The Fremantle Times

Progressive comment for a progressive city

Dear Fly By Night, it’s time for a plan.

Current site, Military Drill Hall. Source: flybynight.org

For those involved in The Fly By Night Musicians Club, this hasn’t been a very fun week. Monday’s decision by The National Trust to enter lease negotiations with Sunset Events for the Military Drill Hall has left many feeling disheartened, ignored, and even betrayed. While Facebook is flooded with people decrying the commercialisation of public assets, ill-founded accusations of conspiracy and obituaries of Fremantle’s live music scene, I believe this decision may (potentially) be the best thing to happen to The Fly in the last 20 years.

Firstly, there has to be a realisation that the Fly By Night Club is not inextricably linked to the Military Drill Hall. Yes, it has a long and rich history at the venue, and that history should be celebrated. However, and to horribly butcher “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, a church is not the building that contains it, nor is a university the bricks and mortar in which people learn. The true Church and University are the thoughts, the activities and the body of faith/reason that exist within them. The same is true of the Fly. The real Fly, the true Fly, is its energy, its public interest, its activities and its goodwill. What will determine the failure or success of the Fly is how well its physical location can help facilitate these aspects.

The Fly is in a very fortunate position to have a supportive council that will actively work to secure it an alternative venue. It is doubly fortunate to have a council that owns two assets that are currently vacant and suitable for the activities of the Fly, namely the ex-Kulcha site, and Victoria Hall.

Victoria Hall. Future site of The Fly? Source: mingor.net

My personal belief is that Victoria Hall is a better fit for the Fly. It is large (300ish capacity), it has most if not all of the wiring, lighting, and BOH facilities, it has air conditioning and it has large blackout curtains to improve acoustics. It’s also much prettier. Not only this, it has an established bar facility that could be operated daily when events aren’t on, to generate income to offset its leasing cost, this could be run internally or subleased to an operator. I’d actually be surprised if the daily activities of the bar didn’t offset the entire rental amount.

Victoria Hall also contains a decent stock of high quality office space. Roughly three times what the Fly has now, and needs. Other arts organisations could rent cheapish office space from the Fly, further offsetting rent and creating great opportunities for synergy.

There is also the opportunity for the Fly to actively engage in daytime rental to small arts organisations such as Harbour Theatre for rehearsal space, to run it’s own music and sound production classes, as well as providing affordable practice space for local bands, an activity that is in huge demand.

It’s time for the negative publicity campaign to end, and for the Fly to actively take stock and assess their options. A productive and positive approach to council will surely see a good outcome. Go back to the National Trust and ask (politely) for a rent holiday for the remainder of their lease term to allow them to take stock. See if there’s the possibility to sell unnecessary assets to Sunset for a reasonable price. The one thing that I would say about my time in politics and change, is that the recently seen negative, media driven “storm the ramparts” campaigns rarely work. They might get the public on side and rally around them, however the quality of the conversation with key stakeholders is deeply compromised and they tend to end up marginalising those who could otherwise add value to the conversation. Productive relationships with high levels of trust will always trump distance and fear.

Here’s hoping the Fly can make the best of the situation, and turn an underutilised public asset into the Astor Theatre of the south!

Art Can Stay!

This little doco was created last year as a final semester work by Curtin University Film students and being interviewed for it was probably one of the highlights of my time on council. At the time, Fremantle Council had just introduced the highly contentious Street Art Policy, a progressive policy that aimed to differentiate between criminal graffiti and legitimate street art. A differentiation that the police never quite managed to get a grip of.

I also like it because I feature heavily in it, and I still had all my hair at the time.

Slightly old news now, but it didn’t quite get the attention it deserved at the time, and I’m in Broome right now and don’t feel like thinking too much. Enjoy!

Sometimes, it’s about the small wins

It’s easy to be cynical about the world of politics and change. We have global inaction on the biggest environmental issue to have ever faced the planet, a federal government that seems to want to take us back into the dark ages, a state government that sees its job to approve mines regardless of the retained value for its citizens, and there’s a general distrust of politics and politicians across the board. Every now and again though you get a win, and no matter how small it may be it keeps your faith in the system and adds a bit of fuel to the fires of change. The following is one of these cases. Be warned though, this story contains no drama, no whinging and very little conflict, so it’s unlikely to be syndicated to the mainstream press any time soon.

