I love performing the role of Mayor of this City. It is a wonderful City with great people and I have the chance (I believe) to make a positive difference in our community. I am sure if you spoke to any of the other 151 Mayors across NSW, you would hear a similar story. The vast majority of the Mayors I have met in my ten years on Council have a passion for their job and a passion for their Local Government Area.

Mayors that I have met certainly don’t perform the role for the money. This isn’t a complaint but just a comment. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) in Australia is $32,465.51 plus $3,003.06 in superannuation in addition to four weeks annual leave with leave loading and ten days of public holidays. The Mayoral Allowance for a Council classified as ‘Regional Rural’ (such as Dubbo) is $38,160 with no superannuation and no leave loading. Most people would agree that the level of responsibility and accountability for someone on the NMW is dramatically less than the level of responsibility and accountability for a Mayor of a LGA. In Dubbo’s example, we have 308 employees, an asset base around $1.5 billion and an annual budget over $160 million. If any Mayor is doing the role for the money then they didn’t do their research very well!

With that as a backdrop, it is intriguing when you consider the level of understanding of the role of a Councillor, a Mayor or even of a Council. Most Councillors I know are involved in local government because they believe they can make a difference. They can provide solutions or help solve problems. When a resident comes forward with an issue or idea, one of the most gratifying times as a Councillor is when you can actually do some good for your community. No Councillor takes any delight in ‘passing the buck’ to another level of government or another organisation.

Unfortunately though it often happens. It happens because there is a lot of confusion and mixed messaging about the responsibilities of different levels of government. When students are in Year 4 they study the topic of local government. The students typically visit Council and I speak to them about Council and we then perform a role play of a Council meeting. It is a lot of fun for students, teachers and myself and hopefully the students learn a little more about the role of local government.

With some of the requests I receive I am sure people think the Mayor of a City has more power than Harry Potter. As much as I love to solve problems, there are only so many problems I can realistically resolve – and these are usually the ones that at least have some linkage to local government.

Let me give you a few examples from the holiday period.

I received a call one evening from a lady who said that a dog was locked in a car and it was hot so could I do something to get the dog out? I am not sure exactly what I was meant to do? Pick up the set of universal car keys that I keep hidden in my pocket and unlock the car? Smash the window of the car? Imagine the headlines: “Out of control Dubbo Mayor destroys car with baseball bat.” I suggested the Police would be in a better position to deal with the situation as they could look up the owner of the vehicle and contact them or possibly break into the car.

I had another request over the holiday break to make a certain organisation start with their building project. This is a large project that will be important for Dubbo and we have approved their DA (Development Application). Legally they have five years to start substantial works on their project so I simply don’t have the power to make them start. Commercial forces will dictate when and how they go forward and there is only so much we can do.

The last example was amusing except for just how confused some people are. I attended a party over the Christmas break as a friend of the person hosting the party. No official mayoral duties – just an Aussie going to a party. The host had a group of uninvited teenagers arrive at the party with alcohol and the host – in a conciliatory manner – told the youths that there is no underage drinking at the party and they weren’t invited so please move along. The group chose to sit on the footpath across the road and caused no harm to anyone. The host suggested they call a Taxi – which they did – and all was well. One of our fellow partygoers went outside and spoke with the youths and then came back inside and suggested that because I was the designated driver for my friends I needed to take all of these kids home. I told him that I didn’t think it was appropriate to collect a group of strangers sitting on the side of the road and take them home (one of whom lived in Gilgandra) and the host had already dealt with the situation. Well – then it started. He told me in no uncertain terms that as Mayor I had a responsibility to take these kids to their homes and if I didn’t the media would hear all about it. Apparently the Mayor’s role also involves roaming the streets late at night looking for people to give a lift home to.

Councillors across the state are always keen to be of assistance to their local community. My piece of advice for readers is that if you want assistance with a specific issue it certainly helps if you take a minute to research the appropriate level of government or organisation to deal with the issue. Otherwise, you may well be disappointed by a response that seems very much like buck-passing but is really just the reality of three different levels of government with very different areas of responsibility.

Tell me if you think the three levels of government blur their lines of responsibility at mayor@dubbo.nsw.gov.au

Clr Mathew Dickerson

Mayor of the City of Dubbo

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