ONE of the most controversial decisions made by Newcastle City Council during its present term is undoubtedly the move from its traditional headquarters at Civic to new rented premises at Newcastle West.
Now, Lake Macquarie City Council is embarking on a major upgrade of its facilities.
The Newcastle decision was controversial from the start, largely because it was presented as a fait accompli.
In Lake Macquarie's case, it has been revealed to the public not by an official statement from either the elected councillors or council management, but by the appearance of documents on the council's tendering website.
This is not the way that these things should be done.
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It is difficult to find a public organisation in Australia that does not stress transparency and open decision-making as a key part of its modus operandi.
The Hunter Region's two largest councils are no exception.
In both organisations, councillors can debate relatively trivial items at length, yet these major spending decisions - with ramifications for decades to come - were made with little regard for public opinion, with any vote behind closed doors.
The ultimate example of this can be seen in Canberra, where even minor bits of legislation can spend months being shuffled between the upper and lower houses, with a committee inquiry in between, while a decision committing Australia to war against another country can be made by the prime minister of the day without even consulting the opposition.
The executive's decision to declare war and deploy forces overseas has always been taken before parliament has debated the issue. Parliament is, in effect, asked to endorse a decision already taken.Parliamentary involvement in declaring war and deploying forces overseas - Commonwealth Parliamentary Library paper, 2010
That doesn't make it a good example to follow, though.
The irony of Lake council's decision to proceed in stealth with a likely $27 million upgrade is that the works themselves are probably easily justifiable.
It is true that an earlier push, a decade ago - to either proceed on a similar refurbishment or shift the council to a new facility to be built for the purpose at Glendale - was dropped after considerable ratepayer opposition.
But this, surely, makes it all the more inappropriate that the council appears to have snubbed ratepayers a second time around.
Cliche or not, everyone in the public sector needs to remember it's not their money they are spending.
Lake rates rose more than 73 per cent between 2012 and 2019, a bigger impost than even the 47 per cent hit on Newcastle ratepayers from 2015 to 2020.
This is not money to be spent in virtual secrecy.
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