Who knows only his own generation remains always a child

I live in a wonderful seaside village that dates back to the beginnings of my State’s history. The government of the new Province of South Australia was inaugurated in 1836 on Glenelg soil. The State’s first Governor arrived at Holdfast Bay on the Buffalo, and our first European colonist mainland settlers arrived here before expanding their reach to all parts of our State and beyond.

We have a rich memory of local residents representing  our state’s and our country’s former ‘movers and shakers’ in politics, sports,  and business throughout  Australian history living in Glenelg, or nearby Brighton… names like Henry Ayers (Premier), Thomas Elder (pastoralist/philanthropist), Lionel Logue (King’s speech), Jimmy Melrose (aviator), Henry Sparks (Adelaide oval), Alf Roberts ( Adelaide stock exchange, golf, professional tennis) George Soward (architect of Adelaide’s Beehive Corner), Douglas Mawson (explorer), and Adam Lindsay Gordon (poet) to name just a few. Horse Trainer Bart Cummings was born on Farrell Street, and Sir Mark Oliphant romanced his future bride here at her home in Glenelg. As well as residents there are all the travellers that our famous Red Rattler trams have brought to Glenelg… even the legendary Racehorse, Pharlap. James Stobie,  inventor of the Stobie Pole, attended our Glenelg Primary School. We had the first licensed cinema in Adelaide, we had the tallest residential building in the 1970s, we have the only Ring Bowl club in the country, we are the home of Bay Sheffield footrace, and the traditional finish line for the City-Bay fun run. And rumour has it that our most recent, historically famous, resident is our country’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

So with all this rich and lasting  cultural history, I was bemused to recently read this paragraph from our Council’s CEO as a welcoming message on the Council website:

Yes, we’re a little biased down here at the Bay. Holdfast Bay is the proud birthplace of the State of South Australia where Governor Hindmarsh arrived in The Buffalo back in 1836, but there’s more to The Bay than just history.        http://www.holdfast.sa.gov.au/ceo

It’s that little word, just, that rankles and left me bemused.

 Who knows only his own generation remains always a child  is a quote from George Norlin (1871-1942) inscribed on the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado. Those readers who enjoy history might like to explore the story of this interesting man.   The writings of Cicero (106BC-43BC) are said to have inspired Norlin’s quote above.  http://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/about/norlin.htm

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it , from the pen of George Santayana, is also said to be influenced by Cicero.                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana

We have had a classic example of Santayana’s quote at our local Council. Within weeks , they have made two decisions that explain perfectly what he was talking about!

Two Councils ago, (about 6 years ago), we had a fragmented dysfunctional Council that was at war with itself and had factions that sided with the then CEO, or the Mayor. There is an accepted caretaker convention during Council elections that no major decisions are made until the newly elected Council concurs, however that was disregarded and the then CEO pushed through a beachside kiosk development decision with the help of Councillors who opposed the Mayor, who was himself against the decision being made. The current Council has now bought its way out of a bad contract  as part of that rushed  development decision six or so years ago, at the 11th hour of a new Council election.

Our tweeting councillor is proudly noting that the new decision to buy out of a bad deal represents a 12% return to ratepayers. He conveniently, or ignorantly, disregards all the lost income to the community of a bad leasing arrangement of the years of the initial contract and that the return is going to the Administration coffers, not necessarily as a dividend to ratepayers. It represents a 12% return to the Council Administration finances  (if the Councillor’s facts are correct, there’s been no public announcement to ratepayers about this) . The Council does not pay tax and, with this latest decision, is now a landlord to a commercial enterprise competing with other rate paying and tax-paying commercial enterprises in our community… is that now what ‘good’ local government is all about? Profiteering at the expense of the taxpayer?

At the same time, in a sort of ‘déjà vu’ for residents, our council was rushing through a plan to hand over air title, and revoking community land  beneath it , in agreeing to an unsolicited proposal from a  private developer, where the public details were sketchy, the traffic management had not even been considered, and local businesses directly affected were not even consulted. The Council ignored its own policy to tender, on the magnitude of the proposed development, and ensured it was a Category 2 development which our tweeting councillor then boastfully reminded us meant ‘no appeal rights’. And most interestingly, again, the Mayor was against this proposal, on procedural and financial grounds, not emotional grounds, yet it was again a rushed decision based on factions, ego, and spite. What is going to happen in years to come with this latest decision? Will a new Council have to buy back the air titles it has currently given away and again say it was a bad decision by a bad Council?

Why is it that 13 elected adults sitting around a Council table become more like a schoolyard of immature warring and mischievous adolescents, than a forum for good decision-making? Is it because they are only interested in themselves and their own generation of Council, as per George Norlin’s wise words.

There are several instances on this Council where petty personal disputes and arrogance are resulting in playing with people’s lives and livelihoods. This happens, I am sure, on other Councils, too.

Interestingly, those Councils that have a rich sense of their history, seem to be better at decision-making.

JAN SMITH

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