Violated, abused and somewhat vindicated are my feelings towards Central Coast Council after many years of trying to support the Coast on environmental, disability and social issues.
Violated by hearing that the Coast’s potential debt is an estimated $565M due to poor governance and management within such a short period of time since the amalgamation.
The community was abused by Council for having the audacity to want to build the Lakes Beach access boardwalk, which was approved by the then Minister for Planning, Brad Hazzard, and consequently having two former councillors verbally assault the project and one of our disabled volunteers after being invited by the councillor to address the chamber on the project’s success.
My many hours of writing submissions over the past decade trying to help with issues that impact on our lifestyle, disability access audits, environmental reports, submissions on planning proposals that went without comment or without a simple thank you for your contribution, which may have made a difference.
Now that this suspended Council has put us in this position of embarrassment, with the potential of looking at a 10 percent rate increase, significant asset sales and having a debt which will take years to recover from, who exactly is responsible?
In my opinion it starts at the top, councillors that were more inclined to try and gain a political foothold, forming their little political alliances and ignoring the concerns of their constituents.
They, each and every one of them, should have been requesting monthly financial updates instead of constantly bickering or playing party political games during Council meetings.
Even though many of the councillors were inexperienced and new to the game, several were not, with many years in the chamber continually grandstanding on their expertise, yet that experience unfortunately has now come home to roost.
It is unfortunate that some of our councillors were there for the right reasons and yet most probably they will not want to come back for many reasons.
The CEO who was obviously out of his depth, yet appointed by those councillors, is now getting away with a lump sum payout which may have been contractual, yet is beyond any reasonable person’s comprehension of the pub test.
Then there’s the many department directors and their senior staff who hand out the coffers for all projects that have been budgeted for, which are then placed on waiting lists.
Each project should have been accurately budgeted for without continually blowing out on nearly every occasion; issues like the water fund exceeding its budget by $12M, the sewer fund by $2.6M and drainage by $1.2M.
Obviously, there was no responsibility, as it wasn’t their coffers, it is our community’s.
There’s the general staff who most would have seen the anomalies yet were too scared to raise any issue for the threat of demotion or dismissal, even though Council has its own internal Ombudsman.
Having total staff costs increasing after the amalgamation by 43 percent, due to an increase of 242 new employees, the CEO and the CFO must have known that the wages were exceeding income amounts yet did nothing about it.
The community would be well within their rights to call for nothing short of an ICAC inquiry.
Now it is left to the ratepayers of the Central Coast to pay for the incompetence of many we had placed in a position of power and to make decisions for the betterment of the Coast.
We must learn to select wisely from those who put their hand up for selection to represent us in the future.
Ask the hard questions, scrutinise their credentials and affiliations to any political party and make sure you have done your homework before ticking off your name at the next local elections.
It would be totally impossible to eliminate party political influences, yet the Coast has seen it time after time, Member after Member, Councillor after Councillor, being disgraced and moving on for a plethora of issues.
We’re supposed to be one Council yet dissecting it into Wards is a receipt for disaster, when all of the councillors represent constituents, in some case 90kms apart and had very little understanding or wanted any understanding of what was happening in other wards.
I feel vindicated for the fact that I have persistently been raising the hard questions that made many of them squeamish with very few answers or action unless Council could take the credit.
I feel vindicated that six years down the track, the Lakes Beach access ramp, which was damned by so many council officers and councillors, is now enjoyed by the wider community and visitors.
It has also reached Council’s website, as the third on the list of accessible destinations that need to be checked out.
This unique boardwalk was constructed for a total cost of $38,000 and built by 70 local tradespeople, the Sisters of Mercy and a handful of dedicated retired old blokes and one amazing woman, who spent 66 consecutive days building this unique asset, supported by the Halekulani Bowling Club, other local businesses and in some manner the Council itself.
I feel vindicated that, personally, I have a clear conscience with my many actions and submissions over several years; actions or submissions that came from the heart, totally for the betterment of our community which deserves better after their years of abuse and neglect.
I believe that what has occurred warrants criminal investigation, as Council is nothing more than managers of our assets and accounts, and when a violation of this extremity has occurred, I can only hope that the Administrator goes for the jugular.
Email, Dec 7
Gary Blaschke OAM, Lake Munmorah