It seemed to be over: Clarence Valley’s new councillors had elected a mayor and deputy mayor and completed all of the usual business to be considered at the inaugural council meeting on September 27 – but, this time, the proverbial shouting took place before it was all over.
Councillor Andrew Baker was of the opinion that a councillor training workshop, to take place on October 6, was inappropriate; and was successful in gaining the support of Crs Clancy, Toms, Ellem, Novak and Simmons, to debate his motion (seconded by Cr Karen Toms) as “a matter of great urgency”, as ruled by new mayor, Jim Simmons.
Once debate was completed, Crs Toms, Ellem, Novak and Simmons supported Cr Baker’s motion, which resulted in the cancellation of the training – training that Cr Baker described as an “imminent waste of money”.
The general manager is now compelled to engage a “suitably accredited training provider” who “has provided no paid services to Council in any capacity whatsoever for at least 2 years immediately prior to the proposed first training date and [who] has provided an undertaking to not participate in any paid services to Council for a period of at least 2 years after the last training date of that Councillor training”.
Questions before debate revealed some contentious issues – Cr Arthur Lysaught asked the general manager (GM): “The service provided in the past: have there been any complaints by councillors about the level of service required or the content?”
Cr Baker: I beg your pardon; I have the email trail here Mr General Manager.
GM: My apologies councillor, I could not recall it.
Cr Baker: I’m happy to read it out if you like.
Cr Lysaught: This same person that’s provided the training service; did they also provide a further service investigating a code of conduct complaint on behalf of Clarence Valley Council?
Cr Lysaught: Is it natural justice for the person [Cr Karen Toms] who’s had that enquiry made against [her] to be sitting here in judgement on that person [the trainer]?
GM: The decision on declarations [of interest] rests with the individual person…
Cr Baker: Point of order Mr Mayor. This motion does not refer to any person.
Mayor Simmons: It doesn’t refer to any person on council but there was in fact an investigation.
Cr Baker: …I’ve made no attempt to discuss a person; it’s simply the way that services are provided to council under a potential conflict.
Mayor Simmons: Yes I accept that Cr Baker.
Cr Kingsley: Cr Baker mentioned that there could be some perceived conflicts: is there any conflict, in your opinion, between the proposed training provider and council or anyone else?
GM: …My consideration of setting up this induction program; I didn’t believe there was any conflict….
During debate, Cr Baker said he had “asked the trainer at least three times if [he] could have some follow up reference”, following previous councillor training.
“After following up through the general manager … to try and get the trainer to verify the standard of information, the trainer ended up … saying I’ve got three choices: …1, I get my own paid legal advice to find this reference that had been promised to me as part of the training. 2, the council pay $2,000 for legal advice that had been promised to me…. Or 3, I accept what I’ve been told,” he said.
“…. I’m also aware that the training provider is now the probity auditor for the depot project.”
Cr Baker asserted that there was no urgency to complete the training because “all of the information is on the website”.
“In fact,” he said, “I would have expected that councillors have already at least had a first run through it.”
Councillor Arthur Lysaught said: “If we are denied this service provider, I think it smells of a ‘square-up’.”
Councillor Toms didn’t think so: “It is most definitely is not a square-up.”
Mayor Simmons said that it was his view that the general manager “has acted in accordance with his responsibilities to put in place this training”; however, he said: “My main concern is that there are three councillors who have indicated they can’t or won’t attend the training.”
Former mayor, Cr Richie Williamson, said he didn’t think the date of the training was the primary issue.
“It’s the perceived or proposed provider of the service that appears to be the nature of the motion,” he said.
“Mr Mayor, this is a stitch-up and I won’t be a part of any stitch-up.”
*Note: To hear the full meeting debate, go to the CVC’s podcast on its website.