Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Bob Hawkins

Huon Valley Guessing Games: Huon waits on the real umpire’s call

Photo: In the spot reserved for Mayor Peter Coad in Huon Valley Council’s car park, Huonville

On at least two occasions, someone has leaked confidential information relating to the State Government’s board of inquiry into the affairs of the “dysfunctional” Huon Valley Council (HVC).

According to 7HOFM radio shock jock Mick Newell, a copy of HVC management’s initial response — commissioned from a Hobart law firm — was dropped in his letterbox in early April. And, last Saturday (May 21), the Mercury confidently stated that the final inquiry report had recommended putting HVC into administration for a year.

The leaks give pause for thought about which side of the council’s divide believes it would benefit from leaks of selected documents. On the side of resistance to State Government intervention in council’s affairs are the general manager and her dominant six-strong Heart of the Huon support team; on the other side are Mayor Peter Coad and Crs Ian Mackintosh and Liz Smith. Of course, there may also have been leaking from State Government sources.

If The Mercury’s state political editor Matt Smith’s report is correct that a central recommendation in the board’s final report is for an administrator to run the council for a year, it seems Cr Mike Wilson, leader of the Heart of the Huon assault on the mayor, could end up getting more than he asked for.

I recall, around the time Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein ordered the inquiry last September, Wilson sounded as if he wanted to claim credit that the inquiry had been established. I’m sure Mayor Coad was no less instrumental in persuading Gutwein that HVC was dysfunctional. Wilson, at the time, seemed to be counting on something like a three-month state intervention, to be quickly followed by new councillor elections — which may possibly explain why he has been in election campaign mode for many months, possibly as far back as the election of October 2014, when he lost his bid to become mayor.

That Coad beat him to the mayor’s job still seems to niggle Wilson: he rarely misses an opportunity to attack Coad for something or other that he may have said; he has consistently accused Coad (I believe incorrectly) of having said that the council was going broke; he has expressed anger towards the mayor in the council chamber, at one meeting suggesting he was a dictator (some chance, with only two votes of nine that Coad could reasonably rely on); he has frequently run advertisements reflecting poorly on Coad; he has been running a series of small ads, titled “economy drivers in our valley”, that are often followed by Wilson’s-a-good-bloke type of newspaper letters from people linked to some of the businesses he has nominated as economic drivers; he has threatened to take legal action against the way the board of inquiry has been conducted; and, according The Mercury’s Jessica Howard on May 20, he said he would “lead the people of the Huon Valley down the main streets of Hobart” to stop HVC being amalgamated with another.

Considering the solid resistance the Heart councillors have put up to keep hidden council’s credit-card details over a period preceding Coad’s arrival on council, and tight council secrecy on other issues that attract the public’s curiosity, some valley residents are wondering if there really are skeletons in HVC’s closet.

Raising questions

Now there appears to be moves afoot to establish a case against the fairness of the board’s process. Wilson is reported to have threatened legal action to get the board’s report thrown out; and Cr Ken Studley at this week’s council meeting (Wednesday) will ask a question about the “procedural fairness” of the Gutwein inquiry.

The agenda for the HVC meeting has two “questions on notice” from Studley. The first, a classic Dorothy Dixer, is clearly designed to produce a document that would make council look good. In it, Studley is asking the general manager to “provide council with a full list of all decisions made by council from the date of the Minister announcing a Board of Inquiry through to the April 2016 ordinary meeting of Council”.

He also wants, “on the public record”, a “spread sheet summarising all decisions of council . . . and beside those summaries, a simple X amount of councillors for, and x [sic] amount of councillors against, and either carried or lost, and at the end a total number of decisions and how many were unanimous”.

Studley, who numbers among councillors who said it was a waste of public money digging out the credit-card details Mackintosh has been seeking, now appears ready to pour costly hours of staff into presenting council with a document that would smack of pure PR spin.

His second question, more directly political, looks like a fishing exercise to find a flaw in the Gutwein inquiry process. He prefaces his question with: “This question deals with Procedural Fairness in relation to the Board of Inquiry.” Studley’s question, as it appears in council’s agenda:

“My question does not seek to enquire about the particulars of any complaint or response a councillor or the Mayor or Staff may have been involved in, it is to simply ask the Mayor and Councillors and the GM — have you been provided with a copy of every complaint (submissions to the BoI [board of inquiry]) and accompanying information in line with the procedures outlined on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s website? or were you just given a summarised 1 or 2 line statement to respond to?”

Cr Liz Smith also has a question on notice:

“What have been the total costs for legal advice and reports commissioned by the General Manager from outside legal firms over the period 1 August 2015 to 30 April 2016, and which firms and/or individuals have provided these services?”

