New look Council, but the old culture survives

*NB: This post has been edited at the request of the TRRA Management Committee and differs from the original article.

“The new Mayor and Councillors have made a disappointing start, at their first meeting held on 26 Sept 2017.”

The First Meeting:

The new Mayor and Councillors have made a disappointing start, at their first meeting held on 26 Sept 2017. They failed to take the opportunity to change the culture embraced by the previous Council, which all of them agreed to do at our TRRA Candidates Forum. (*What they said at the Forum*) The issues raised by TRRA were all about transparency, consultation and accountability and the decision to keep the existing meeting cycle structure was not in the best interests of the new Councillors to make properly considered decisions in future, for the public to have any notice of what is before Council or have any input into the process.

The council staff failed to follow their own Code of Meeting Practice by putting the Agenda and Council papers up on it’s website at about 9:30 am on the Monday, for the meeting on Tuesday. (Three days minimum notice for any meeting). This was when TRRA discovered that the staff had recommended that the meeting cycle remain as it was (Option 1). The only other options for consideration were to retain the current cycle with no committee at all (Option 2), or two committee meetings and two Ordinary Council meetings in the month with the meetings a week apart (Option 3.)This option would double the cost and frequency of meetings and was never a serious consideration. The pre 2012 option which TRRA recommended and debated at our Forum was not even presented as an option. This prompted a flurry of emails amongst the TRRA committee, some councillors and a formal letter to the councillors. 

The Decision:

When we arrived for the meeting we were informed (unofficially) that  Councillor Nell would move the motion to return to the pre 2012 cycle, against the staff recommendation, Councillor Abbott would second it, Councillor Arnott would support it and the rest would oppose or not support it. That is exactly what happened.

Councillor Le-Mottee vigorously supported the status quo, and attacked Option 3 on cost and frequency, seemingly oblivious to the actual motion that was being debated, talking about having 42 meetings in a year. Jordan launched a blistering attack on the proposition based on the ridiculous idea that the Committee meeting would have to be held in the lunch room because at some time in the past when no one from the public turned up they had had a few in there for convenience. He stated that transparency would not exist because we would not all be able to fit in there. These were ridiculous arguments that had nothing to do with what was being proposed.

Councillor Nell did not use his right of reply to shoot down these spurious arguments, the staff did not intervene and the Mayor said that he did not want to be seen to be going against the staff recommendation at his first meeting and would leave things as they were at this time. To top things off Clr. Nell voted for the status quo in the motion that followed.

We are also surprised that no one contested the Deputy Mayor’s position, the decision to make it a 12 month tenure might mean they intend to share it around.

PS Council Election History:

Five years ago we saw the full consequences of the referendum conducted with the previous Council elections in 2008, to reduce the representation from each ward from four Councillors to three, and have a Mayor elected by the people instead of fellow Councillors.

So at the next elections in 2012 we had the election of the first presidential style, popularly elected Mayor, meaning the Candidate with the most resources to expend in a campaign across the whole LGA would likely win. Mayor Mackenzie admitted in his declaration to the Electoral Commission that he had supported eight of the other candidates. This made sure that a good solid voting bloc would support his agenda. (In his declaration to the Electoral Commission he outspent rival Clr. Dingle by 10:1)

This did not just happen, it was a long term, well planned strategy, as revealed by then Clr. Steve Tucker in the Newcastle Herald Bruce Almighty series of articles in 2014.

We await with great interest the release of the declarations to the Electoral Commission to see who spent what in this campaign, but don’t hold your breath, that won’t be released under our crazy election laws until November 2018.

Changed Meeting Cycle

At the first Council meeting on Sept 25 2012, those Councillors radically changed the existing meeting cycles in a way that allowed them and senior administrative staff, to railroad controversial decisions through with minimum public scrutiny and participation.

The original system is still embraced by most other Councils around our LGA, (Newcastle City, Port Macquarie, Central Coast, North Sydney, Lane Cove, Hornsby, Mid-Western Regional, Northern Beaches, Mosman, Lismore, Queanbeyan-Palerang to name a few,) to allow proper notice to the public and informed decision making by councillors.

