Administrator lets fly

Central Coast Council Administrator, Dick Persson

State Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch, has come under fire from Central Coast Administrator, Dick Persson, during a speech that also targeted former Mayor Jane Smith and sacked CEO Gary Murphy.

Persson took aim during the March 9 Council meeting calling comments from all three “hypocrisy”.

It started after Persson listened to criticism of a tabled financial audit from resident Kevin Brookes, who spoke at the Council meeting’s public forum.

Brookes had questioned the depth of the forensic audit and concluded that the review underlined the need for an independent judicial inquiry into Council’s financial issues.

“What sort of a ‘forensic audit’ identifies mismanagement without holding anybody accountable for it?” he asked during his three-minute speech.

Persson was having none of it.

“Your suggestion that the consultants to the Council should hold the Council accountable – that’s just fanciful,” Persson said.

“It’s up to you to hold them accountable; that’s how this works – they are an elected body.

“So, if you don’t think they’ve done the right job, hold them accountable.”

Persson went on to let off steam about the proposed 42 per cent rate rise.

This is made up of a harmonisation of rates that amounts to about 27 per cent, plus a 13 per cent rate variation above the regular two per cent rate peg (yet to be approved by IPART).

“I am responsible for the 13 per cent (amount) of the rate increase,” Persson said.

“There was always going to be the two per cent (increase) and had none of this happened there was going to be a 27 per cent rate increase in Gosford.

“I have nothing to do with the 42 per cent, I just happen to be in the chair at the time of the harmonisation.

“Wyong rates are going to go down considerably because of that.”

Persson said to imply he was trying to mislead was offensive.

“There were a number of other things that I am finding offensive,” he said, and moved on to criticise Crouch.

“The Member for Terrigal, a member of the Government responsible for the mergers, on his Facebook page last week said the Minister for Local Government and he did not agree with the rate rises.

“Well, I have met with the Minister and that has not been conveyed to me.”

Persson then read out another statement from Crouch’s Facebook page which said: “‘As a ratepayer myself, I am furious that our community might have to pay for the failures of a group of councillors and a group of senior staff”.

Persson then commented : “Well, he’s entitled to that view but had nothing been done here by former Mayor Smith and former councillors at the table, Crouch’s government was going to deliver a 27 per cent rate increase to the residents of Gosford.

“And I resent the fact that he’s hiding behind the 13 per cent rate increase that’s now being proposed as a special rate increase to imply ‘nothing here, don’t look at me, I’m against all this’.

“I wonder what he would say to defend the 27 per cent rate increase, which by the way is directly as a result of the merger as is the decrease in Wyong that will occur.

“As (Acting CEO Rik) Hart pointed out, there will be no more money coming to Council (from the harmonisation).”

Persson went on to criticise the councillors for not being able to save money on the merger.

He said the government did make some serious mistakes in the merger in his view and one of them was the 15-councillor model.

“I think it’s a disaster and some people have had a go at me, saying I’m a stooge of the Government which some of us find quite amusing,” he said.

“I am happy to be on record: it was a really bad decision made for political reasons and public servants such as myself have got used to politicians making decisions for political reasons and you can’t do much about that – that is the system but I am happy to call that out.”

Persson said the Government had turned the councils into parliaments.

“So, they have created a model which is fundamentally flawed,” he said.

He said that was why he was pressing on with his referendum (to be held at the September local government elections to ask residents to consider reducing the number of councillors) and he was hoping the community would go for a nine-councillor model.

“Unfortunately, it won’t take effect until the following election and I’m sad about that but that is all I can do,” he said.

He then went on to talk about a recent article in Coast Community News quoting CEO Gary Murphy.

“Mr Murphy had said he had blown the whistle as soon as he knew (of restricted funds being used) and that was just not true and I am going to release today a series of emails and personal notes he filed into the system which confirm the extent of the knowledge of the trouble they were into a long time before the whistle was blown,” Persson said.

“They show he not only had an awareness but also it indicates that the cash reserves were running down, and that the financial train wreck was full steam ahead.

“His continual denial prompts me to release the documents and so I am going to do that in the interests of transparency.”

Persson did not say Murphy had asked for copies of these documents and had eventually resorted to a freedom of information request to get them (see page 12).

He then turned his criticisms to former Mayor Jane Smith’s video interview with Coast Community News.

He said he almost fell off his chair when Smith said one of the problems of the merger was that they could not reduce staff, implying they couldn’t capture savings,

He agreed it was not a good decision – a political decision – but he said Smith was there when the Council put on 250 staff.

Persson concluded by saying he was happy to call out the hypocrisy of the three people and he would continue to do so.

However, Crouch published a follow up letter on Facebook saying Persson had his facts wrong.

He said IPART decided rate rises, not the State Government; the Minister for Local Government had said on January 28 she was against the rate rise; and that the State Government was introducing new laws that would allow rate harmonisation to occur over four years.

Merilyn Vale