Image for Open letter, $4m lost, an illegal jetty . . .

Huon Valley Guessing Games

Cr Mike Wilson is trying to undermine the standing of Cr Peter Coad, who has been mayor at Huon Valley Council since November. In an ‘Open letter to residents of the Huon Valley’ (in an advertisement published on June 24 in the Huon Valley News), Wilson, leader of council’s Heart of the Huon team, accuses Coad of failing to “accurately report the policies and decisions of the council”.

Wilson’s advertisement above renders it unnecessary to quote further from it, apart from pointing out (i) what I see as questionable (and imprecise) assertions on Wilson’s part; and (ii) what this writer believes are reasonable assertions on Coad’s part.

1. The “totally” in the red sub-heading ‘All of the above statements are totally misleading’ is inaccurate. I do recall the mayor saying council was “not financial and going broke”, but only in the context that he felt council was in danger of going broke if it did not act to fend for itself financially in the face of changed federal and state funding in the years ahead. (If that’s the way Coad still feels, he would not be alone in thinking council is in danger of not maintaining its viability if it continues on its present course.)

2. Evidence abounds that “Federal Grant Funding”, if not drying up, is much more likely to be distributed with a regional rather than a council-by-council focus.

3. Coad to my knowledge has never asserted that council’s “annual income” is only about $9 million. He has simply said that council’s rate income (not its total revenue), at present in the $9-10 million region, just about matches its wages bill.

4. Wilson should be a bit more precise about how many medical centres and child-care facilities council has. His statement that “We run three Medical Centres and Child Care facilities throughout the valley” is ambiguous. And would he care to provide fine detail of the state of their finances?

5. Wilson might care to comment on the finances and maintenance condition of the Port Huon Sports Centre?

6. Wilson might care to explain how much council’s “balanced” budget relies on handouts from sources outside of the valley?

7. Why cannot elected representatives of the people have a personal opinion yet still respect their council’s decisions? I have not yet seen anything from Coad that suggests “to date he is still failing his duty” to “accurately report the policies and decisions of the Council”. As I see it, Coad’s words from the mayor’s chair always seem to be thoughtfully and carefully chosen, and clear evidence of his impartiality.

8. If valley residents want to see the detail of council’s income and expenditure, it is available in council documents (online, if you have the patience to search for it).

ANYWAY, enough of all this silly Heart of the Huon team leader’s pious politicking. But while Wilson is in a questioning frame of mind he might be prepared to answer a few questions himself on two other issues …

1. The loss of $4 million of taxpayers’ money back around the time of the GFC, which first manifested itself in 2008. Wilson, HVC’s second-longest serving councillor, and three other still-sitting councillors — Bruce Heron, Ian Paul and Liz Smith — were at the council table in those days. (Other councillors in 2008 were then-mayor Robert Armstrong, then-deputy mayor Laurie Dillon, Gary Doyle, Tony Duggan and Tony Richardson.)

In the years since, no substantial explanation of the circumstances surrounding the investment losses has come from council — not from Armstrong, not from then-general manager Geoff Cockerill, not from then-manager corporate services Mike Norman . . . Nor have I heard or read a single word of regret or apology from anyone to acknowledge that HVC was so incompetent as to lose a third of its cash reserves as a result of gambling on non-secure investments.

My questions to Cr Mike Wilson are:

Can you offer a rationale as to why council’s then senior management and its councillor executive did not resign en masse as soon as the “investment” losses became apparent?

Have you ever pondered why Huon Valley Council has never issued a formal apology to the people of the municipality for failing to adequately protect such a huge lump of the people’s money?

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2. The unapproved, illegal ‘Petty Sessions Jetty’ at Franklin (above). This is an issue that has me baffled. Sometime early last year, without a permit, this jetty was suddenly constructed. It was built, it seems, mainly to facilitate the operation of the Franklin Eco Cruises vessel, in which Wilson once told me he had an interest (whether he still has I am not aware).

On April 10 this year, I posed several written questions to council management. Here they are, and the replies I received on April 21 from council’s “executive manager regulatory & development services” Matthew Grimsey:

Q. Is the existing ‘Petty Sessions Jetty’ at Franklin still unapproved?

A. Yes. A development application [DA] has been lodged seeking approval for the structure, however, council is awaiting further information to have it as a complete application.

