From the Newsroom

How a crack became a rift

Geoff Helisma

It was clear from the outset at the September 28 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting that the four councillors who are standing for re-election at the December 4 election – Peter Ellem, Karen Toms, Greg Clancy and Deborah Novak – were fighting a losing battle to appoint an outside [of council] general manager.

Cr Novak moved to amend three of the mayor’s five-point mayoral minute recommendations, advocating that CVC “employ a locum general manager [GM] for the position of acting GM of CVC until the GM vacancy is filled”.

During questions, Cr Andrew Baker cited section 351 of the NSW Local Government Act, insisting that a “person” had to be named, in relation to the “locum”.

Cr Toms subsequently said, “A locum is a person.”

Cr Ellem said he “could even give you a name”.

During debate Cr Novak said her amendment was “an alternative option and something I would support myself”.

Cr Lysaught said he believed Ms Black performed her recent duties as acting GM in “a professional and more than capable manner”.

Cr Ellem said he recollected discussions at a workshop, about appointing a “locum general manager for a period of roughly a year or so was discussed as an option”.

Reacting to a point of order, called by Cr Lysaught, disputing Cr Ellem’s claim, Cr Simmons said he “didn’t recall the words locum and general manager being used, but I could be wrong”.

Cr Ellem said he would prefer to see a “fresh pair of eyes on the council, [which] would be prudent”.

Cr Baker said there could be up to “nine fresh pairs of eyes sitting around this table” after the election; and warned against hiring an acting GM “who might not know their way around the building”.

Cr Toms said she “felt embarrassed” about what she was “hearing today”.

She recalled how in 2011, then mayor Richie Williamson appointed Mike Colreavy as acting general manager, and that if a locum GM was appointed that person would have to have a minimum of eight years’ experience.

She said she could not support appointing “one of our directors, who is very important in her own [governance] role … we, as an organisation need her to do that”.

She said it was “an opportunity” to have someone with “fresh eyes” come in and “have a look at the organisation, because it’s such a long period of time”.

She said, “we already do have someone [available] who everybody knows … a local person with far more than eight years’ experience” and that this would give new councillors “rights to appoint somebody”.

Cr Baker said, “I asked myself whether I want to leave the council in a position of continuity or a position of chaos.

“I’ve participated in both over the time [I’ve been a councillor], so I know a bit about both, but I believe that the only decent act that the outgoing council, in total, can do is to provide continuity to the new council.

“The new council can decide whether they take the baton and continue on, or whether we have the chaos of all new eyes, all new decisions … you’ve only got to look at the Armidale council … and we might get an opportunity for a chaos council.

“As an outgoing councillor, I want to give continuity to where we are right now.”

However, the Independent has confirmed that Cr Baker’s guess, regarding the unnamed person councillors Ellem and Toms referred to, was incorrect – Cr Baker guessed it was current Armidale Regional Council (ARC) mayor Ian Tiley, who has also served as administrator at ARC and was the inaugural CVC mayor.

The unnamed person referred to by councillors Toms and Ellem has requested that their name not be revealed.

Cr Richie Williamson said Cr Novak’s amendment was a “shambles” and that he, too, “could probably guess who the person” was.

“We need a person who has extreme knowledge of what the council is doing, to drive it, certainly, over the next 12 months.”

Mayor Simmons said he tabled his mayoral minute “out of respect”.

Citing the NSW Local Government Act, section 226, and other guiding documents, he said, “I could have well made this appointment myself.

“I also believe that the incoming council has the ability to rescind this … motion … and embark on another course [of action].”

Please view ‘ Retiring councillors control appointment of acting GM ‘ here