(Apart from questioning recent council spending on legal advice re Gutwein’s board of inquiry, valley ratepayers have been asking how much public money has been spent on other drawn-out council irritants in recent years, such as the issue of the long-term illegal/unapproved ‘Petty Sessions Jetty’ at Franklin; and the failed endeavours of council to establish its authority to rule on an application for a barge-loading facility at Waterloo Bay.)

The HVC agenda then moves on to an enigmatic “motion on notice” from Cr Pav Ruzicka (13.008/16). It reads thus in the agenda:

“That: a) Council notes it has received the report on the review of boundary adjustments [which boundaries?] and their economic implications from Bruce Felmingham Consulting. b) Council immediately writes to State Government and Kingborough Council to begin discussions around the M1 option as highlighted in the report. c) Council immediately begins work on public consultation d) Public consultation begins as of 1 July 2016 and that during that process option M1 be referred to as the Huon D’Entrecasteaux Option.”

Because HVC’s website doesn’t allow outsiders to see minutes of council meetings of more than a year ago, research can be frustrating. I believe Ruzicka’s motion refers to a resolution in April last year (after a lively council debate that would never have been possible under the chairmanship of previous mayor Robert Armstrong, now MLC) involving a series of motions/amendments. The final decision was something about council looking into the implications of “structural reform of local government”, though it asserted that the preferred option remained that there should be no boundary changes for HVC. Felmingham must have got the consultancy. It would help readers of council’s agenda if this backgrounding had been provided with Ruzicka’s motion.

That Ruzicka is moving this motion suggests a Heart team contradiction. Last week, Wilson was trumpeting to the Mercury (May 20) that he would lead a march in the streets of Hobart to resist council amalgamations. Now, one of his group, Ruzicka, seems to be indirectly hinting that it might be an idea for HVC to at least consider seeking administrative control of the Channel (from Margate south and including Bruny Island).

It would be instructive to hear how residents of that region (part of Kingborough Council) feel about the idea of being taken over by a neighbouring council that appears to have been judged, after a State Government inquiry, as not being up to even running its own affairs.

An air of dysfunction and detachment from reality

The questions and notices-of-motion on this week’s HVC agenda suggest there is, indeed, an air of dysfunction and detachment from reality about Huon Valley Council. There might even be a bit of panic setting in among council’s resisters to change that Minister Gutwein will feel the evidence is so strong that he has no option but to implement the board’s recommendation to put in an administrator.

A 4WD emblazoned with ‘MIKE WILSON’ and his photograph, sitting in the space reserved for HVC’s mayor (spotted recently, see above) somehow symbolised the atmosphere of contempt that has infected the affairs of Huon Valley Council this past year-and-a-half.

Hubris, jealousy, vengeance, anger, stupidity — these words cross council observers’ minds when they reflect on events since council’s old guard launched its campaign to discredit the man who comfortably out-polled Wilson in the contest for the mayor’s job.

Wilson has never hidden his antipathy towards Mayor Coad, and has worked relentlessly to belittle him in the eyes of the Huon Valley community. Even before the October 2014 municipal elections, Wilson and others were sniping away at the man who campaigned on a platform of honesty, transparency, openness, local government reform, infrastructure development and, in general, a revival of the Huon Valley’s struggling economic fortunes; and the man who only asked whether the council was going broke but has been pilloried, erroneously, for saying the council was going broke.

It became apparent when Coad presided over his first council meeting that the Heart bloc wanted nothing to do with his ideas or vision for the valley. What they wanted was for their council to continue on the going-nowhere course that it had trudged down the long, secretive, unimaginative, environmentally damaging, debilitating years under the leadership of Robert Armstrong, who now relaxes comfortably in the Legislative Council.

Amid widespread apathy towards local government, there are a residents of the Huon Valley who value this third tier of government, and will have been following events closely since the new council was elected.

In the new mayor, they must have felt, was a man who placed great value on self and mutual respect, as well as on a level of etiquette that, hitherto, had been in short supply in the council chamber.

In the months after Coad took over, he conducted meetings with a firm but fair hand, graciously accepting the passing of Heart resolutions that he had not supported.

Though the Heart, with three new members, was proving not to be a rock-solid replica of its predecessors — who had campaigned under a variety of names, such as Futures Group and Huon Valley Team — it was in no mood to show support for a mayor who was offering a new way forward. It continued its tactic of largely rejecting almost every idea from those not in their team, though sometimes coming up with a slightly revised version of an opposition idea and calling it their own.

What has been going on behind the scenes?