Q. Is the jetty illegal?

A. As the jetty is unapproved it is illegal.

Q. Who, to council’s knowledge, owns the jetty?

A. The jetty is constructed on Crown land. The development application is made by Ireneinc Planning on behalf of Franklin Developments Pty Ltd.

Q. Are there legal/insurance implications for boat-owners and business operators using the jetty; and for customers of services provided on the jetty?

A. Insurance arrangements and implications are matters between insurance companies, owner operators and users of the jetty and is not a matter for Council consideration or comment.

Q. If the jetty is unapproved and/or illegal, is it the council’s responsibility to close it until the situation has been resolved?

A. Whether or not the jetty is closed would have been subject, to date, to orders made by the Resource Management Planning Appeals Tribunal should council have commenced civil enforcement action under Section 64 of the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993.

That’s an intriguing set of answers.

On April 22, I emailed Grimsey:

“I fully appreciate there are ‘enforcement processes’ to be complied with. My concern is that this is an issue that has been hanging over the council far too long — more than a year.

“I still don’t understand why council did not intervene when it was first noticed that a substantial, unapproved jetty was being constructed at Franklin and claimed as the property of Petty Sessions.

“Please don’t get the idea that I disapprove of the jetty. It is a perfectly presentable structure and, seemingly, doing a useful job. It’s just that its appearance has been the reason for a lot of speculative concern in the community.

“If you’d like to call me . . . I’d be very interested to hear your explanation of council’s enforcement processes.”



Grimsey replied on April 30:

“I had been hoping to get in contact with you but workload this week has not allowed me and I am now on leave until June once I clear outstanding workload tonight.

“I will contact you following my return.

“Apologies for the delay in this.”

As of Sunday, June 28, I had not heard from any council officer on this matter.

Last year, I wrote two articles on TT about the mysterious appearance of Franklin’s illegal jetty — http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/franklin-a-right-pickle-on-the-petty-sessions-foreshore/ and http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/franklins-unapproved-jetty-questions-questions/.

What still escapes me is this. Considering that council spent much of last year carrying out major construction and foreshore beautification activities in the area between Petty Sessions Restaurant and the river’s edge (not all in conformance with the community-agreed Franklin Foreshore Plan), why did not senior council staff observe what was taking place?

And why did council not take action to stop the work of whoever it was who was constructing — on unleased Crown land and over a registered mooring, and without a permit — the jetty (now acknowledged as “unapproved” and “illegal”) that stands there today?

And, on what date did council receive the (apparently still incomplete) DA for a jetty that had already been built without a permit? Even now, the DA — more than a year after the jetty’s construction — still has not come before council for consideration.

There are more questions. Do those that use this unapproved/illegal jetty have council permits to do so? If so, do the permits have a requirement to pay for use of nearby council parking?

Mike Wilson — who was deputy mayor from 2012 (appointed by a ballot of councillors following the death of then deputy mayor Gary Doyle), acting mayor on occasions in the weeks before last October’s council election, defeated mayoral candidate at that election, and a councillor who has declared his interest in jetty matters along the Huon foreshore near the Petty Sessions restaurant — appears ideally placed to enlighten curious observers about the circumstances under which this jetty came into being and has since been used. 

Perhaps he can offer information that might help answer these questions:

Who owns the mooring lease on which the illegal jetty is built?

Who built, without official authorisation, the structure now labelled as the private ‘Petty Sessions Jetty’?

Who supplied the materials for its construction?

Does anyone hold a permit to operate a business from the jetty, and, if so, does that permit have a requirement to pay for use of the nearby council parking area?

If a permit was created, and considering there was no DA for the jetty’s construction, how was it created?

Have members of the public using the jetty as customers for commercial activities always enjoyed adequate insurance?

So many questions. So few answers. Perhaps Wilson has information that would help clear up the mystery of how the ‘Petty Sessions Jetty’ came to be. And I’m not talking about the much larger pontoon jetty (not yet built) that Franklin Developments Pty Ltd was last year granted a DA to build adjacent to the illegal structure. — Bob Hawkins

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