Examiner 29 March: ‘Enough Already’ with code of conduct
28 March 2017 Ordinary Council Minutes 21 MB PDF
Four TRRA committee members attended Port Stephens Council meeting on 28 March. Read the Press report above and browse through the minutes, this is our perspective on the meeting.
As usual, there was far too much on the agenda at short notice, with Councillors admitting that they had no time to read all the papers. Also as usual, local issues took up most of the meeting, with really important policies and strategies being waved through without discussion.
We urge people to review the suite of Integrated Plans documents which will be on Exhibition for the whole of April – it includes important financial commitments and the ‘Forward Works’ program of infrastructure improvements which Councillors keep changing, with new projects ‘queue jumping’ over long awaited ones.
There was a heated exchange at the outset over Cllr Geoff Dingle’s attempt to have a Code of Conduct investigation of him discussed in open session. From media reports and Cllr Dingle’s statement, we know that the Office of Local Government found that there was no basis for the adverse finding against Cllr Dingle. But Council has continued to dig in, dealing with the matter in secret, accepting a second report by the same investigator and reconfirmed it’s previous decision to sanction Cllr Dingle. This seems to be an ill-judged and unfounded campaign to silence Cllr Dingle, who is one of the few voices of opposition to the ruling bloc of Councillors. The public needs to know the details, especially the advice provided by the Office of Local Government so we can all make a proper judgement.
Three applications for developments on earth mounds in flood risk areas were refused, in line with staff recommendations. This was a refreshing change as there have been numerous occasions in the past where Councillors have overridden professional advice and approved similar DAs – potentially exposing residents and emergency service workers to risks during floods, and Council to potential legal liability.
At least 90 minutes of the meeting were taken up by a dispute over a sub-division proposal for land at the entrance to the Dunes Golf Course in Medowie. In what Councillors admitted was a ‘stuff up’, two lots had been re-zoned as part of a wider re-zoning of the golf course development, without the knowledge of the new owners. The owners of one lot are now seeking to sub-divide, to allow for a separate dwelling. Residents of this prestigious large lot residential area are understandably upset and the issue is further complicated by the use of the entrance road to the golf course as an unofficial transport interchange, with potential accident risks to school children. Two residents spoke passionately against the DA in ‘public access’, loudly applauded by a large public gallery. In an unusual defeat for the Mayor, only one other Councillor supported him in seeking approval for the DA and it was refused by a majority. However, we understand that a rescission motion has since been lodged and the numbers may be different at the next meeting. While this may seem of no interest to Tomaree residents, we have reported it as an example of Council dysfunction.
Councillors also approved, without discussion, three important compliance related policies, with the staff report brushing aside a detailed submission from TRRA as being about ‘operational’ matters rather than the policies themselves. While this may be technically correct, we are disappointed that none of the Councillors were willing to at least debate what we see as major failings in Council’s compliance efforts (had they even read the report?)
Bearing in mind that now we have an Council election imminent on 09 September, TRRA strongly urge you as Port Stephens residents and ratepayers to attend a Council meeting and witness what the Councillors that you elected to represent you actually do at these meetings. Get a carload together for something different to do on a Tuesday evening. We can assure you that the entertainment provided is just as good as what is available on TV on a Tuesday nights and it is part of your civic duty to be properly informed before you choose your representatives.
As we have said before, we never cease to be amused at the reaction of ‘first timers’ in the public gallery. Some are gobsmacked. We remind you that $20,000.00 of ratepayers funds was spent on a webcam installation so that we could watch and listen to this at leisure on our computers at home, but the first thing this Council did was unplug it so that we have to drive to Raymond Terrace now instead. Come along to the next Council meeting and see why………