Council tackles a degree of bias

ABOVE: Councillor Maggie May arrives at the April 26 Extraordinary Meeting she and Cr Robert Cullen called. As she walked through the crowd, some residents showed their view of her actions by booing her. Photo: Susanna Freymark

Susanna Freymark

Here is a summary of the most important points at the Kyogle Council meeting on May 9. First item up for discussion at the council meeting was a contentious one.

Who will review the GM’s performance?

Councillor Danielle Mulholland proposed removing Councillor Maggie May from the general manager’s review committee.

“I would like to mitigate community perception of bias against the general manager,” Ms Mulholland said.

Initially she had proposed she be on the committee instead, but at the meeting suggested Councillor Janet Wilson.

Cr May was not impressed with the proposal.

“I question Cr Mulholland’s accusation of bias. I can only see she is accusing me of that,” Cr May said.

“There is no evidence put forward.”

On Tuesday, April 26, an extraordinary meeting was held, having been called by councillors May and Robert Cullen to discuss the general manager Graham Kennett’s contract.

Before the meeting 100 council staff walked off the job and a large crowd of residents gathered in front of the council chambers in support of Mr Kennett.

The union rep was called in and Mayor Kylie Thomas assured the crowd there would be no termination of the general manager’s contract at that meeting.

At this week’s meeting and in response to Cr Mulholland’s proposal, Cr May listed her masters degree, her PhD and her 20-plus years of experience.

“I would hazard a guess that I am the most qualified person in this LGA to perform a review,” Cr May said.

“I am a professional. I find it offensive that anyone would find that I am incapable of putting aside my feelings to make a judgement.”

Cr Mulholland responded, “I did not accuse you of bias. There is a community perception of how this council runs.

“I have serious concerns if we proceed with the current committee, there will be a backlash from the community.”

Councillors voted on replacing Cr May with Cr Wilson.

Councillors May, Cullen, Tom Cooper, James Murray and Mayor Thomas voted against this.

A different approach

It was back to the drawing board and Cr Mulholland suggested an alternative.

The new proposal was for the whole of council to be on the review committee.

“This gives everyone on council input on the general manager’s performance,” Cr Mulholland said.

“This gives balance.”

Cr Janet Wilson supported the concept.

“It is important in terms of structural approach to management to focus on the position, not the person,” she said.

“This council has fallen short in contract law.

“It is important to remove perception of bias. Our residents must clearly see that we have dealt with a difficult situation re performance appraisal.”

Cr Wilson said, “We have been a poor employer. We haven’t done a good job.”

Working together, repairing the council’s approach and using the resources of NSW Local Government were the way forward, she said.

Cr May thought having all councillors on the performance review committee was unwieldy.

“To suggest it requires eight people is ridiculous,” Cr May said.

“Every part of the review comes back to council for consideration.”

Cr Mulholland said, “we’re in flood recovery, we need stability and continuity.”

It came down to the vote.

Councillors Cullen, Murray, Cooper and May voted against putting all councillors on the review committee.

Those voting for it were Mulholland, Doolan, Wilson and Thomas.

Cr John Burley was out of the room and couldn’t vote because of a conflict of interest as Mr Kennett is married to his daughter.

It was a draw.

At these times, the mayor decides the final vote and she voted to put all councillors on the review committee.

The general manager’s performance review committee will include all councillors.

Cabins at Toonumbar Dam

Another important discussion was about the cabins at Toonumbar Dam.

Cr Cooper asked about the funding for the development of the site and what role the council would play in the future running of the site.

“Four years ago, the place closed,” he said.

“Why would we ever want to be involved once it is established?”

Mr Kennett said the council had made no commitment beyond the upgrade project.

The cabins will be repaired including the sewerage system.

Council and Water NSW had each put in more than $300,000 to fix the place.

“After that there will an expression of interest for a tenant,” Mr Kennett said.

The money council is putting in comes from government cross-border funding.

Council is offering in-kind time to project manage the site upgrade, worth about $30,000.

Council is involved because the community showed an interest in getting the place up and running as a tourist destination, Mr Kennett said.

Let the public have their say more easily?

Cr Cullen wanted to see the Code of Meeting Practice changed so any member of the public who wanted to have a say only had to give two hours notice of their intention.

“Public perception out there is that things are a closed shop,” Cr Cullen said.

All councillors agreed this was a good idea for the public to only have to give two hours notice of their intention to speak at a meeting.

Flood recovery grants

The use of the Local Government Recovery Grants from the State Government was discussed.

The money will be used as follows:

$250,000 to extend the Community Resilience Officer role

$250,000 for community recovery grants

$250,000 for improvements to community-led evacuation centres

$250,000 for repairs to Bonalbo and Woodenbong preschools, Kyogle Visitor Information Centre and Kyogle Swimming Pool.

Cr Murray raised the issue of the difficulty Wiangaree residents had in reaching the school evacuation centre during floods.

Mr Kennett said the SES was aware of this and evacuations happened early in Wiangaree because of this. The road under the viaduct could not be raised to help with getting across floodwaters because the low point in the road was the only way garbage trucks could get through.

For the repair of the visitor centre and the preschools, flood-compatible materials would be used.

“These buildings are designed to go under water,” Mr Kennett said.

The council then went into a confidential session to discuss a recommendation by Cr Murray on the renegotiating of tenders for Lamonds and Grieves Crossings bridges.

A podcast of the full council meeting is available on council’s website.

Mayor sorry for distress caused by councillors’ action

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