Report on council finances to be handed down in 30 days

Pictured: Rik Hart (left) and Dick Persson

Newly appointed Administrator of Central Coast Council, Dick Persson, has committed to finding just what actions led to the Council’s financial crisis within 30 days.

Persson, who was appointed Administrator on October 30 by Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock as sitting councillors were dismissed, started on the job on November 2, accompanied by Rik Hart, who will serve as Acting CEO during the three-month administration period.

Persson said CEO Gary Murphy, who had been absent for some weeks on stress leave, would now take annual leave as the two men delve into a cash flow crisis which sees the council looking at a deficit of at least $89M.

Persson, who was enticed out of retirement and has a long history of serving as Administrator at various Sydney councils, said he would lodge a report within 30 days outlining the root cause of the blow-out and would then consider courses of action.

“It is important to move quickly on this; there are some very big figures being thrown about,” he said.

“It is not appropriate for Mr Murphy to continue to act as CEO for the period of administration, but that is in no way a judgement.

“We have some ideas about what has occurred and now we need to confirm what we’re thinking.

“We are very confident we will be able to work out what’s happened.

“There is no evidence before me of corruption but there may have been negligence.

“One of the major problems appears to be the accessing of restricted funds.”

Persson said he would take the place of the mayor and all councillors, with meetings held as per the usual schedule and public forum still available prior to each meeting,.

Persson said he had worked with councils in similar circumstances, but this was the biggest loss he had encountered.

“I have never before heard of a council not able to pay its staff wages,” he said.

Persson said that while some projects which were “in the pipeline” would probably be stopped, projects already underway in the region would continue.

He said he would meet with all councillors and local MPs and then work through the issues with council staff.

Advisory committees will continue under staff management, he said.

Persson stressed that he would not reconsider matters which had already been decided by Council.

“Local government finances are complex and have some fundamental challenges, he said.

“We will be conducting business as normal as much as we can.”

Persson said his appointment was for three months, with any action after that time to be decided by the Minister.

He said he and Hart would work chiefly out of the Wyong chambers, which housed Council’s administrative base.

He will be paid proportionately on an annual salary of $320,00, with a Council spokesperson pointing out that the combined wages of the mayor and all councillors was $580,000 per annum.

Terry Collins