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A most extraordinary meeting

cvi   When former mayor Richie Williamson left last week’s extraordinary Clarence valley Council meeting, he looked Cr Andrew Baker in the eye and shook his hand – it was a genuine gesture, according to Cr Baker. It was a handshake that marked a change of direction for the council and, in turn, the senior staff for whom councillors make policy – Cr Baker had steered the organisation down a different road: one that doesn’t include a special rate variation (SRV). At last Wednesday’s extraordinary meeting, a substantial number of the council’s outdoor staff took annual leave for the afternoon and attended the meeting, to make it clear to councillors that they were not happy with the report prepared by the council’s corporate director, Ashley Lindsay, which stated that if councillors chose a “No SRV Option” it “would result in staff reductions of approximately … sixty three (63) staff over the [next] nine years”. Councillor Baker tabled a detailed foreshadowed motion that would be debated if the officer’s recommendation – which sought to approve the adoption of a revised 2016/17 long term financial plan (LTFP), including an application for a nine per cent SRV, and the endorsement of the council’s Fit for the Future reassessment proposal – was rejected. The officer’s four-point recommendation was lost on mayor Jim Simmons’ casting vote. Councillors Williamson, Lysaught, Kingsley and Simmons supported the officer’s recommendation; however, Cr Simmons took into account that Cr Greg Clancy was not at the meeting and said the proposal would “be voted down at the next meeting in December, so I will vote against it now”. The Fit for the Future proposal and LTFP were meant to be lodged with the Office of Local Government (OLG) by midnight of Wednesday November 30, however, that deadline passed without a submission being lodged. Instead, as general manager Scott Greensill told councillors at the meeting during questions: “I will provide a copy, of whatever resolution is put up, by midnight tonight … because we can’t meet what is expected of us” and advise that the council has “not formulated a position for its Fit for the Future obligations.” Councillor Baker’s foreshadowed motion was amended to exclude, for now, “the cessation of the provision of Economic and Development and Tourism Development services that deliver no direct income to council”. Significantly, for the workers present at the meeting, point 5 of Cr Baker’s ultimately successful motion included: “After accounting for the adopted forecast reductions that will result from depot rationalisation, natural attrition and other adopted efficiency savings measures, develop a workforce model that results in no nett reduction of adjusted workforce numbers … in favour of maintaining at least the current Council FTE [fulltime equivalent employees] workforce numbers”. Speaking on behalf of the workers after the meeting, United Services Union controller Craig Chandler said he was “really pleased that the majority of councillors were opposed to any job losses in the organisation, which protects the employees and the local economy”. Meanwhile, as time slipped away, Cr Williamson, who had described Cr Baker’s amended motion as one that had improved from “catastrophic” to “disastrous”, while speaking in favour of the amendment, told his fellow councillors that he had to “leave to be elsewhere”. Acknowledging that he would not be there by the time the final vote was taken, he said he “could see the writing on the wall” as far as the numbers were concerned and “I sincerely congratulate [Cr Baker] on his plan”. “I have no doubt that this plan will become some kind of submission in the next six and a half hours,” he said, despite his opposition. Cr Baker’s motion won the day, with only Cr Jason Kingsley remaining to vote against it.