Eurobodalla Citizens Jury – $100,000, 86 recommendations. Worthwhile?

Is Council spending your money on the right things? If not, what should it change?

That was the question put to the Eurobodalla Citizens Jury, a group of 28 randomly selected residents.

Starting in June 2016, the Citizens Jury reported back to Council in December making a wide range of recommendations from business development to land use to the role of the arts in the community, including:

  • Ensure that the potential for a performing arts base is considered in the redevelopment of the MacKay Park precinct.
  • Investigate revenue opportunities through use of waste facilities to generate income and or energy source, e.g. incorporating methane collection; recycling of plastics into a viable resource.
  • Continue and further develop collaboration with Aboriginal people and use of traditional land care techniques.
  •  Council recognise that the Jury supports the consistent application of the LEP and other environmental strategies and plans, such that green belts and riparian zones are protected.

The Citizens Jury project cost around $100 000 but was it worth it?

Yes, but it was not without its problems, according to Moruya juror Kate Raymond.

“The Citizens Jury was definitely worthwhile, it gave us all a good sense of what Council did and what kind of decisions had to be made every day,” Kate says.

However, the Jury struggled with the complexity of the task and was heavily reliant on Council staff to provide them with information.

“We came to realise that the question was just too broad, and we really couldn’t answer it,” Kate explains.

“How are we supposed to know if Council is spending enough money on roads, rates, and rubbish? What do we have to measure it against?

“We were briefed, but we only got Council’s perspective, and they said, ‘We’re doing the best we can with the money we have’. We had to take their word for it,” Kate says.

The Jury members also struggled to achieve consensus on issues.

“Even if some of us thought Council was spending too much on something, we’d never be able to reach consensus on it because it’s a group of 28 people with different priorities,” Kate says.

“For instance, some people wanted much more paving and guttering in the Shire but others disagreed because they thought it was less important for a rural shire. That’s just one example!”

It’s a point Deputy Mayor Anthony Mayne isn’t surprised to hear.

“By definition, a jury is a group of people who consider information and then reach a binding decision about it,” Cr Mayne says.

“Although the Jury deeply engaged with the issues presented to them, they weren’t expected to come to a unanimous agreement about them.

“To call it a ‘Jury’ does little to advance or promote the positive benefits of this project,” he says

Kate Raymond also believes the jury struggled to understand the role of Council.

“There were some jurors with quite extreme views about what Council does [views that] were simply outside what we were meant to be talking about,” she says

“I think the New Democracy Foundation (the Jury facilitators) did a really good job though.”

“Overall, I still think it was worthwhile,” Kate says.

Critic of the Citizens Jury project, Paul Bradstreet, took a keen interest in the process and observed a couple of Jury meetings.

Paul represents the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association (ERA).

Not a juror himself, he argues that the Jury wasn’t able to consider new ideas for the Shire.

“The Shire needs new ideas, but Council remains stuck in the same old patterns because it’s easier than dealing with new things,” he says.

According to Paul, citizens with innovative ideas were directed to make a submission to the Jury, but the Jury couldn’t consider them.

“For instance, the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association had ideas that we wanted to put to Council, especially following the [Council] elections in September,” Paul says.

“The ERA had a couple of councilors elected on our platform issues, so we know our ideas are relevant, but we weren’t being given a chance to express them.

“The Citizens Jury was set up as a public relations, rubber stamping exercise, where Council gets to hear that they’re doing a great job,”  Paul says.

Eurobodalla Shire Council says that new ideas and submissions from the public were included in the Jury project.

A Council spokesperson says, there were 39 submissions from the community, and the Jury considered all of them carefully.

“Although the Jury project was primarily set up to look at how Council currently spends its money, it did consider new ideas, for instance, a community ‘think tank’ activity to run as part of Local Government Week and investigating a mobile library service,” the spokesperson explains.

Kate Raymond agrees that the Jury considered new ideas, but was somewhat ambivalent about Council’s response,

“For instance, our report recommended (p.9) having an agricultural officer in Council, to supercharge the outcomes from the Rural Lands Strategy,” Kate says.

Council’s response was, ‘We will look into this’ and if there is grant funding available (p.32) they’ve told us they will investigate options.

“Does this mean Council is actively looking for grant funding for this position? What does investigating options mean? That’s unclear,” Kate says.

Council’s spokesperson says the Citizens Jury worked well and achieved the goal of providing feedback on how Council spends its money.

The jury made 86 recommendations, 76 of which align with the Draft Delivery Program 2017-21 and the Operational Plan 2017-18. These two documents inform upcoming Council spending in the immediate future,” the spokesperson says.

“We [Council] also realised that there’s quite a lot of confusion in the community about the three tiers of government (local, state and federal) and their respective roles. So we’re working at getting some information about this out there.”

Eurobodalla Deputy Mayor, Anthony Mayne. Source: Facebook
Eurobodalla Deputy Mayor, Anthony Mayne. Source: Facebook

The Deputy Mayor believes it was a worthwhile process.

“In the modern world of social media, to see 28 people deeply engaged and enquiring of any number of issues over a sustained period of time is to be applauded,” Cr Mayne says.

“These were volunteers, paid a small allowance to give up seven nights and many hours of reading over several months to listen, wonder, seek, exchange, explore and debate a variety of matters before finally presenting their outcomes to the Councillors”.