What has been going on behind the scenes in council’s offices since Mayor Coad’s arrival has been largely beyond the ken of the public. Occasional leaks, from staff and former staff, suggest a fear factor keeps employees silent about the state of management/councillor relations. Such is council security, I’m told it is rare for a member of the public to be allowed to penetrate much beyond the front-office counter. (Canberra’s fancy-dress Australian Border Force might learn a thing or two by studying HVC tactics that ensure serious consultation is rare with the community it is supposed to serve.)

From October 2014, body language and remarks around the council table have been enough for the public attending monthly meetings to recognise that serious stresses have been buffeting the council.

Eventually, it became apparent that General Manager Simone Watson and Mayor Coad were not seeing eye to eye. There was a stand-off — and Mayor Coad, without publicly stating it, felt that, despite the rules of the Local Government Act 1993 — or perhaps because of them — he was not getting the support from management he should reasonably expect.

In the meantime, complaints from both sides of council were arriving at the office of Local Government Minister Gutwein, who, on September 8 last year, in a media release, said he had decided there should be a board of inquiry into what he described as a “deeply divided” council.

He said:

“It has become apparent that Huon Valley Council is deeply divided and, if left unattended, may soon become dysfunctional to the detriment of ratepayers and confidence in the municipality. The Government is taking action now to stop that from happening. This course of action has been triggered by a large number of complaints the Government has received relating to the core function and roles of the Council. Complaints have been received from the majority of the elected members including the Mayor as well as from senior staff and ratepayers.”

Gutwein’s decision found favour with Mayor Coad: “I welcome the inquiry, and fully support the Minister’s action.” The development, he said, was “something I have long felt is necessary”.

In a media release, Coad said:

“The inquiry is a very important initiative, and I want to ensure that all the problems that council currently faces are dealt with in an effective and proper manner. We need from this inquiry outcomes that serve the best interests of all residents of the Huon Valley . . . The problems that are holding council back from modernisation and beneficial structural reform have built up over a long period, and cannot be properly resolved without detailed examination of all issues. They must be dealt with through a thorough and legal process . . .”

Such was the response to the invitation for submissions — from the public, councillors and council management — the board sought more time from Gutwein to complete their task.

This writer’s submission to the board of inquiry — covering seven years of council doings, running to 5800 words, and providing links to as many years of ‘Huon Valley Guessing Games’ — excited no response. Maybe it was found useful as backgrounding.

The two board members, bureaucrats Michael Steven and Jill Taylor, have been afforded high marks from everyone I have spoken to in the months since they began their investigations. Their first report arrived on the minister’s desk on February 19.

Gutwein, after digesting it, sent it to HVC for responses from councillors and management. And that’s when — after a lull in exchanges had followed a council gag motion on council comment on the inquiry by Cr Ken Studley — politics swung back into action.

What has gone on in closed council in March, April and so far May, is anyone’s guess, but it’s now obvious that neither the Heart group nor management has been enamoured of either the board’s first or second report in its attempts to get to the core of the problems that plague HVC.

On the other side of the fence, Mayor Coad and Crs Liz Smith and Ian Mackintosh have thrice left special council meetings that had agendas controlled by the Heart team. The best impression I can glean is that all three wanted council to consider the board’s initial report; and, when this was not allowed by the Heart, they acted to protect their integrity as councillors by refusing to partake in procedures they felt were, at best, irregular.

In the public arena, things get very unpleasant

Out in the public arena, things became very unpleasant, with Mayor Coad looking increasingly the victim of a stage-managed conspiracy to discredit his position as the community’s elected leader.

Letters to editors appeared, for and against Mayor Coad. One particularly unpleasant one, in the Huon Valley News (April 13), was from Sue Clark of Huonville — realtor, mother of Cr Studley and a councillor who suddenly resigned from HVC early in the Noughties.

Blaming Coad for bringing “bad publicity” to the valley, she asserted that the way “to solve this problem” was for the “mayor to do the honourable thing and step down”. Considering that, in political terms, the word “honourable” has become such a degraded word, Coad has been well advised not to take Clark’s advice.

She described Coad’s decision to leave three special meetings as “petulant walkouts”. He seemed to prefer to think that, by absenting himself from meetings with agendas that did not allow discussion of the initial board report, he was safeguarding his reputation.

Clark said how “appalled” she was at the way “the mayor spoke over the airwaves when interviewed [April 7] by Mick Newell [7HOFM]”. In that interview, it became apparent that council management, without consulting the mayor, had commissioned a report from prominent Hobart lawyers, the objective being to rebut the board’s findings.

Who leaked that confidential HVC report remains a mystery. But someone wanted it out on show, possibly in the hope that Newell would use it to berate the mayor.

Clark’s impression of Newell’s April 7 7HOFM interviews (with Mike Wilson, Peter Coad and three “people on the street”, who conveniently didn’t approve of Coad as mayor) bore no similarity to mine.

