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

How low can Huon’s council go?

First published September 14

Huon Valley Guessing Games

The bad news from the Deep South is that the secretive Huon Valley Council has sunk to even deeper depths of contempt for the people who own it. …

The good news is that an online petition requesting Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein to order implementation of his board of inquiry’s two main recommendations — sack the HVC councillors and install a commissioner — passed 300 at the weekend.

Not a bad count considering the notorious Huon Valley fear factor (unfounded to my thinking) that to criticise council is an invitation to attract its wrath, so, therefore, it’s best to say nothing.

( Find the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/implement-the-major-recommendations-of-the-huon-valley-board-of-inquiry?tk=hC4Nlp5AGKD-WuzqV1QYmkrJX91Tb8G6IwT_4tfjDn8&utm_source=petition_update&utm_medium=email . )

Council’s plunge to even deeper depths of contempt is reflected in a media release published in last week’s Huon Valley News and The Classifieds (HVN not even saying it was an HVC media release).

It contains statements attributed to the Mayor — a man who has fought courageously for nearly two years to make council more transparent and consultative — that can best be described as uninformative. In fact, the release as a whole borders on sophistry of a rather spooky kind — for what it says, and for what it doesn’t say.

The full story begins some months back with a covert action by council — one would imagine without the knowledge of Mayor Peter Coad — to attempt to influence the embarrassing findings of the board of inquiry (BoI) set up by Gutwein a year ago to look into the affairs of the Huon council. At the time, word was out that council had become dysfunctional. And — despite HVC management’s attempts to persuade it otherwise — dysfunctional is exactly what the two-member board, after months of careful examination, decided it was.

The BoI issued two interim reports to Gutwein — one in March this year, the other in May. Though the interim reports have never been made public, it soon became clear that what the BoI had turned up was not at all to the liking of either a majority of HVC councillors or council’s General Manager, Simone Watson. Well, that’s the only conclusion one can reasonably draw from the behavior of a council and management that is still defiantly keeping under wraps HVC’s costly responses to those two BoI reports.

To cut a long story a bit shorter, HVC — using the services of a leading Hobart law firm, Page Seager — attempted to persuade the Board of Inquiry to change its mind by producing counter arguments to the BoI’s two interim reports.

Two things were later to become apparent:

(1) at least the first Page Seager report was commissioned by council management without prior approval of the council (my understanding is that it was eventually approved retrospectively at a secret council session); and (2) the reports cost Huon Valley ratepayers and taxpayers in general upwards of $54,000.

In June, the BoI issued a damning final report, declaring HVC dysfunctional and recommending its sacking ( see http://cdn-src.tasmaniantimes.com.s3.amazonaws.com/files/Huon%20Valley%20Council%20Board%20of%20Inquiry%20Report%20to%20the%20Minister%20-%20JUNE%202016.pdf ).

Sadly, what those council submissions did seem to do was to strongly influence Minister Gutwein’s reaction to the state of affairs at HVC.

Gutwein chose to ignore the BoI report almost in its entirety. Against the board’s strong advice that mediation was not the way to go, the minister opted for exactly that. And he did not instruct council to respond to nearly 50 of the BoI’s 55 critical recommendations.

Consequently, council has used this weakness by Gutwein to virtually ignore the board’s recommendations; and management and a majority of councillors have continued to doggedly resist divulging the contents of council’s submissions ( see http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php?/article/huon-valley-guessing-games-dysfunctions-the-name-of-the-game/. )

As council’s stern resistance to revealing what $54,000 of public money had been spent on became apparent, concerned valley residents quickly raised a 70-signature petition (including mine) demanding that HVC release its secret submissions. The petition was presented to council’s July 27 meeting. The process from that moment was for council management to make a report on the petition and present it, with a recommendation, to the next ordinary meeting.

Surprise, surprise: the management report and recommendation were not on council’s August 31 open agenda, GM Watson having decided it was all too sensitive for the eyes of the public. She had, instead, listed them for secret hearing.

Cr Ian Mackintosh, with a procedural motion (which allows no discussion) just before the end of council’s open session, tried to get the petition report and recommendation moved back into open council.

With only eight councilors present (Lydia Eastley having been granted leave of absence), council voted the motion down, 5-3. Mayor Coad, Mackintosh and Liz Smith voting for, Bruce Heron, James Lange, Deputy Mayor Ian Paul, Pav Ruzicka and Mike Wilson voting against. Not a surprise result, but a vote that yet again indicates that the valley’s dysfunctional council either hasn’t got a strategy to win back community trust, or doesn’t give a damn whether it does or not.

So, into secret session went this item of great public interest. At the time of that vote, the question on my mind was this: what the heck is it that is in those two reports, which have cost $54,000 of public money, that is so confidential that the people who paid for it are not going to be allowed to see even redacted versions?

Under the rules, anything discussed in a closed council session must never be revealed — as GM Watson is always quick to remind councillors. So there was every possibility that we, the public, would hear no more.

But this time, the contempt HVC has long displayed towards those it serves was to be even more evident, coming as it did in the form of a media release that appeared in last week’s two valley publications.

Unattributed, one sentence states: “The Council indicated that it wanted to move forward in implementing the Ministerial Directions from the Board of Inquiry, working in the best interests of the community.”

