contribution rate of 5% of unimproved land value to applied to all multi unit developments within Glen Eira as a priority.
  • Council should join with other Councils currently advocating to the State Government for higher open space contribution rates to apply to Commercial and Mixed Use Zones (currently exempt from open space contributions)

In addition GERA also advocates that, in line with good governance practices, Council advises the community when definitions change and provides an analysis of the impact the changes.

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Footnote:

* Glen Eira has the least per capita open space ratio in Metropolitan Melbourne which, at 1.4 ha per 1000 population, is approximately half of the average ratio for Metro Melbourne.

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LOST OPEN SPACE OPPORTUNITY & GOVERNANCE

This is a brief update on our 9th February, 2013 posting. In addition to outlining Council’s failure to purchase the 487 Neerim Road, Murrumbeena property and or discuss the potential purchase, the 9/2/13 posting also raised pertinent questions on Council’s decision making process, namely

o who made the decision?
o what information was provided to ensure an informed, impartial decision was made?
o did Councillors have some input into the decision or were they advised after the decision was made?

The answers to questions 1 and 3 above are answered via the belated inclusion of the the Records of Assembly+ in Council’s just published agenda for next Tuesday’s (26/2/2013) Council Meeting – extracts of Agenda Items 8b i and 8b ii. 

The relevant minutes for the assemblies of 11th and 18th December, 2012 make no mention of any discussion on the acquisition of the 487 Neerim Road property occurring at either assembly. Ergo, the decision (implicit in Council’s 14/12/2012 letter to GERA) not to purchase the property was not made by Councillors and Councillors had no input into the decision.

Given

  • the significance that residents have been placing on Glen Eira’s limited open space in every community/council plan and State Government “Satisfaction Survey” since 1998 – and vocally reiterated in the 2012-2013 Community Plan, and
  • Council’s abysmal performance in acquiring additional open space (since 2003 only the two Packer Park house lots have been acquired for $1.9m.  Yet, for the same period, Council received $12.8m in Open Space Contributions from high density developers).

The failure to discuss with, or involve Councillors in, this open space issue (in either an open Council Meeting or an assembly) raises serious questions on how governance is practiced in Glen Eira.

  • Who makes decisions and on what information is the decision made?
  •         How are decisions communicated to Councillors and residents?
  • What weight is given to the community’s expressed values?
  • Councillors may delegate authority to act on their behalf, however, the responsibility for the actions taken remains with Councillors. How are decisions made under delegations reported to them? What ability do they have to question administrative actions or to raise residents issues at Council (i.e. with other Councillors and the Administration)?

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Footnotes:

+ An “Assembly of Councillors”, as defined in the Local Law, is an in camera briefing session, involving both the Administration and Councillors, to enable the Administration to report day to day activities to Councillors and inform (or highlight to) Councillors of current and future significant issues – particularly issues that are likely to be contentious.   As per Local Law decisions are not permitted to be made at Assemblies, decisions can only be made at Ordinary (open) Council Meetings.

 * Delegations of Authority – Delegations of Authority (ie. the instruments which confer on the Administration the authority to act, on behalf of the elected representatives, when undertaking the day to day administrative activities associated with the Municipality)

The Delegations of Authority, Councillors have given to the Administration are wide ranging.   Reporting to Councillors of administrative decisions made, under delegations of authority, is at the discretion of the administration.

Links

To make it easier for readers, GERA has included relevant extracts of the Records of Assembly included the referenced Agenda for the 26/02/2013 Council Meeting.   For those interested, a full copy of the Agenda is available from Council’s website – the relevent Agenda Items are 8b i and ii.

CORRRECTION

GERA’s above posting and our earlier (9/2/2013) posting regarding Council’s decision not to purchase the 487 Neerim Road property incorrectly states that Council did not respond to our 15/12/2012 email.  This is incorrect – the Mayor’s response  is dated 24/12/2012 and GERA apologizes to Council, Members and Readers for this omission.

While GERA accepts responsibility for this omission, GERA contends that the points raised in our various postings for considering purchasing the property remain valid and seriously questions Council’s decision making process and Councillor input into that process.

27/10/2012 COUNCIL ELECTION RESULTS

GERA congratulates the following 2012 Council Election Candidates who will be formally declared as Councillors at 9.00 a.m. today.

Camden* :          Michael Lipshutz, Mary Delahunty and Thomas Sounness

Rosstown*:       Margaret Esakoff, Karina Okotel and Neil Pilling

Tucker*:             Jamie Hyams, Oscar Lobo and Jim Magee.