A Council meeting was held on the first Tuesday of the month which was classified as a ‘Committee of the whole’. This meant the Agenda and Council papers were released to the Councillors on a Friday evening at 5:00 PM and on the following Tuesday the agenda was discussed in an informal manner where Councillors could ask staff questions, speak more than once, etc. A vote was still taken on each issue, but it was only a recommendation to go to an ‘Ordinary Council Meeting’

The ‘Ordinary Council Meeting’ would be held on the last Tuesday of the month and would deal with the same agenda and recommendations, but could amend or debate those recommendations again before making a final decision on them in a formal manner.

This allowed sufficient time for Councillors to consider complex decisions properly, get advice from staff and do their homework before they had to vote. This also allowed the public and organisations like ours to consult with their Councillors and their members on the more contentious issues in the fortnight between meetings. It even allowed staff time to give Councillors advice on our submissions, no time is available for that now.

 The Current Meeting Cycle

The current system of having two Ordinary Council meetings a month and going into ‘Committee’ immediately before the formal vote allows voting blocs or those ‘in the know’ to railroad things through the system before proper consideration is given to issues or any opportunity for consultation with the public is given, and puts pressure on the other councillors to make ad hoc decisions that they don’t fully understand.

The public gets the Council information papers, which must be downloaded from the Council website at 5:00 pm on Friday evening. (Attempts have been made to do this earlier, but delivery has been inconsistent). This gives them the weekend and one working day to analyse the hundreds of pages of complex data. If they want to apply for Public Access to address the Council meeting this must be submitted before 12.00 midday on Monday. This is totally at the discretion of the Mayor, and can be refused without explanation. (Another policy exclusive to PS Council)

This makes for ill-considered decisions by Councillors (particularly inexperienced ones,) and the only way to put the process on hold to get more information is to move to defer the decision. The councillor then has to have the ‘numbers’ to do that, and can be accused of unnecessarily delaying the process. The other, even worse option, which frequently occurred in the last Council was to move a rescission motion, after the meeting, which inevitably leads to an expensive Extraordinary Council meeting to ram it through again the following week.

A classic case in point was the last Council meeting before the election where there were 946 pages of Council papers which included two contentious Flood mound developments that were recommended for refusal by Council Staff. Council did not go into ‘Committee of the whole’ mode at all, but dealt with the massive agenda without any prior discussion. One Flood mound was passed and one refused. A rescission motion was then moved after the meeting by the Mayor, forcing another Extraordinary General meeting the following week. A Councillor that refused the motion at the first meeting reversed their vote and it was passed at the following special meeting.

No explanation was ever given as to whether the Councillor was confused the first time or why the change of mind. These Extraordinary meetings cost about $5,000.00 each to run by councils own admission..

The Webcam

The other contentious decision taken by the previous Council was to remove the live webcasting of proceedings. Aside from the convenience factor of not having to travel to Raymond Terrace to attend meetings, TRRA feels that reinstating the webcam would lift the standard of debate and the conduct of meetings, if all were aware that proceedings were being broadcast live and a record was being kept of who was supporting what.

We understand that this promise by the new candidates is also meeting strong resistance from Council staff and the councillors from the previous Council.

It remains to be seen whether the new team will emerge with any credibility from that debate either, or even if it will ever be held. We were very optimistic that the ‘changing of the guard’ might result in a changing of the culture, transparency, accountability, consultation was what the new Councillors promised us,  It’s over to you to deliver now Councillors………..!

**NB**: An excellent letter containing more technical arguments on these topics has been sent to Council and staff from one of our TRRA committee members HERE. It is well worth a read.

