Lost opportunity

Before the last council elections in November 2010 the Local Government Association (LGA) made a point of appealing to younger residents to nominate, particularly young professionals.
The LGA wanted to mix up the demographic profiles of councils to bring in people from different age groups with different perspectives and different visions.
Luke Ritchie, a teacher and business venture director, was a young professional in his late 20s who brought some of that perspective to the Adelaide Hills Council when he was elected as an Onkaparinga Valley ward councillor.
He was a dynamic product of his generation, setting up a website to interact with the ratepayers he represented.
Now the council has lost that voice and his resignation does, in some ways, highlight some of the challenges facing younger people elected to local government.
Being a councillor is a demanding role and many first-timers are surprised by the time they are expected to dedicate.
Today being a councillor is a professional, part-time job that requires skills in finance, planning, health, environment, logistics, social planning and people management.
But it’s a part-time job that doesn’t pay a professional part-time wage which is why the role tends to be filled by older, community-minded people who have raised their families and have time to dedicate to civic activities.
Being a councillor is also a rude awakening into the difficulties associated with the democratic process. When you have a dozen people with different views and experiences on a decision-making body, there has to be some give and take and sometimes there’s more giving than taking when you don’t have the numbers.
Mr Ritchie’s approach to his resignation leaves many questions unanswered.
He says he’s not going to criticise the Mayor Bill Spragg or the elected body, but then he takes a big swing at both by saying he’s not comfortable with the leadership or how the council makes decisions or his inability to bring his lean financial priorities onto the council agenda.
After making his complaint he then declined to comment any further and failed to articulate clearly the perceived failings of the council.
Mr Ritchie has exercised his right to resign but has done nothing to explain where the council’s leadership and political and financial directions have made a wrong turn or how the situation could be fixed.
It is unfair to both the Mayor and the councillors to publicly “out” them as the problem without engaging in a public debate to improve the process.
Mr Ritchie is not the first councillor to become frustrated by an inability to effect change, and he won’t be the last.

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