In response to Newell’s “Now Pete, look, what’s happened at the council?”, I heard the mayor — cautious not to give away confidential council information — patiently and objectively try to explain that a process was in train that would eventually end up with a decision on the future of the council from the Minister for Local Government.

Newell, his hostility toward Coad undisguised, began butting in, referring to the confidential lawyers’ document commissioned by HVC management that he had received in his “letterbox”.

Perversely ignoring the truism that lawyers are paid to do their clients’ bidding — in this case, HVC management, presumably under delegated authority (council down the years having irrationally delegated mountains of responsibility to management) — Newell dogmatically asserted that the lawyers’ report was an “independent” judgement. And soon he was berating Coad for not accepting the “umpire’s decision”, a council management-commissioned document that Coad had not been consulted on. Some “umpire’s decision”!

Coad’s consistent response to Newell was that only one report would matter — and that was the final one the board submitted to the minister. It was, he said: “A very, very good report professionally done. The people who carried out that report conducted themselves very professionally.” He told Newell that, until the facts were on the table, the innuendo flying about was “inappropriate and I won’t be engaging in it”.

Newell continued to interrupt Coad, demanding: “Why do you keep leaving the meetings. This is the third one in a row . . .?” Coad’s explanation of conflict-of-interest circumstances didn’t wear with Newell.

But what can be read between the lines is that three special meetings of council were called — March 22 and 30 and April 4 — and that, at all three meetings, Heart members were not willing to consider the report the board of inquiry had submitted to the LG minister; and that they were only interested in the management-commissioned lawyers’ report, which, presumably, was designed to negate the official board report. Newell seemed to think that because council money (which means ratepayers’ and other taxpayers’) had paid for the lawyers’ report, that made everything OK.

“Were you in agreeance (sic) with engaging this Hobart law firm . . . ?” Newell asked. Coad said he hadn’t been told that a law firm had been engaged. (So much for communication from HVC management to the mayor.)

Another Newell dig during his conversation with Coad: “We had no turmoil in the council until you came along.” That doesn’t surprise this writer: until Coad “came along”, no one — despite council’s litany of stuff-ups, including the loss of $4 million unwisely invested in a new, untested financial commodity called CDOs (collateral debt obligations) — had ever been able to seriously challenge the workings of the secret society HVC had been since its inception in 1993.

At one point, Coad, frustrated at Newell’s disrespectful, bullying line of questioning, told him: “My reports don’t fall off the back of a truck.”

Anna Dare, possibly sensing that Coad was being dumped on by her radio co-host, cut in to say the lawyers’ report was obviously the work of those against Coad. Newell, seconds later: “No-one’s against the mayor”. The mayor could not help guffawing at the ludicrous irony of it all.

Newell, blustering, “We are sick of it down in the Huon”, said he had walked the length of Huonville’s Main Street the day before and found not one Coad supporter. (I could walk Cygnet’s Mary Street and find not one person with a bad word to say about Peter Coad. And I’m sure I would have no problem finding plenty of Coad supporters on the main streets of all Huon Valley population centres) Then Newell produced a studio-quality recording of three locals slinging off at the mayor.

I couldn’t help but smile at this distortion of the balance of valley public opinion, especially so at this anonymous, and surely scripted, Coad-knocker’s observation: “Obviously, the man has got no leadership skills at all, and I don’t think even Basil Fawlty would pull the crap that he’s pulling.”

That’s a bit rich: Coad, ever since the day he first sat in the mayor’s chair at council, has displayed deft skills as a chairman, always showing respect for his fellow councillors no matter how beleaguered and despised he must have felt at times.

Nevertheless, he has on occasion had to politely put Wilson in his place when the clearly disgruntled councillor acted outside of Coad’s code-of-council chamber decorum.

On the day of the farce that was Newell’s interview with Coad (April 7), Mike Wilson just happened to call in to 7HOFM for a chat with his mate Mick. Quickly putting the boot into Coad, Newell (his facts so flimsy or wrong) went on about how insulting Coad had been in wanting to see the general manager’s credit-card history; and how “awesome” the GM was. Wilson, in their conversation, didn’t challenge any of the slurs Newell cast against Coad.

Wilson remarked that there had been no “turmoil” through the years of the council’s two former mayors, the late Greg Norris and Robert Armstrong. Of course there wasn’t, because they had councillor-majorities’ backing, and unquestioning of, them. But since November 2014, that hasn’t been the case — and most of the Heart six have left no doubt they don’t like being part of a council majority that does not automatically have the mayor on their side.

Coad’s unsuccessful bid for a bit of harmony

WHEN he became mayor, Coad made it clear he wanted harmony on council, and that he wanted it to work as a team. The Heart would have none of that, and, mainly through Wilson, the constant pressure on Coad has had all the hallmarks of a vendetta.

