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

HVC’s $54,000 BoI defence is still under wraps

Huon Valley Guessing Games

If the “dysfunctional” council down here in the Huon wishes to win back electorate respect it may once have enjoyed, it should, at Wednesday’s (August 31) ordinary meeting, unanimously vote to debate in “open council” an issue its general manager has decided should be heard in “closed council”.

General Manager Simone Watson is relying on Local Government (General) Regulations 2015 15 (2)(g), (2)(i) and (9) to justify her decision. The issue relates to a petition received by council at its July 27 ordinary meeting. That petition simply asks HVC “to release in full to the public the responses of Huon Valley Council to Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein’s Board of Inquiry’s March and May 2016 reports”.

(Meanwhile, another petition is in circulation re Huon Valley Council. This one asks Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein to implement Recommendations 1 and 2 of his Board of Inquiry’s report into HVC: dismiss the councillors and appoint a commissioner; and not call a new election for a minimum of 12 months.

Despite the notorious Huon Valley fear factor, nearly 250 people had put their names to it by Monday. You can find the petition at: 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.)

NOW, back to those Local Government (General) Regulations that the GM cites as reasons not to debate in open session the petition received by council on July 27.

This is what the regulations say:

15 (2)(g): “Information of a personal and confidential nature or information provided to the council on the condition it is kept confidential.”

15 (2)(i): “Matters relating to actual or possible litigation taken, or to be taken, by or involving the council or an employee of council.”

15 (9): Subject to the Right to Information Act 2009, and discussions, decisions, reports or documents relating to a closed council or council committee, after considering privacy and confidentiality issues, authorises their release to the public.”

OK, so there may be a lot of red tape surrounding those two council responses, which one would imagine were almost entirely based on legal advice supplied to council by prominent Hobart law firm Page Seager, at a cost of about $54,000. The final BoI report — which, presumably, was a modified version of the May report — was handed to Gutwein on June 3.

Gutwein released that final BoI report (possibly “redacted” here and there) to the public on June 15. On the same day, he also released his responses to the inquiry, and gave HVC, under threat of sacking, seven “directions” to fulfil. Our dysfunctional council (that’s how the BoI’s final report describes it) continues to grapple with the minister’s directions.

The directions appear to be based more on council’s two responses (to the BoI’s two interim reports) rather than on the BoI’s final report. It is intriguing that a few days’ or weeks’ work by experienced lawyers appear to have carried more weight with the minister than seven months of diligent expert inquiry by two long-experienced public servants who certainly knew what they’re were doing.

The BoI’s first finding is:

F1. The current unworkable relationship between the mayor and the general manager, between the mayor and certain councillors and between certain councillors is highly irregular and renders the council dysfunctional.

The BoI final report’s three main recommendations are:

R1. Pursuant to section 226(1)(b) of the Act, the Minister should recommend that the Governor by order dismiss the councillors and appoint a commissioner under section 231 of the Act to perform the functions of the council.

R2. A new election is not called for a minimum period of 12 months.

R3. The question of whether the Minister should have the power to dismiss a council’s general manager should be referred to the review of the Local Government Act 1993.

Almost no one outside of council knows what was in the council’s lawyer-backed responses to the BoI. But, presumably, they would have rejected any notion of dysfunctionality. And it might be imagined that some of those that feature in the council’s responses would be reluctant for them to be made public.

Whatever has been happening behind the scenes, the minister finally (and presumably on qualified advice from his staff) opted to allow the good people of the Huon Valley to continue to be administered by a council that his board of inquiry had declared dysfunctional.

From what the public saw at the last two council meetings, there was nothing to suggest that the minister’s “mediation” solution has any hope of succeeding.

IN THE meantime, let’s forget about the niceties of such things as principles and democracy, and turn to the harsh reality of what the people of the valley have so far got for their money — $54,000, which may or may not eventually be paid by some sort of insurance policy the council has.

A lot of us aren’t impressed. For a start, we weren’t told council began paying big bucks months ago in its now clearly failed attempt to refute the findings of the BoI final report. We certainly didn’t know that council’s “not guilty” argument was costing upward of $54,000. And that’s a bill, I suspect, that could still be climbing.

When 70 valley residents asked council in a petition to release its responses to the BoI report, two councillors — Deputy Mayor Ian Paul and Pav Ruzicka — voted against council even accepting their petition. Fortunately for the petitioners, five councillors voted for it to be accepted.

As is normal, once a petition is “received”, HVC management has to prepare a report on it for presentation to the next ordinary meeting. But will the petition report be discussed in open council this Wednesday? It certainly won’t be if the item is left on the closed-council part of the agenda.

So, for the moment, we have no idea of what our $54,000 was spent on — that is, of course, apart from one council friend, Mick Newell of 7HOFM, who conveniently got a copy, in his “letterbox”, of the first of HVC’s responses. Presumably that was delivered to him by someone in council; or by someone who had been given it by someone in council; or, possibly, by someone at State Government level.

