Lack of Chamber funding and Mayor's role in Economic Development taskforce challenged


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Douglas Chamber president Liz Ross, Council CEO Mark Stoermer, and Think Tank facilitator Alexandra Bernhardi all spoke on Saturday. Image: Karlie Brady.

Douglas Shire Council came under fire on two fronts at a Think Tank in Mossman on Saturday when they were challenged for a lack of funding to the Chamber; and for Mayor Julia Leu to chair an Economic Strategic Review Committee.

In an impassioned plea, which was clearly directed at Council and Mayor Leu, who along with Clr Michael Kerr, were the only elected officials at the forum, long-time Douglas Chamber of Commerce member Martin Tranter said the Chamber needed funding to fulfil its role and to best serve the business community.

But Council’s commitment is towards tourism and events. In the 2019/20 budget, tourism and events will benefit from an $810,000 injection over the next 12 months, securing the operation of promotional powerhouses such as Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD) and Port Douglas Carnivale.

And in her response, Mayor Leu said she was happy to receive a formal request and encouraged the Chamber to apply for grant money.

Tranter alluded to the time required to fill out a grant application and the dearth of resources needed to commit a considerable amount of time to appropriately respond to the application’s myriad of questions and other required data.

The organiser and facilitator of the Think Tank, Dr Alexandra Bernhardi, praised the Chamber for speaking very clearly and from their hearts about their passion, but also about their dilemma of not receiving adequate funding and acknowledgment for their work from the Council.

“Personally, I can clearly see that actions and achievements of the Chamber are restrained by inadequate financial means. I was very happy that the Chamber of Commerce felt it was safe to use the Think Tank platform to reach out to the community and appeal to DSC for funding.

“I am sure that I was not the only one who was surprised to learn about the inequality of DSC supporting TPDD and leaving the Chamber of Commerce with an invitation to apply for a grant,” she said.

In revealing the make-up of the Economic Strategic Review Committee, Council CEO Mark Stoermer said the 12-person group would be chaired by Mayor Leu; along with Chamber president Liz Ross; TPDD Chief Executive Officer Tara Bennett and two Council Officers. The remaining spots will be filled by businesses representing different sectors across the community.

“There will be six sessions over a six-month period and the committee will assess the current state of the economy, develop a plan which will be monitored.

“Expressions of Interest will be e-mailed to a large database across the community and we will choose the rest of the committee from those who respond to the EOI,” said Stoermer.

Attendees at the Think Tank offered the view that it is inappropriate for the Mayor to chair the committee.

“Dr Bernhardi said she saw a weakness in the current concept in the composition and selection process of the task force members.

“This is reinforced with the Mayor also being a board member of TPDD (to my knowledge) as well as being superior to the two Council Officers.

“I see it as a crucial prerequisite for a successful outcome that the chair is taken by an independent professional economic development specialist who then helps to select all other members – which may or may not include the Mayor.

“The costs for engaging an independent specialist should be outweighed by the potential increased future revenue,” she said.

Stoermer said there would be business presenters and guest speakers at the sessions as well as Federal and State Government speakers.

“We will set a vision, there will be an action plan which will set us on the appropriate path,” said Stoermer.

Some of the 40-strong Think Tank attendees said the taskforce should begin their work after the March 28, 2020 local government election.

In her assessment, Dr Bernhardi, who said the next Think Tank is scheduled for 7 December, said the attendees were perceptive and creative.

“Our community has demonstrated that it is genuinely interested in what is going on and that it likes to be involved in decisions and planning.”

Dr Bernhardi also praised Council CEO Stoermer for his open-minded approach.

“I have noted the positive perception of Mark Stoermer's inviting statement, that he is unsure about certain aspects in regards to the proposed economic development task force project.

“The respectful and constructive feedback from the audience was taken on board by the CEO in a professional way. I felt this was a refreshing and democratic approach that the community has not had the pleasure of experiencing in a long time,” she said.

Below is the details of Council's Economic Strategic Review Committee proposed on Saturday:

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