A few months ago I was approached by a group of young basketball players, who were interested in investigating the possibility of getting a new court built somewhere within central Fremantle. The rationale was sound; there had been a loss of existing facilities at South Beach when the carpark was extended and since then, they had been playing after hours on local primary school courts. This was causing some issues with the staff at the primary schools as many still run after school care programs and it was seen that the basketball players were impinging on their space.

We met up for a coffee and discussed the options. Their timing was perfect, a proposal to build a court at Wilson Park had just met with strong community disapproval (as residents across the road didn’t want their council maintained front lawn tampered with) and a motion had been passed to “go back to the drawing board” with regards to location.

Meetings were had with parks staff, councillors and the mayor to get a better feel for what councils priorities were, and to see what locations would fit in with larger recreational strategic priorities. There was a general feeling that the re-instatement of some facilities in the South Beach area would be appropriate and that a basketball court at the Esplanade Youth Plaza was always intended in “Stage 2” works, and fully supported.

This information was fed into the budget workshop process, and with the help of Andrew Sullivan and a few other supportive councillors, two line items have appeared in the 2014/2015 budget just approved by council. $165,000 to build a full court at South Beach, and $65,000 for a half court at the EYP. These line items will fully re-instate what was lost when the South Beach carpark was extended, and a fantastic result.

Of course, this is not the end of the conversation. There is still the potential for community conflict around the full court at South Beach, as the current location identified would require the removal of a mature Norfolk pine and the repositioning of BBQ facilities. Being reasonable and community minded people however, the young people who have been championing this cause have already come up with a solution to this problem. A smaller, “pickup” style court, (as shown below) basically one with the middle 1/3 cut out, would both fit the space without the need for the tree to be removed, and satisfy the recreational needs of the players who generally play a 3-on-3 style game anyway. This solution may also free up some budget to have the same treatment done at the EYP.

Northbridge “pickup” style court.

Another great outcome from this is the possibility of a “pop up” court emerging somewhere in the CBD in the interim. Players are all pledging funds from their own pocket to purchase a portable net, which will be located (subject to the standard insurance and health and safety “hoops”) (excuse the pun) in an underutilised public space such as Westgate Mall. This not only has the benefit of creating some usable court space before the other facilities are built, but will turn a dead space into an active one. Again, a great common sense outcome.

Over the next few months, we will see these conversations playing out and if the current trend continues, we will see the needs of recreational users met, without any significant drama or conflict.

Precisely because of this, it is unlikely to get any media attention so I wanted to in some small way, shine some light on what happens regularly within council, and is rarely reported on. It might not be dramatic reading but it’s good governance, and this kind of activity is the backbone of council work and when it works, puts a smile on my face.

A special thanks has to go out to Toby Lynhe, Oli Adeane, Rowan Bond, Dave Kaloczy, Andrew Sullivan and Michael Leers for seeing this through so far. I only wish that more council issues were dealt with in such a calm, logical and respectful manner!

If you’d like to add to the conversation, head over to HoopHopes at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1446025202303263/

City of Fremantle Happiness Department – Lefty Bullshit or Good Governance?

Happy

 

It was November 2009. Six bright eyed, slightly nervous new councillors and six slightly less excitable returning ones entered the hallowed halls of the Esplanade Hotel Conference Room, flanked by senior City staff and entered a two day facilitated lockdown. It was an odd process. We were asked to define five strategic priorities that would guide the City moving forward. However as a new councillor, my deep understanding of the inner workings of the City and what it really needed were still a mystery.

As a result, I just re-hashed what I knew at the time, which was all the feedback I’d had from the community through the election period, combined with some slightly informed opinions of my own. None of these items were of any real strategic importance, although they did all make it into the document in some form. The senior staff were very vocal through this process, they were professionals and they knew what they needed to see in the plan for them to move forward in their own departments. It would be naive to think they weren’t steering the entire process, and it would have been wrong to stop them. The end result, after much wordsmithing and consternation, was the City of Fremantle Strategic Plan 2010 – 2015. If I had a time machine, I would go back to that workshop, skip the overcooked beef at the buffet and demanded that we create a sixth directive, and make the Happiness of our ratepayers a strategic priority.