What is certain is that, if Huon Valley’s councillors don’t vote to bring the petition debate back into open council on Wednesday evening, we will continue to be kept in the dark by a council that sadly has earned itself a wide reputation for secretiveness.

As I recall, somewhere in the BoI report is a plea for council to be more open in its dealings with the people that own it.

In the case of the justifications for putting the petition issue into closed council, it must be asked whether we are watching a council management simply doing its job by following the rules to the letter.

If that’s the case, the matter is easily fixed. Barring unexpected absences, there will be eight councillors in the council chamber on Wednesday evening (Lydia Eastley is on leave of absence). They are all grown-ups, experienced in coping with the vicissitudes of life; they are all, we might reasonably assume, people with minds of their own and capable of thinking for themselves.

All that is needed is for enough councillors (five) to decide that we, the people, should be able to hear — in open-council debate — their views on whether or not they believe it is reasonable for the people they represent to know what is in the reports that their money has been spent on.

Local Government (General) Regulations aside, the councillors should know how to conduct a sensitive debate (on the merits, or not, of releasing those council responses) without ever trespassing on the forbidden areas of “personal and confidential”, “possible litigation”, closed-meeting confidentiality etc, to which the regulations refer.

At least three of the eight councillors, I am sure, can be relied upon to support a move to bring the issue out of closed council — Mayor Peter Coad and Crs Ian Mackintosh and Liz Smith, each of whom has publicly said they want those council responses to the BoI reports out there in the public arena.

And two other councillors are on record as having suggested council’s responses should be released.

— Some months back, when someone was arguing that the BoI findings should be released, Cr Wilson insisted that, if that should happen, “other reports” should also be out there. What else could he have been referring to except council’s costly legal responses to what Wilson probably thought were undesirable BoI findings about a council of which he has long wanted to be mayor? It is to be hoped he still feels that way?

— And Cr Bruce Heron got a ruler across his knuckles from the GM for musing at an open council meeting that he couldn’t see why council’s responses should not be released. He might even have been suggesting that councillors had already agreed that they should be released. The GM moved quickly — “Through you, Mr Mayor” — to silence Heron. That was “closed council” business, he was warned, and, therefore, not to be mentioned. (Mayor Coad on another occasion was chided by the GM for venturing into “closed council” territory in his remarks.)

How the relatively new councillor, James Lange, would vote is moot. He came on the scene some time after management decided to, expensively, defend itself against the BoI. But he has indicated signs of supporting an open and accessible council. One can only hope.

Surely someone on Wednesday will move for the petition issue to be brought out into open council. If that happens, Heron and Wilson should reasonably be expected to put their votes where there mouths once were — which would be just enough to ensure an adult, open-council discussion on the merits of a people’s petition. (For a motion to pass, it must have a majority — a 4-4 vote would mean a lost motion.)

AT THE August 12 “special meeting” of council, a management report accused the Mayor of having been, 15 times, “non-compliant” with Gutwein’s Direction 3, relating to the Mayor as council’s spokesman. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and that sentence in the management report was struck out.

But the very fact that the charges of non-compliance were made (with no evidence to support them being available for public appraisal) resulted in the Mayor telling council, and the public gallery, that his position had become impossible.

It could have been read into Coad’s remarks that the farcical mediation process that Gutwein has inflicted on council — on both general manager and councillors — was likely to be about to end. But no information of that nature has come from council since, so it may be assumed that mediation, as an inept attempt to halt HVC internecine warfare, plods on.

AT THE JULY 27 ordinary meeting of HVC, Coad had questions for Mike Wilson. With Wilson, the Mayor’s most hostile opponent since the October 2014 election, not being there to answer them, those questions are back on the agenda (see Questions on Notice http://www.huonvalley.tas.gov.au/council/meetings/ August 31 ordinary council meeting agenda).

The questions challenge Wilson to explain how he had been thanked in a letter from lawyer David Wallace of Wallace Wilkinson & Webster “for your instructions to attend the council meeting on Wednesday 26 August 2015”.

Not unreasonably, Coad, who was Mayor at that time, is obviously intrigued to know how a down-table councillor had been given permission to offer to a lawyer “instructions”, presumably on council’s behalf. Coad’s questions do suggest that, as Mayor, he had no idea Wilson might have been acting as a council envoy. Surely not another case of council dysfunctionality!

Wilson’s answers on Wednesday evening will be of great interest. In the spirit of co-operation Minister Gutwein has appealed for, he might even offer an assurance that, from now on, he will be more conciliatory in his attitude towards the valley’s elected leader.

ANOTHER item of interest on this Wednesday’s agenda is a question from Smith relating to heritage-listed buildings in Cygnet’s Burtons Reserve. It seems “concept drawings” are being developed by council for a new toilet block, including temporary showers at folk-festival time.