Dick Appleby, TRRA Vice President and Media officer 

Mambo Fight Continues – 01 Oct 2017 Protest at Site

Update 01 October 2017

Oct 01 2017: Mambo wetland angst sparks rally

Oct 01 2017: Port Stephens Koalas launches ‘Go Fund Me’ page

A successful protest meeting was held today at the Mambo wetlands site at 11 am to discuss the lodging of a DA for the site by the new owner. Speakers included, the PS Mayor Ryan Palmer, Councillors John Nell, Jaimie Abbott, Giacomo Arnott, representatives of the PS Koala Protection group, Ecconetwork and our own Nigel Waters. The meeting was chaired by Kathy Brown and about 300 enthusiastic people turned out in the middle of a Grand final long weekend. The sausage sizzle and the coffee van did a roaring trade and the hat was passed around raising nearly $1,400.00 for the campaign ahead.

Protestors were urged to make written submissions or objection letters to Council before they consider this application by 27 Oct 2017.

Letters of concern the the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scott McDonald, the Minister who has responsibility for this ‘Mistake,” to remind him that admitting this was good, but fixing it by reversing the process would be even better.

Mambo Wetland Threat – What you can do
Mambo Wetland Threat – Key points for Submissions
The Mambo DA Plan
25 Sept 2017 Update on Mambo Wetlands Development.
 Development Application (2017/620) has been lodged for a $600,000 duplex on the site.

25 Sept 2017: Koalas in Key land conflict

From the EcconetPS Facebook page

Lawyers Picnic At Lagoons Estate 2017

This is our annual roundup of the Lagoons Estate saga, we covered this in 2015, 2016, and now in 2017 it is still a Lawyers Picnic. On 12 September 2017 Justice Pembroke set down a further hearing date May, 2018. This case has now been in court 14 times since May 2016. The Judge himself made a scathing assessment of those involved and the costs incurred:

The conduct of the proceedings does not reflect well on the legal representatives or their clients. It has certainly not been in the interests of the parties or in the interests of justice. The current dispute has all the hallmarks of an attitude on both sides which is both myopic and pedantic. There has been an excessive focus on formality and minutiae, at the expense of the real issues in dispute. – NSW Supreme Court Justice Michael Pembroke

Journalist Joanne McCarthy’s excellent coverage, of this case and some discussion with the Lagoons Estate Resident Group is the only information we get on this matter. Deafening silence from PS Council.

Nelson Bay at the Crossroads

Examiner 07 March 2017: TRRA pushes for strict height limits in Nelson Bay CBD  – Keeping the character or the town Non Negotiable

This opinion piece in the Examiner by Nigel Waters, TRRA Planning Committee Convener, will be the last word in the media from TRRA on the building heights issue, before submissions are due today on 13 March 2013.

At a Council Meeting 13 December 2016 a decision was taken to review the:

2012 Nelson Bay Town and Foreshore Strategy 2012 (5.6 MB)

As part of this review, Council  released the three documents below for public exhibition on 13 Feb 2017.

TRRA have made a comprehensive submission on the review with an appendix of comments on the two reports by the consultants above.

TRRA Submission – 2017 Nelson Bay Strategy Review

Attachment: Comments on HillPDA and EPS reports.

We are sure that many of you have made excellent submissions on this important subject, which has had a very god run in the local media, and drew over 200 people to our last TRRA General Meeting. Below is a personal submission from our TRRA President Geoff Washington.

Personal Submission on 2017 Nelson Bay Strategy Review

If you have prepared a good submission that has some different points than those covered above send it to webmaster@trra.com.au and we will consider posting it here for others to see. We value your input.

TRRA Joins Nelson Bay Lobby Group

Geoff Washington, TRRA President Writes:

TRRA JOINS NEW NELSON BAY LOBBY GROUP

In recent years TRRA Inc. has been a member of the Nelson Bay Chamber of Commerce more recently called Tomaree Business Chamber.  This has provided an opportunity to be informed on the aspirations of our business sector and to consult with commercial interests on matters on TRRA’s agenda. An objective has been to achieve mutual support where possible.

Last year the Business Chamber, having recognised that the commercial performance and overall presentation of Nelson Bay town centre was in decline, took the initiative to form a new partnership of organisations with an interest in the Nelson Bay town centre and Foreshore.   This group adopted the title of Nelson Bay Now (NBN)

The purpose of NBN is to create a partnership of organisations and individuals working towards a better future for Nelson Bay Town Centre and its foreshore. 

