The Chamber of Commerce called for transparency and a seat at the planning table regarding developments in the CBD (see links below in the body of this article). Shortly after the Chamber complained publicly the council walked away entirely from Camden's small business peak body.
You may also have noticed there's not much in the way of Camden Council advertising in the Camden Advertiser these days either. It may just be that the Chronicle offered Camden Council a better advertising deal but there have also been strong suggestions from sources behind the scenes that the Council ceased using this Fairfax outlet because of its criticism of what many perceive as increasingly opaque council processes.
For the Chamber of Commerce it all came to a head in September 2014, when Camden Council threw a hissy fit and walked away from its membership of Camden Chamber of Commerce. As the largest employer in Camden that was quite a statement from the Council. Perhaps it had something to do with the Chamber of Commerce calling for a little bit of transparency regarding plans for the Camden CBD or maybe asking for a panel where those with a genuine investment in the CBD area could help plan its future.
They continued to be remarkably reasonable as you can see in this media release regarding a public forum here and in the forum itself (unfortunately, I can't find a recording of the meeting).
General Manager Ron Moore said the council decided to pull its membership "due to concerns about the way the chamber conducted itself recently in dealings with council staff and elected representatives".
At the same time Mayor Cr Symkowiak claimed the council had made "every effort to consult and work collaboratively with the chamber".
Except that consultation and collaboration didn't extend to any involvement in the 12-month process that led to the conception of the CBD plan according to statements by Camden Chamber of Commerce. It says it was not given a seat at the table.
Judging by Chamber comments in the media, the council's idea of consultation in this instance appears to be to ask for feedback on a fait accompli two days before it was to be passed through the council and put on public exhibition with little opportunity to put it to chamber members.
Under normal circumstances, any thinking person would have expected the 12-month consultation with the business community would have extended to the Chamber of Commerce as it is, after all, the local peak body for small business. Apparently that's not the case with this council when it is looking at upgrading a CBD packed with businesses of exactly that type.
Intriguingly, on August 12, 2014, a month before the Chamber walkout, the Council was making its first moves to establish a new Business Alliance (see from Page 45) that would combine councillors and "selected" business people on a single board. The aim of the alliance was to "attract investment, deliver infrastructure, create jobs, and grow business and industry into the future". I suspect after the walkout that members of Camden's chamber of commerce are unlikely to get a seat on that board.
Reading the Alliance proposal put to the council is fascinating, especially the focus on creating a united business and council voice. The report explicitly states that the council should have control of the alliance and not let it get out of control and oppose the plans and vision of the council.
To add to the satire or surrealism of the council approach, later that year In a mayoral minute rich with irony, Cr Symkowiak claimed Camden Council was small business friendly and proceeded to put forward a plan to become a member of the State Government's Small Business Friendly Council's Program.
They even had a meeting in Camden, which was lauded by the force behind the creation of the Liberal bloc, Camden's local state Liberal Member, Chris Patterson.
“I would especially like to mention Camden Council for hosting the Small Business Friendly Council conference in Camden. This program demonstrates how working together can make a real difference to the NSW community," Mr Patterson said.
The Minister for Local Business, Paul O'Toole was even more explicit about councils and small businesses building better relationships. He said: " “Small businesses are the powerhouse of the NSW economy, and it is vital we ensure they have ample opportunity for growth and sustainability through improved relationships with government.”
Except those improved relationships comes to a cold hard end if you are a member of the local Chamber of Commerce or anyone who dares call this Liberal Bloc out for the way they approach government and planning.