Who knows what council management’s attitude has been? But it is fairly obvious that the mayor (apart from support from Crs Smith and Mackintosh) has received little or no co-operation to help him achieve the way forward he proposed in his election campaign.

Frequently in the Huon Valley News (HVN) — a publication that doesn’t try very hard to be a newspaper — Wilson, presumably as a means of building his profile, places small ads extolling ‘The economic drivers in our valley’. In them he names a Huon Valley business and says how many staff it employs (a big-print ‘COUNCILLOR MIKE WILSON’ is included).

Often, within a couple of weeks, along comes a letter in the News from a member of a “driver” company singing the praises of — guess who? — Mike Wilson. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it does show that Wilson is never out of campaign mode.

A more egregious intrusion into local politics came in the form of a media release run in the Huon Valley News (HVN) (May 4). It was from the Australian Services Union, which asserted, on the basis of no presented evidence, “The Australian Services Union (ASU) said comments made in the media by Huon Valley Council Mayor Peter Coad hurt the hard-working Huon Valley Council staff who are caught in the cross fire”. The heading on the release, ‘Mayor’s comments hurt hard-working council staff’, was unattributed, which could be seen to indicate which side HVN is on.

Several letters to the ASU from valley residents protesting that its media release was a total misrepresentation of the facts met a brick wall. Either they got no reply, or an assertion that the ASU was standing by its statement.

As a former member for more than 50 years of another union that I always felt would help me in times of difficulty, I am ashamed that a union could act with such total disregard for the facts. The release talked of the “ongoing stream of criticism being hurled by the mayor, insisting that the council should be replaced by an administrator”.

Peter Coad to my knowledge has only ever spoken generously about operational staff of the council over which he presides. And his talk of the imposition of an administrator seems to relate to his belief that there is a sufficient level of dysfunction in council management to warrant its dismissal — which doesn’t mean staff positions would necessarily be under threat.

(It is understood that the ASU, on behalf of its members, recently completed negotiations with council management on wages and conditions. This was a process that rested with management, council long ago having rid itself of such responsibility as a result of delegation of authority to the general manager. It is believed council’s wage bill will now exceed its projected rate revenue.)

What’s next?

So what happens next? Mick Newell hasn’t told us that he has had another lawyers’ report dropped in his letterbox, though it’s suspected one exists. It should be reasonable to think that no-one outside of the GM, senior council management, and the nine councillors know what is in the board’s final report, though the leaks suggest some people who shouldn’t know, do in fact know roughly what’s in it.

Mayor Coad, who approved of the first report, hasn’t been quoted as lamenting the contents of the second report, whereas the behaviour of Wilson, and his public statements, suggest that the final report has made him even more dissatisfied than he was with the first.

Nothing I have seen or heard since the new council was elected in October 2014 has dissuaded me from believing that the dysfunction that the board appears to have found at Huon Valley Council is a direct consequence of a vendetta on the part of those who wield the power at council against a man who believes that, if local government in the valley is to best serve the interests of the whole community, reform of the system and an opening up of the valley to communication with the outside world are vital.

If what has been leaked about the second board report is accurate, and Gutwein decides to act on its recommendations, I look forward to witnessing Wilson leading his valley entourage on the streets of Hobart — and I hope never to see his car parked in the spot reserved for the mayor in the HVC car park.

— Bob Hawkins has been reporting on Huon Valley Council for Tasmanian Times since 2009.

Should anyone have had the stamina to get this far, I say, in the interests of posterity, stuff of this nature should be Huon Valley archival material. Anyone who thinks I’ve got it all wrong are welcome to offer their version of the tragic events that have afflicted the Huon since those who dominate the affairs of the valley’s council, and their supporters, decided they would reject a mayor whose sins are to strive for truth, honesty and good governance.

• Bob Hawkins in Comments: For the record: Cr Ken Studley resigned early in tonight’s council meeting, and immediately left the chamber, briefly pausing for a comment by the mayor. His departure appeared to have been premeditated. Studley was elected to council in October 2014 on the Heart of the Huon ticket.

• Geoffrey Swan in Comments: … I wrote a comprehensive letter of formal complaint to the General Manager of 7HOFM on 10th April which I said in part: The behaviour and conduct of Michael Newell in his interview with Mayor Peter Coad was totally reprehensible, abusive, rude, dominating and frankly, disgusting. Michael Newell’s vocabulary and continued aggression demonstrated: …

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Rod Macfarlan

    May 29, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    One of the many things I don’t understand is how the anti-Coad forces can feel that such transparently obvious and simplistic attacks advance their cause. As a ratepayer, I hope this behaviour is considered by the minister along with the formal report.

