COUNCILLORS’ SAD CIRCUS

Peter Epov and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at the recent NSW Local Government Conference in Albury.

At the 28 November MidCoast Council meeting Councillors had the opportunity to refer the highly controversial Master’s – Office Centralisation Project – to Council’s newly established independent Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee, to once and for all clear the air on just what $$$$ the whole shebang might cost – should it come to pass.

However the majority of Councillors refused to agree to the figures being scrutinised.

A Notice of Motion sponsored by Crs Peter Epov, Kathryn Bell and Jan McWilliams calling for the Masters project to be referred to Council’s independent umpire was sunk – 8 votes to 2.

The arguments put forward against the Motion for an independent review were trivial and rather contrived. The assertion that Council was not legitimately able to refer the project to its own Committee is far beyond being ludicrous and left many in the gallery dumfounded. 

Taree resident Terry Stanton (a UK former solicitor) said:

“One of my crucial concerns is that the Peer Review has been commissioned from the Council’s own auditors (RSM), according to what I heard Embry say at the Masters site meeting on Tuesday.  I cannot see how they can be described as truly independent.  It’s like “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”.   Equally, if you want an independent review it must come from someone who can be seen to have no connection.  You do not expect the Judge or members of the jury to be connected with one of the parties.  You do not get a report from a person who maybe thought to be beholden to the person asking for the review.  In similar words I said this on the radio on 2Bob on the 30th.  I made it clear that I do not accuse the auditors of being corrupt, but of being open to suspicion.  I should like to think that in their shoes I should have told the Council to go elsewhere for my sake and theirs.”

Those who voted against the Motion were Labor  Councillors Crs David Keegan, Claire Pontin,  Nationals Councillor Len Roberts, Liberal Councillor Troy Fowler, Mayor David West, and Karen Hutchinson and Katheryn Smith. 

Cr Epov argued to have the matter referred for a truly independent review and moved a further motion which was seconded by Cr Kathyn Bell – “That Council immediately appoints an independent External Auditor, not currently associated nor contracted to Council to review the Office Centralisation Project.”

This motion was also expeditiously killed off with the same haste and lack of debate by the same Councillors who opposed the original motion.

Observers present in the Council Chamber were again shocked and surprised. The debate was also marred with personal attacks and snide sidebar remarks from several Councillors.

It has taken over 12 months to establish this watchdog committee which includes three independent members, who are non-residents of the MidCoast council area. Clearly there must been some who didn’t want this committee in place until all the controversial projects were set in stone.

When seriously important decisions are made in such a manner the community has a right to be alarmed.

DM

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