That alone is a statement based on a false premise. The “Ministerial Directions” were not “from the Board of Inquiry” as the release asserted. In fact, Gutwein largely ignored the 55 recommendations of the BoI when he issued his seven “directions” on June 15. What he did indicate was that he had been considerably influenced by the council’s submissions in response to the BoI’s interim reports.

Surprising was a quote attributed to Mayor Coad: “Council does not intend to revisit matters provided by the Ministerial Directions and it is concentrating on mediation to ensure the directions and timeframes are adhered to.”

He may have allowed his name to be attached to those words, but, having heard Coad’s measured remarks from the chair at council meetings since November 2014, I simply cannot imagine that he was a willing author of them. (Surely, knowing that his position — and that of Smith and Mackintosh — is to have council’s two submissions released, he might have protected himself by saying something like, “Council has voted not to revisit matters . . . ” etc.)

Then followed more diplomatic words that could quite reasonably have come out of the Mayor’s mouth (rather than from HVC’s costly media department): “If we are able to achieve a genuine change in the culture of council, this will be in line with the intent of the Ministerial directions.”

Then came the usual pap one expects of an organisation on the nose with much of the community it serves: “This will provide the opportunity for the council to restore community confidence in the municipality.” Well, at least that was an admission that “community confidence” is in need of restoration.

The release went on a bit, trying to reassure ratepayers (not this one) by saying: “ . . . there has been no diminution in services council provides to ratepayers . . .” Why should there have been? None of the Gutwein directions could possibly have impeded the day-to-day running of a council that clearly is upset that it has been found, by experts, to be dysfunctional.

Now, let us ponder on what happened in that secret session that spawned the media release. We know that, in open session, the procedural motion to decide where the item should be discussed had gone down 5-3. But that vote didn’t necessarily indicate how the management recommendation would be viewed in closed council.

What can be gleaned from the media release is that the secret-session vote to keep the submissions secret must have been at least 5-3. Therefore, if Coad, Mackintosh and Smith stood their ground, one is left to think that Heron, Lange, Paul, Ruzicka and Wilson voted for continued secrecy. It’s hard to imagine it any other way. Of course, we’ll never know, because council’s secret business is, by law, never to be revealed.

My view is this. No copies of the two HVC submissions are meant to exist apart from those in the hands of Minister Gutwein and his Local Government Department staff; HVC management and its nine councillors; probably the lawyers who got $54,000 to compile the submissions; and (at least in the case of the March submission) Mick Newell of 7HOFM (to whom a copy was leaked by a person unknown, though there are suspects).

That being the case, is there not at least one among that lot prepared to get those submissions out into the public arena? Nah, not likely. Secret-society stuff is much more exciting than preserving the lofty ideals of democracy. Of course, it might also be imagined that some law-abiding souls might believe, despite witnessing injustice at work, that it’s just not proper to break the rules. Rules are, after all, the glue that keeps our society one of the most stable and peaceful on the planet.

Tragically, all that HVC’s August-meeting behavior proves is that we here in the valley remain objects of contempt fit only to be fed transparent spin.

But a few of us who pitifully demand transparency and honesty, at each of our nation’s three levels of government, are pondering a few questions. The main one is, who is it, what is it, that a majority of councillors are so doggedly trying to defend?

It is reasonable to assume that someone or other mentioned in the Page Seager reports doesn’t want their content out there for general consumption.

The final BoI report, released when Gutwein issued his directions, is critical of individuals and of the council as a whole. One would imagine, considering that criticisms were expressed in the BoI interim reports, the brief from council to the lawyers it hired would have been that they provide counter arguments to those criticisms.

One thing is certain: by a long chalk, none of us has heard the last about council’s legal responses to the BoI’s interim findings.

A LIGHTER moment at the August 31 meeting. “Wanker” was what Rosalie Woodruff had once called him, said Mike Wilson, apropos of nothing very much. He was harking back to a time when Woodruff was an HVC councillor. Woodruff, now a Tasmanian Greens MLA, said this week that she may have called Wilson many things, but she could not recall ever describing him as a wanker.

ANOTHER intriguing bit at the August meeting came early on when Wilson, reading from a single sheet of paper, gave his answers to a series of questions put to him by Mayor Coad. Those questions were first posed in the July 27 agenda. On that occasion, Wilson, without explanation, was absent.

Coad’s questions arose from a letter he had sighted from lawyer David Wallace of Wallace Wilkinson and Webster, dated August 25, 2015, to Wilson. The letter indicated that Wilson had invited Wallace to attend a council meeting ( see http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php?/article/huon-valley-guessing-games-the-plot-thickens/ ).

First, Wilson’s answers — then to a bit of conjecture.
There are minor discrepancies between the audio version and, presumably, Wilson’s written version, but they are probably of no consequence. The words in Wilson’s replies (unedited) are as they appear in council’s draft minutes of the August 31 meeting. Here goes:

Peter Coad: Did you instruct Wallace Wilkinson and Webster on behalf of council or on your own behalf?

