Accusations of electioneering, heated debate on pool, questions on denying residents public access: Kyogle Council meeting

Susanna Freymark

Geez, the Kyogle Council meeting was a long one yesterday, Monday, May 13.

Councillors present were James Murray, Danielle Mulholland, Tom Cooper, John Burley, Janet Wilson, Rob Cullen and Kylie Webster. Maggie May attended via video link and Hayden Doolan was absent.

Five people spoke during public access time followed by a two and a half hour meeting of mostly civil discussion with a few flashpoints.

The discussion about the swimming pool and Wellbeing Hub upgrade was heated – again.

Ms May and Ms Mulholland disagreed on motives for raising issues.

And there weren’t enough chairs for the public.

The council needs to sort this out. There are only 12 chairs in the chamber for the community (there used to be 18). Several other chairs were brought in with people sitting in the council foyer. Admittedly, there isn’t much room in the chambers and usually, about six people observe meetings except on days like yesterday – about 20 people were at the meeting.

Below is a summary of the meeting. To listen to the podcast go here.

Who decides who can speak in public access at council meetings?

Ross Brown spoke about the former general manager Brett Kelly declining requests for public forum access.

Mr Brown questioned council’s propensity to go into confidentiality, especially during the dismissal of Graham Kennett as general manager and in the appointment of Brett Kelly.

“There is no legislative requirement for council to ever go into confidential,” Mr Brown said.

He said seven people were denied public access by Mr Kelly.

“This is not good for the community.

“The GM must give reasons in writing when denying public access. None of that occurred in February.”

Interim general manager Brett Kelly was only here for seven weeks before announcing he was leaving. Pictured here with mayor Kylie Webster. Photo: Contributed

Mr Brown wanted the council to ensure this didn’t happen again by changing the Code of Meeting Practice in which the GM must give a valid reason in writing if a person is denied speaking at a meeting and it should be validated by the mayor.

“This would stop this happening again,” he said.

“The Code of Meeting Practice was weaponised.”

Ms Mulholland put this question forward in the agenda.

Were there any file notes or records as to why these residents were denied public access?

The response was that a search of council records failed to produce any file notes. Mr Kelly had informed applicants that public access was denied because it was most likely the issue would be “discussed in confidential”.

Mr Kelly has left and is no longer accountable for this decision. Mr Brown was keen to ensure denial of residents being able to have their say wouldn’t happen again.

Taking Local Government out of private native forestry decisions

Kyogle Environment Group members were at the meeting to support Tori Bail’s speech about the Private Native Forestry proposal.

Kyogle Council announced the State Government’s proposal to make Local Land Services the consenting authority for private native forestry and take away the council’s authority on these matters. Read more about that here.

Ms Bail said the council had been contradictory about its views on consent.

“Logging has to be better regulated locally,” she said.

“Council needs to plan for stronger regulation.

“And it’s also important for neighbours to know what is going on. A DA provides transparency but the LLS approval process is shrouded in secrecy.

“Without a DA first, we cannot know of a private native forestry operation until we see the logging trucks on our roads.”

KEG members clapped at the end of Ms Bail’s five-minute presentation.

Ms May who was at the meeting via video said the decision was being made by the State Government, not the council.

Ms Wilson the proposal was to lose the dual track system and move to Local Land Services as the sole authority.

Historically the EPA was involved, she said.

Anyone wanting to make a submission on the Private Native Forestry proposal should send their submission to the council and it will be sent to the State Government.

15 culverts need fixing – a plea for the one at Sawpit Creek

Resident Georgina Ramsay spoke about the need to fix the Sawpit Creek culvert.

During floods, residents are cut off and many are aging or need medication, Ms Ramsay said which makes the isolation more difficult.

“Why is it taking so long to do? This a relatively small job,” she said.

“We need the approaches to the causeway to be cemented so they are not washed away.”

Infrastructure Works manager Derryn Nix said there were 115 causeways across the LGA.

The 15 damaged by floods were being prioritised – this included Sawpit Creek.

The council was applying for Betterment  Funding from the State Government to fix the 15 culverts.

“All the legwork for this plan is done, Mr Nix said.

All that was needed was the money.

Ms Mulholland who put the motion forward said, “Residents were promised there would be a layer of concrete on the apron of the causeway.”

She emphasised the aging population living out there.

Mr Murray said, “Maybe they shouldn’t be living there?

