From the Newsroom

The Independent speaks with the valley’s new mayor

Geoff Helisma: You said in your acceptance speech that you ‘intend that councillors and senior staff visit all towns and villages on Saturdays over the next few months and again when we consult on the operational plan and budget in May/June’ as well as ‘conducting “town hall” style meetings in Grafton, Maclean, Yamba and Iluka. Why is this necessary and what do you hope to achieve?

Ian Tiley: I think it is very important to connect with the constituents and listen to them, in particular to garner what their issues are, [then] that informs how [we] might rejig priorities for things like road works and whatever.

The main reason for doing it is to improve trust and confidence; get out, be seen, talk to the people – that’s the best way that I know to engage and get some return of trust; I think most would agree [trust] has been sadly lacking over recent years.

GH: CVC currently runs a weekly advertisement in the Independent, however, it is only promotional and does not provide a service to inform communities of important development and planning proposals, wouldn’t it be better to budget that expenditure to inform all residents of proposals that might have a direct/indirect effect on their amenity?

IT: I agree, and in the larger sense I know that some of the newly elected councillors are very concerned that we only have one print medium in the valley, and it doesn’t get a reasonable share of the council’s advertising. We need to change that and, I believe, we’ll consider that fairly early on.

GH: Fellow councillor and former tourism boss Bill Day has long campaigned against CVC’s digitisation of tourism management, which has split the community; and you said in your acceptance speech that ‘council will endeavour to provide greater support for tourism and economic development’. Why do you perceive there are weaknesses in CVC’s management of tourism and economic development, and how do you propose to fix those perceived weaknesses?

IT: The council effectively stepped away from tourism promotion by vacating the tourist information centre at South Grafton… There’s no doubt that the former tourism committee of the council was effective. The levy that was charged [to] business houses, to promote tourism, enabled that to be fairly cost-free to council.

This valley needs the council’s support in economic development terms. We started in 2004 with four people in the economic development unit: there’s virtually no-one there now. …We’ve got to lift our game; that’s an expectation of the community’s; in particular we’ve got to make sure that the infrastructure is there to enable economic development – infrastructure, in particular for tourism, which is our biggest industry.

GH: Over the course of the previous council’s term there were several occasions where councillors were split on supporting or not supporting the views of the general manager. Given that this usually came down to arguments that councillors cannot directly address operational matters, how do you propose to ameliorate this apparent conflict?

IT: The council has the responsibility for the employment and the management of the general manager (GM). We have an interim GM, and we will have to go through a process, soon, to appoint a permanent GM, I think by early October. My view is we should do that sooner, rather than later. It was, in my view, very unfortunate that the matter of the appointment of the interim GM was dealt with in the public arena – that was grossly unfair to the person concerned – we’ve got to rectify those matters; I’m sure we can do that.

GH: There’s a development boom in the Clarence Valley, which is a contentious point among many citizens – the recent meeting regarding West Yamba and the extraordinary efforts of James Creek residents to stop the proposed development going ahead in its current form are two examples – what’s your take on how to better manage these issues, which often lead to conflicts between affected ratepayers and CVC?

IT: That’s a tough one. West Yamba has been an issue for as long as I have been on council, that goes back to 1995. The provision of fill in West Yamba and the displacement of water is a major issue. It’s causing flooding, now, where there was none before. I understand there is a flood study coming to council in March, which I hope we can use to get better outcomes in West Yamba.

In relation to other development [proposals], for example James Creek … we will eventually receive reports from the director, and we will have to make a decision. Clearly, the advantage of going onsite and having inspections will be helpful in this particular circumstance.

Development is going to happen; I’m very concerned how you can pull the draw bridge up and be antidevelopment, you can’t. The law provides for quality developments to be approved with conditions; but this is always going to be an issue in growing areas such as the Clarence Valley.

GH: Since the election, some people have expressed their disappointment/dissatisfaction with councillors electing the mayor, rather than the candidate who received the most votes being appointed mayor, as happens in some other local government areas; what’s your take on this?

IT: My long-held view is that the people elect the team, and the team elects their leader. They need to elect someone with whom they can work, [who] is best positioned to do the job properly. I have heard those same comments … [but] if you have a team and the team leader can’t work with the others, you are doomed to failure.