By Jeremy Sollars
The new Southern Downs Regional Council administration has been in office for a little over five weeks, although to many in the community it may seem like their swearing-in back on April 15 was months ago – maybe we can thank COVID-19 for stretching time.
While much of the focus for the new team of councillors has been on the local coronavirus response they’ve also been busy with completion of formal induction and legislative training –a state government requirement of all Queensland councillors every term, both for returning and newly-elected councillors – and familiarising themselves with their portfolio responsibilities.
An acting council chief executive officer has been appointed – Jane Stroud, formerly the council’s Director of Sustainable Development – to replace now-former CEO David Keenan, and recruitment is underway to identify a permanent CEO replacement.
Councillors last week voted through the first stage of a range of financial measures related to COVID-19 and work is happening on a second stage to be released in the next few weeks, and council officers are also working on the overall 2020-2021 budget.
The Free Times caught up with Mayor Vic Pennisi and Ms Stroud earlier this week, with the mayor saying one of his priorities since taking office has been to get around and meet with as many council employees as possible, as well as talking to the business community about the council’s COVID-19 response.
Cr Pennisi also said he is serious about greater transparency around council decision-making and pointed to the upcoming re-introduction of a councillor committee system to replace closed-door briefing sessions of councillors.
From July two new ‘standing committees’ of councillors will meet each month prior to general council meetings with proceedings made public – an ‘Infrastructure and Executive Committee’ chaired by Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley, and a ‘Sustainable Development, Corporate and Community Services Committee’ chaired by Cr Cameron Gow.
Cr Pennisi has also foreshadowed a more prominent role for councillors associated with their policy portfolios, himself taking on the portfolio of ‘Planning and Prosperity, Executive Services, Youth Development, Tourism, Disaster Management and Media and Communications’.
He also told the Free Times he wants to foster a more “open and positive” relationship with local media – hinting at the possible introduction of regular media conferences where reporters can put direct questions to himself and the councillors.
“I’m keen to explore the councillors having the ability to speak to the media and the public in general about their portfolio areas – we want to make those portfolios a really meaningful responsibility,” Cr Pennisi said.
“Another area I’ll be directing attention to is our advisory committees which are drawn from the community and the various sectors of the business community.
“There’s a real wealth of experience among the people on those committees and I think they can operate better, and with a bit better direction they can be an even more valuable source of advice to us as councillors.
“But my main priority right now is getting out and talking to businesses around the region about what they want council to do in relation to COVID-19 and that’s what I’ll be continuing to do – and my door is open for anyone who wants to come and talk to me.
“I’ve also been trying to get around and meet with as many of our staff as I’ve been able to over the last few weeks and that’s ongoing as well.
“Our staff are our most important and our most valuable resource as an organisation and I want to thank them all for the way they’ve responded to the challenges COVID has posed for us as a council.”
Cr Pennisi also praised Ms Stroud for her commitment to the interim CEO role since her appointment at the end of April, saying she has been tasked with “an incredible amount of work” in the few weeks since her appointment.
• The May monthly council meeting will be held next Wednesday 27 May via teleconference from the Warwick and Stanthorpe council chambers and live-streamed to the public on the council’s Facebook page.
• Engineering, Infrastructure and Financial Services – Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley
• Asset Management – Cr Jo McNally
• Parks a& Open Space, Transport and Information Technology – Cr Andrew Gale
• Water, Tourism, Audit and Risk Management – Cr Stephen Tancred
• Environmental, Waste, Sustainability and Disaster Management – Cr Cameron Gow
• Community Services, Towns and Villages, Disaster Recovery – Cr Sheryl Windle
• Sport and Recreation, Events, Culture and the Arts – Cr Marco Gliori
• Agriculture and Corporate and Commercial Services – Cr Cynthia McDonald
• Planning and Prosperity, Executive Services, Youth Development, Tourism, Disaster Management and Media and Communications – Mayor Vic Pennisi