It’s not a new idea. The tiny nation of Bhutan has been measuring Gross National Happiness since the term was first coined in 1972 by the Fourth Dragon King (what a title!) Jinge Singye Wangchuck (what a name!), as a method of applying Buddhist spiritual values to measure the nations general well-being. The four pillars of GNH are sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment and establishment of good governance. Over time, this work has been further defined into eight general contributors to happiness: physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. Whilst the measure isn’t as quantifiable as GDP, and isn’t perfect by any measure, the role of “liveability” indexes are becoming more common as many people start looking for more holistic approaches to societal growth.

So how would this idea of a “Happiness Department” apply to the City of Fremantle? Obviously the scope of such work at a local level is much more limited than as defined above, but I believe a deliberate attempt to drill down into the emotional health of our citizens and do what we can do increase their happiness, or at the very least remove some of the frustrations, would be a worthy exercise and money well spent.

For example, one of the biggest frustrations I had while serving on the Planning Services Committee was the amount of neighbour disputes that clogged up the process. One infamous warring set of neighbours kept the entire committee enthralled for an hour while they disputed .38m2 of encroachment. Apart from the real and obvious angst that was felt by the parties concerned, the opportunity cost of this dispute was that by the end of it, everyone was so tired we rushed through quite a large strategic planning issue without the debate it really deserved.

A Happiness Officer (sign me up!) would have the remit to look at issues like this, and look at the idea of happiness of ratepayers in general, and see how they could build better communities, and basically stop people “sweating the small stuff”. They could encourage street parties, get neighbours to know each other better and with better relationships, perhaps avoiding some of these conflicts. If we could remove five neighbour disputes that ended up at the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT), the position of Happiness Officer would become cost positive in short order.

The Happiness Department could also look at council processes themselves, finding common frustrations with overly bureaucratic process and introducing some common sense. I believe that even the community knowledge that there is someone working internally to remove frustrating processes would remove some frustration in its own right.

Whilst on the surface this concept might seem a bit twee, I believe there are real and effective outcomes that could be achieved by such a department. What do you think? If we had a Happiness Officer at the City of Fremantle, what would you get them to do?

Free bike lights and bells – The most progressive council policy in Western Australia?

A cyclist rides through the historic West End of Fremantle. Source: WAToday

In March this year, Mayor Brad Pettitt announced in a radio interview that the WA Police, in conjunction with the City of Fremantle, would trial a new approach to the policing of safety compliance for cyclists. In the new regime, when a police officer pulled over a cyclist for not having lights or a bell on their bicycle, instead of dishing out a hefty fine they would issue a caution, and a voucher for free lights and/or a bell to be picked up from Town Hall. While this might seem like an innocuous and minor change to policy, it raises very real and interesting questions around the purpose of the rule of law and how to achieve behaviour change.

At the time, this policy attracted a lot of negative attention from right wing media commentators both in radio and print. They stated that this policy was “rewarding criminal behaviour” and a waste of ratepayers funds. Whilst I do agree that there is a slight cost shifting from state to council in the implementation of the policy, I would strongly disagree that the small amount allocated (around 5k from what I understand) is a waste of money, and I deeply disagree with the idea that this “rewards criminal behaviour”.

The first point I’d make, is around the idea that anybody who isn’t compliant with any and every single piece of legislation that applies to their world, is a “criminal”. I would be hard pressed to find a single individual that doesn’t break some kind of legislation daily, or weekly. To put someone who doesn’t have a bell on their bicycle in the same category as a rapist or murderer is to horribly simplify the issue and not give any deference to the relative weighting of legislation, from both a societal outcome and ethical point of view.

The second point is simply around cost of compliance. The cost to the state is huge. Not only in the police time to write them out, but to process them, enforce them, and in the case of giving a fine to anybody who lives outside the state, generally writing the fines off. All this, without actually guaranteeing any real behaviour change. In fact, the most likely outcome is to just reinforce a viewpoint (rightly or wrongly), that police are more interested in revenue raising than in public safety. Not to mention the fact that the recipient of the fine now has less money to put towards their own compliance.

Contrast this to handing out free lights and bells. Yes there is a cost, but the resources required to achieve compliance are significantly less. The result of the action is actual compliance with law, and increases public safety in a real and quantifiable sense.

