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Time to come clean on pool

A LITTLE lost amid the state election is next week’s commemoration of the 160th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion in Ballarat.
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Muddy waters: The Black Hill swimming pool.

The events of 1854 remain a uniquely Ballarat interface with Australian democratic history and live on through the veins of many passionate residents to this day.

Point in case is the continuing debate over the future of the Black Hill swimming pool.

Seemingly condemned to closure in the latest incarnation of Ballarat City Council’s aquatic strategy released earlier this year, the council has been forced, by people power, to start retracing its steps.

Putting the issue of whether the pool should be closed or open to one side, what is abundantly clear is that the process and information flow within and outside of the council has been seriously flawed.

Residents advocating for the pool to remain open claim elected councillors were provided with incorrect information on Black Hill pool costs and operations by council staff. Not just a misprint here or there. No, the residents are suggesting the initial report was so far from accurate that it cannot be rationally explained.

Yet, the council won’t say if it believes the information provided to councillors was right or wrong. Instead, it has committed to an internal review.

The problem with an internal review is the lack of transparency. The matter was expected to be tabled again at Wednesday’s council meeting. It was not.

Instead, the council now says the entire aquatic strategy is under review.

In many ways, this issue goes to the very heart of problems in the local government system. Councillors, who are generally everyday members of the community, most often do not have qualifications in planning, community strategy or budgeting. They rely inherently upon the advice they receive from paid and qualified council staff to best inform their decisions.

Most often, the community might forgive a councillor for a lack of specific knowledge; it won’t on issues of transparency and advocacy on behalf of constituents.

The lack of questioning of reports in open meetings has become a trademark of local government, not just in Ballarat, in recent years as councils have become more focused on controlling the public message and have spent more time and money manipulating public perceptions. The fervent debate occurs behind closed doors.

No one is advocating for a return to six or seven-hour council meetings, but clearly, members of the public in the case of the Black Hill Pool decision have exposed a lack of rigour.

The Courier last week contacted all councillors to ask them of the specifics of information provided before the initial decision to close the pool in August. The constant theme in response was that councillors would be “revisiting” the information.

Given the controversy that has shrouded public aquatics in Ballarat in recent years, you’d think the council would be extra cautious on pool closures.

The process that saw the McKenzie family lose the contract to operate the Eureka pool; changing the depth of the under-construction indoor 50-metre pool at the last moment and against the recommendations of a council-appointed committee; and the council taking back operation of outdoor pools from the YMCA have all been highly controversial … some would argue just plain wrong.

To be fair, the reality is aquatic facilities and operations in Ballarat have to change. The needs of the community are developing and our population is growing. It’s fair to ask what the future looks like – and undoubtedly, it will be different from what it is today. Positive steps have already been taken by the council on this front.

What the community deserves

is available and sustainable facilities. What it also deserves is transparency.

In this case, it is incumbent on the councillors to demand that the review of the aquatic strategy is open and as independent as possible.

To restore community faith, they must demand that any issues with the original information provided it is laid bare on the public record, at an open council meeting and that no detail be spared.

That’s one form of the democracy that the miners fought so hard for on the Ballarat goldfields.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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