Picture a hot day in the middle of summer. Your kids traipse behind you, brows dripping with sweat, feet aching. As you walk past another family, their children look noticeably more refreshed as they lick their ice-creams and hold their ice-cold soft drinks. Your kids just about twist off their heads as their eyes follow the moving ice-creams and they continue looking back over their shoulders.

The inevitable question follows. “Can we have an ice-cream Dad?” “No,” you reply, explaining that they had the option previously of a toy or an ice-cream and chose the longer-lasting satisfaction of the toy over the short-fix of the treat. “But those kids have an ice-cream and I saw a toy in their bag as well.”

Again you go through the drawn-out process of explaining that, just because someone else has something, it doesn’t mean you have to have it as well. Knowing the full circumstances of every individual that walks past with an ice-cream is difficult and somewhat fruitless.

Unfortunately, the syndrome that I call LOMS (Look Over My Shoulder) is the second most disappointing aspect of human behaviour I have noticed during my almost eleven years on Council (the number one being NIMBY).

There are so many times that I hear a member of the public; or a developer; or a proponent; or a committee; or anyone – say that they should be given exactly the same outcome as someone else. Forget the minutiae – the outcome was X for them so why can’t it be X for me. If you take out the comparison aspect and focus on just the individual outcome, I think everyone would be much happier.

Think about the example of an employer giving a wage rise to employees. Imagine the employer takes one employee aside one evening and asks him if he is happy with a 20 per cent wage increase. You can imagine that most employees would be very happy with that outcome. The employee goes home that day and celebrates with his wife and talks about how great his boss is. The world is good. The next morning the boss announces that, apart from one employee who has agreed to a separate wage increase, all employees will receive a 30 per cent wage increase effective immediately. You can imagine how infuriated the first employee would be. His individual circumstances have not changed. His increase has not been changed in any way whatsoever. But his mood has changed. Everyone reading this can understand how this employee feels, and that is where I see a common problem at Council. We all take so much time with LOMS that we forget to focus on our own circumstances and arriving at reasonable outcomes based on what we can control.

This is not just a problem in Dubbo. I have spoken with Councillors and Mayors across this nation. They all face the same issue – whether it be based on neighbouring development applications or water charges between neighbouring local government areas (LGAs). Now don’t get me wrong. I actually like the idea of having comparative information and comparative data to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the actions of Councils and I don’t ever want to see a situation where we can’t talk about neighbouring LGAs and neighbouring developments. Where I see this being used detrimentally is where the information is used as the only basis for the argument rather than as one of the factors.

I dream of the day when people present their arguments to Council based solely on their circumstances and work through ways to present their information in a better light that relies solely on their information. This is unlikely for a range of reasons, not the least of which is our legal system which has a legal principle known as stare decisis. That is, judges are obliged to respect the precedent established by prior decisions when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. With that as a background, it is easy to see why so many people look at what is happening elsewhere when discussing their issue with Council.

Tell me if you think LOMS is an issue that you see in society or if I am just a little oversensitive to issues involving Council. You can e-mail me at mayor@dubbo.nsw.gov.au.

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