Its key objective is to create a united voice and cohesive advocacy group to represent the interests of businesses and the community of Nelson Bay.

Membership so far includes representatives of:

  • The Tomaree Business Chamber
  • Destination Port Stephens (Our tourist organisation and promoter)
  • Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association Inc.
  • EcoNetwork
  • D’lbora Marinas
  • Acomm Port Stephens
  • 6 individual business owners (including legal, real estate, consulting and health services)

Meetings are held monthly chaired by a convenor Ryan Palmer (Ryan Palmer Finance, formerly Manager of the Greater Bank). Peter Clough is currently acting as secretary.

Where consensus cannot be reached on any issue, members reserve the right to dissent from any NBN action and to act independently on that matter.  So far there has been a high level of agreement on agenda items.

Agenda and achievements

Since its establishment mid way through 2016, NBN has agreed that it should give priority to the issues of Inadequate Car Parking in Nelson Bay, traffic management generally, the proposed extension of Yacaaba Street to Victoria Parade, upgrade of the public domain including landscaping, signage, and implementation of the Apex Park improvement plan.

Questions have been asked in relation to Council’s plans to hand over the two Donald Street public carparks to developers, subject to a condition that any development include a replacement of existing public car parking spaces.  NBN considers that these Council owned sites are of great long term strategic significance to Nelson Bay and there is a majority view that the parking capacity needs to be augmented not just restored.

More recently, NBN has been giving priority to the Council’s call for consultation on the its Discussion Paper-Progress of the Nelson Bay Town Centre and Foreshore Strategy.  NBN is seeking to reach a consensus on the major proposals in the discussion paper for the purpose of engaging with Council Planners and Councillors. Building heights will be one key area of interest.

NBN has been successful in establishing lines of communication with our Commonwealth and State representatives who have offered to assist in taking up issues with relevant ministers and administrations. Meetings have been held with representatives of the NSW Premiers Department, the Minister for the Hunter, Department of Planning and Environment and those responsible for implementing the Hunter Regional Plan. On 16 February, NBN will be meeting with Catherine Cusack the new Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter. TRRA will be represented.

A clear message was received from these levels of Government that any proposals for assistance or initiatives would need to be developed in conjunction with our Local Council.   In recognition of this, NBN sought and was granted Public Access at a meeting of Port Stephens Council in late 2016 and Councillors have attended some meetings of NBN. Senior officers of Council have agreed to meet with NBN on a bi-monthly cycle to discuss matters of concern.

Contact  NBNow

Secretary NBN, Peter Clough,  Phone:  4984 4751 email: admin@nelsonbaybusiness.com

 

February 2017 Newsletter – DA Watch

Our General Meeting, 7:00 pm Tuesday 21 Feb at Nelson Bay Bowling Club is shaping up to be one of the most important for Nelson Bay Residents for some time. Two major issues will be discussed at this meeting.

  1. The review of the Nelson Bay Town & Foreshore Strategy, including a proposal to uncap building heights in the CBD. Council Planners have agreed to attend the meeting to report on progress of the review and a discussion paper that will be released prior to the meeting. Please take this opportunity to come along for a briefing on this important issue and to get the answers to the questions that you have directly from the Senior PSC Planners.
  2. The Council Amalgamation Fiasco that is dominating the headlines surrounding the resignation of NSW Premier Baird and the election of his deputy Gladys Berejiklian to the job. At the time of writing this, (Sunday Feb 05 2017) we we are predicting that this matter will come to a head in the next few days. With a split in the Coalition on the issue, the Nationals leader calling for the halt of all amalgamations in the bush, and a couple of bye elections imminent in seats affected by mergers we think the new Premier will move quickly to clear the decks on this issue. We will know the outcome by the time of our meeting and the implications will be discussed at length. Our Council has spent over quarter of a million dollars of ratepayers money on this so far, and does not seem to have achieved much. The current situation of uncertainty cannot continue, ratepayers have been disenfranchised indefinitely and if a decision about an election or the appointment of an administrator is not made soon, the Electoral Commission has made it clear that the current impasse could continue until after the State Elections in 2019. This would be unacceptable.
  3. The DA watch below reflects the incredible amount of work being done by the TRRA Planning Committee  evaluating the large number of Development Applications that have come in over the holiday period. We are now including links to the Many TRRA submissions that have been produced by this Committee so that you can understand the issues raised and comment on them at our meetings or make your own submissions. Please feel free to write to the Committee or comment on our website. We are working on a project to post all submissions made by TRRA since 2008 on our website in a searchable index so that they are available to members, the public and the media for reference. So many of them resurface every few years………….. Have a look HERE at some of the earlier ones 2008 – 2011. Déjà vu indeed!