(Victorian Electoral Commission – 2012 Council Election Results – Glen Eira)

GESAC OPENING – WHY ARE WE WAITING IN SILENCE?

It is the 18th April, 2012, with only 12 days to go until May is upon us and still no definitive word about a GESAC opening date – not even a hint of the hoopla that will accompany the announcement.  Since this Council has decided to adopt a “say nothing policy” it is impossible to assess whether Council can “pull the rabbit out of hat” over the next 12 days.  In the past Council stated that the builder (Hansen Yuncken) is responsible for the delays.  Due to Council’s failure to provide information, the causes of the delays are unable to be determined, however, the responsibility to communicate GESAC progress to residents, ratepayers and GESAC members has always firmly rested with Council (Councillors and Administration).  GERA’s earlier posts on the GESAC delays clearly show that Council has abjectly failed to communicate.

At this month’s Council Meeting, GESAC progress was not raised (again), however, the following public question was raised and is recorded in the just published 10th April, 2012 Council Minutes (Public Questions – Section 11.4)

Would Council please advised (GERA typo correction) the date it expects GESAC facilities will be available for use by residents, members, ratepayers and the public? Will all facilities be available on this date or will the implementation be staged?.  If the implementation is to be staged, please advise which facilities will be available on which date. What works are required to be completed (and their timeline) to achieve the dates given in response to the above questions?” 

Jamie Hyams read out the following non-answer (no dates given, works not listed and no timeline provided)

“Based on information provided by the Builder Council expects to open the whole GESAC sometime in April.  The construction contract has not reached Practical Completion.  Council cannot open GESAC until that Practical Completion has been achieved, the plant has been commissioned and staff training has been completed.  Works are ongoing throughout the facility but principally in the aquatics area”

 GERA does not pretend to be in the construction industry but has learnt, from the  Victorian Department of Health and Safety website (scroll down – it provides succint info), that specific requirements for and the definition of what constitutes “practical completion” are included in each construction contract.  In general, lay terms “practical completion”

  • means that all works are complete, with the exception of minor omissions and defects which will not affect handover to, and occupation by, the Principal and facility users.  Minor omissions and defects are those that do not restrict the facility being used for its intended purpose or require facility closure for restorative works.
  • does not relieve the contractor from the need to rectify minor omissions and defects in a timely manner, and it is important that progress on rectifying omissions and defects is closely monitored.
  • a Certificate of Occupation is issued.
  • defines the contractual end date for the contractor’s liability for liquidated damages or the Principal’s liability for prolongation costs

Given the persistent silence of Council, the above response to the public question asked and the outline of  “practical completion”, indicate that the situation, as at 10th April, 2012, is

  • the omissions and defects in GESAC are such that they prevent the facility from being used for its intended purpose and/or closure for restorative works may be required.  Hence the auspices for “sometime in April” are not looking good.
  • ambiguous.  On practical completion, is all commissioning and staff training to commence or is some already being undertaken.  (Compare the above response to the Glen Eira News, April 2012 which indicates commissioning and fitting out has and is occurring).  If commissioning and staff training is all to occur after practical completion, then the “sometime in April” auspices begin to look even worse.
  • based on the first sentence in Council’s response, it appears Council will  again point the finger at the  builder rather than admit any short comings on the part of the oversight committee (i.e. Crs. Lipshutz, Esakoff and Magee, the CEO Newton and Major Projects Admin Officers Judge and Snell).   5 months after scheduled opening date and no precise opening date determined falls way short of residents demands and managerial expectations.

In addition, Council should also note that an integral element in any financially successful business (lets face it,  if GESAC is to be the success that Council claims it will be it has to be run as a business) is goodwill.  Existing customers (GESAC members) and potential customers (ratepayers/residents) are opting away from GESAC – the lack of frustration and certainty offered by competitors is very appealing.  Council’s “say nothing policy” is fostering anything but goodwill – existing and potential customers are being treated as if they are less than mushrooms (it may be “BS” but at least mushrooms get fed).

While those Councillors and Senior Administrative Officers directly involved in the GESAC project oversight should be directly held accountable for an utter breakdown in communication and failed project delivery (on time is shot and under budget is beginning to look ill) they are not the only ones who should be held accountable.  There are 6* other Councillors (Hyams, Tang, Pilling, Forge, Penhalluriack and Lobo) who have unquestioningly accepted what was said/presented (despite residents objections) and who are still refraining from questioning.

