Former councillor Bill Lancaster calls for reduction in number of councillors

Former councilor Bill Lancaster has called for a reduction in the number of councillors on Griffith City Council, saying it will provide better decision-making and value for money for ratepayers.  

Mr Lancaster addressed council last Tuesday ahead of a vote on council fees, when councilors voted to increase fees by 2.5 per cent for the 2017/18 financial year to $19,310 – the maximum amount state government allow councilors to be paid. 

Mr Lancaster presented a table showing the number of councilors and overall fees for Griffith were higher than other councils with similar populations. 

“We end up with a high overall bill because of have 12 councillors. I think 7 is a better number,” Mr Lancaster said.

Mr Lancaster does not think individual councillors are overpaid, and that in general this council does a good job. But having so many councillors means poor value for money for ratepayers, he said. 

Mr Lancaster’s table showed in 2014/15, Griffith City Council overall mayor and councillor fees were $254,000. Richmond Valley Council, with a similar population, has just 7 councillors and a total bill of $96,000. 

“I have read a number of studies which indicate a small number of councilors leads to more effective decision making.”

Mr Lancaster said that when there’s too many councilors, there’s a tendency by some not to speak up on important votes, so ensure meeting don’t go on forever. Therefore, decisions are made on first impressions. 

He also said there is no need for three councillors to be on every committee, and the moment “one goes to run it and two to watch”. 

Mayor John Dal Broi said he feels having 12 councillors has worked well for Griffith, and doesn’t see the $150,000 cost for a plebisite on the matter as worthwhile.  But he wouldn’t rule out a vote on the issue at the next council elections. 

“I know Mr Lancaster pushed for a reduction in council while a councillor… but in a democracy we have to abide by the majority rule of councillors”. 

Cr Dal Broi said on council numbers they have to follow the direction of the NSW state government Office for Local Government. He also said a bigger council is more likely to be representative of the community. 

“I know we’ve had Indian, Indigenous and South Sea Islanders stand for election in the past. But if you reduce the number of councillors, you reduce the chance of them being elected in the future”.

Mr Lancaster also took aim at “a very generous payment of expenses policy”. 

An amount is paid to councillors in addition to fees to cover expenses such as travel.

“There is no transparency in relation to expenses. Other councils publish claim forms online,” Mr Lancaster said. 

Council responded by saying the payment of councillor expenses is published in every annual report.

Mr Lancaster said there isn’t detail on what individual councillors claim for their expenses. “We have no idea who spends what, and how much they spend. Every councillor will tell you they don’t spend anything”.