  2. Bob Hawkins

    May 26, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    #17. The successor, I understand, will be decided by the preferences that flow from the votes Studley got at the October 2014 election — which probably means another member of the 2014 Heart of the Huon ticket. That is, of course, should anyone be willing to become a member of a council that is reported to have been judged, by the Gutwein board of inquiry, “dysfunctional” and worthy of sacking.

  3. John Diment

    May 26, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Anyway Studley is past history now with his dramatic resignation at the last Council meeting. This brings the heart of the Huon strength down a bit. Who was next on ballot count at the last election and still willing to stand?

  4. David de Burgh

    May 26, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Thanks Bob for taking the time to prepare this summary of events. I remember reading Sue Clark’s vitriolic letter to the HVN but as a blow-in, hadn’t realized she was Studley’s mum. It makes more sense now.
    You have to hand it to Studley – votes against the credit card report as it wastes Council’s money but now wants Council to spend money to remind him what he has voted for recently.

  5. William Boeder

    May 26, 2016 at 3:09 am

    Having considered all of the commentary regarding the HVC, there appears to be an external influence calling the shots that have caused the HVC to become so systemic dysfunctional.
    Let the comment subscribers not forget a former agitating ‘boss o’ the board’ prior elected person…… that would be delighted with all the disunity going on in the HVC Council.
    My continued reading of this matter has convinced me that there is a secret agenda being seeded by a certain external disruptive element that had previously held a position not unlike that of a domineering wretch.
    I am convinced that Mayor Peter Coad is aware of this agent provocateur that has the intent to the destabilising of all among the Huon Valley Council, yet he will not secede to this wretch.
    I believe Bob Hawkins understands full well the architected evils that are the cause of all the ructions thereby set into motion.

  6. Treeger

    May 26, 2016 at 1:48 am

    Do some in The Huon think the region should secede from Tasmania and Australia? It wouldn’t last long without handouts. A local referendum would settle that one.

    Let’s see if Wilson has the balls to launch legal proceedings, if he does, then there must be dinosaur size skeletons he wants kept hidden in the HVC cupboard as well as predecessor’s skeletons.

    The longer it drags on, the more can be shredded.

    It’s strange how Wilson’s public persona comes across in such a way that he thinks he IS the Council, or is this a way of trying to convince voters that he is indispensable?

  7. pat synge

    May 25, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    The sooner the BOI report is released the better.

  8. Simon Warriner

    May 25, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    re 10, there’s that conflict of interest thing again. After my partners rather unfortunate experience with getting her union, the CPSU, to act effectively on her behalf and support her against a bullying and dishonest employer, I was prompted to wonder if perhaps there was not a market for an organisation to offer representation services to any and all workers, in competition to unions who quite clearly are too busy playing politics to competently provide the services the workers pay good money for.

    If all that organisation did was support workers who were in conflict with their employer and left out all the social justice warrior posturing and the political bullshit the fees could be lower, the employees more focused and the service delivery far more competent.

    I wonder what Australian Services Union members outside of the Huon think about their funds being wasted on this pathetic provincial bunfight, one which clearly the union has brought into with no factual basis.

  9. Steve

    May 25, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Mickey? Miss Minnie?

    Where are you?

  10. Geoffrey Swan

    May 25, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    After reading the Australian Services Union (ASU) Press release in both the Cygnet Classifieds and the Huon News I wrote to Mr Dennis Mullins, Tasmanian Coordinator (his job title as advised when I phoned ASU Victoria) and copied in his supervisor Mr Richard Duffy in Victoria, April 20th 2016.

    Are you able to advise me what constitutes an ASU Media Release, are you the person who wrote and authorised this release, and in what capacity has this release been made public please.

    Can you please refer me to any evidence you have of Mayor Peter Coad making any “disparaging or criticism comments” “being hurled” at any of your members.

    Can you therefore please advise me how any “hard-working council staff” (ASU Members I presume) have been caught in the crossfire you speak of.

    Can you please provide me any evidence whatsoever where Mayor Coad has been deemed “continuously negative” as you put it.

    Can you please elaborate on what “council policy” is in place that prevents your ASU workers from speaking out.

    Can you please illustrate and provide me any evidence that suggests Mayor Coad has been “chasing” headlines.

    I received a phone call just moments after sending my email and Mr Mullins had a rather convivial and frank discussion with me on the phone. I took notes, and in my view and recollection below is a summary:

    Mr Billings commented that he had little to no idea about what is actually happening in the Huon Valley around these now very public issues:

    Had never heard of the Heart of the Huon Bloc and of their apparent continual derailing almost every motion raised in Council apart from their own motions.

    No idea about the HotH bloc wanting to elect the Mayor from within the group and for this position not to be elected by the ratepayer. Mr Billings did agree the Mayor should be elected by the people.