Wilson: In the best interests of council and to be open and transparent with our fellow councillors and our community three members of our governance committee agreed to hold an out-of-session closed meeting to discuss who would do the secretary work at the up-and-coming closed council meeting due on the 26 August 2015, whereby we believed an independent secretary would be required owing to both yourself [Coad] and the General Manager were conflicted in this matter. At that meeting it was agreed that I should ask a Hobart law firm that had not worked for council in the past to give us a quote for secretary work for the meeting on 26 August. That quote was for $375.00 per hour. Approximately 4 hours would be required. The minutes of that meeting were taken by Cr Studley and emailed to myself as well as to Cr Ruzicka. In order to maintain transparency, it was agreed that the minutes of that meeting be cc’d to Cr Smith and that occurred at 7.11pm on 20 August 2015.

Coad: If you instructed Wallace Wilkinson and Webster on behalf of council, what was the nature of council’s instruction?

Wilson: To act as independent secretary only for the meeting to be held 26 August 2015.

Coad: Specifically, did you instruct them to assist council and/or the General Manager in relation to the dispute between the Mayor and the General Manager?

Wilson: No. They were to supply independent secretary services only.

Coad: Were any council funds paid to Wallace Wilkinson and Webster or is any money payable to Wallace Wilkinson and Webster for legal services rendered in 2015, and, if so, do they relate to this matter?

Wilson: It is my understanding that an account for secretarial services was to be forwarded to the Deputy Mayor who would in turn supply to council (as you and the General Manager were conflicted on this matter).

Coad: If you purported to be instructing Wallace Wilkinson and Webster on behalf of council, what was the source of your authority to do so?

Wilson: I was authorised by the governance committee.

Coad: Was the General Manager in any way involved in the engagement of Wallace Wilkinson and Webster?

Wilson: Neither yourself nor the General Manager were involved in engaging Wallace Wilkinson and Webster.

Coad: If the General Manager gave you authority to instruct Wallace Wilkinson and Webster on council’s behalf, please identify the delegation of council to the General Manager (including the date) that allowed her to delegate authority to engage external lawyers to individual councillors such as yourself.

Wilson: The authority was given to me by the governance committee, NOT by the General Manager.

Coad: Under Section 65 of the [Local Government] Act [1993], the General Manager is responsible for ensuring that advice given to the council is given by a person who has the necessary qualifications. This is not the role of an individual councillor. On what authority or basis, did you act in inviting David Wallace to attend the closed meeting of council to give advice?

Wilson: As stated earlier the governance committee gave me the authority on behalf of council to engage an independent secretary for the meeting to be held on 26 August 2015.

Mayor Coad then asked Wilson to hand him the notes he had read from, saying: “Thank you very much for that Cr Wilson. Most enlightening.”

Significant about this “enlightening” episode in the affairs of the HVC is that the three councillors who assembled for what Wilson describes as an “out of session” (whatever that might mean) meeting of the governance committee — Ruzicka, Studley and Wilson — are members of the Heart of the Huon group of councillors, which has campaigned long and hard to bring the Mayor undone. (Studley has since resigned as a councillor.)

Also interesting is how, under the law, three councillors can convene a meeting of a council’s governance committee without the Mayor and the General Manager being involved. Although (as has become evident in the Huon Valley) the Mayor can be kept ignorant of events — as, for example, it seems he was in relation to all the secret pre-launch manoeuvrings that went on before the privatisation of the Geeveston Town Hall last year — it’s almost beyond imagination that the GM didn’t have some knowledge of what was going on.

And who were Ruzicka, Studley and Wilson to officially judge that the Mayor and the General Manager were conflicted? And, even if there was conflict between those two, as a bunch of grown-ups, surely all councillors and the GM should have been called together to discuss a sensible course of action, rather than three members of a faction of council that has made no bones about where it stands in terms of the relationship between the Mayor and the General Manager acting unilaterally.

The very thought of a group of three councillors deciding on a course of action without the prior knowledge of management and the rest of the council is farcical — and surely yet more evidence of a dysfunctional council in action.

The single fact that Wilson was chosen to be the “delegate” to hire a lawyer to undertake “secretarial” duties tends to lend support to the feelings of many in the community that this long-time councillor still can’t quite get it into his head that, in the October 2014 election, he lost the contest for Mayor; and that that verdict alone disqualified him from even imagining that, in an imagined crisis, he was the man to lead the way.

If Gutwein’s local government division is not now studying very closely the questions posed by the Mayor, and the responses to those questions by Wilson — and then considering their implications as to the competence of HVC to continue as a viable local-government body — it will mean, yet again, that the people of the Huon Valley (and of Tasmania) are being extremely poorly served by both our elected leaders and the public servants that are supposed to be serving both them and us, the voters.

ANOTHER feature of the August 31 meeting was the way in which Mayor Coad was sidelined from participation on any of council’s committees (which are to replace council’s Gutwein-vetoed “portfolio” system). When Heart councillor votes prevented Coad from winning a place on any committee, Smith moved an amendment that “in accordance with Recommendation 38 of the Board of Inquiry final report, the Mayor be appointed as an ex-officio member on all council committees”. That, too, got short shrift, the votes of Heron, Lange, Paul and Ruzicka causing it to be lost 4-4. Interestingly, Heart leader Wilson is recorded as having voted with the losing side.

