The General Manager of Midcoast Council, Glenn Handford, appointed by the interim administrator, has fallen on his sword.
It was a startling finale to the December 20 Council meeting when Glenn Handford announced his resignation. No councillors had been told of his decision, although some of the GM’s inner circle were privy to his plan a few days before. He gave no reason, but did indicate that he would be working in the private sector. We have yet to discover who made this better offer.
Unfortunately, the Mayor, while praising our now dear-departed GM, didn’t actually get around to handling the situation with efficiency or alacrity. Whether he knew of the plan or not, the Mayor did not present a motion to Council to immediately accept the resignation. This means that the Council hasn’t accepted his resignation, to take effect immediately.
Having the GM hang around, on leave, and still be influencing decisions, such as his interim successor among other issues, is not a good look. As it was, the Administrator, John Turner, and Handford, then Acting General Manager, pulled a swifty to have the GM’s position be made permanent, despite the NSW government promising all amalgamated council General Managers were appointed on an interim basis until council elections in September 2017. (Like their cunning move to raise the rates (SRV) which were untouchable until after a permanent council was elected. But, under Handford and Turner, we are the only Amalgamated Council in NSW to pull off that sneaky move. And boy, have our rates risen!)
Why weren’t Councillors informed of Handford’s plans ahead of the Council Meeting ? And why did he wait till the last minutes of the Council meeting to drop his bombshell, especially as they were discussing the GM’s brainwave of buying the Master’s Building among other issues? (More on that later.)
It is not a healthy look for Council to have the GM standing in the wings, stage-managing the Mayor to seemingly do his bidding on his departure arrangements, his successor, and who knows what else.
This Council needs to cut all ties with the previous GM who seems to have run the place rather as his personal fiefdom.
There should be consultation and transparency now introduced to this Council. The position of acting GM should be an open and consultative discussion between all Councillors, not by the previous power group making decisions behind the Councillors’ backs.
The recruitment of a new General Manager needs to be an open process. We need a General Manager with experience in running a very large and complex organisation as a business, as well as observing all the protocols of Local Government. Someone who acknowledges that Council exists to serve the community and is willing to be consultative and transparently honest.
The reasons for Mr Hanford’s sudden leap are causing much speculation!
While there has been a lot of criticism of his high-handed manner and secretive decision making, there is a range of issues which need some deeper investigation.
The Forster Precinct development has been handled badly. Suddenly, Forster was to become the Kingdom of Handford.
It was handed over to a developer, (whom many in the area found questionable), when a new library, meeting rooms and a bigger building, exploded into a megatropolis where suddenly there were plans for a night club, gymnasium, huge cinema complex, supermarket etc etc. Also, an upgraded library is now expected to lumber the community with an $18 million dollar citadel. All rammed through before there was an elected Council.
The Grand Masters Gazump Fiasco. This paper has detailed the ins and outs of MidCoast Trucks from Macksville. How their offer to buy the Taree Master’s site was accepted and, prior to exchanging contracts and seeking to employ up to 100 locals over the next few years, they then found they’d been gazumped by a secret deal by GM Handford. Again there was no open or transparent consultation for this idea to the Councillors. It was a fait accompli by the time Councillors knew what was happening.
The GM, his Planning Manager, Petula Bowden, and Economic Development Manager, Deb Tuckerman had been dealing with MidCoast Trucks, as they applied to Council for regulatory permissions. Consequently, they were privy to the trucking company’s offer and plans, then Midcoast Council went ahead and put in a higher bid by $600,000 to snare the deal. This leaves a bad taste in the mouth for any company wanting to take their private business matters to Council.
So, Council is left with the bad publicity, a huge development bill to convert Masters to a usable building, a significant need to raise funds, and to regain public trust. Remember folks, our Council has a deficit outstanding of around 60 million dollars. This is before we look at the Masters project!
Then there is REX Airlines, who have pulled out of Taree. They cite on-going issues with Council, as there seems no love lost there. The Rex directors might be tough businessmen, but we need an airline that runs a reputable, regular, timely service for commuters to and from Sydney.
REX cites problems with communication between Council and the lack (again) of consultation as to what they needed. Money and plans were raised, and the State Member posed for photographs to announce all was done as promised when, in reality, the work wasn’t finished, nor was it suited to the airport and airline’s needs and requirements. Again, lack of consultation.