    I referred you to the fact that Cr Studley (part of the HotH bloc) had put forward a motion to “effectively” gag anyone from speaking outside of council about the BOI etc (which was accepted by the HotH bloc). Mr Billings advised me he had no idea about any of that.

    Mr Billings then proceed to advise me that Council legislation (not the Local Government Act) prevents council staff from speaking out and he did agree with me it appeared the way his article was written it did appear to suggest that Mayor Coad was stopping them from speaking out.

    Mr Billings offered to include me in his future correspondence to the Minister who is currently seeking community input into Local Government Review closing June 10th 2016. He was going to provide his views on amalgamation of Councils and the sharing of resources. To date I have not received a copy of his input or any further communications from Mr Billings despite his promises and rather jovial phone conversation.

    In the interests of record keeping I subsequently sent my summary of the above points to Mr Billings in follow up and advised I was looking forward to his assistance with more details.

    Nothing further from Mr Dennis Billings so I thought a direct approach to his supervisor since Mr Richard Duffy had been copied in all along – and a rather short note came back:

    “Dear Geofrey,

    Send me your complaint

    Richard Duffy
    Branch Secretary
    Australian Services Union – Victorian and Tasmanian Authorities & Services Branch”

    So I sent all my correspondence once again to Mr Duffy and a another short response:

    “As per my email yesterday (which refers to the email above and obviously tells me nothing) and after speaking with Dennis the branch stands by its media comments.”

    Since the ASU has issued a formal Press Release, which is now posted on their ASU national website, then I thought they would be keenly interested in providing evidence of the various statements made by Mr Billings. So I then write direct to the CEO and his senior executive Mr David Smith, National Secretary, CEO of ASU, Ms Linda White, Assistant National Secretary, Mr Greg McClean, Acting Assistant National Secretary, and Mr Robert Potter, Acting Assistant National Secretary.

    And as Bob Hawkins has stated in the above – the brick wall has gone up – and the age old ignore and it will all go away tactic is now being employed I presume.

    In sharing the above I leave it with interested readers, to hopefully include the Huon Valley Council Staff who have regrettably been caught up in the crossfire, to now make up their own minds about the authenticity of Mr Dennis Mullins comments.

  11. Geoffrey Swan

    May 25, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Thanks Bob for an excellent expose of this ongoing saga.

    I would like to contribute to your comments with respect to my communications with 7HOFM and the ACMA.

    I wrote a comprehensive letter of formal complaint to the General Manager of 7HOFM on 10th April which I said in part:

    The behaviour and conduct of Michael Newell in his interview with Mayor Peter Coad was totally reprehensible, abusive, rude, dominating and frankly, disgusting. Michael Newell’s vocabulary and continued aggression demonstrated:

    • brutality
    • was entirely misleading to the listeners
    • and was inciting hatred towards Mayor Coad

    Michael Newell did NOT declare his personal interest with respect to his very public association with Cr Mike Wilson – and his association with the other Councillors who are known to be a part of the breakaway Heart of the Huon Group (HotH). Michael Newell is a long time resident in the Huon Valley and his personal relationships are well recognized – this is a small Valley after all. His personal Facebook account also confirms his friendships with the various Councillors.

    First Response from General Manager 7HOFM – Col Taylor 17th April – again in part:

    Thank you for your feedback to date relating to the interview/segment between Mick Newell and Mayor Coad. We value all feedback, further thank you for the right of reply.

    In your letter dated 10th April you outline a number of areas of the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice you believe have been breached.

    Having completed a review of the interview, your comments, and having spoken with Mick Newell our Breakfast Presenter I am comfortable that no codes of practice have actually been breached.

    Further, on my instruction, Mick Newell issued an on air apology to Mayor Coad on Wednesday morning.

    While I understand this is an emotive issue for some residents of the Huon, I assure you that we take very seriously our obligation to all listeners throughout our service area.

    As I’m sure you will appreciate, people in public life, Mick Newell included sometimes come under public scrutiny or attention fairly or unfairly – that is the price they pay for having public profiles.

    I am happy to discuss with you at any time anything further, should you wish. My contact details are below.

    Kind regards

    Col.

    I wrote back to Col Taylor later that evening, 17th April:

    Are you able to provide me with a transcript or better still, a sound bite of the on air apology please. This is not something I heard and since I am in communication with a number of people over this matter, it is not something any of them happened to hear either.

    No response so I wrote again 19th April and advised Mr Taylor it was now my intention to write to ACMA and request a formal investigation. The second response from the GM 7HOFM came back in less than two hours later a very curt response:

    We will not be providing you with a copy of the apology. It is your prerogative to pursue the matter further with the ACMA.

