At least that is the feeling I was left with at the end of an unusually lengthy Campaspe Shire meeting last Tuesday.
At the centre of this newfound approach to decision making were a $1.143 million Moon Oval lighting upgrade (most of which is coming from sources outside council) and a $608,000 Toolleen Recreation Reserve project.
While they are mere blips on the radar of the $92 million-plus Campaspe Shire budget, it was the process in which council voted to support the pair of community asset projects that gives great hope for the future.
Rochester Recreation Reserve user groups, at least, could have been forgiven for having the Lionel Ritchie hit blaring from the exterior speakers at Moon Oval on Wednesday morning — after I witnessed the best debate (in my short time at least) of a motion that actually ended in a win for the community ($306,000 from the Local Roads Community Infrastructure fund in fact).
Benny Hill music, for those old enough to understand the reference, could have been a more fitting musical backdrop for the five-minute suspension of standing orders that occurred about an hour into the meeting (allowing councillors to further research their decision before going to the vote).
Chief executive officer Pauline Gordon, all seven councillors at the meeting (councillors Leanne Pentreath and John Zobec were apologies), a number of the executive team and other staff involved in the monthly meeting had extended interactions to discuss the funding of Rochester and Toollen recreation reserve projects.
While the live streaming was silent during the suspension of standing orders, vision was still available of the CEO and councillors huddled around Mayor Rob Amos at the front of the room.
The shire council chief took his glasses off, put them back on, pointed to agenda items on the pile of paper in front of him and finally, seemed to pat councillor Paul Jarman on the back before everyone returned to their seats.
After an hour and a half of back-and-forward between the councillors, senior shire staff and — importantly in this case — the community group itself, the outcome was a measured, well informed and massive result for the community managed facility.
A harsher assessment of the situation would be to say that council folded to the pressure, back-flipped or even resorted to making policy on-the-run.
Only three months ago they weren’t prepared to entertain the thought of pouring council funds into the crown-land development.
I watched the online debate from start to finish and what I was left with was the feeling that a group of community representatives had made a decision they wanted to do things a little differently to what they had before.
Every one of the seven councillors in the chamber, apart from Mayor Rob Amos, had a crack at arguing for or against the various amendments of the motion to support two projects based on crown land and managed by the community.
Three months ago the result was 5-2 against doing just that, this time it was exactly the opposite.
Apart from the shock it gave me a sense of confidence in the council, knowing its members had listened to its constituents, probed its staff for questions on what could be done to make the project a reality, then were brave enough to financially support the two recreation reserve committees.
Although he had little to say during the debate, Cr Amos summed it up at the end of the lengthy debate by saying “this is democracy in action”.
He was right and I get the feeling there is more to come. It wasn’t quite a Frankenstein-like moment, but the Campaspe Shire council seems to now be “alive’’
Only a couple of weeks ago a community leader, who shall remain nameless, said to me that he thought “the council had forgotten who they were working for”.
The reference was made in regard to his opinion, while you couldn’t see the strings attached, Campaspe Shire councillors — or some of them at least — felt more aligned to the officers of the shire than they did to their constituents.
Nothing could have been further from the truth at the June meeting of council when councillors (led by fearless Rochester ward councillor Paul Jarman) had not only the new chief executive officer (eight months into the role) running around checking facts and questioning her executive staff, but those same staff had an interactive role in the meeting.
Let’s hope it continues.