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As the council amalgamations fiasco rolls on, it is becoming apparent that for some of the administrators, being lavished millions of dollars of government funds to spend at their discretion is becoming too strong an attraction to say goodbye to at the coming elections.

Standing for elections

So far at least two administrators have declared their intention to stand for office at the coming council elections. Queanbeyan-Palerang administrator Tim Overall and Armidale regional administrator Ian Tiley have both confirmed they will be standing for election, despite what many believe is an obvious conflict of interest in their current positions as administrators.

The Greens believe the Premier must immediately direct these administrators to withdraw their nominations. Greens MP and local government spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“It’s not unlawful, but there is no doubt that it is deeply inappropriate for administrators to be running for council elections.

“These administrators have been given an enormous platform in their local communities over the last 18 months, not to mention access to millions of dollars in council funds and community grants.

“There is an obvious conflict of interest if administrators are now putting their hand up to run at the upcoming local government elections, after being given the role of a cashed-up local despot for 18 months.

“These individuals have had well over a year to implement their agenda and build on their existing local profile, they should not be able to run at the upcoming elections.

“The Liberal National government’s forced amalgamation mess continues to be plagued with dysfunction, and as always they treat residents and ratepayers like mugs.

“Any competent government would have outlawed this practice; instead we have the Liberal Nationals in charge.

“If the Premier had any respect for local communities, she would immediately direct these administrators to withdraw their nominations for council.” Mr Shoebridge said.

In the meantime in Sydney, a NSW Government-appointed administrator is seeking to sell off commercial waste services on the eve of council elections

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said a forcibly-merged council in Sydney’s west has come under fire after it was revealed that it will no longer be able to provide waste services to more than 1,000 commercial and trade customers, following a decision to outsource domestic waste services and sell off its fleet of garbage trucks.

Cumberland Council, which was formed following the forced merger of Holroyd Council with Auburn and parts of Parramatta, has admitted in council business papers that as a result of the controversial decision by NSW Government-appointed administrator Viv May to outsource domestic waste services, the council would no longer be able to provide services to commercial clients, either.

In June, Mr May awarded a $68 million contract to United Resource Management to run domestic waste services for ten years, Mr Kelly said.

“The sale of Council’s fleet means Council will not be able to service its trade and commercial waste customers in the future,” the council document states.

Mr May is expected to use the next council meeting — the final one before democracy is restored with the election of new councillors next month — to approve a plan to seek expressions of interest from private waste operators to also take over Cumberland Council’s commercial waste operations.

Mr Kelly, whose union represents more than 30,000 local government workers across the state, said the NSW Government needed to urgently intervene to prevent the loss of further services ahead of new councillors being elected.

“Just a week after Premier Gladys Berejiklian publicly abandoned the NSW Government’s failed policy of forcibly amalgamating councils, one of her government’s administrators is making a last-ditch effort to sell off community services before council elections can take place next month,” Mr Kelly said.

“During the past month, this unelected and unaccountable administrator has locked ratepayers into a costly outsourcing arrangement for the next decade, decided to sell the fleet of garbage collection vehicles, and now intends to do the same with commercial waste services.

“There are more than 1,000 businesses that will be impacted by this decision, yet there has been no consultation with them, the broader community, or workers.

“Having an appointed administrator making major decisions on the eve of elections, including the awarding of multi-million dollar contracts and the sale of council assets, is completely unacceptable and is one of the reasons communities across the state fought so hard against these forced mergers.

“Premier Berejiklian and Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton need to urgently intervene to stop the unelected administrator of Cumberland Council from selling assets, cutting services, or entering contracts, with all decisions instead held over until a democratically elected council retakes the reins,” Mr Kelly said.

… and Woollahra wants its money back

Waverley Councillor John Wakefield believes the administrator has engaged in building a castle-in-the-air and is keen to seek state government re-imbursement for the costs of the merger.

“With the merger called off, we have certainty about the future of the eastern suburbs councils,” Cr Wakefield said. “Let’s now consider what the ratepayers of Waverley have paid to jump through the hoops of the State Government’s mega-merger fantasy.”

While Woollahra Council and its Mayor led the opposition against the merger, Waverley Council and its Mayor went about setting up Waverley for the merger with Randwick and an unwilling Woollahra.

According to Cr Wakefield, a team of Waverley staff has been working for two years on the merger. Consultants were hired to prepare detailed reports on management and staffing structures under a merged council, facilities and office accommodation requirements, vehicle and truck fleet management issues, maintenance contracts, IT systems integration, and numerous other complex issues requiring detailed plans.

“We estimate that well over $500,000 was spent by Waverley Council in direct costs to consultants, while hundreds and hundreds of hours of senior council staff time was occupied in meetings, preparing reports, workshopping the incredible complexity of merging three large organisations together whilst attempting to maintain work levels and resident expectations of service delivery.

“Simultaneously and additional to this, Waverley Council under Mayor Betts also hired consultants and allocated a significant amount of staff time on a proposal to re-develop Council’s Library and adjacent buildings. This has been marketed as the ‘Civic Heart’ precinct. It was actually a feasibility study to house a merged council’s town hall.

