Minister expects administrator to restore proper and effective functioning

Central Coast councillors didn’t have to wait long to learn their fate, with Local Government Minister, Shelley Hancock, announcing on Friday, October 30, that they are suspended, just two days after they lodged a submission defending their position.

The announcement comes just 24 days after Council first signposted major financial difficulties, revealing that it was facing a cash crisis and a deficit of $89M on October 6.

Despite launching a Finance Committee to investigate the cash crisis and developing a 100-Day Plan for Recovery, Council found itself unable to meet staff wages, forcing the State Government to provide $6.2M to meet payroll and settle immediate debts.

Also, on October 30, the announcement that they had been dreading came, that councillors were suspended and the Minister had appointed an interim administrator.

Minister Hancock said the administrator will restore the proper and effective functioning of the Council.

“There is a clear need for greater oversight and control over the Council’s budget and expenditure to restore its financial sustainability, and importantly, re-instil the community’s trust in the effective functioning of their council,” Hancock said.

Dick Persson AM has been appointed as interim administrator for three months.

He is a highly experienced local government administrator with a proven track record of fixing council dysfunction, the Minister said.

He was appointed administrator following the dismissal of Warringah Council in 2003 and Port Macquarie-Hastings Council in 2008, as well as Northern Beaches Council when it was created in 2016.

He has also held senior roles in the NSW, Queensland and Federal governments.

The Minister said Persson would bring with him highly experienced former local government general manager, Rik Hart, to oversee the council’s operational recovery.

Hart has nearly two decades of experience as a local government general manager at councils, including the City of Parramatta, Inner West Council and Warringah Council.

“Dick Persson and Rik Hart bring with them the knowledge, skills and experience needed to restore the financial sustainability of Council,” Hancock said.

“I am pleased that two such highly experienced and qualified local government professionals are taking up these positions.”

Hancock said she made the decision to suspend the Council after carefully considering its submission in response to a notice of intention issued on October 21.

Suspension applies to the mayor and councillors, but does not affect council staff and daily operations.

The administrator will perform the functions of the mayor and councillors.

The move has been welcomed by Parliamentary Secretary for Central Coast, Adam Crouch, who said the community was “breathing a sigh of relief”.

“I welcome the Minister’s appointment of Administrator, Dick Persson AM, to Central Coast Council,” Crouch said.

“I am also pleased that Persson will bring with him Rik Hart, a highly experienced former local government general manager to oversee the council’s operational recovery.

“Both have a strong history of rebuilding dysfunctional councils.

“The NSW Government is still unaware of Central Coast Council’s true financial position.

“This will be the first order of business for Mr Persson and Mr Hart.

“Given the magnitude of the current financial situation, the path to recovery will be long and difficult, and I thank the Minister for putting our community’s best interests first by intervening”, Crouch said.

Terry Collins