Councillors and community groups object to high handed actions taken

Councillors and community groups have opposed the first actions taken by a project control group (PCG) put in place to start work on the potential amalgamation of Wyong and Gosford Councils.

The PCG consists of the mayors and deputy mayors of both Wyong (WSC) and Gosford Council (GCC) and the CEO from each council. The group has written to the NSW minister for local government, Mr Paul Toole MP, outlining issues it believes need to be addressed to enable the new council to “continue to deliver quality services to the Central Coast community.”

The submission and covering letter made recommendations in relation to: the wording of an amalgamation proclamation; the makeup of an implementation committee; and the repeal of the Central Coast Water Corporation Act 2006 and the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act 1996.

“We recommend the mayors and deputy mayors of GCC and WSC be appointed as members of an implementation committee for the new council during the transitional period,” the submission also said.

Gosford mayor, Cr Lawrie McKinna said the intent of the letter and submission was to get matters before the minister that both councils thought were important. He said the Water Corporation had been replaced by the joint water authority and that the request to repeal the airport act was driven by Wyong Council.

Cr McKinna said councillors, staff and senior executives from both Wyong and Gosford Councils were waiting for Mr Toole to announce whether he would approve the amalgamation. He said a meeting with the minister in November that had been attended by both mayors, deputy mayors and CEOs did discuss the idea of the mayors and deputies being on an implementation panel should an amalgamation occur.

However, the Community Environment Network (CEN) chairman, Mr John Asquith said he was concerned that the letter and submission to Mr Toole had only be signed by the two council chief executives and that only four elected representatives would be on the implementation committee if amalgamation goes ahead.

Mr Asquith said that would mean the community’s other 14 elected representatives would have no say in the formation of a new council for the Central Coast. “The letter was not a result of a Council resolution nor of a public or open meeting,” he said. “CEN believes it is beyond the powers of the mayors and deputy mayors acting alone.”

The letter to Mr Toole, signed by Mr Paul Anderson, CEO for Gosford Council and Mr Rob Noble, acting CEO for Wyong Council, said that the submission regarding an amalgamation proclamation had been “informed by input from the councillors of both councils”.

However, Wyong councillor Bob Graham said the letter and submission had been circulated to councillors on the evening of Thursday, December 3 with the deadline for comments being the following day at 12:00pm. Cr Graham said he believed the letter and submission were not legal documents because they had not been resolutions of either Council.

“There has been no public consultation, nor was there a properly constituted Council meeting to discuss these interim arrangements,” CEN’s Mr Asquith said. “It results in most of the community being disenfranchised in both Gosford and Wyong. “It is an undemocratic proposal which bypasses the community and most elected councillors.”

Council elections are not expected until at least September 2016 but, according to Gosford’s Cr McKinna, Mr Toole has said they could be deferred until May 2017. CEN has written to Mr Toole requesting that the proposal from the PCG be rejected outright and that a process be put in place which allows the public and other councillors to participate.

“The process should include: open Council meetings, including all current Wyong and Gosford councillors; no sidelining of duly elected councillors; no change to decision making until a council election; and community participation in accordance with Council’s Code of Meeting Practice,” Mr Asquith said.

“If the NSW Government wants council amalgamations, it is their responsibility to ensure the representation and democratic interests of ratepayers are safeguarded. “There is no urgency and therefore no impediment to a proper process being followed“.

According to the letter to Mr Toole from the two CEOs, the PCG was established shortly after each of the Coast’s existing councils resolved to make amalgamation with the other its first choice after being told by the NSW Government that it was unfit to continue as a stand-alone council.

The PCG had met three times by December 4 when the letter and submission were sent to Mr Toole. It had identifi ed that the two councils had “evolved a range of business and administrative processes, some of which are reasonably well aligned and others (more critically) which are not,” the letter said.

The letter said both councils would be happy to assist the minister in wording a proclamation for the amalgamation of the Gosford and Wyong Local Government Areas.

The submission accompanying the letter identifi ed what the PCG called “critical provisions” that sections 214(1) and 218C(2) of the Local Government Act 1993 could be the subject of facilitating provisions in an amalgamation proclamation.

It covers the delegation of functions and powers and asks the minister to make those that existed prior to amalgamation carry over into the new council. The submission also suggested that the proclamation should be worded to allow for the continuation of financial reporting and delivery plan implementation of both existing councils until June 30, 2017.

It also called for the Gosford and Wyong rating structures to remain unaltered until such a time as the new council can adopt a rate equalization model.

Media release, Dec 8, 2015
John Asquith, Community
Environment Network
Letter and Submission, Dec
4, 2015
Paul Anderson, Gosford
Rob Noble, Wyong Council
Interview, Dec 8, 2015
Lawrie McKinna, Gosford
Interview, Dec 8, 2015
Bob Graham, Wyong
Jackie Pearson, journalist