Mayor Mick Curren's first day as Mayor of Gympie Regional Council, to his right is CEO Bernard Smith.
Mayor Mick Curren's first day as Mayor of Gympie Regional Council, to his right is CEO Bernard Smith.

CEO’s contempt for role of councillors made clear years ago

Letter to the Editor

AFTER four winters of widespread discontent with the current council, many Gympie residents are eagerly awaiting the March election.

At the risk of sounding like the ultimate “doubting Thomas” I have to admit that I don’t share their enthusiasm.

In fact, I am constantly reminded of the declaration by our CEO shortly after the 2016 election that the result was akin to his going to a shopping centre, tapping the required number on the shoulder and inviting them to help him manage the multi-million dollar budget.

Gympie Regional Council CEO Bernard Smith
Gympie Regional Council CEO Bernard Smith

There would have been few refusals once he mentioned $80,000 a year for four years. But, as he clearly implied, they would not be doing much of the managing.

Yet, once you get past the contempt for the councillors (why was there no expression of collective outrage?), the community that elected them and, indeed, the electoral process, there is a salutary truth in the CEO’s words.

Gympie Council CEO Bernard Smith and Mayor Mick Curran.
Gympie Council CEO Bernard Smith and Mayor Mick Curran.

The councillors were going to have no more respect from the executive and no more influence on the management of council business than would eight strangers encountered and selected at a shopping centre.

Gympie council CEO BErnard Smith and Cr Glen Hartwig.
Gympie council CEO BErnard Smith and Cr Glen Hartwig.

The surprise in Cr Smerdon’s resignation from the Water and Sewage portfolio this week is not the resignation itself, but the fact that it took him almost four years to realise that he suffered from a... “lack of respect as portfolio councillor”.

Councils Australia-wide are being challenged for their relevance. But in Gympie the problem has been exacerbated by the expressed contempt of the CEO and the “accidental” power structure within the council.

CEO Bernard Smith. Photo Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times
CEO Bernard Smith. Photo Renee Albrecht/Gympie Times

Local authorities are no longer the small, democratic organisations they once were.

They have been transformed by legislation and, in many cases by amalgamation, into vast bureaucracies in which power, authority and responsibility are concentrated at the executive level.

Our own Gympie Regional Council apparently has some 500 employees.

Councils and councillors appear to have lost relevance.

The institution of council increasingly looks like an unnecessary and very expensive appendage left over from an earlier time when councillors (usually for a meagre financial allowance to cover meeting expenses) actually represented the community in the decision-making process.

So, despite the expressed hopes of many of my acquaintances, I am not optimistic of significant change after March.

May I be proved utterly wrong.

Merv Welch, The Palms