Mr Chris Holstein, long-term Gosford Councillor, six-term Gosford City Mayor, and former Liberal Member for the State Electorate of Gosford, has returned to civic duties as a newly-elected, independent Councillor for the Gosford West Ward.
When he spoke with Coast Community News on Wednesday, September 20, Mr Holstein made it clear that he was contemplating returning to the Mayoral chair.
He was not the only one of the 15 newly-elected Councillors considering the top job.
Labor’s, Mr Jeff Sundstrom, from Gosford East and, Ms Lisa Matthews, from The Entrance Ward, were considered the front runners for their party, which has six out of the 15 Councillors, making it the biggest stand-alone voting block by one vote.
Liberal’s, Ms Jilly Pilon, had earlier expressed interest in being Mayor and so too had her fellow Liberal Councillor-elect from Wyong Ward, former Gosford Councillor, Mr Chris Burke.
However, with only four Councillors elected, the first Mayor of the Central Coast Council is not likely to be a Liberal.
At least two other independents, Ms Louise Greenaway from Wyong Ward, and Ms Jane Smith from Gosford East, have also been named as possible Mayoral candidates.
“I have taken the time to sit down and start gathering my thoughts about things that need to be done as a Councillor and there are a litany of those things,” said Mr Holstein.
“If, by chance, I was to get the Mayor’s role, I have thought about what would need to be done there as well,” he said.
“The Liberals have got to be totally and utterly devastated at their result in this election, and Labor has to be disappointed, because they were a sure bet to rule the world and ended up with six, and the independents ended up with five, so both major parties didn’t achieve what they set out to.
“I have been through several mayoral elections and nothing is ever sure until the night,” he said.
According to Mr Holstein, many conversations were taking place between Councillors-elect about issues, common ground and about who would be best to serve as Mayor.
“I have 20 odd years in local government, six terms as mayor, and if I think rightly, that might be substantial in the overall scheme of things,” Mr Holstein said.
“An important factor of what I could bring to the mayoralty would be the ability and experience that will allow us to take full advantage of this opportunity.
“This is going to be a large Council and will require a Mayor with knowledge and the ability to conduct and control meetings.
“I think there are a few attributes you need to have as mayor including experience and time.
“A mayor is going to have to put in eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
“They need procedural knowledge, family support and family preparedness, because I have learned over the years that this role has an impact on your family and your business.
“I currently work for three not for profits, all of whom are prepared to let me move out of those roles,” he said.
Mr Holstein was Gosford’s Mayor during the years that the Mangrove Mountain landfill grew from being a golf course redesign project to that of a regional waste facility – way beyond its Council development consent and, allegedly, outside the parameters of its EPA licence.
Mr Holstein said he was “very cross” about the inaccurate or incomplete information he had received about the landfill from Council staff between 2002 and 2008.
“We relied on the Council staff to make reports and, at all times, as a mayor, councillor and state member, the advice from Council officers and the EPA was that everything was in check, in control and right.
“When you get information as an elected official, and you get formal advice, you expect it to be reliable and correct.
“The information that was forthcoming was not correct and I have had lengthy conversations with, Mr John Asquith, from the Community Environment Network, and with, Mr Gary Chestnut, former Gosford Council employee and unsuccessful
independent candidate,” Mr Holstein said in relation to the ongoing issues with the landfill at Mangrove Mountain.
“As Councillors, every time we got complaints or concerns, every time, you go back to the officers, you say I have got this complaint, I have got this information, here is the information, and they tell you it is alright.
“It is only in the past couple of years that further information has been sought and we have got that detail.
“I was the Mayor when they first set up the proposal to remodel the golf course and not one Councillor complained that this initiative was a problem.
“I have no difficulty with any investigation and there are several into it already.
“I welcome all of those.
“I want to know as much as anybody else what went wrong there.
“I thought I was in receipt of correct information that I believed was from professional people, so I want to know all the facts so I can say this cannot happen again.”
Mr Holstein was also in office when the Global Financial Crisis hit and Gosford Council was stuck holding Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs), highly speculative investments that were permitted by the NSW Government as suitable for local governments to hold in their portfolios.
Mr Holstein did not, in his interview with Coast Community News, confirm that the now publicised $24 million opportunity cost of the failed CDO investments was accurate.
“They were still theer when I left council assessing the aspects of that.
“You know the Councillors are not given a cheque book.
“They were approved investments and the officers who had that responsibility, when the GFC took place, they immediately took steps to get out of them.
“I am not going to spend the next three years defending past decisions, but one of the first things I have on my list of priorities is the financial position of the Council,” he said.
During the election campaign, Mr Gary Chestnut, who stood as an independent candidate in Gosford West, made a deal to flow preferences to Mr Holstein in exchange for the promise that, if elected, Mr Holstein would arrange for Mr Chestnut to have a confidential meeting with the Councillors so he could reveal information relating to the Mangrove Mountain landfill that is not in the public domain.
Mr Chestnut has not been able to make that information public as he is subject to a confidentiality agreement with the former Gosford Council as part of a constructive dismissal settlement.
In relation to that promise, Mr Holstein said: “I am not the Mayor but Gary is someone who has information that will be beneficial to the Councillors.
“If the Councillors as a group say no they don’t want to listen to him, that is their decision.
“I made a private commitment I would honour if I had the ability.
“I told Gary that if I win a position on council, I am more than happy to organise a meeting, and let me tell you that wasn’t brokerage.
“Have a look at the number of preferences I got from Mr Chestnut, it wasn’t very many.
“I said, Gary you’ve got something to offer, whether the other councillors feel that is appropriate we will meet, I don’t care if the staff feels that is appropriate, so long as the Councillors do,” he said.
Mr Holstein said he was not a fan of Wards or of precinct committees.
“The election has proven one thing, there needs to be greater contact back to the community so I will look at all options that come before us.
“The only thing I fear in how this Council will move over the next three years is that it would become disjointed, distracted and not focused on the one thing it has to do and that is delivering for the community.”
In terms of whether Mr Holstein’s return to Council is an indicator of a rekindled ambition to serve at State Government level again, he said: “I can categorically say I have no ambition to go back to State Parliament.”
Interview, Sep 20
Chris Holstein, Independent Councillor-elect, Gosford West
Jackie Pearson, journalist