A SIDELIGHT to what is happening at HVC appeared on the letters page of Huon Valley News last week. It was jointly signed by former HVC councillors Laurie Dillon (for years Deputy Mayor) and Tony Richardson (remembered by council observers more for his theatrics than anything of great substance).

The letter’s writing style suggests it was largely authored by Richardson. It talked of a council “frozen within a state of distrust, antipathy and disrespect”, and said it was written “without naming or directing any prejudice and judgement”. They write: “We represent near opposites within the political spectrum.” I found that difficult to reconcile with what I witnessed when they sat at the same council table.

It prattles on, with a smattering of the high-flown — “. . . unarmed conflict”; “ Wars are bad, and civil wars are worse, innocent people get hurt”; “There has begun to be a higher than average leakage” (denied by the General Manager at the August 31 meeting, though she didn’t explain how council’s human-resources department has gone through periods of disintegration, with a turnover of possibly more than 100 per cent over three to four years); “The work of the council is being impeded, the staff are uncertain, it’s like being in a family where the parents won’t get on”; “ . . . quit this infantile game of hate and blame, accept mediation and find common ground . . .”

Dillon and Richardson conclude: “If you know what real democracy is you’ll know that there is nothing about this game that is democratic. It is unkind, vindictive, malicious, boysy, narcissistic and bullying. It’s like dropping a barrel bomb into the democratic life of our community.”

A bit poetic, and you can’t disagree with all of it.

Analysis of the intent of the letter is tricky. Quite clearly, Mayor Coad is in their sights; possibly also Wilson; maybe even GM Watson.

A bit of context may be helpful. Neither signatory reveals that they were councillors back in the days when (under the leadership of now MLC Robert Armstrong) HVC:

— Was allowing its water-supply systems and sewerage infrastructure to lapse into disrepair (later costing the then new, now defunct, Southern Water nearly $40 million to retrieve the situation).

— Allowed to pass with barely a comment a dawn, police-accompanied bulldozer demolition (early 2009) of the mid-20th century asbestos-riddled football clubrooms that graced the Franklin oval (they would have made an ideal set for period film makers).

— Saw the sealing of the Esperance Coast Road with elusively documented funds that came from somewhere and went who knows where?

— Saw council blow $4 million on financial products that in no way could be deemed low-risk (today, even with clawbacks on those losses through legal action, they probably now add up to more than $6 million after lost interest is added).

In the years since their departure from council — Richardson, formerly a Greens councillor, having failed spectacularly (133 first preferences) to retain his seat when running as an “independent” candidate in 2009 — HVC has been cutting back on its services (around about 2013 the “community services” department was abolished in a “management restructure”, conducted by then acting GM Watson, leaving the-then community services manager, Marcia Waller, out of a job), yet, each year, council has increased its rates.

All of this happened before Armstrong headed off to State Parliament’s upper house in 2014, and Coad, in October that year, won the contest for Mayor, defeating Wilson and Heron.

That was about the time the troubled council’s circumstances really began to come out into the open. The spearhead of council disharmony, I believe, was Wilson, who has since barely let up on his criticism of Mayor Coad. On one occasion, at an ordinary council meeting, Wilson, huffing and puffing, claimed council had become a dictatorship.

Coad assumed office on a platform that simply amounted to a plea for good governance and economic reform. His pre-campaign mistake — having noticed that HVC didn’t seem to have anything that resembled an infrastructure-replacement policy or plan — was to ask whether the council was going broke.

As to being a dictator (as Wilson had implied), Coad has never been sure of a single vote of support from other councillors, although more often than not he has the backing of Mackintosh (Greens) and Smith (now an independent after a decade as a Greens rep).

From the moment Coad moved into the Mayor’s seat, he has been under siege. And it soon became clear that he was not impressed by the support (or lack of it) that he was getting from management and Heart of the Huon councillors.

It’s all too hard to get into the nitty-gritty but, from my observer’s position, it does seem that the “hate and blame” game that Dillon and Richardson talk about has been heavily lopsided. Throughout the tirades against him, Mayor Coad, the choice of the people in 2014, has conducted himself with dignity, and he has treated his foes with a respect they have not deserved.

Where council is to go to from here is anyone’s guess.

Minister Gutwein has the authority to bring the issue to a head. But, acting like a man who might have a hidden agenda — and being the ambitious politician that he obviously is — Gutwein is choosing to allow the pain at HVC to linger.

The BoI report points to several highly controversial situations that need serious State Government examination, but one senses that the Huon Valley, considered in the greater scheme of politics, is a potato that is proving hot to handle for the Hodgman Government.

Messrs Dillon and Richardson, while the motives behind their criticism of HVC are obscure, might, indirectly, be encouraging the minister — in the interests of the people of the Huon Valley as a whole — to sack the lot of them. — Bob Hawkins

*Bob Hawkins has been a journalist for more than five decades. He has been covering Huon Valley Council for Tasmanian Times since early 2009. He is a friend of Cr Smith, and an admirer of Mayor Coad for doggedly trying to bring reason to a dysfunctional council.