DA watch – February 2017

Since the last report in the  September 2016 DA watch and the November 2016 Newsletter, there have been several significant developments (sic) on the planning front.

Shoal Bay – You win some, you lose some! 

The redevelopment proposal for the Santa Catalina Motel at Shoal Bay has been approved, with Council dismissing objections from TRRA and neighbours about it exceeding height limits and changing the character of the eastern end of Shoal Bay Road. TRRA SubmissionCouncil Response.  In contrast, a controversial proposal for 10 units on two blocks on Leonard Avenue, also in Shoal Bay, has been withdrawn after objections from local residents and a critical submission from TRRA.  TRRA Submission

Examiner 01 Feb 2017: Leonard Street proposal prompts caution from Shoal Bay neighbours

Salamander Centre – Next stage firms up

Plan 155 Salamander Way – July 2016

Following the subdivision of the land and approval of infrastructure works now under construction Council applied for a further subdivision of the large lot north of McDonalds, and DAs have been lodged for a free-standing Aldi store on the western part of that site, TRRA Submission, and for a service station next to the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet on Bagnall’s Beach Road.  TRRA Submission.

Examiner 20 Jan 2017: ALDI Australia asks Port Stephens Council’s approval for Bagnall Beach Road store.

TRRA has made submissions on both DAs, repeating our earlier concerns about integration with the existing shopping centre, pedestrian access, shade, and landscaping.  While we all welcome new investment, and new services, we question the public benefit of simply moving an existing store, and of a second servo.  The overall development of Council’s land at the Salamander Centre remains, in our view, a disappointing hotch-potch of fragmented ‘boxes’ and a major missed opportunity

Nelson Bay Town Centre – New apartments?

Apart from the current review of the Nelson Bay Strategy, with the major issue of building heights, How High ? – Community faces critical decision on Nelson Bay building heights?, we await a Council decision soon on the proposed 33 metre – 8 storey Ascent Apartments at 11-13 Church St.  The developer has been actively marketing the units – presumably anticipating approval.  TRRA submitted that a decision on this proposal – which is more than double the current height limit for the site, is premature until the Strategy review was complete and a community consensus reached on building heights.  TRRA Submission

Examiner 11 Jan 2017: Donald Street and Church Street apartment sites have faced historical financial and planning challenges

To be consistent, we made the same submission on another proposal for an apartment building further north on Church St at the corner with Donald St (65-67 Donald), While this one is for only 19 metres (6 storeys), it still well exceeds the current 15 metre height limit and should, we feel, also be deferred until the Strategy review is complete. TRRA Submission

Examiner 11 Jan 2017: Plans progress for Church Street and Donald Street apartment buildings

Examiner 30 Jan 2017: Heights, parking under review

 

 Soldiers Point Marina – Another round!

The applicant has appealed the JRPP refusal of the marina expansion to the Land and Environment Court.  A mass of new documents were lodged in the last two months of 2016 which the Soldiers Point Community Group made a great job of analysing, with the assistance of the Environmental Defender’s Office.  TRRA supported the local community with a further submission, which Council requested to help them continue their opposition to the expansion, on a number of environmental, traffic and amenity grounds.  The next Court hearing is in February. Soldiers Point Marina

For more Info keep checking the TRRA Website and come along to our General Meeting 7:00 pm Nelson Bay Bowling Club, 21 February 2017.

Lawyers Picnic at Lagoons Estate 2016

 Press Clippings Updated to 20 May 2016. 