“I’ll ignore that,” Ms Mulholland said.

Everyone agreed the causeway needed to be fixed and because it was already on the council staff schedule, mayor Kylie Webster said it didn’t need to be a separate motion.

“You know the drill,” Ms Webster said.

“We don’t need to come from a place of lobbying for a road.”

“Sawpit Creek culvert has been problematic for years,” Ms Mulholland said.

“It’s time we did something about it.”

Heated discussion around heated pool plan and Wellbeing Hub

Mr Burley brought up the Health and Wellbeing Hub issue again.

He was pushing for the council to call for tenders on the hub on the already completed design. He also wanted to see the rescoped plan.

The issue comes down to money.

“This is a memorial pool built with a levy on ratepayers,” Mr Burley said.

“Ratepayers should have a say in it.”

Even though he supported getting the community gym out of the flood zone at the showground, he said the gym shouldn’t be in the rescoped plan for the pool site.

“We owe it to the community to go to tender and see how it stacks up,” Mr Burley said.

Ms Wilson weighed in.

No details on the change of scope have been provided, she said.

“Residents have every right to be angry about this – this has not been transparent.”

Ms May said, “Let’s talk about transparency.”

“From September onwards it was known that there wasn’t funding. Staff are coming forward with this now. That didn’t happen before,” she said.

“The government has required the rescoping by the end of the month. There hasn’t been time to do community consultation.”

She had more to say on the issue that clearly vexed her.

“Finally, I find this to be conflated – people are more interested in election outcomes,” she said.

“A heated pool is low on the list of priorities. How can we afford a heated pool? The pool is only open from October–May. When will we use the heated pool?

“The pool already doesn’t cover its costs.”

“This issue of a heated pool is conjected outrage. This motion is irresponsible.”

She accused those supporting Mr Burley’s motion of electioneering.

“The primary focus is to get the gym out of the flood zone. We don’t need a heated pool.”

The issue is a hot one – with or without the heated pool.

“Nothing has changed,” Ms Webster said.

“This is not forever. I wish councillors would stop using emotive language and hijacking the community on this issue.”

Let’s put this behind us and focus on the rescope, she said.

While that ended the Wellbeing Hub discussion, Ms Mulholland called for a Point of Order.

“Councillor May has made unsubstantiated allegations,” Ms Mulholland said.

“To rely on an allegation of electioneering is unnecessary and it is poor behaviour.”

Councillors voted. Wilson, Mulholland and Burley voted for the motion of putting the original plan out to tender. Webster, May, Cooper, Cullen and Murray voted against it.

Road to cemetery is paved with disrepair

Ms Mulholland told the meeting about the state of the road at the Woodenbong Cemetery.

At a funeral last week, a family had to transfer the coffin from a hearse to another car to get it to the cemetery, she said.

The road is on the priority list, Mr Nix said.

There was a further discussion about the impact of aging populations on the capacity of the cemeteries.

Ms Wilson said a few people from out of town have come back to be buried in Kyogle LGA.

“Maybe we should encourage people to do other things instead of being buried,” she said.

“Maybe people are dying to come home, “Mr Cooper said.

There was laughter in the chamber for the first and only time during the lengthy meeting.

To AI or not to AI

A draft Data Breach Policy was accepted at the meeting.

Mr Cooper asked if there was a policy coming from the State Government in relation to Artificial Intelligence being used in responding to customers?

“Do we need to write our own policy on AI?” he said.

Corporate Services manager Marcus Schintler said discussions were happening at the highest level of government.

“There has been a question over staff using AI to write policies,” he said.

“Expect something from the Local Government re guidance and I expect  a position from the union in the not too distant future.”

Other issues raised and questions answered included:

Food security: This was a long discussion that deserves its own story. Basically, the Northern Rivers Joint Organisation which Kyogle Council is a member of,  has put out a Northern Rivers Food Security Scoping Study.

The discussion was about supporting the Joint Organisation rather than how to implement food security strategies.

Mr Burley raised the issue of water security. More to come on this topic.

Mallanganee Observatory: A request to extend the funding deadline to April 2025 for this project has been made.

There were seven pages of questions from councillors with answers from council staff. Read them here.

Artist impression of the Mallanganee Observatory.

Come to a council meeting

There are only three more meetings before the council elections. Come to the meeting to see how your council works. The next meeting is June 10 at 2pm.

All council stories are in one place here.

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