Mercury: Peter Gutwein calls for Huon Mayor to resign in the interests of Huon Valley community

Rosalie Woodruff (former HVC councillor: Gutwein Ignores Board of Inquiry, Sets Up Huon Valley Mayor

Saturday Mercury: Fresh elections best way for Huon, governance expert says

Rosalie Woodruff: Huon Valley Council Mediation Fruitless, Fresh Elections Needed

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34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. O'Brien

    September 26, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    “It is said that power corrupts,
    but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible.
    The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.”
    — David Brin
    (1950- ) Author

  2. Bob Hawkins

    September 17, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Cr Ian Mackintosh last night (Saturday, September 17) signalled his withdrawal from the mediation process at Huon Valley Council ordered by the Minister for Local Government, Peter Gutwein.

    In a media release, Mackintosh said: “Minister Gutwein’s attack on Mayor Coad on Thursday flies in the face of his own board’s findings along with their recommendations. The mayor is not the problem here.”

    He said the mayor’s stepping away from the mediation process “was for sound reasons, and he is not alone with his concerns”.

    Mackintosh said he was supportive of the vast bulk of the board of inquiry’s recommendations. “But, by allowing a riven council to establish its own mediation process, the minister, perhaps, unintentionally, has created an environment where real and tangible reforms recommended by his own board are unlikely to be realised.

    Mackintosh said he had asked Minister Gutwein to reconsider the directions he had provided Huon Valley Council.

    Mackintosh’s statement, perhaps diplomatically, chose not to point out that Gutwein ignored nearly 50 of the BoI’s 55 recommendations, including (1) that the council was beyond mediation, and (2) — it’s main recommendation — that it should be sacked and a commissioner appointed for at least a year.

  3. David Bourne

    September 17, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    I agree that sacking the entire council is the only way to break the current deadlock.

    One way to at least limit the potential for the existence of a council that does not support their popularly elected mayor is to enforce a rule that means a candidate can run for council or for mayor, but not for both.

    Mike Wilson – as a ratepayer I challenge you to accept such a contest. Whatever the outcome it will result in a better council.

    I know it has a touch of Kevin/Julia flavour to it, but maybe they worked out that the toxicity had to end.

  4. Geoffrey Swan

    September 17, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    #31 Humour is indeed one way to deal with this blatant dysfunction Treeger… however the reality show currently in play is the ongoing incredible waste of resource, money, time and energy expended by Council management and our duly elected Councillors.

    This is “our” Council and “our” money. Minister Gutwein chooses to ignore the people and the needs of our Community. Why is Premier Hodgman missing in action over this – it is his electorate after all?

    Thank you Councillor Mackintosh for taking a stand and showing your support for our Mayor.

    An absolute farce… tragedy in fact.

  5. Treeger

    September 17, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    As part of Huon Valley council’s area, Macqarie Island could be utilised for one week to host the whole of the HVC Management and Councillors in a “holistic team building” exercise. 24 hour filming would ensure total transparency.

    Bear Grylls consultancy fees to host a reality show of the exercise could be money well spent. The council could recoup all the money it has wasted on squabbling when worldwide tv rights bring in the income. A name for such a show, “Brat Camp HVC – eliminating dysfunction the hard way”.

    The state government must be kept away as they’ll be sniffing around the odour of money.

    The council will redeem themselves with voters at the same time proving they have a sense of humour after all.

  6. phill Parsons

    September 17, 2016 at 10:52 am

    At Manly Council the person living across the road from a park and on the planning committee was involved in the land zoning committee.

    He did not declare has interest and later sold his hose for $5M for it’s less interrupted view after land resumptions and demolitions to enlarge the park gave him a harbor view.

    The Liberals will not have an Inquiry into the dealings of their own but the only choice will be administration and amalgamation.

  7. Shane Johnson

    September 16, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    The important thing is that an independent administrator is appointed and that fresh elections are not held for a significant period (minimum of 12 months). In this way Council’s most senior management will be put under scrutiny.

    Gutwein must realise that sacking Council and calling elections straight away will change nothing.

    Part of the agenda for the administrator must be to implement the full 55 recommendations of the Board of Inquiry report.

  8. Geoffrey Swan

    September 16, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    #23 Aargh Bob… what took you so long… finally the elephant in the room.

    From a number of stories I have heard over the years from locals and a number of elders; who will not speak up either because they are afraid, they “don’t want to get involved” or a family member of some sort is connected to the HVC or local businesses …

    The net needs to trawl back a good number of years – certainly to the realm of when Robert Armstrong (now MLC) was our local Mayor. I am told he had significant influence over day to day management of Council often seen walking through the Council offices as if he was the person in charge.

    This is why we need an administrator – but will they then suffer the same fate as the recent BoI executives who examine, interview, report and are then ignored by our government.

    It is my understanding many local business are very well connected – and one need look no further than local elder Mr Alan Duggan who happens to be on HVC committees and is often very outspoken in the local media.

    Mr Alan Duggan, OAM, by his own admission “has been involved in all sorts of political things in local government” since his retirement, and in the Mercury September 3rd he was outspoken about a recent ReachTEL poll on the need to establish an independent watchdog on intensive fish farms.

    Mr Duggan’s comments suggested the survey was “slanted”, included “loaded questions”, and when his website search revealed the Company behind the survey, the Australia Institute, has on staff three former staff of former Greens Senator Bob Brown – he declared “hardly independent”.