I wonder what the new ‘City of the Hunter Coast Council’ will make of this when they get the multi-million dollar bill next year??? 

Posted 07 April 2016.

12 Years of litigation, and the only winners are the lawyers!

Lawyers1TRRA have been monitoring the developments in this story for some time. We last visited it in July 2015.  (‘Ratepayers Millions Down The Drain’, Link below) The ‘Fact and Timeline Report’ should get everyone up to speed. This could have been fixed 12 years ago for about $ 1.5 Mill, and almost was until someone though that by sitting on it for a while they could send the developer broke. That happened, but the problem did not go away…….. We shudder to think what all this has cost so far in legal fees and the failed attempt to fix it on the cheap. It has now been in the NSW Supreme Court the NSW Appeal Court, The Land and Environment Court and was knocked back for hearing in the High Court.  It is now back in the Supreme Court, and back in the press, but our Council is saying nothing! Next hearing date 08 April 2016. Watch this site for further updates, the briefings for Councillors will be confidential, while they try to keep it quiet. We have seen the PSC Long Term Financial Plan and there is no contingency to cover any of this.

TRRA Lagoons Estate Report 05 April 2016: Facts and Timeline – Lagoons Estate Development

Press

Newcastle Herald 20 May 2016: Port Stephens Council paid a developer $750,000 for an agreement that didn’t hold water

Newcastle Herald 06 May 2016: Port Stephens Council’s drainage problems just got bigger

Newcastle Herald 5 April 2016: Port Stephens Council has until 5pm Wednesday to withdraw a key document from a legal case

Newcastle Herald 28 March 2016: Port Stephens Council is under challenge over a Nelson Bay development

Money-down-drain_20150719154518Ratepayer’s Millions Down the Drain?

Previous Article 19 July 2015

McCloy High Court Challenge Fails

High Court ChallengeMcCloy High Court Challenge

Newcastle Herald 07 October 2015: McCloy’s challenge rejected 

Newcastle Herald 07 October 2015: ANALYSIS: How the donation penny dropped 

Newcastle Herald 07 October 2015: OPINION: Power of corporate patrons 

Newcastle Herald 08 October 2015; OPINION: No risk to democracy in union donations 

The full decision is here: McCloy & Ors v State of NSW 

This is not over until the Fat Lady Sings or the developers run out of lawyer money………..!

Next episode is in the Supreme Court, November 2015.

Will The Port Stephens Ratepayers Ever Get the ‘Cabbage’ from the Cabbage Tree Road Sand Mine? Part 2

HOT ISSUES150221 CQP Mine

This story just keeps evolving as we research it. The Cabbage Tree Mine has now been on the agenda for the Council Meeting 28 July 2015, so this a continuation of the story from Part 1. However it now requires some more background on CQP from further evidence that has recently emerged.

Will The Port Stephens Ratepayers Ever Get the ‘Cabbage’ from the Cabbage Tree Road Sand Mine? Part 2

 

Local MP Takes On PSC Mayor

Macka may have finally met his match.

 

Kate 1Macka 3

It may have been easy to refuse public access and push people around at Council meetings when you are the Mayor, and abuse people at public meetings, but it may be another story when an elected representative starts taking you apart in Parliament under privilege with everything recorded in Hansard for all to see.

Kate Washington, newly elected, has stated that she won’t be intimidated by threats that she has received and has come out fighting. It is about time we got some representation in our parliament that is prepared to stand up for our local community and call these people out. It looks like that time has arrived………

Newcastle Herald 12 August 2015: MP launches fierce attack but mayor laughs it off

Here is the transcript of the full speech from Hansard, it is worth a read.

NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard 12 August 2015: MP Kate Washington

Newcastle Herald 14 August 2015: Spotlight on council actions

Newcastle Herald 15 August 2015: Council rejects MP’s lease claim

Newcastle Herald 19 Aug 2015: Mackenzie tells McKay: mind your own business

More on This:

Newcastle Herald 08 August 2015: Mayor’s mining company breached conditions

An Evening With Macka……………

Macka’s Sand To Increase Sand Truck Movements 200%