    On the 19th April I wrote to the Australian Communications and Media Authority and one month later on 19th May I received a “boilerplate” reply seemingly created using “search and replace” to refer to 7HOFM and in part:

    The Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) has commenced an investigation into your complaint concerning the 7HOFM’s compliance with the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice and Guidelines 2013.

    Investigations of this nature may take several months and you will be notified of the outcome in due course.

    Following tonight’s HVC Council meeting I have again written to ACMA saying “several months is not good enough for such an important issue…”

  12. Paul

    May 25, 2016 at 2:38 am

    First rat off the sinking ship perhaps?

  13. Rose

    May 25, 2016 at 2:25 am

    Perfect Bob!!!!

  14. Bob Hawkins

    May 25, 2016 at 1:27 am

    For the record: Cr Ken Studley resigned early in tonight’s council meeting, and immediately left the chamber, briefly pausing for a comment by the mayor. His departure appeared to have been premeditated. Studley was elected to council in October 2014 on the Heart of the Huon ticket.

  15. Sick of it

    May 24, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    What a surprise, the dodgy council that lost $4 million now doesn’t want its credit card statements made public.

    They must have something to hide.

    I hope Mr Coad digs his heels in against this mob.

  16. john hayward

    May 24, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    It would appear that the Heart Group might be happier in an ethical and ideological environment more consonant with their own values.

    Hun Sen’s Cambodia would seem ideal, and they have several vacancies.

    John Hayward

  17. Joan Rodrigues

    May 24, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks Bob. A very comprehensive explanation. As a person who does not purchase the HVN I was not aware of much that has been reported. As a rate payer I think that I have a right to have answers to the questions raised by Trish.

    If we get an administrator will we also finally receive information and achieve transparency before the next election?

  18. Paul

    May 24, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Comprehensive,factual and objective as usual.

    Thanks Bob.

  19. Trish Kyne

    May 24, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Congratulations Bob on a well reasoned commentary on Huon council affairs.

    My observations include:

    The BOI investigators had the benefit of 80 public submissions, as well as extensive interviews with all councillors and many ratepayers. I note that Cr Studley appears to be either asking for access to those submissions, or discounting them because he hasn’t been able to personally read them. The submissions were confidential due to the level of retribution practised in the valley. They also formed part of the basis for the investigation. The investigators can only act on proof. IF allegations were made that could not be substantiated, they could not be considered. So the report can only contain facts procured by the investigators. I believe all completed government reports are reviewed by Crown Law. Why the interest in seeing the submissions?

    Does Cr Studley believe he can take on the government and Crown Law? Who will be paying for such a move?

    I remember the call for three months intervention and then fresh elections. However the LGA requires a minimum of a 6 month lead in, so that was never going to fly.

    Not only have past credit card expenditure’s been hidden; the list published in the HV news does not itemise what the expenditure is for, rendering this a meaningless exercise. The mayor has stated at council meetings that he does not use the credit card he was issued with because at the time it was issued to him the policy was not clear regarding expenditure. Cr Wilson called for the mayor to have the remuneration provided by his claims for reimbursement of his expenditure to be revealed. The general manager pointed out reimbursement was provided for appropriate expenditure following the verification of receipts.

    It is also interesting that a ‘budget line’ for expenditure on reviewing the credit cards was the excuse (along with a ridiculous mind boggling cost estimate) to deny the legal motion moving forward. However, unless approved in closed council, where is the budget line for the legal services to individual councillors and the general manager throughout this extended debacle? If not discussed in closed council, who approved this expenditure? Where is the budget line for the report that was commissioned that ‘fell’ into Mick Newell’s Mailbox? From the questions Mick Newell was yelling at the mayor, I would also like to know which part of the ‘mail box’ briefed him on what questions to ask…. There appears to be a significant amount of Huon ratepayers money deducted from the budget, without explanation to the ratepayers.

    Cr Ruzicka has placed a motion which appears to be a direct result of comments from Kingborough council spokesman in Saturdays Mercury. Patching on a piece of Kingborough to HVC would be madness. Why would the Kingborough ratepayers want to leave a well running transparent council that focuses on their well being, for the dysfunction to the HVC?

    Minister Gutwein released the LGA “Good Governance Guide” on the 19th May. The press release outlines ‘effective accountable governance in local government as an essential part of business practice for all Tasmanian councils’. The minister also states that “The Guide aims to promote and enhance good governance in local government and is being released at an opportune time with a number of councils currently being subject to a Board of Inquiry in Tasmania’.
    It is very plain to me that the minister is very serious in improving the function of all councils. It’s a shame those under investigation haven’t spent more time listening to the cues given by the minister and reacted in a more positive way.
    The link for this document below in case you missed it. http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/divisions/local_government.

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