Council can do better

NEWCASTLE City Council’s media release, issued to accompany its latest community survey, speaks of “varying levels of satisfaction” with the organisation. That is certainly true.

Unfortunately for the council, the less satisfied respondents heavily outweigh the more satisfied, resulting in an overall approval rating of just 34per cent.

General manager Phil Pearce has described this result as “disappointing”.

That too is true, but many ratepayers will agree that it is not unexpected.

The council has undergone a tumultuous period of change in recent years, a process that has evidently damaged staff morale and lowered the organisation’s reputation in the public eye.

It is notable that the council has benchmarked its survey results alongside similar results from Victorian councils. The comparison is stark. The Victorian councils outscore Newcastle on every measure, in most categories by a wide margin.

Newcastle suffered very poor ratings in community engagement (32per cent) and advocacy (26per cent). Many observers of the council’s handling of the Laman Street fig debacle will probably nod in agreement with the rating.

Traffic management and parking also rated very low at 32per cent. Again, many might consider this wound to be a self-inflicted one, with the council’s unabashed use of parking and compliance fines as a revenue source having earned it very strong disapproval from many quarters.

In the field of town planning policy and approvals it might be possible to suggest the council has been a little harshly treated, with a surprisingly low rating of 29per cent. Anecdotally, some evidence supports the idea that the council is often unfairly blamed for planning decisions by government authorities over which it has no control. To be perfectly blunt, the council – since its major administrative overhaul a few years ago – has come to be seen by many as remote and unwilling to engage with ratepayers. Some, indeed, have accused it of arrogance.

This is certainly unfair towards a majority of the staff, who perform their work with courtesy and consideration as well as professionalism and skill. But there are, as this survey amply demonstrates, some serious cultural issues to overcome.

Dog fight fears

RECENT thefts of certain breeds of dogs from the Maitland area have revived fears that dog-fighting rings are back in action. Such rings have a long and disgraceful history in the Lower Hunter, associated as they are with gambling and black money.

It is troubling that, despite apparently widespread reports of missing dogs, of mysterious trucks and of dogs recovered with severe injuries, the police say they have nothing to go on. Indeed, one theft victim asserts that, when she tried to report her loss, she was referred to the police assistance line.

Some might wrongly conclude a lack of interest in the matter by hard-pressed police. This is surely not the case. Those with information about dog thefts or dog fights should give police every scrap of information they can, so that the culprits might be caught and punished.

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