* There is one possible exclusion to this 6 and that is Cr. Penhalluriack.  In July/August, 2011, Penhalluriack, in an open Council Meeting, criticised the presented Minutes of the Pools Steering Committee (PSC) as being headings only and, therefore, uninformative.  Penhalluriack also went on to say that his repeated requests to exercise his right as a Cr. to attend PSC meetings, as an observer, had been thwarted by receiving notifications of PSC Meetings after the meeting was held.   Since July/August, 2011, Cr. Penhalluriack has not raised any GESAC issues in open Council Meetings.

Footnote:  Council’s, GESAC’s website and GESAC Facebook page were last updated on 27/28th March, 2012.

GESAC – Another Failure

Another Council Meeting has come and gone (10th April, 2012) without any meaningful discussion on GESAC progress and no opening date being announced.  Not even the loose leaf insertion of the Pools Steering Committee (PSC) Meeting minutes of the 8th March, 2012.

20 days to go till the end of April, 2012, and an actual day date is not announced – the nebulous “by end of April” remains.

GESAC was only mentioned twice during last night’s meeting:

  1. Cr. Tang commented on the negative impact of lost GERA revenue when discussing the Financial Report for the Period Ending 29th February, 2012 (section 9.10 on the agenda, page 6 of the Financial Report).    Cr. Tang pointed out that the reported $1.7m lost GESAC revenue was offset by reduced operating costs due to GESAC not being open.  That Cr. Tang did not quantify the reduced operating costs is an omission that (as mentioned in our previous 28thMarch posting) raises some serious issues re open, transparent and accountable governance due to limited information being presented:
    1. what is included in “income expected from GESAC” when “GESAC Consulting Suite income” is treated as a separate item.
    2. if the budget includes cumulative lost revenue of $1.7m that is offset by a “GESAC delays in recruitment” cumulative saving of $0.95m then questions of the financial success of GESAC should be being asked.  GERA estimates running costs of GESAC (interest on loans, hire purchase agreements, insurances, utility charges, pool chemicals and other consumable supplies etc. etc.) will likely exceed the approximate $0.8 million difference between the two presented figures. 

2.    A public question was raised by a resident.  Council’s response to  the resident, as read by the Mayor, is summarised as follows

    1. GESAC opening will not be staged – all facilities will be available for use
    2. GESAC will open at the end of April, 2012, on “practical completion”.    (GERA comment – could this be interpreted as “pointing the finger” at the builder and makes GERA wonder if the builder and Council are communicating)
    3. no information on tasks outstanding or their timeline for completion was given.

If Council is as on top of GESAC as it claims to be then GERA is at loss to explain

  • Why Council has only raised GESAC as public agenda item once in 2012 (at the 28th February, 2012 meeting)
  • Why no Councillor raised the GESAC opening date issue at last night’s meeting (in response to residents/ratepayers and GESAC members clearly expressed angst, they should be publicly demanding information and a definitive opening date)
  • Why no Councillor has asked questions on the budgeted and actual GESAC figures. (Councillors have a legal fiduciary duty).

The persistent failure of Council (Councillors and the Administration) to provide any meaningful information on GESAC

  • does not hold much promise for an end April GESAC opening, and
  • does not show any regard for residents/ratepayers and GESAC members concerns.

GESAC – FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

This afternoon the Agenda for next Council Meeting (10th April, 2012) was made available on Council’s website.

As a follow up on our previous two posts on the woeful way Council is reporting continuing delays in GESAC opening, it is worth noting that this Agenda DOES NOT include any mention of a GESAC opening date or a Pools Steering Committee (GESAC) Update.

Please note that the first 2012 meeting of the Pools Steering Committee (PSC) was held on 9th February and the minutes (as uninformative as usual) appeared in the Minutes of the Council Meeting of 28th February, 2012, (Section 8.a.iii).    These PSC minutes advise that the next PSC meeting would be held on 8th March, 2012.

The 8th March PSC meeting minutes were not presented at the 20th March, 2012 Council Meeting despite there being ample time to include them.   Local law requires committee meeting minutes be presented at the next “appropriate” Council Meeting. If the 20th March meeting was deemed inappropriate, why aren’t the PSC 8th March minutes included Agenda for the 10th April.

Given, the cost of the project, the problems GESAC is facing, the continual delays and the impact on Council’s finances (cumulative lost revenue as at the end of February, 2012, is $1.7m* and growing), Council (Councillors and Administrators) should be all over GESAC.  The PSC should be meeting a lot more than once per month and Council should be actively keeping residents fully informed.

