When the general manager of Armidale Regional Council, James Roncon, addressed a community group in the New England city recently he painted a concerning picture.
Mr Roncon has been the GM at the council in the NSW northern tablelands since the beginning of the year. When he arrived, councillors had already been suspended for six months in 2020 following infighting, and several attempts by some councillors to sack the previous general manager.
In the end, that general manager resigned anyway, while the council was under administration. Four councillors - including the mayor and deputy mayor - would also depart.
At a recent Lions Club meeting in Armidale Mr Roncon described the situation he found when he arrived to lead battle weary council.
He said low staff morale and very little trust from the public had been the result of the council's troubles in recent years.
We had heard similar descriptions before.
When the interim administrator, Viv May, finished his stint after the council's suspension in 2020, his report to the Minister for Local Government said deep divisions existed and the council was not providing a proper and safe place of work for its staff.
The challenge the council is already trying to address is fixing that culture.
But an important part of that will be the councillors who are elected at the coming local government election on Saturday, December 4.
The last council had divided into two factions who could not work together and engaged in conflict.
That led to concerns about the council's ability to function properly and effectively following the breakdown of relationships between councillors and key council officers.
Former mayor Simon Murray started writing his resignation letter before the council had been suspended last year, and in an interview after he quit, told me that when the councillors returned, he did not want to be a part of it anymore.
When the next council is elected at Armidale, like all local councils around the state, the ability of the councillors to get along and resolve any differences in a mature way is vital.
Because when it goes wrong it can affect the whole council, and the wider community.
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