Pelican Air (operating as FlyPelican) knew of Rex’s issues with the Council, so were quick to step in. However, at the moment, their smaller planes have a totally impractical flight schedule despite cheaper fares. Departing at 5.40am and returning at 3.40pm or 8pm, is not conducive to a daylong business trip. All flights will take off and land in the dark.
Where will Council turn if Pelican pulls out?
Our new Council needs to sit down with the airlines and co-operate and communicate.
The Tea Gardens Secret Grand Canal.
(Also known as the Fame Cove Cover Up).
This paper was contacted by a local resident in the Nerong area who was concerned at news of a development destroying land near her location, with some sort canal 16 kms long, 20 metres wide and 2 metres deep. Of further concern was the fact that the secret “development” was being undertaken by Phillip Dong Fang Lee, a Chinese developer, based in Sydney.
According to Lucy Macken in Domain, in The Sydney Morning Herald, Lee purchased the 100 hectares of ocean-front land adjoining Myall Lakes National Park a decade ago for $8.8 million, to develop as a resort.
She explains, “But hopes for the conservation area have been left in doubt after serious environmental damage prompted MidCoast Council to slap stop-work and clean-up orders on Mr Lee’s company, amid concerns to threatened species, unauthorised road building and land clearing”.
“There’s not much pristine bushland left along the east coast of NSW, but this property lays claim to six kilometres of coastline that is well known to visiting yachts as one of the most remote and protected anchorages along the coast,” Len Yearsley, vice-president of the North Arm Cove Residents Association, said.
Mr Lee’s Tea Garden Farms company was fined $8000 after a section of bushland on the property was cleared and the felled trees left in a protected marine sanctuary at Fame Cove.
In 2009, sediment-polluted water flowed into North Arm Cove after a dam wall failed during excavation work and, as a result, the company was fined almost $200,000 in the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Mr Lee’s original plans for the Fame Cove property date back to 2007, when he won council approval for an 11-bedroom mansion, with staff quarters and 11-car garage spread over 3000 square metres, at a cost of $4 million.
The couple’s interest in the Port Stephens holiday area expanded dramatically when four separate rural properties were purchased for a total of $16.4 million in company names, covering more than 2700 hectares from Tea Gardens to nearby Nerong.
This development at Fame Cove, which has raised the ire of residents, has been recently visited by MidCoast Council inspectors, but the Council is not forthcoming about what approvals, if any, have been given, and for what purpose(s). The residents are concerned that the canal could damage the aquifer and lower water levels, or poison the water.
It is known that Lee is making a hasty effort to have some of the area “rehabilitated.”
Why hasn’t MidCoast Council made this a public issue?
We asked Councillor Peter Epov to look into the claims put to this paper. Cr. Epov then sent Glenn Handford, a series of what Epov told us were “hard questions on several matters, including dealings with Phillip Lee.” Cr. Epov did not get any response. Three days later the GM resigned.
In another interesting article in Domain earlier last year, Lucy Macken reveals:
“Mr Lee, known in China for his city-sized developments, who has brought his know-how to Australia and now lives in a $39.9 million mansion in Point Piper known as Mandalay, has plans to build an already approved 11-bedroom mansion set to cost $15 million as a weekender atop Fame Mountain on his Port Stephens property.
Marring Mr Lee’s progress on those holiday home plans are previous fines, in 2009 for almost $200,000, when sediment-polluted water flowed into North Arm Cove after a dam wall failed during excavation work and, in 2014, there was a fine of $8000 after a section of bushland was cleared and the felled trees left in a protected marine sanctuary.
Now taking up his cause to develop the property is former long-time council investigations and prosecutions co-ordinator Greg Pevitt, who resigned from MidCoast Council early last year and, six months later, took up a role as advisor to Mr Lee.
“In all my 28 years working on council, I have never seen any developer pursued the way Mr Lee has been,” said Mr Pevitt.
‘Then there’s the local action group and Mr Lee’s immediate neighbours, who accuse him of illegally logging trees and dumping them in the marine sanctuary, and cutting through rock to build an unauthorised road. Now the state government has been dragged into the debate by locals who fear council cannot afford to fund the protracted legal battle,’ concludes Domain.
Has the buck now been passed to be obfuscated in government departments, taking the heat off MidCoast Council?
And who do we suppose might possibly be the private sector employer of our departing GM?
Stay tuned. It’s time the councillors stepped up and turned up the heat, and did what we voted them in to do. Work for us.