Mingenew Shire council cuts meetings in half to ease staff workload and boost operational efficiency

Michael RobertsGeraldton Guardian
Shire of Mingenew president Gary Cosgrove.
Camera IconShire of Mingenew president Gary Cosgrove. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

A Mid West Shire will hold just six ordinary council meetings this year under a radical plan to cut its schedule in half.

The Shire of Mingenew council will meet every two months in 2022 after councillors unanimously backed the proposal in December.

Under the Local Government Act 1995, councillors are only required to convene an ordinary meeting every three months.

Local governments typically hold 11 a year. But no local government in WA holds less than 10 a year.

Mingenew Shire president Gary Cosgrove said the move to have six meetings in 2022 would lighten the workload for staff and boost operational efficiency.

Cr Cosgrove said the idea was touted by Local Government Minister John Carey on a trip to Mingenew this year.

“It doesn’t reduce the councillors’ workload,” he said.

“It will be the employees’ workload that will be reduced.

“We will still meet monthly to have our concept forum.”

But a former Mingenew councillor of 11 years has slammed the decision, labelling it “lazy”.

Former deputy president Robert Newton said councillors should meet for ordinary meetings most months because they were held on the same day as the concept forums.

“They are going to be there anyway,” he said.

“I question the council’s commitment to the ratepayer.

“They are halving the opportunities for a ratepayer to go to a meeting and ask questions.”

The Western Australian Local Government Association identified “several potential risk areas” with the plan including accessibility and transparency, community perception on councillor workload and lead-time on decisions.

But Cr Cosgrove argued ratepayers rarely turned up to ordinary council meetings and now would be able to attend the concept forums informally.

“If there’s a particular subject that needs dealing with on the day of our concept forum we can have a special council meeting,” he said.

“We reserved the right to go back to the original schedule if it isn’t working. We will review it in six months’ time to make sure it is going OK.”

Cr Cosgrove said councillors would not have their salaries reduced because they were already paid unders.

Cr Cosgrove, for example, is paid roughly $6600 per year as Shire president, with councillor fees set at about one-third of the maximum salary.

The State Government is expected to introduce sweeping reforms to the Local Government Act next year, but a change to the frequency of council meetings is not part of the draft laws.

Mr Carey said there was a balance between striving for greater efficiency and reducing burden for a council, versus accessibility and transparency in decision making.

“Councils need to carefully consider this and also ensure all decisions are in the best interests of ratepayers,” he said.

WALGA declined to comment.

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