Instead, of being fully informed, since the 20th March Council Meeting we get the following

  •  On 27th March Newton indicates an April, 2012 opening date
  • On 2nd April, 2012, a Bayside Weekly article, states “ while the council was pressing to have the centre open by the end of April, Cr Lipshutz (Chairman of the Pools Steering Committee) said progress was ‘‘in the hands of the builder’’.  A fair interpretation is we don’t know.
  • No mention of GESAC in the Agenda for 10th April.

In all probability, and as has frequently happened in the past, the PSC 8th March Minutes (and perhaps the early April meeting) will be loosely inserted in the Council Agenda moments before the meeting.  A “clerical oversight” explanation is not acceptable – Council should be actively ensuring residents are presented with the information in the agenda so that residents rights to ask pertinent public questions are preserved.  (Public questions must be submitted before noon on the day of the meeting to ensure the questions are included in the meeting – the questions and responses are recorded in the meeting minutes).

Council’s communications failure on GESAC is deplorable and is not good governance – its not open, its not transparent and its definitely not accountable.  Additionally,  it does not treat residents and/or GESAC members with respect.

* Agenda Item 9.10 – Financial Report, page 6 – Lost GESAC revenue $1.66m + lost GESAC consulting suite income $54K

GESAC – What’s the Date

Following on from our earlier posting (8th February – refer to the GESAC Topic heading – you may need to scroll down to access it) on the largest single capital works project ever undertaken by Glen Eira Council, i.e. the $50+m Glen Eira Sports and Aquatic Centre (GESAC) we thought it important to advise residents and ratepayers of the current state of play.

Although we believe that those bearing the bulk of the financial burden of the facility (i.e. ratepayers, residents and GESAC Members) should be kept informed of the facility’s progress Council does not.  Instead of following the principles of “open, transparent and accountable governance” and, despite residents’ concerns being recorded in the local media and on the GESAC website, Council continues to provide either scant information or silence.

To continue on the sorry GESAC saga –

  • At the 13 December Council Meeting it was announced that “further delays” would result in an “after the end of January opening date
  • A Leader article, 17th January, 2012 indicates that “after the end of January” has become “in March, 2012”.
  • At the first Council Meeting for 2012, (7th February, 2012) no update on GESAC progress is presented, however, a $0.5m GESAC revenue loss is recognised for December, 2011.  Please note, the limited information provided in the minutes does not enable us to determine reduced GESAC expenses which would offset the revenue loss.
  • At the 28th February, 2012 Council Meeting an end of March opening date is announced.  The GESAC website is updated with an undated letter from Cr. Michael Lipshutz, Chairman of the Pools Steering Committee (i.e. the Committee appointed to oversee GESAC project) stating that “GESAC will open as soon as possible but that is unlikely to be before the end of schools’ Term One (30 March)”.
  • At the 20th March, 2012 Council meeting no update on GESAC progress is presented (where are the minutes of the Pools Steering Committee Meeting of 8th March!!!), however a $1.3m GESAC revenue loss is recognised (Council Minutes, 20th March, 2012 – Item 9.9 Financial Report for period ending January, 2012 – page 6).  Again, limited information does not enable the determination of an offsetting reduction in GESAC expenses.

The end of March is nigh and no opening date has been announced. Although, the GESAC website and the Glen Eira News, April 2012 feature pictures of the various areas within GESAC,  no opening date is given.  The comment that the centre “is nearing completion” is all that is mentioned.      

Residents, ratepayers and GESAC members can be forgiven for wondering

  • if there is any significant difference between the previous “after the end of January” vs. the current “is nearing completion” and
  • what it means for their ability to access the facility.

This is the result of Council’s failure to provide any significant information on the progress of GESAC.

While the construction/ outfitting and commissioning delays may raise questions about Council’s project management skills, there can be no doubt that Council’s handling of communication regarding delays in the project, falls way short of “open, transparent and accountable governance”.  At best it has been, and is, inadequate.   While the primary responsibility for this failure in communication can be directly attributable to those elected officials on the Steering Committee (i.e. Lipshutz (Chair), Esakoff and Magee), this failure is also shared with the other Councillors for their unquestioning and unanimous acceptance of whatever was presented and their long term failure to listen to their constituents.

This inadequate communication continued today, when an article (signed by Andrew Newton, CEO) appeared on Council’s website.  The last bullet point indicates an April, 2012 opening date.  Less than 5 weeks until the end of April and still no mention of an actual date.

On behalf of all concerned ratepayers, residents and GESAC members and potential users, GERA will be pressuring Council to

  • designate an actual date
  • provide a critical path analysis (with timeline) for expected completion.