So, will the Eurobodalla see another Citizens Jury?

“Council has developed a Community Engagement Framework and the Citizens Jury will remain something we can use when appropriate,” Council’s spokesperson explains.

“The jurors provided significant amounts of their own time and Council is appreciative of that.”

Words by Fiona Whitelaw, Moruya

*Fiona contacted a number of other jurors for this article but Kate Raymond was the only one to take up the opportunity.

*Featured videos produced by Eurobodalla Shire Council before and during the Jury process.

The next step in the Eurobodalla’s local food economy. Have your say here!

The popular SAGE Farmers Market each Tuesday from 3 in Riverside Park, Moruya. Pic from SAGE Facebook.
The popular SAGE Farmers Market each Tuesday from 3 in Riverside Park, Moruya. Pic from SAGE Facebook.

The Eurobodalla food economy is pushing forward – like a pumpkin vine that sprouts from a compost heap.

“Growers are outgrowing the farmers market,” says local food advocate Kate Raymond.

“They need more avenues through which to sell at a high enough margin to keep doing what they’re doing.”

In recent years, the river town of Moruya has seen increasing numbers of market gardeners, spurred along by the community of people around the SAGE Farmers Market.

Shoppers gather like sprinters in the 100-metre race at the Olympics each Tuesday afternoon at 3 in Riverside Park waiting for the bell to ring – a signal that sales can start.

“Small-scale farmers are establishing businesses and creating a flourishing local food system,” Kate says.

“It’s a movement whose time has come.”

The river flats and volcanic soils of Moruya have a proud agricultural heritage that in their day supported large numbers of vegetable, dairy, and beef growers. For whatever reason, those practices all but died out but there is a growing sense ‘that day’ has come again.

Since 2009, when the community organisation Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening Eurobodalla (SAGE) started working towards its mission of ‘growing the growers’, locally grown food has become easier to access.

The award winning farmers market that has been the backbone of the SAGE initiative has created an appetite and an industry that requires more.

The bell that signals a start to trading each Tuesday in Riverside Park. Pic from SAGE Facebook.
The bell that signals a start to trading each Tuesday in Riverside Park. Pic from SAGE Facebook.

“A farmers market once a week can’t service everyone who wants to eat locally grown food and local farmers need to reach more customers,” Kate says.

An increasingly common sales avenue for farmers around the world is to sell their products through what is known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

A CSA is a farm share program, where the consumer and the farmer enter into an agreement of goodwill to exchange money for food. Consumers pledge to purchase the anticipated harvest well in advance.

“A farmer can plan their crops with greater confidence knowing that they will sell what they grow and sell it at a fair price,” Kate says.

“By supporting the farmer in this way, the customer receives a box of fresh seasonal produce every week, delivered to their door.”

The idea springs from frustration with the dominant and most familiar food distribution system – the supermarket, which mostly excludes local and small-scale growers from their supply chains, leaving local farmers no option but to sell directly to customers.

Moruya watermelons were a big hit over summer at the SAGE Farmers Market. Pic from SAGE Facebook.
Moruya watermelons were a big hit over summer at the SAGE Farmers Market. Pic from SAGE Facebook.

Woven into the arrangement is a sense of shared risk between the farmer and the consumer, which takes the CSA model beyond the usual commercial transaction we are used to.

If the season is difficult or hit by extreme events, pickings can be slim which impacts the quality and amount of produce a customer receives in their weekly box.

Local Harvest in the USA lists over 24,000 family farms on their website who are part of a CSA arrangement.

Local Harvest believes the element of shared risk creates a feeling of ‘we’re in this together’.

Their website says, “Some CSA members may be asked to sign a policy form indicating that they agree to accept without complaint whatever the farm can produce.”

However, they say the idea of shared risk creates a sense of community between customers and farmers.

“If a hailstorm takes out all the peppers, everyone is disappointed together, and together cheer on the winter squash and broccoli,” the Local Harvest website says.

“Most CSA farmers feel a great sense of responsibility to their customers and when certain crops are scarce, they make sure the CSA gets served first.”

There is a yin and yang to that shared risk though. When the season is powering and a bounty or surplus of produce is created those involved with a CSA benefit.

In that situation, recipes are swapped to add some variety to the way abundant veg can be used in the home kitchen, that produce can also be preserved and used out of season.

Where a supermarket supply chain might struggle to cope with a surplus, the CSA model summons peoples creatively, extending the harvest and reduceing food waste.

As part of a Eurobodalla based group keen to establish the CSA model here, Kate Raymond says, “Consumers increasingly demand to know more about where their food comes from and how it was grown,”

Local growers selling direct to consumers. Pic from SAGE Facebook.
Local growers selling direct to consumers. Pic from SAGE Facebook.

“Joining a CSA can answer their questions. A CSA connects the consumer to the grower in a very direct and transparent way,” she says.

To test the idea locally, a number of vegetable growers in the Eurobodalla are currently undertaking market research into the viability of establishing a multi-farm CSA program.

“This is significant, as it’s a symptom of a local food economy that is outgrowing the perception that local food is a niche enterprise and is in fact becoming a bona fide industry,” Kate says.

The next phase in the Eurobodalla’s agricultural heritage is well underway.

Click HERE to take the local survey and add your thoughts to the market testing that’s underway.