Bendigo mayor making an open-door policy literal
SHE has listened to their concerns outside petrol stations, shopping centres, milk bars and other local venues. At her first "listening post", held after she was first elected to the Bendigo Council, 30 people lined up to discuss local issues with Lisa Ruffell.
SHE has listened to their concerns outside petrol stations, shopping centres, milk bars and other local venues. At her first "listening post", held after she was first elected to the Bendigo Council, 30 people lined up to discuss local issues with Lisa Ruffell.Fast forward four years and the queues might be even longer.Cr Ruffell is no longer a freshly elected councillor learning the ropes of local government, she is the newly elected mayor of Bendigo and has declared that she will open the doors of the mayor's office to Bendigo residents once a month in the name of "community engagement".No appointment is necessary. Though with a population of about 105,000, making an appointment to see the mayor might be wise. Appointments will be taken.For one Monday a month, from 9am to 1pm, Cr Ruffell will sit down and meet people who want to discuss Bendigo issues. It could be big picture discussions about the city's future, or more day-to-day matters such as planning concerns, footpaths, drainage, managing local reserves - even rates.Cr Ruffell is happy to discuss any matters affecting residents. She is willing to listen to criticism of council as well as (and she hopes to get) positive feedback. She expects robust points of view, but one thing she will not tolerate during the "mayor's office" meetings is abuse."If they get abusive I'll show them the door," she says.Cr Ruffell anticipates that each meeting will last about 10 minutes, but pledges that she will not "rush" people out.The first mayor's office meeting day will be held on Tuesday, November 27, just 22 days after her election as mayor, and the first appointment, for 9am on that day, has already been booked. From next January the meetings will be on Mondays.While local councillors have always been accessible (many, but not all councils publish the mobile phone numbers and email addresses of councillors on their website), Cr Ruffell's move takes community engagement to a different level."It's always been there, that you could always talk to a mayor and councillors. I'm just taking that next step further, by saying 'we are approachable, we're not a closed book situation . . . you can come in and talk to us'," she says."I really want to be accessible to the community, I want to hear their thoughts. That's the main thing. If we're not listening to what the community is asking us or telling us, we can't really plan ahead," she says.Cr Ruffell highlighted five key policy areas to focus on during her one-year term as mayor. She has called for a comprehensive transport study for Bendigo, an independent review to ensure that ratepayers' money is being spent efficiently, a focus on delivering basic amenities such as lighting and footpaths, a review of all council strategies and plans, and she wants the council to take a leadership role in resolving the huge problem councils face in terms of unfunded superannuation liabilities.Cr Ruffell, who ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate in the 2002 state election, says she will step away from the family business, Ruffell Family Jewellers, during her term so that she can concentrate full time on the role of mayor.