Council goes 'on the road'

With residents and businesses scattered over 2,500 square kilometres, the newly elected Council at Yarra Ranges soon recognised the need to develop a comprehensive communication strategy. The aim of the strategy was to overcome drawbacks distance creates through meaningful two way communication.

"We saw it was necessary to get out into the Shire," Mayor David Hodgett said. "So in our first year we literally took Council 'on the road'.

"In Council's second year, we moved to Area Forums which attracted many more people. The first meeting attracted over 800 people. At these meetings, residents are encouraged to raise agenda items and discuss issues with Councillors."

Council meetings are also held at various locations so people can attend in their own locality.

"This way we have genuine feedback about what people are interested in and what they would like to see happen," the Mayor said. "They in turn get to know us and what we do."

Council officers also attend meetings to provide advice on technical matters. Regular Ward Forums are also held to ensure the two way communication continues regardless of how far people are from Council headquarters.

Apart from taking Council to the people, a variety of media provides ongoing communication. Council receives coverage on two community radio stations, publishes a quarterly newsletter and features in the seven local and regional newspapers.

In addition, Councillors and officers travel to 'coffee and chat' sessions where residents can discuss their ideas about the Shire in a relaxed and informal setting.

"We have discovered that residents are chiefly concerned with preserving our wonderful natural environment," David Hodgett said. "Together with improvement to roads, these are the main concerns of residents and Council.

"Over the last 18 months there has been much community input into our Corporate Planning and the directions we are taking."

He said that taking Council to the people had involved some difficult logistics but it has meant grassroots communication has been achieved.

"While it was massive to manage initially, the hard work we have put in will make for easier decision making and greater consistency down the track," the Mayor said. "Most importantly, we have found that, in spite of our diversity, the factors that pull our community together are much greater than those that could separate us."