In a classic example of Huon Valley “democracy” at work, council is poised to dictate that the consensual wish of more than 300 voters deserves no recognition whatsoever while that of 39 voters will be fulfilled.

At least 317 voters who want the roadside public toilet block in Cygnet’s Loongana Park preserved and refurbished appear destined to be totally ignored when council meets on Wednesday (January 18) at 6pm at Huonville.

Council appears determined to construct a new toilet block (a so-called “historic” structure) — set well back into the park, at a cost of $170,000-plus (probably rising) — and to then bulldoze the 40-year-old present structure, a quaintly attractive building that is adorned with a naively delightful, well-preserved mural created nearly two decades ago by students of the local primary school.

A 782-signature petition, collected by Lester Spinaze and requesting consideration of refurbishment of the park’s toilet block and the holding of a public meeting to discuss the issue, was delivered to council late last year. At about the same time, council was seeking submissions on its plans to modernise the park’s toilet facilities.

A staff report on the petition (agenda item 18.005/12), to be considered on Wednesday, found that only 317 signatures on the petition, more than 200 short of the number that would force council to hold a public meeting, were valid. (A petition must contain 560 valid signatures — 5% of total electors — to force a public meeting.) The recommendation before council is that “no action be taken” on the petition, which means it will be ignored.

Also before council on Wednesday evening is consideration of a private consultant’s report on options for public toilet modernisation in Loongana Park (item 17.005/12). This is accompanied by a staff report analysing the views of the 73 submissions received during “community consultation” in which much about the negative implications of council’s intentions was never revealed.

From my reading of the two reports and the agenda recomendation, council appears poised to exclude from the list of respondents to the consultation process the views of the 317 valid signatories on the petition. (Because of illegibility, the use of initials only rather than given names, and incomplete addresses on the petition, the common wish of many other voters among the “invalid” 465 signatories will also not be considered.)

The staff report on the community consultation says that of the 73 submissions in total, 53.4% (39) chose the “historic” option offered by the Hobart consultant, a design it dreamed up long before the views of the general public were sought. Despite 782 people signing a petition that clearly favours retention and redevelopment of the existing toilet block, council’s sleight-of-hand arithmetic puts the “redevelopment” support at 22% (16 submissions).

Surely council should consider that those who signed the petition might feel that by doing so they had already “submitted” their feelings on the subject and, therefore, did not feel they needed to follow up with a response to the community consultation?

Some of the community consultation representors would have had their names on the petition so, even if council’s assessment of the petition is correct, it is clear that there are at least 317 voters who want the toilet block retained while only 52 representors opted for one or other of the three new-structure options suggested by the professional consultant (39 in favour of “historic, one for “creative” and 12 for “contemporary”).

Hardly inspiring would be a reasonable description of all the consultant’s suggested new-structure options (see — and, with a minimum price tag of more than $170,000, hugely expensive compared with probably less than $100,000 that would be needed for a refurbishment of the existing block inside and out.

What all this means is that, yet again, the Huon Valley Council has got its processes back to front by hiring a professional consultant before consulting the people for ideas on which a consultant can work.

And, yet again, voters and other residents of the Huon Valley are witnessing an example of their council’s recurrent contempt for community opinion of which it disapproves.

Just over a year ago, in an amazing manipulation of its mysterious powers, it turned the 600-plus signatures on a petition to save a eucalypt icon in Cygnet into a 41-37 vote to ensure the tree’s execution (‘Cygnet heal thyself’

Previous council disasters, among others, include the dawn demolition of the Franklin Football club rooms (HERE: Outrage at Franklin and HERE: Death in the morningincidentally, why was council not charged with “asbestos” offences when it bulldozed that building and carted the wreckage away with who-knows-what blowing in the wind?); the imposition of an ugly car park on what should be a historically sensitive civic heart of Cygnet; and its refusal to protect the eucalypt at the bottom of the Mary Street subdivision that has been badly disturbing the ambience of Cygnet these past two years.

Council seems unable to acknowledge that — in the spirit of Australia’s democracy (or is it now only an imagined democracy?) — it is very much a servant, not a dictator, of the people of the Huon Valley.

Rarely if ever does it manifest anything that hints at a true appreciation of aesthetic or heritage values. Even a totally sound building that is only 40 years old is part of the township’s history — and 782 people signed a petition to say they think it should be kept. Council should take note.

— Bob Hawkins