How history was made at Ipswich City Council

It’s 8.30am, but not any old Tuesday morning.

A dozen or so management types are seated in the Ipswich City Council chambers gallery, and one member of the public, neatly dressed and upright with a pen and a pile of public documents, akin in thickness to a Colleen McCullogh classic.

Interim administrator Greg Chemello, trimmed beard, coat and tie in place, is seated in a chair normally occupied by the chair of the Works, Parks and Sport Committee.

This is Ipswich history in the making. It’s the first time a round of committee meetings will be presided over by an administrator and his advisory team.

Mr Chemello, performing the functions of 10 councillors and a mayor, is flanked by council CEO Sean Madigan and Works Parks and Recreation Chief Operating Officer Bryce Hines. Opposite him are five advisors who have been hand-picked by the state government to offer advice – Jan Taylor, Simone Webbe, Stan Gallo, Robert Jones and Steve Greenwood.

And the initial ground rules are set.

Mr Chemello says he wants transparency of meeting records. He wants reports and documents to be easily found. If he disagrees with an officer’s recommendation, he wants people to know why. If he has a conflict of interest, he’ll declare it.

And although not a legal requirement, the Interim Management Committee – as the advisory panel will be known – will do the same. From chairs formerly occupied by councillors, they’ll ask questions and discuss committee items. They’ll suggest improvements to processes and procedures. They won’t vote, but they’ll be influencing the one man who can.

It’s the way things will be done until the next council elections in March 2020. It’s the new world order in Ipswich.

The mood is upbeat. Not long in, Mr Chemello discards the tie. And in four and a half hours, the recommendations of nine council committees are discussed and adopted.

In discussions, it is learned that Mr Chemello is an avid birdwatcher, loves cats, but isn’t overly keen on dogs.

On more serious matters, it is learned that council’s “Enviroplan” is likely to be reviewed, that the Interim Management Committee prefer an all-of-city approach to spending and works, that a poster competition doesn’t need to be approved at committee level, and that council is likely to take a new look at the hours city garbage is collected.

It’s a new way forward for council. In less than 5 hours, matters were approved which previously took two days. No debate. No fuss. Yet, full responsibility.

Works, Parks and Sport is the longest committee meeting, lasting 39 minutes. In 13 minutes, 27 grants are approved within the Arts and Community Development space.

The shortest meeting of 7 minutes, Planning, Development and Heritage has the most paperwork. There are 25 pages of minutes – legal clarifications, and lots of rules understood clearly by engineers.

In other changes, it is decided within the City Management, Finance and Community Engagement committee that there will be an updated version of the discretionary funding program which was once in the hands of councillors and the mayor. It will be restructured into a transparent community donations program, with rules and rigour.

It’s clearly a learning exercise, finding the best way to do things. But it’s a serious one, being run by people the Local Government Minister considers to be best in the business.

Recommendations will be formally passed through a council meeting on Tuesday. The committees will return on Tuesday October 9.

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