Death threats and animal carcass
One of the first projects I worked on in Local Government was consolidating local laws after amalgamations.
- Three local laws needed to be merged into one
- Council only had local laws for urban residential areas, and they had no idea about rural and semi rural way of life.
- There was a distrust and resistance to being forced into a local government that some areas did not want to be part of.
- The local law we were changing impacted people's businesses.
- This was the first of many local laws to seek the communities engagement.
- Council was yet to implement an engagement policy or framework.
The original plan was to host town hall style meetings, have one on one conversations with owners, and those that had concerns.
I was 23 years of age, having conversations with big burley men, where they normal vocabulary included swear words and words I personally would not use. I received threats that at one stage, the Police had to escote Council members to their car for their own safety.
At one protest, members had dead animal carcasses left on their car bonnets. Whilst scary at the time, we all knew this was one way to make sure we were actively listening to them.
At one event were circled by angry business owners, shouted at, and the first town hall session was unproductive. However, we were able to find a spokesperson on the night, someone that was respected
We pulled them aside, and spoke to them about our challenge as a Council, and our obligation to consolidate these laws. We asked, how can we work with business owners, industry and residents to come up with a solution that is fair, and works will all stakeholders.
So how did we make it work?
We set up an online discussion forum on Bang the Table and asked people the following:
- Should Council weigh neighbourhood and livelihood equally?
- Should Council apply more exemptions to these laws?
- Should land size be a major consideration in these laws?
We also asked for members of the general public to nominate to be part of a working group, to be made up of industry representatives, businesses and residents. We did not shy away from having some of the louder voices, as we worked with the group to set ground rules and the objectives.
The panel no only helped to develop the local laws, they also developed a community guideline. Placing emphasis on the business owner to work with their neighbours to come to a solution. And check points for when Council needed to become involved, and enact the legislation.
The panel members became Council's spokespeople; championing the changes. It also helped to build trust and transparency within a community that Council had a poor relationship with.
This project is still spoken about within Council, and is referenced as an example of working with community to develop outcomes that meet community expectations whilst meeting Council's obligations.
Local Law Officers have a better relationship with these business owners, complaints have decreased, and overall, the community felt heard.