At the Council meeting on 3 February 2021, the Administrator resolved to conduct a Constitutional Referendum for the reduction of Councillors (from 15 to 9) at the September 2021 Local Government Elections. This may have some merit — but it is not enough.
As a community member, I have regularly attended local Council meetings for over 20 years. Both the former Gosford and Wyong Councils each had 10 Councillors. In the lead up to the Council election in 2017, community information sessions were conducted by the then Administrator (Mr. Reynolds) and CEO. I asked about the reality of 15 Councillors in a meeting. Doing the math, 15 Councillors each wanting to speak for 5 minutes (as was allowed) meant that an item could potentially take over 75 minutes to debate. I was reassured that it worked fine in other areas.
Central Coast Council meetings have been fractious at times with 15 Councillors, individual personalities and a number of Councillors determined to “blow up the joint”. These issues need to be addressed however, sadly, this is not unique to the Central Coast. There are similar dynamics in other Councils.
The behaviour in a Council meeting is not the most important question for our community. The more critical issue is representation. Before merger, one Councillor represented approximately 16,000 residents. After the merger and before suspension, one Councillor represented approximately 23,500 residents. With projected population growth and reducing the number of Councillors to 9, by 2036 one Councillor will represent approximately 46,000 residents. This weakens representation and weakens our democracy.
The Administrator and Interim CEO have extensive experience with amalgamated Councils and perhaps for this reason, have played down the significance of the merger in the problems Central Coast Council is currently facing. However, it is time for the community to have their say on this fundamental issue of size, scale, representation and democracy. Any referendum to our community needs to include a question about the amalgamation.
8 February, 2021