    I raise this by way of example of local influence and I bring the reader’s attention to both the public and written submissions provided by Mr Alan Duggan at the recent Senate Inquiry into The Fin-Fish aquaculture industry in Tasmania when he gave unequivocal support for the aquaculture Industry…now recorded in Hansard and within the Senate.

    “I have great admiration for the three companies working in the salmon industry for their innovation.”

    “We supply a lot of product to them, by way of services—concrete and concrete tanks, all sorts of roadworks. We see that as a growing business that can be of future value for this valley and for Tasmania.”

    “At times this work can be up to 50% of our $10M turnover.”

    Should an administrator be called in – I reckon it’s going to be a big job.

  9. Luigi

    September 16, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Peter Coad needs to join the Liberal Party.

    Better still, start making donations to it.

  10. Mark Temby

    September 16, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Just like the recent Federal election any new election for the HVC has every chance of returning the same balance. Mike Wilson, Peter Coad, the Greens and the HotH will still be there. Peter Coad would probably still be Mayor and the split in the two factions would remain around 50:50. My main concern would be the independence of an administrator appointed by an apparently biased Minister.

  11. Trish Kyne

    September 16, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    I think that the business ties are definitely an issue. Wasn’t the HVC the only council where campaign donations were not released to the public? That does not mean the public does not know who the puppet master is …

    However, we have both witnessed the close ties between some councillors and HVC management. Under the LGA the guidelines clearly state that the lines of communication are from the GM is to the operational staff; and the councillor’s avenue of communication is through the mayor. The link between council and the operational arm is supposed to be GM/mayor. The HVC management would not get away with their treatment of the mayor if the support from some councillors was not there, and vice versa. I believe it has become a matter of covering each other’s backs. Those ties are exactly why the councillors have not exercised their vote to sort one of the major issues out.

  12. Bob Hawkins

    September 16, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    #22. Why do most commenters seem to think it is the councillors who are the main cause of the dysfunctionality? My belief is that the main cause of the problem is the secret society that is HVC management and its links with key members of the Huon business community who really want nothing to change. Only a majority of councillors can do something about that situation — or an independent administrator put in to do their job.

  13. phill Parsons

    September 16, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Huon Valley’s problems cannot be fixed by external intervention except to remove the Council entirely, have the place administered for a period to break the deadlock and then try again.

    However a divided community will always be dysfunctional leaving aside personalities.

    Manly was divided 5/4 until a whiteshoer thought he was really clever and broke his ubdertaking, Councillors changed side on the most difficult issue of the time and it was 3/6 on the votes.

    The mayor had the ‘traitors’ dis-endorsed at the next election. Back to 5/4. They refurbished the ‘Boy’ Charlton swimming pool. Originally costed at $15M recently the total cost was released. $28M. What a cost overrun.

    Many Council also wanted to sell assets and build the same ones anew below sea level. It’s dysfunction was so bad long standing Liberals were paying out their own money to campaign against it.

    The Council tried to win in the recent amalgamations in NSW but Mosman Council didn’t see a community of interest.

    Manly is now under administration along with Warringah [again] and Pittwater. We shall see if 15 Councillors can be sensible when the new elections are held.

    Perhaps amalgamation is Gutwein’s answer as the new Northern Beaches Council crosses 2 Federal and three State seats.

  14. Bob Hawkins

    September 16, 2016 at 11:10 am

    What Gutwein has failed to acknowledge is that he has allowed the management of Huon Valley Council to handle its own organisation of the mediation process.

    How can the general manager of HVC be allowed to control the operation of the mediation process when it is she who is in conflict with Mayor Coad?

    If Gutwein can’t see that what he has done, and is doing, is morally and ethically wrong, he is not fit to be a minister of state.

    State governments are meant to be taking measures to keep local councils clean; not trying to maintain a sadly and badly flawed status quo.

  15. Geoffrey Swan

    September 15, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    #17 sounds like the same boilerplate text Trish.

    In a letter from Minister Gutwein to me July 20 after I raised the issue of possible influence by the former DLG Mr Hoysted with respect to the selection of an “independent” mediator; he said

    “I am satisfied with the process that has been undertaken in relation to the appointment of a mediator and I do not consider that it is necessary to intervene in this process.”

    And as for Cr Wilson’s comments in today’s Mercury agreeing the Mayor should resign… let us not forgot the person who really has his nose out of joint is Cr Wilson who for so many years has dreamed of being the Mayor – but just doesn’t have the support of the Community.

    So stop parking in the Mayors car parking space Cr Wilson – time to grow up and accept Mayor Coad has the majority vote.

    Stay strong please Mayor Coad.

  16. Trish Kyne

    September 15, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    #16 I agree Mark. There were two stories in last weeks HVN related to forestry. I felt it was a ploy to soften up the public while waiting for the guillotine to fall.

    Then we have what could be quite opposing planning decisions to come before council –
    * the re-emergence of the barge proposal. Wilson has stated he wants another jetty in the river.

    *The Recherche Bay hotel project has got the green light and is approaching running the gauntlet of the HVC. This project promises increased tourism, and many local jobs.

    *Council has approved seeking a grant to explore Biomass fuel.

    In this scenario, I believe barges would destroy the viability of the Recherche Bay project and put tourism for the area in the abyss. Biomass has the promise of dealing with forest waste while offering stable ongoing local employment.

