Council shenanigans symptomatic of broader political failure

Council shenanigans symptomatic of broader political failure

19 March 2015

An opinion piece by Andrew Wilkie published in the Mercury on March 19, 2015.

Ratepayers deserve better from their aldermen, writes Andrew Wilkie.

The imbroglio on Glenorchy City Council is a disgrace. The political games played by some aldermen are to do with selfinterest and are at the expense of the public interest.

The whole lot need to sort out their differences and get back to work.

The facts of the matter are worth recounting. At council elections last year, then Glenorchy Mayor Stuart Slade was bundled out by Alderman Kristie Johnston, outpolling him more than two to one.

It was a thumping win for Ald Johnston and an endorsement of her election campaign promise to “clean up Glenorchy and clean out the council”.

The community’s desire for change was also reflected in the election of Harry Quick and Jan Dunsby as new aldermen, Harry as Deputy Mayor.

That relations between aldermen on Glenorchy council since then have been fractious is disappointing to say the least.

This was the opportunity for all of them to embrace the mood for change and get behind the new Mayor and Deputy Mayor. Instead, the community has witnessed one of the biggest dummy spits in Tasmanian political history.

The latest drama is especially unedifying. Last month, aldermen were expected to consider and vote on whether to implement a consultant’s report on deep council restructuring.

The report itself was not provided to aldermen by council management and this prompted Mayor Johnston to adjourn the meeting.

Her intention was to ensure aldermen could be provided with copies, or at least a redacted version of the document, prior to casting such an important vote.

Remarkably, the aldermen continued the meeting, in contravention of Mayor Johnston’s direction to suspend it, and voted in favour of the restructure.

Then council management commenced implementation of the reforms, including giving notices of termination to 16 staff.

Consequently, the Director of Local Government investigated the matter and found the Mayor had acted properly and, by implication, that aldermen who had ignored her direction may have breached the Local Government Act.

As such, any decisions made by aldermen in the improperly convened meeting are invalid and the council is at risk of legal action from sacked staff.

This council meeting episode is bizarre in the extreme.

Deep council restructuring may well be warranted, seeing as the council is in poor shape financially, not that we can know for sure in the absence of the expert advice contained in the consultant’s report.

But the ends do not justify the means and that aldermen potentially may have contravened the Act, not to mention diminished the office of mayor, is a dreadful development.

In my opinion it is no excuse that aldermen relied on legal and administrative advice when deciding to ignore the Mayor’s directions.

Surely they should be across the Local Government Act seeing as it’s the Act of Parliament in Tasmania that establishes councils, not to mention the positions of aldermen and councillors.

That in recent days some anonymous aldermen have distributed an apparently official council media release points to a circus going from bad to worse.

Clearly these aldermen think they are a law unto themselves.

The problems with Glenorchy City Council are symptomatic of a deeper crisis engulfing governance in Australia right now.

Whether it is at the federal, state or local level, there are too many self-serving political operatives.

Some, not all, are professional politicians and party political hacks.

The interests of the people of Australia are relegated to secondary importance.

No wonder so many members of the community are sick of politics, politicians and political parties.

It does not have to be this way and thankfully there are some very good aldermen on the council who can turn things around.

They, with the community overwhelmingly behind them, can provide the foundation to refocus the council on what is in the public interest.

Meanwhile, it’s clear Mayor Johnston’s election pledge to “clean up Glenorchy and clean out the council” is warranted.

I wish her luck.

Andrew Wilkie is the independent federal member for Denison. Mr Wilkie publicly endorsed the election of Harry Quick and Kristie Johnston to Glenorchy City Council.

No wonder so many members of the community are sick of politics, politicians and political parties.

Skills

Posted on

March 13, 2015

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