#118: Rural City of Wangaratta, VIC 7/18/17

Hold your e-mails, Councilheads! I am aware that the Rural City of Wangaratta is not a city. Of course, the actual city is called Wangaratta. But Wangaratta has no council. So the Rural City of Wangaratta council is the city’s council.

I’m glad we cleared that up.

The meeting started off smoothly enough: Mayor Ken Clarke solemnly acknowledged the “traditional owners” of the land and their elders. A new conflict-of-interest policy for councilors was given a round of nods without comment.

Even the messiest subject you could think of–toilets–got a clean airing.

“Last year we conducted an assessment of all buildings, including the toilets,” a staffer explained to the council. “We want our toilets to be at their best. One of the findings is that we want to upgrade all of those toilets. The recommendation is that the council develops a public toilet improvement action plan.”

As requested, councilors dutifully approved the potty proposal. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the unsung hero who had to “assess” all of the toilets. That person’s nose–and possibly other body parts–is quite brave.

At this point, my heartbeat quickened as I realized I would witness “public question time,” an extraordinary opportunity for regular Rural City of Wangarattans (that can’t possibly be right…right?) to grill their elected leaders mano a (it was all men) mano.

“My question’s about the multi-deck car park. I’d like council to investigate how we can get out of the contract of the ongoing debt that’s going to be incurred by ratepayers,” a man in a maroon shirt beseeched councilors. “Also, whether council can find another purpose for the building.”

wangarotta.jpg
Can we get the toilet man to assess the car park too?

“We have a project to do a review of parking which will look at paid versus free parking, appropriate amounts of various time limits of parking,” the chief executive started to explain.

“Why do we need a review on parking? We know where everyone parks,” sharply retorted the commenter. “See whether the state government can get out of this contract or have an inquiry into why it happened.”

The chief executive remained measured. “Yes, and the review is really about whether we’ve got enough one-hour parking, enough all-day parking.” As for getting out of contracts, “it’s not for the state government to be making decisions about those arrangements,” he noted.

At this point, Mayor Clarke, sensing an intractable argument was nigh, stepped in.

“Malcolm, I think you’ve got to realize that the multi-deck car park [decision] was made by the previous council,” he flatly informed the inquisitor. “We would need to find a lot of money to get out of it at this stage.”

“Well, the state government should–”

“The state government will not fund it!” the mayor curtly cut him off.

The commenter barely paused before picking up his rhetorical sword and charging forward.

“So you’re saying the ratepayers are going to continue to be burned for the next seven or eight years? That’s just a waste of money.”

Mayor Clarke was becoming exasperated. “It’s NOT a waste of money if people use the car park.”

The reply was immediate and brief: “But they’re not.”

A long, uncomfortable pause set in. Councilors exchanged glances.

“Maybe all the councilors should have to park there,” he suggested bitingly. “Maybe you should make it that every council worker park there.”

One quick-thinking council staffer at the dais raised her hand. “My car’s there right now!” she revealed. As chuckles broke out, the tension evaporated.

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