Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saturday's Scribe - Small communities and bureaucracy

Rhonda and I and our fellow lessees up at Wyangala Dam - where "The Camp" is situated, - are having trouble with a 'New Broom' management that are behaving in a very draconian fashion in their administration of the park.

Houseboat Anchorage at Wyangala
owned and operated by a member of the Board of Trustees

The two new managers come from commercial tourist park backgrounds and are seeking to re-organise our public (State) park along the lines of the big commercial camping and holiday parks.

Sunrise over Wyangala Dam

For example, this year we got an 18 page lease renewal document full of regulations, some of which are quite ridiculous for a holiday park area - e.g. children not allowed to ride skateboards or roller skates, no parking on the roadways (despite the fact that most sites are sorely pressed for parking areas) not being allowed to walk around with an alcoholic beverage in one's hand (many of us move from site to site at sundown, enjoying a drink with friends and neighbours and we take some 'supplies' with us), etc. Each page had to be initialed by each person whose name appeared on the annual lease document and they also had to sign the document and have their signature’s witnessed. We will need to repeat this exercise every year.

Native parrots come in to feed around leasehold sites
where food is provided for them by residents.

On top of that our annual rates were increased to a rather substantial AUD$1,660.00, plus AUD$40.00 for each electronic gate pass as an annual fee and electricity charges were also increased and are to be paid on a half-yearly basis.

If we breach their rules we face eviction and will be required to vacate the park within 30 days. This despite the fact that we have all invested significantly in developing our residential accommodations and also many of us have carried out private garden and small shrub plantings to add to the aesthetics of the park.

A typical annual lease site showing the
substantial development of the site

More so, We are not being told who the members of the Board of Trustees are, how they are appointed, by whom they are appointed and for what is their length of tenure. We are also being denied access to the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Trustees as management claim these are ‘private’. An application for access to the Trustee’s meeting minutes and policies is being made under the “Freedom of Information” Act.

Some of the native wildlife at Wyangala Dam

In the meantime the water slide facility, a significant summer recreational facility for children, has been closed down because management claim they have no funds to re-seal the joins in the slide chutes or to upgrade the water filtration system for the swimming pool. They claim that they have advertised for a contractor to operate the facility but there were no takers from the advertisements, especially as the advertisement stated that any contracted operator would be responsible for carrying out repairs to bring the slides and swimming pool up to operating standard. They have roped off an area of the dam, a small cove adjacent to the kiosk, for swimming but will not accept that the dam water is frequently contaminated with fecal run-off from adjoining sheep and cattle properties, the water temperature is very low and likely to cause hypothermia with extended immersion and that farm fertiliser material leaching into the dam results in algae blooms that can cause skin diseases.

Children at play in summer at Wyangala Dam.
Camping area in background

Revolt is simmering among a usually placid bunch of 'happy little campers' who, to date, have mostly 'self-regulated' behaviour within the park area fairly effectively and even handed. Most annoying of all the changes is a 'three strikes and you are out' policy that can lead to the eviction of a lessee for the most trivial of breaches of the "New Rules" as exercised by management at their discretion with no pre-warning.

One of the many native flowers that bloom  at Wyangala Dam

One resident received their ‘First written warning’ last week for an incident they had no knowledge off that, reportedly by management, occurred when their 25 year old son, his wife and neighbours son and partner where occupying their lease site late last summer. They had a verbal altercation with some nearby casual campers. Apparently the campers came onto the site at night where the lessee’s son and friends were having a private party and the intruders demanded alcohol. They were refused and told (in no uncertain terms) to depart. Some loud argument ensued before they left, firing off some crude and offensive remarks as they left. The mother of the campers wrote a letter of complaint to management FIVE WEEKS after the incident and management acted upon her complaint with an unheralded letter of ‘First Warning’ to the two lessees of the appropriate site. The fact that the mother played the ‘racial card’ in her complaint was considered to be the provocative lever for management’s ‘First Warning’. There was no prior indication to the lessee of any complaint, nor, any investigation into the complainants accusations. They were acted upon and treated as if they were substantial and undeniable fact.

Water skier at Wyangala Dam

Things are brewing. A meeting of residents was held yesterday (we could not attend but sent our apologies and our vote of support) and it is quite possible that a Residents Action Group may be formed.

The appropriate parliamentary minister responsible for State Water and State Parks (who also happens to be our local member of parliament) has been informed of the resident’s disquiet and a list of questions as to the manner in which the community is being governed by state park employees are being asked.

A secluded summer campsite at Wyangala Dam

The minister has been informed by letter that the park is administered by a Board of Trustees and therein lies the problem. Park users are unable to find out much more information about the Board, other than some ad hoc references to it by other yearly lease holders and a reference to it by the Park management as the authority for making any rules that apply to park use. Park management say they are merely following the rules set by the Board that govern the action and behaviours of park users. They tell us that the Board are the authority for any approvals to be undertaken as improvements or renovations to any lease site and any dwelling or structure/s located on the site.

Children at play on scooters, cabins in the background and
a car parked on the last available caravan site, Christmas 2010.

The minister has been asked to answer the following questions for us?

“Can you discover and inform us as to:

1. Who are the current members of the Board?;

2. When were those members of the Board appointed?;

3. How are/were those members of the Board appointed?;

4. What are the period(s) of appointment for those members of the Board?;

5. How frequently do the Board of Trustees meet?;

6. What constitutes a quorum for a meeting of the Board?, and,

7. How does one access the minutes of the meetings of the Board?”

Many leaseholders are refusing to sign their leases but are offering to pay their fees. I have cautioned them against this and told them I am of the opinion that the office staff will not accept their fees if they do not sign their leases which will place them in 'default of payment'. They argue that signing the leases is tacitly agreeing to the regulations that are in the 18 page document. I have argued that this is not so and that their signatures merely indicate that they have read the document and they should attach a note of disagreement to their lease documents if they disagree with any or all of the new rules.

I will post progress updates to this simmering civil discontent as events unfold.


Sharon said...

I sure would not be happy in this situation. How would one defend themselves against a warning that was unwarranted, if you don't know who to appeal to? That's just lunacy! (I have another word for it, but will restrain myself)

LindaG said...

Crap. That really is not good. I so hope you are able to come to a reasonable understanding with these new people.
I hate when 'money' ruins things for regular people; and it's obvious whoever took over must have money.
Good luck!

JohnD said...

Linda, no one 'took over' the park. The two new managers are civil employees who applied for vacant positions. One of them has previously managed one of the biggest sites for a national caravan park that has rules so strict you dare not walk on the cut grass! Our best approach is as an organised group to the parliamentary minister who's department is responsible for these public parks - but we need to proceed carefully and with tact and diplomacy. Any acts of 'defiance' will merely play into the bureaucrats hands.

LindaG said...

Thanks for explaining better. I guess I just didn't understand.
I still wish you a good outcome, John.