Councillors gathered in the newly refurbished council chambers to consider Minister of Local Government Shelley Hancock's notice of suspension at the Extraordinary Meeting of council on March 9.
Minister Hancock issued a notice of intention to suspend council and appoint an interim administrator on March 3 after repeated calls by local MPs and constant councillor in-fighting.
Mayor Duncan Gair moved a recommendation. It was seconded by Councillor Larry Whipper.
The recommendation included;
- That the notice of intention to suspend Wingecarribee Shire Council by Minister Hancock's office be received and noted.
- That the following achievements by the council be noted:
- Sound financial position for each term of council
- Completion of the Merrigang Street Reconstruction Project
- Completion of the Kirkham Road Reconstruction Program
- Completion of the expanded Wattle Street carpark in Bowral
- Completion of the redevelopment of Bowral Rugby Club
- Completion of Bundanoon Skate Park
- Repair and upgrade of Mittagong Pool
- That council notes that the majority of councillors adhered to the requirements of the Performance Improvement Order.
- That council notes that the majority of councillors adhered to the councillor agreements arising from the mediation undertaken.
- That the mayor Cr Gair and deputy mayor Councillor Grahame Andrews and another councillor representative request a meeting with the minister to discuss alternative options to the suspension of all councillors.
- That councillors seek an extension for its submission to the Notice of Intention to suspend
- That council call upon the minister to reiterate that the vast majority of councillors are not responsible for the dysfunction in the council
- That following this meeting, the minister takes decisive action.
"It's a very sad day that we find ourselves in this position of a likely suspension," Cr Gair said.
"It has taken a lot of time for this to be done. I feel very sorry for the ratepayers of this shire, very sorry for the staff and very sorry for fellow councillors who after many years of service may find themselves in the position of suspension.
"We are here to show cause as to why we shouldn't be suspended."
Councillor Garry Turland put forward an amendment which was seconded by Councillor Ken Halstead.
The amendment called for the council to accept the notice of suspension.
"Council has failed the community on its public communication policy on providing councillors and the community information on major projects and project information," he said.
Cr Turland listed several items of contention, which included:
- Frankland Street Sale
- Mittagong Swimming Pool
- Berrima Overpass
- Station Street Upgrade
- Failure to submit a report to the Royal Commission and NSW Bushfire Inquiries
- Asbestos on local roads
- Civic Centre project
- Bowral Memorial Hall
- Excessive delays on development applications
Cr Gair opened the debate.
"The feeling from the councillors is that we don't want to be suspended," he said.
"The councillors who have given a huge amount of time, effort and energy to this community, wish to see their term out as functioning councillors.
"Although I hear what Cr Turland has put forward, there are also many completed and successful projects that this council has done in the last couple of years, 22 projects in fact.
"You can always pull out something that should have happened, but a lot of that was out of our control. We are not here to debate those points."
"We also look to the minister to give us one week's grace to meet with her face to face and to explain our reasoning."
Councillor Ian Scandrett said it was a "five minutes to midnight situation."
"We had the opportunity to meet yesterday or last Friday to deal with this request and here we are with a deadline on us," he said.
"This process is indicative of a culture, in my opinion, a culture of bullying, a culture of poor service to the community.
"We have failed to engage with what's going on with the community. We must look in the mirror and ask if we have been delivering on a wide range of things."
Cr Whipper spoke in favour of the recommendation.
"I support the recommendation, I think it's the way forward," he said.
"I think the majority of councillors here want to continue serving this community.
"When I put my hand up for council all those years ago, my ambition wasn't to bring this council into disrepute, it wasn't to claim victory for putting this council into suspension, it was to serve the community to the best of my ability."
Cr Turland spoke to his amendment.
"If you look at the projects put forward by the mayor; Merrigang Street - which took 20 years to get done, Kirkham Road and Wattle Street are both a part of Station Street.
"The Bowral Rugby Club was by a grant the club applied for, they got the money - not the council.
"The skate park was a government park."
Cr Turland said the council had spent $6 million on repairs for Mittagong Pool.
"Nobody can build anything in a creek," he said.
"We spent $6 million of public money in a creek. It has been closed four out of five years."
Councillor Graham McLaughlin spoke for the recommendation.
"We are here today to see if we can get an audience with the minister to see this council forward," he said.
"This council, over a period, has had some rocky times. I acknowledge that. We've been put on notice before, but never to this extent.
"It's a very sad day.
"I think we can move forward. A lot of the arguments brought forward by Cr Turland are right but it's not the time to discuss them today.
"Once we are gone, we are gone. We put our hand up to support and represent this community and if an administrator comes in, the community is not represented."
Councillor Ken Halstead spoke to the amendment but said he was not sure which way he would vote.
"This remains my opinion and I won't be moved by it," he said.
"Has the minister been ill-informed? It appears she is relying on statements provided by others, maybe even the mayor.
"Does the minister have any regard for my long-serving reputation to the service of local government? The answer is no."
Cr Halstead said Station Street was one of his biggest concerns.
"I think this has been a problem that has created a lot of concern in the community," he said.
Cr Andrews spoke on behalf of the recommendation.
"I find this quite distressing," he said.
"It hasn't come out of left field but it is still disturbing that we have got to where we are.
"There are many things I could argue with or disagree with in regard to what we have achieved and what we haven't achieved.
"It's not appropriate to do that here, we are trying to seek a meeting with the minister and I think it's the proper thing to do."
Cr Turland spoke to his amendment.
"I look at all the projects we've achieved but unless you read my amendment, you don't see the ones where we have failed," he said.
Councillor Peter Nelson spoke to the recommendation.
"I believe democracy is being killed today by the Minister of Local Government supported by Wingecarribee Shire's local MPs Nathaniel Smith and Wendy Tuckerman," he said.
"The minister's letter goes on to say that the PIO has been unsuccessful in affecting cultural change and behaviour in some councillors.
"The minister has given this council seven days notice, which represents urgent circumstances. Normally the minister would give 14 days to respond.
"This indicates to me that the minister has a pre-determined position of suspension."
"I believe the minister has all the facts before her."
Cr Scandrett spoke against the recommendation for a second time.
"The council has had continual problems with delivering services and respect to the community and dealing with bullying," he said.
"The big problem with this council is that it needs to have a grassroots shake out. It needs a full reset.
"The minister should step in and have a full inquiry."
Councillors put the amendment to suspend the council to vote.
Cr Turland voted for the amendment. Councillors Gair, Andrews, Nelson, Whipper and McLaughlin voted against it. Councillors Halstead and Scandrett abstained from voting.
The amendment was lost.
The recommendation was voted on by councillors next.
Councillors Andrews, Nelson, Gair, Whipper and McLaughlin voted for the recommendation.
Councillors Scandrett and Turland voted against the recommendation.
Councillor Halstead abstained from voting.
Before the close of the meeting, Cr Halstead tendered his resignation to the council.
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