“Mayor Betts was preparing to spend a significant amount of ratepayers money to house a now abandoned merged Eastern Suburbs Council,” he said.

This Civic Heart project has an allocation of $80 million in Waverley Council’s forward budget but would have in reality cost in the order of $120 million. Combined with Mayor Betts’ grand project for the Bondi Pavilion with a budget of $40 million, this would have exhausted Waverley’s $130 million capital works reserve totally.

“We will now be seeking re-imbursement from the State Government of all expenditure related to the merger proposal.

“If our motion is successful, a more precise figure will be calculated by Council’s General Manager, but we estimate the total cost to ratepayers of over $2 million wasted in the last two years.”
                    [post_title] => Council administrators: caretakers or career builders?
                    [post_excerpt] => Standing for election, selling off assets... council administrators are in the firing line.
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Sleazy tactics, name trashing, corruption allegations and abuse of parliamentary privilege.

It sounds like another day at the office in New South Wales local and state politics – but Queensland’s elected representatives are fast showing they won’t be upstaged by slimey Southerners when it comes to mud-slinging during the state’s council election season.

Voters preparing to head to the polls on March 19th were on Thursday greeted by a desperate plea from the peak body representing councils up North, the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ), for state politicians to stop dragging their sector’s name through the mud for their own ends.

The body’s chief executive, Greg Hallam said the community there was “sick and tired of negative and sleazy election campaigning” and warned a number elections were “in danger of being hijacked by those who believed spreading lies and falsehoods about their political opponents was the key to success at the ballot box.”

It’s an admirable sentiment, but in reality Queensland councils and councilors are battening down the hatches for what many anticipate will be one of the ugliest, meanest and dirty election seasons in recent history after the trouncing of the Campbell Newman LNP state government after just one term.

With just a couple of weeks to go, there’s still plenty of potential for reputational damage to be done to the local sector (which often acts as a training ground for state politics) and its advocates are worried.

Intra-party brawling has also broken out. The war of words over councils is being propelled in part by Cairns Labor MP Rob Pynes, who has been pushing hard for an inquiry into the local government sector that he claims is rife with workplace bullying.

Having tabled hundreds of documents in Parliament since October, Mr Pyne’s ongoing campaign from within the Labor Palaszczuk Government has proven particularly irritating for both the Premier and her Deputy Premier and Local Government Minister Jackie Trad, who hold on to power in the unicameral parliament by the thinnest of margins.

On Tuesday Mr Pyne hit Twitter over the conduct of councils, tweeting “Is our Deputy Premier acknowledging Council corruption? You set the LG rules Jackie and those rules must change!”.

So far the Palaszczuk government has rebuffed the calls for a formal inquiry into councils, but the image of local governments there has been further dented by what Mr Hallam said were claims “made in the context of the elections that are plainly aimed at damaging individual reputations and smearing councils.”

Like NSW, some councils and councilors aren’t exactly enhancing their own reputations.

On Thursday national broadcaster the ABC reported that a $3.3 million deal to sell land by Brisbane City Council without a public tender or auction to a donor of the LNP – which holds the council – had been referred to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission.

According to the ABC report, both the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Graham Quirk, and the buyer maintain that the sale was above board and went through the proper channels, despite Local Government Minister Jackie Trad later sinking the sale by refusing an exemption from the regular sale process.

However the very revelation of the referral to the CCC in itself has prompted claims of deliberate leaking to damage political opponents in the Queensland council elections.

While referrals to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) are routinely disclosed by both politicians and administrators, Queensland’s referrals are usually kept confidential thanks to history of referrals to the watchdog being used for vexatious and political motives.

One important aspect of the election lost among the mudslinging is that Queenslanders will – slightly confusingly – also be voting in a referendum for the length of term for the state government and whether or not to keep it at a fixed date every four years.

While there is broad bipartisan support to keep the current system, it’s much less clear how voters will react after the tumultuous years of the one term Campbell Newman government that was thrown out in the biggest landslide in Australian electoral history.

The piggybacking of the referendum, which spares the government the cost of a separate vote, is understood to have prompted fears in some councils that ballots for the referendum will be counted before those cast for councilors.

The LGAQ’s chief Greg Hallam is urging all participating in the election to keep campaigning civil and above board.

“It’s time to stop the rot and remember that a clean election campaign is the only good campaign in the minds of the community,’’ Mr Hallam said.

Good luck with that.
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As the council amalgamations fiasco rolls on, it is becoming apparent that for some of the administrators, being lavished millions of dollars of government funds to spend at their discretion is becoming too strong an attraction to say goodbye to at the coming elections.

Standing for elections

So far at least two administrators have declared their intention to stand for office at the coming council elections. Queanbeyan-Palerang administrator Tim Overall and Armidale regional administrator Ian Tiley have both confirmed they will be standing for election, despite what many believe is an obvious conflict of interest in their current positions as administrators.

The Greens believe the Premier must immediately direct these administrators to withdraw their nominations. Greens MP and local government spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“It’s not unlawful, but there is no doubt that it is deeply inappropriate for administrators to be running for council elections.