For me personally, it all comes down to the world I’d like to live in. Do I want to feel like the powers that be are constantly breathing down my neck, waiting for me to “step out of line” so that they can whack me with a fine, or do I want to feel like the government is looking out for me, that they care about my safety more than taking my money? I haven’t seen this policy being acted out in person, but the idea of someone being pulled over, expecting a bollocking and a fine, and ending up with some free stuff just makes me smile.

I congratulate our council and local police force for taking a more considered and rational view to this issue, and from all accounts the scheme is working well with feedback being overwhelmingly positive.

Is there a more progressive policy out there in Western Australia? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Fremantle’s Not-For-Profit Sector – The Case For Strategic Review

There has been something of a community uproar recently with the dramatic closure of Deckchair Theatre, the equally dramatic closure of Kulcha, the leasing ambiguity surrounding The Fly By Night Musicians Club, not to mention the tenuous financial position of several other community organisations. Is this a deliberate attack on our not-for-profit sector by State Government, a result of a lack of community support for the organisations, or just the result of a natural state of affairs, caused by decreased relevance of the organisations in question?

It would be true to say, that most if not all of the above organisations have never gone through any major consititutional or strategic change since their inception. Whilst most commercial businesses would be willing to turn themselves inside out to make more profit, and generally do so every five years or thereabouts, we don’t seem to see the same kind of willingness to make big, necessary, relevance changes in our not-for-profit sector.

While it may be easy to try to single out an individual or organisation to “blame” for this lack of ability to change with the times, in reality it seems to be a combination of executive boards not feeling like they have the remit to embark on major change, as well as staff of the organisations who are legally in no place to do so. As a result, the executive of many organisations will pre-occupy themselves with operational aspects of their entity, rather than looking at larger strategic issues.

One key aspect that new not-for-profit organisations such as Dismantle understand in the current funding climate is that within any not-for-profit, there needs to be a core business unit that for lack of a better term, “pays the bills”. Dismantle has the Bike Dr., Kulcha had a massively under-utilised licenced venue, and Deckchair Theatre had the ability (but not the capacity or will) to licence their side bar “Hobbs”. In a more rationalised arrangement, or in other words one with a “core business unit” the organisation can exist in some form without government support. When it attracts funding, it can program workshops, events and activities, but more importantly, if it loses said funding, it doesn’t put the entire organisation at risk. In the case of both Deckchair and Kulcha, it is true that the final nail in the coffin was the removal of government sponsorship, however their pre-existing financial structure had previously hammered the rest.

Don’t take this the wrong way, readers. I have incredible respect for all those involved in any organisation that I have mentioned, and an incredible amount of dedicated paid and volunteer work has gone into them all. My problem is not with those involved, but with the structure of things. The one thing that I’m starting to realise as somebody who has been a small business owner, a politician, but now just an interested citizen, is that the structures and systems that we live in were not made by God but just made by people who were working within their own flawed system at the time, and the outcomes that we now see were just the best fit at the time, and probably a compromise. To expect perfect, perpetually relevant systems that were created by imperfect people in their own imperfect system at the time is just a bridge too far.

All this said, I have not outlined any solutions. In my past life as a policymaker, there was nothing that annoyed me more than somebody who would point out the all-too-obvious problems of the world, but would sit silent when asked for solutions. One solution of course, is to do nothing. More organisations will fold, some will gain charismatic individuals and grow (until that individual burns out), and some will flop along like they have for a very long time. I think we can do better than this, and for the sake of all those involved with said organisations, I believe we must.

Given that (in my reading of the situation) we have organisations that would see the value in a “relevance check”, or at the very least would like some help in maximising their revenue stream, I believe that as a community we could put a good case to the state government. A one-off fund to resource strategic analysis and workshopping (to those who request it of course) with broad scope but strong foundations in the core values of the organisation. It would do wonders to shore up the sector, as well as reduce further requests for “sustenance” funding. Of course this fund would need to be administered, however a new not-for-profit such as the Fremantle Foundation would be ideal as it has strong corporate governance and active, strong leadership. Ultimately we’re pitching at saving the State Government money in the long run, how could they say no?

Who’s up for it?

NOTE FROM AUTHOR – Welcome to the blog! As with anything posted here, comment and debate is welcomed with open arms. However, only posts that contribute to the debate in some meaningful way will be added. If as a reader you feel the need to throw insults around like a schoolyard bully, there’s plenty of internet for you out there. Contributors are always welcome, email timgreysmith@gmail.com for more info.

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