Concerns over workload for smaller council

Concerns over workload for smaller council

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For five months, SJ's council was one-person down.

A full council sat for the first time since last year’s election at the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale’s April council meeting.

It was in January 2023 that councillors signed off on the state government’s electoral reforms, agreeing to shrink to six councillors and one popularly elected president.

A vacancy was left in the North Ward when Cr Rob Coales became president, which was filled at the March by-election by Courtney Mazzini.

Courtney Mazzini was elected and sworn in for the April council meeting

But at their first meeting together, councillors engaged in a passionate debate about whether a review into the shire’s wards and their representation was needed.

In their report to council, shire officers argued it wasn’t worth the time or money to change things now, so early in the piece.

“There is also a reputational risk involved in seeking to take the public’s time through an engagement campaign on what is quite a niche topic, where there is no immediate threat or legislative requirement,” they said.

But deputy president Tricia Duggin said she feared the increased workload on councillors would become unsustainable and strongly advocated for the review.

“Back in the beginning of 2023 council voted to support six councillors and one president. I saw this as a short-term solution to ensure we kept our wards,” she said.

“Our wards are incredibly important because they ensure we represent the diverse communities in which we are to stand for.

“I was quite surprised to see the recommendation from the officers to not undertake the ward representation review.

“I know I voted to support six and one as part of that motion was that we would be having a review done this year.

“Officers have some concerns about workload on councillors in the current configuration. I too share those reservations.

“Shire staff have said there has not been community concerns regarding the current ward representation. I believe that’s because councillors have all been working extremely hard and I’m not convinced that this standard can be upheld long-term.”

Cr Morgan Byas said he believed a proper review was needed after the (necessarily) hastily agreed-to cull.

“Between that decision in 2023 and the October 2025 election, our community will have grown something in the order of 16 and 17 per cent. We are a hypergrowth community. We are a diverse community that changes and evolves rapidly,” he said.

“It might be all well and good for the state government to say we should do a ward and boundary review every eight to ten years if you’re a leafy inner-city local government whose population dribbles along at one percent a year. But that’s not us.

“I certainly am not here advocating any particular model, ward configuration, numbers etc. The only thing that I advocate for is that our council represents the diversity of our community, and that’s going to necessitate us doing administrative activities like these ward reviews more often than what the state government guidelines might say.”

But president Coales was dead against the idea.

“This is the first council meeting that we have had six councillors and a president. We are now talking about doing a review into something that we haven’t given the time to see if it works,” he said.

He said the new council had ‘made it work’ despite being one person down for the past six months.

“Not only have we made it work, but we have saved ratepayers money by having less councillors,” he said.

“Let’s actually back ourselves. Do we need more councillors, or do we need to get better at what we do? That’s a rhetorical question, because I don’t know what the seven of us can achieve. Because, and I’ll say it again, this is the first meeting of our new council that we’ve had seven councillors.”

Council voted to do nothing … for now.