Advice to candidates: 'You're not going to change the world tomorrow'

Advice to candidates: 'You're not going to change the world tomorrow'

Bruce Miller has given more than three decades of service as a mayor and councillor in his NSW central west home town of Cowra.

As he prepares to retire, he looks back on how local government has changed over time, and the challenges facing the new concillors who will take their seats following the December 4 election.

When talking about his long tenure on council, Miller uses "we" rather than "me".

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His acknowledgement of the sacrifice and support of his wife Ann is a reminder that people who put themselves forward for public life take family members along for the ride.

"We've devoted a whole lot of our life (to local government), which we've not regretted," Miller said.

During his time on Cowra Council he was mayor for 14 years and deputy mayor for two.

Cr Miller leaves with strong opinions about the role of local government, its biggest drawbacks, what could be done to improve it and timely advice for prospective councillors.

He also thinks ratepayers need to acknowledge that so much of what they take for granted is the result of the efforts of current and former councillors and council staff.

"When you get out of bed in the morning and turn the tap on and flush the toilet - council supplies that, does that at an affordable price, and it's properly maintained," Cr Miller said.

"You walk out the door and drive down the road - council does that. If you walk along the footpath - council does that. If you admire the parks and gardens - council does that.

"If you go to the library on the way to work - council runs that. If you go to the Civic Centre or Town Hall to a function - council does that. When you're rubbish is picked up - council does that.

"Not to mention the sporting fields and swimming pool. Every day, council impacts your life," he said.

To be effective, councillors need to devote a minimum of 20 hours a week to the role, he said, and make an effort to work with council staff.

"I'm concerned that there's a lack of respect for the elected arm but also a lack of respect for the professionalism of the staff," he said

"The elected member's role is being in touch with the community and understanding the issues, and also being a bit visionary.

"After you've listened to your community and perhaps laid awake at night thinking about it, you've got to use the professionals and respect the professionals.

"You've also got to question them, you have to ask the hard questions of them. They've got to be held accountable, we're all fallible, they're not always right, but you've got to be prepared to do the work to understand what you've got to do.

"A lot of lazy people get elected to council, they get elected for the wrong reason," he said.

Bruce Miller has contributed a lot to public life, and his resume includes stints as president of the NSW Shires Association and as vice president of the Australian Local Government Association

On a local level, he believes his biggest achievement has been the increased accountability of the council, particularly when it came to budgets and spending.

"Back then we didn't have a clue within millions what parks and gardens cost us, it was just included in the roads budget."

He said he is also proud of the community facilities achieved for the town over the years.

"All that infrastructure I'm really proud of, it is stuff about our community, building good infrastructure for our community. I'm proud I had something to do with that."

In a word of advice to council candidates ahead of this year's election, he said "nothing is achieved overnight".

"Sometimes its about persistence. You have to understand you're not going to change the world tomorrow," he said.

If you're thinking of standing Cr Miller warns you'll need time and the desire to research issues.

At a minimum he suggests four hours preparation is needed for a two hour meeting.

"The rule of thumb is four hours of preparation. That's just to understand your papers, after you've had discussions with Directors and inspections."

While local government still concentrates on roads, water and rubbish Miller believes transparency has been a major advancement for many councils over the past three decades.

"The activities of councils are much more transparent," he said of his own time with Cowra Council.

"It comes back to accountability, which is an area I take the most pride in."

Cost shifting by higher levels of government has also added to the burden on councils.

"That's a challenge, it's always a challenge," he said.

"It is hard to be critical at the moment because of the amount of money being thrown at us during the pandemic but prior to that the percentage of the tax take that came to local government from the Feds continued to be cut and cut.

"(Funding) was left to pork barrelling, the well connected seats or needed to be won received funding to the detriment of others."

He said along with increased transparancy, comes accountability, and today's councillors cop their share of criticism on social media.

"(Today) the worst of social media has made it difficult. The way social media is used anonymously does make it difficult to achieve good outcomes, you're fighting shadows at times."