TODAY’S local government elections come at an interesting time for many Hunter councils.
It seems fair to suggest that some councils are facing crises of public confidence, for a variety of reasons. Financial problems dominate some, others have been troubled by seemingly insoluble rifts between blocs of councillors and still others are suffering from bad relationships between elected councillors and salaried executives.
Voters may be hoping they can help resolve some of these issues at the ballot box today.
In Newcastle most interest will inevitably centre on the lord mayoral race. Following the retirement of longtime lord mayor John Tate, a diverse group of candidates representing the full spectrum of interests, from big business to the grassroots, is vying for the job.
It can be a mistake, of course, to focus too much on mayoral positions and not enough on the real business of building a workable team of councillors. That must surely be one of the main lessons from at least a few Hunter councils since the previous election.
Newcastle, as usual, suffered from its share of counterproductive councillor rivalry, but Port Stephens, Cessnock and Singleton have all provided conspicuous examples of organisational dysfunction.
It has become more apparent in recent years that many aspects of local government performance are moving beyond the reach of elected councillors, throwing more responsibility onto senior salaried staff who may be perceived as being relatively unaccountable to ratepayers.
And the advent of the government’s model code of conduct for councillors, far from civilising relationships, may arguably have made them more poisonous than before.
Not all of these issues are necessarily amenable to rectification by any voting outcome at any of the Hunter’s councils.
But, with all their limitations – real and perceived – elections like today’s provide community members with their main opportunity to influence and comment on some of the organisations that most directly affect their lives.
Pop-ups on Nobbys
PLANS by the Newcastle Now organisation for ‘‘pop-up’’ restaurants and other events on Nobbys headland are welcome.
The iconic headland ought to play a major role in Newcastle’s tourism industry. It has a fascinating story to tell, and the panoramic views it offers of city, harbour and sea would be a highlight of any visit.
It’s extraordinary that such an asset has been allowed to languish for so long, though that may be a hangover from the bitter fight over earlier plans for a permanent restaurant, kiosk, accommodation and viewing platform on the headland.
Newcastle Now has signed a 12-month contract to manage Nobbys under an agreement that permits it to open the site on two Sundays a month.
That’s a modest start that should, with good management, make the case for more regular use of – and greater access to – the headland, for residents and tourists alike.