    The unknown is why the faceless men are pushing for the barge proposal. Rumours abound.

  17. Got Me a Rates Bill

    September 15, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Good on you Mr Coad, stand up to those in council who believe ratepayers aren’t fit to see transparent processes.

    There are many people on your side Mr Coad.

  18. Trish Kyne

    September 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    I sent a letter to the minister pointing out the breaches of the Australian standards for mediation, in a process where one participant had all the control over the advertising, selection and appointment of the mediator. The minister did not respond.

    I bumped into someone who told me they had also written, and were aghast at the response they received from the minister who stated he was happy with the process. No answer to me as you can’t state you’re happy with something with as many holes as Swiss cheese. Can’t claim at a later date either that he was unaware of the breach of standards.

    It seems our government doesn’t care about the ratepayers, or service delivery, or honesty at any level. We are left with smug, self-serving bullies.

  19. Mark Temby

    September 15, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Mayor Coad wants Huon Valley Council to undertake an ongoing consultation with Kingborough Council as to cost savings and potential amalgamation. Wilson’s faction is dead against it. Gutwein is “leading” a push for council amalgamations. Obviously there is more at play here than council amalgamations as the appointment of an administrator would serve the apparent outcome. I’ve stated before this most likely has more to do with woodchips and native forests than what’s best for the community. I note the current media attention on Macquarie wharf.

  20. Bob Hawkins

    September 15, 2016 at 11:16 am

    ABC Local Radio got it wrong again this morning. It stated that the HVC mediation process was set up by the State Government. It certainly was Minister Gutwein, who, in his wisdom — and against the advice of his board of inquiry — ordered HVC’s conflicted parties to resort to mediation, BUT the mediation process was arranged by council’s general manager, who is one of the main conflicted parties. Perhaps Gutwein will explain how he could have been so wrongheaded in his handling of the problems of Huon Valley Council. It’s the old story of justice being done and being seen to be done. Sadly, at Huonville, on this occasion, neither is occurring. If Gutwein is not interested in fair play, he is the one who should resign.

  21. john hayward

    September 15, 2016 at 2:08 am

    The breakdown of intellectual and ethical faculties amongst the HVC is so dramatic that I suspect it could be a virus, much like the similar pandemic seen in the Waking in Fright story.

    The search for a cure will be hampered by state policies of hiring only those already afflicted.

    John Hayward

  22. Geoffrey Swan

    September 14, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Dear Minister Gutwein – sent September 15

    The biblical story of Judas readily comes to mind.

    Despite all the recommendations of your own appointed Board of Inquiry, despite all the evidence before you and despite the many letters to cross your desk; and the not in any way insignificant Change.org petition of some 325+ LOCAL Huon Valley residents and Ratepayers; you have today clearly demonstrated the weaknesses in your personal management skills.

    To publicly defile our popularly elected Mayor of the Huon Valley using Parliamentary privilege is no less than an assassination of an honest hard working individual who has given everything of himself and his family in his attempt to bring about the much needed change in our Huon Valley Council.

    Minister Gutwein you have not listened to the people and your stubborn position of not acting in the best interests of our Valley is disgraceful and highly reproachable, and I can now only put faith in our Premier that he will immediately intervene and ensure common sense prevails.

    The Huon Valley Council has failed, it is demonstrably dysfunctional, and the only solution going forward is to sack all the Councillors and Management and immediately appoint an Administrator who will once and for all reveal the secrets both the current and former Huon Valley Council so desperately want to keep hidden from us all.

    I have of course written to you previously and I therefore have no expectations of any appropriate response from you.

  23. William Boeder

    September 14, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    The way that the State government has continued to allow the agent provocateurs within the HVC to remain firmly embedded in their web of imprudent actions, further confirms that there are undesirable external motives for Peter Gutwein to be acting in the defence of this Councils troublemakers.
    A court of law outside of Tasmania would likely … force the resignation of the troubling councillor(s) from this intransient local government impeding affray.

  24. Shane Johnson

    September 14, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    The Minister’s Board of Inquiry stated that mediation would not work and that the only solution was to sack all councillors and appoint an administrator who could look at things with fresh, independent eyes.
    They could see that, although there were personality issues, the problems were system deep. Lasting reform would only come if the system changed. That is why there were 55 recommendations.
    The Minister ignored this expert advice and chose to give Council six months to sort itself out.
    It was never going to work and the actions of the ‘old guard’ in refusing to adopt the full recommendations of the Board of Inquiry confirmed the deep-rooted dysfunction.
    The Minister’s statement in Parliament confirms all of the advice he has received and now he has only one course left. That is to accept the advice of his Board of Inquiry and to sack this Council, appoint an administrator and not have fresh elections for at least 12 months.

  25. Helen Walne

    September 14, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    If this situation weren’t so serious it would make one of the better movie stories on a par with the mafiosi in Italy – with the exception of family murders. We’re certainly seeing dirty dealings played out. Past councillors write in to comment but forget they were part of the problem brewing for many years. Our government representative Minister Gutwein blunders forth with foolish decisions. Is there no wisdom or integrity in any of our local governance? Aren’t ratepayers tired of seeing Mayor, Peter Coad, pilloried by his fellow councillors and the GM … It’s time the Premier started to take a good look at the dangerous situation his minister has caused for this community. On the basis of a Risk Assessment of Ratepayer Safety the Huon Valley Council is our biggest danger.