“These administrators have been given an enormous platform in their local communities over the last 18 months, not to mention access to millions of dollars in council funds and community grants.

“There is an obvious conflict of interest if administrators are now putting their hand up to run at the upcoming local government elections, after being given the role of a cashed-up local despot for 18 months.

“These individuals have had well over a year to implement their agenda and build on their existing local profile, they should not be able to run at the upcoming elections.

“The Liberal National government’s forced amalgamation mess continues to be plagued with dysfunction, and as always they treat residents and ratepayers like mugs.

“Any competent government would have outlawed this practice; instead we have the Liberal Nationals in charge.

“If the Premier had any respect for local communities, she would immediately direct these administrators to withdraw their nominations for council.” Mr Shoebridge said.

In the meantime in Sydney, a NSW Government-appointed administrator is seeking to sell off commercial waste services on the eve of council elections

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said a forcibly-merged council in Sydney’s west has come under fire after it was revealed that it will no longer be able to provide waste services to more than 1,000 commercial and trade customers, following a decision to outsource domestic waste services and sell off its fleet of garbage trucks.

Cumberland Council, which was formed following the forced merger of Holroyd Council with Auburn and parts of Parramatta, has admitted in council business papers that as a result of the controversial decision by NSW Government-appointed administrator Viv May to outsource domestic waste services, the council would no longer be able to provide services to commercial clients, either.

In June, Mr May awarded a $68 million contract to United Resource Management to run domestic waste services for ten years, Mr Kelly said.

“The sale of Council’s fleet means Council will not be able to service its trade and commercial waste customers in the future,” the council document states.

Mr May is expected to use the next council meeting — the final one before democracy is restored with the election of new councillors next month — to approve a plan to seek expressions of interest from private waste operators to also take over Cumberland Council’s commercial waste operations.

Mr Kelly, whose union represents more than 30,000 local government workers across the state, said the NSW Government needed to urgently intervene to prevent the loss of further services ahead of new councillors being elected.

“Just a week after Premier Gladys Berejiklian publicly abandoned the NSW Government’s failed policy of forcibly amalgamating councils, one of her government’s administrators is making a last-ditch effort to sell off community services before council elections can take place next month,” Mr Kelly said.

“During the past month, this unelected and unaccountable administrator has locked ratepayers into a costly outsourcing arrangement for the next decade, decided to sell the fleet of garbage collection vehicles, and now intends to do the same with commercial waste services.

“There are more than 1,000 businesses that will be impacted by this decision, yet there has been no consultation with them, the broader community, or workers.

“Having an appointed administrator making major decisions on the eve of elections, including the awarding of multi-million dollar contracts and the sale of council assets, is completely unacceptable and is one of the reasons communities across the state fought so hard against these forced mergers.

“Premier Berejiklian and Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton need to urgently intervene to stop the unelected administrator of Cumberland Council from selling assets, cutting services, or entering contracts, with all decisions instead held over until a democratically elected council retakes the reins,” Mr Kelly said.

… and Woollahra wants its money back

Waverley Councillor John Wakefield believes the administrator has engaged in building a castle-in-the-air and is keen to seek state government re-imbursement for the costs of the merger.

“With the merger called off, we have certainty about the future of the eastern suburbs councils,” Cr Wakefield said. “Let’s now consider what the ratepayers of Waverley have paid to jump through the hoops of the State Government’s mega-merger fantasy.”

While Woollahra Council and its Mayor led the opposition against the merger, Waverley Council and its Mayor went about setting up Waverley for the merger with Randwick and an unwilling Woollahra.

According to Cr Wakefield, a team of Waverley staff has been working for two years on the merger. Consultants were hired to prepare detailed reports on management and staffing structures under a merged council, facilities and office accommodation requirements, vehicle and truck fleet management issues, maintenance contracts, IT systems integration, and numerous other complex issues requiring detailed plans.

“We estimate that well over $500,000 was spent by Waverley Council in direct costs to consultants, while hundreds and hundreds of hours of senior council staff time was occupied in meetings, preparing reports, workshopping the incredible complexity of merging three large organisations together whilst attempting to maintain work levels and resident expectations of service delivery.

“Simultaneously and additional to this, Waverley Council under Mayor Betts also hired consultants and allocated a significant amount of staff time on a proposal to re-develop Council’s Library and adjacent buildings. This has been marketed as the ‘Civic Heart’ precinct. It was actually a feasibility study to house a merged council’s town hall.

“Mayor Betts was preparing to spend a significant amount of ratepayers money to house a now abandoned merged Eastern Suburbs Council,” he said.

This Civic Heart project has an allocation of $80 million in Waverley Council’s forward budget but would have in reality cost in the order of $120 million. Combined with Mayor Betts’ grand project for the Bondi Pavilion with a budget of $40 million, this would have exhausted Waverley’s $130 million capital works reserve totally.

“We will now be seeking re-imbursement from the State Government of all expenditure related to the merger proposal.

“If our motion is successful, a more precise figure will be calculated by Council’s General Manager, but we estimate the total cost to ratepayers of over $2 million wasted in the last two years.”
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council-elections