  26. Bob Hawkins

    September 14, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Gutwein’s voice from Coward’s Castle has got it all wrong. It is an incompetent local government minister who should be resigning, not a mayor who stands for transparency and truth. Gutwein knows his Board of Inquiry got it right — the council is hopelessly dysfunctional, and possibly guilty of worse. And who, but a fool, would allow a council and its general manager to be given the authority to meditate themselves?

  27. Gerrya

    September 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Seems that the Minister is not considering the interests of the people in the valley instead focusing on puppets and their masters all appearing to have vested interests.

  28. Trish Kyne

    September 14, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    During question time in parliament today, Minister Gutwein has called for the mayor to stand down and allow for new elections to take place. What a gutless decision which gives de facto approval to the cowboys at the expense of the community.

    The minister cannot sack the mayor. So the time old standby of parliamentary privilege has been used to put the boots in and imply fault, leveled at one person.

    The community knows the truth.

    I am reminded of Whitlam’s call regarding ‘who will save the Governor General’.

    So – who will save the Libs in Franklin? Or maybe that’s the point. After all, it’s Hodgman’s seat.

  29. Bob Hawkins

    September 14, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    #5 … I agree, 375 bucks an hour for secretarial services is a bit rich. Those three councillors, I believe, assumed privileges that were not theirs to assume. I’d be interested to read a legal justification as to why they were able to take the course they did. But, perhaps, better we resist even more wasteful legal fees and spend the money in the real interests of the community.

  30. henrietta manning

    September 14, 2016 at 2:36 am

    Who on earth approved employing a legal firm at $375 an hour x 4 hours to act as an ‘independent secretary’ for a 3 person private council meeting? That’s the most expensive and overqualified ‘secretary’ i have ever heard of.

  31. Shane Johnson

    September 14, 2016 at 2:01 am

    The $54,000 question … just what is being hidden behind all this subterfuge?

    More pertinent is what each Huon Valley community could with that sum of money.

  32. Trish Kyne

    September 13, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    Since the petition has been gathering interest in the community a rumour is circulating that ‘sacking’ council refers to all members of staff, resulting in mass unemployment in the community. This is patently untrue and another scare tactic. The only people in the line of fire at the present time are the councillors themselves. Only the council can sack the GM; a situation that may be reversed when the targeted review of the LGA is completed in 2017. Only the GM can sack operational council staff.

    Maintaining the secrecy surrounding Page Seager reports (paid for by valley resident’s), cannot restore public confidence. Nor will confidence be restored by councillors prefacing statements with ‘in the interests of good governance and transparency’ while acting otherwise. The public cannot fail to recognise the tactics of wolves in sheep cladding. That boat has sailed.

    I believe councillors are at liberty to privately engage and pay for personal legal advice. However under the LGA the role of engaging legal advice for council is the purview of the GM, not the governance committee.

    The mayor was under siege before being elected to council, when his face was cut from the billboards on the Huon Highway. As he was the only candidate targeted in such a manner the action cannot be dismissed as random vandalism.

    Not electing the mayor to any of the council committees, and underlining that decision by voting down the motion to have the mayor as an ex officio member of committees (which allows the mayor to attend and contribute to discussion, but not to vote) disavows all pretence at acting in the best interests of the community.

    Completing the ‘lock-out’ of the mayor from council business was the election of Cr Wilson to the Geeveston Town Hall (GTH) group. Cr Wilson has replaced Mr Studley as the second council representative, alongside the GM. I assume Mr Studley will remain on the committee. Who knows? The incorporation of the GTH means residents (and the remaining councillors) are clueless regarding the operation of this ‘business’. The HVC picks up the bill for staff wages; provides support to apply for grants etc; and absorbs the GM’s time away from council to attend meetings. Incorporation means the operational decisions for the GTH are made without scrutiny, or review of the council. This includes GTH accounts being exempt from scrutiny by the auditor general… as well as the independence of the committee to approve ‘consultancy’ fees to committee members.

    I am reminded of children thumbing their nose at authority. I hope the Minister, and the acting Director of LG are watching, and apply the major recommendation the inquiry gave them: Sack this dysfunctional council.

  33. Simon Warriner

    September 13, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    re the petition:

    Perhaps one directed at Gutwien pointing out that his allowing this cluster f..k to roll on indefinitely is bringing the state into disrepute might get his attention. It has the added advantage of being open to all Tasmanians, not just the poor sods who pay rates in the Huon municipality.

    Richardson and Dillon got at least one thing right, there is narcissism involved. Given this nasty form of bastardry is a psychological condition according to the DSM IV, and we are not allowed to discriminate against people with psychological conditions under the anti-discrimination act, the chances of the problem being fixed by getting rid of the narcissist for their damaging behaviors are effectively zero, especially if it involves a permanent employee. Political correctness at its most unhelpful best, that!

  34. mike seabrook

    September 13, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    kingborough wants money from the state pollies for its ex school site development

    why not give the cash to them provided that they take over the huon valley council with all its liabilities and contingent liabilities and be done with it.

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