Smith wants to know why the project was not on the July 14 agenda of council’s Burtons Reserve Management Advisory Committee; and whether the folk-festival committee has been consulted.

Surely we’re not witnessing yet another example of a council management oblivious to the advantages of consulting with the public before drawing up concept plans, rather than presenting them in a fait accompli, take-it-or-leave-it, flourish. The latter course has become the norm since council, under the leadership of Robert Armstrong (now MLC), abandoned any attempt at serious community consultation some years ago. The Burtons Reserve issue appears to be yet another example of council dysfunctionality, but that’s another story for later consideration.

THERE’S A Waterloo — “Here we come again!” — moment in council’s papers this week. In the almost unopenable “attachments” on the HVC website (under Agenda and Minutes), there is mention of a Planning Scheme Amendment, and a Development Application — for a “wharf, jetty and access road” at Surges Bay — lodged by a company by the name of Telopea.

Isn’t Telopea Pty Ltd the company of Dennis Bewsher, the man whose application, a couple of years back, to impose a huge barge operation at Surges Point ended in failure; and cost HVC huge, unnecessary, amounts of money as its management spent weeks, maybe months, trying to justify (unsuccessfully) why that application should succeed?

I wonder if Mr Bewsher is still considering using huge barges (which council then did not have the authority to adjudicate on, and now knows for sure that it hasn’t) and a double-handling system for export cargoes — from land-to-barge and then from barge-to-seagoing vessel.

FOR THE MOMENT, however, back to Wednesday’s meeting. Let us hope Huon Valley Council gets real and allows the people to know what $54,000 of their money has been spent on to acquire information that is so secret the buyers (us, the public) are still not allowed to set eyes on. — Bob Hawkins

*Bob Hawkins 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.

• Ed: Mr Bewsher, as is Ms Watson, are always welcome to put their side of the story …

• Bob Hawkins in Comments: HVC hugely dysfunctional again last night (Wednesday). Re the petition item placed in “closed” council by management: it stayed there, the eight-councillor meeting splitting 4-4 on a “procedural motion” (no debate) by Mackintosh to bring it into open council. (There was very strange behaviour by one councillor on this vote — too difficult to explain in a few words. Maybe in a later article.) Having been kept in closed council, one can only assume that, if the council’s responses to the BoI are not released, the petition was thrown out. That $54,000 is looking, to this ratepayer, more like questionable us of the public purse …

Geoffrey Swan in Comments: As a interested Ratepayer attending Council yet again this week, I am left in do doubt we have before us what the BOI has aptly described as a Dysfunctional Council. Simple Definition of dysfunction: “the condition of having poor and unhealthy behaviours and attitudes within a group of people”. I attempted to contact Director Local Government Mr Phillip Hoysted yesterday only to be advised he has taken early retirement and former Deputy Greg Brown is now acting in that role. Here’s hoping the Acting DLG will see the farcical situation for what it truly is and convince Minister Gutwein to move sooner rather than later. After all.. this is our Ratepayers’ money being wasted on all matter of things at this time. Why should our Community have to put up with this charade any longer …

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Trish Kyne

    August 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    As usual you have covered all the main points well, Bob.

    I remember when the 7HOfm broadcast revealed the existence of the Page Seager report, was also around the time the mayor was accused of walking out of meetings. There was obviously discussion at that time about something the public has never been privy to. There were also loud calls to release the reports. Now it appears to be on the nose.

    The Waterloo Bay project should be a ‘dead duck.’ At the last council meeting there was discussion around ‘Biomass’ fuel and its possible introduction in various formats. A resolution to apply for grant money to investigate the development in the Huon Valley was also passed. One would think if there was any logical thought processes that the council would focus on something that provided jobs for the valley and an on-going management of forest debris. You can’t maintain supply for a Biomass feeder as well as sell off woodchip via barges….. Unless they plan to buy the wood chip back from elsewhere?

    251 people have now signed the petition you mentioned.

  2. Geoffrey Swan

    August 29, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Why is our Council trying so hard to keep information from us …

    In the past two months I have been most fortunate to be connected to the new NBN Skymuster Satellite – which means we are no longer “enjoying” the old “dial up type” speeds we’ve put up with for the past 8 years.

    This also means I have been able to assist other Ratepayers with information that is otherwise almost impossible for them to gather because they don’t have my internet speed or capacity.

    Why does the HVC insist on publishing documents on their webpage that are so large in file size that many simply cannot access them.

    The last batch of attachments to which Bob refers is a whopping 97 Mbytes consisting of pdf format files, one single document being 37 Mbytes. The recent credit card revelation was a massive single file of 78 Mbytes. Just about impossible for many Huon Valley Ratepayers to view or download.

    Using off the shelf software I can reduce these files by around 75% without any quality loss – not at all difficult.

    Kingborough Council have for some time provided audio recordings of their meetings on their website and I can report their audio file sizes are around 20 Mbytes. By comparison the HVC audio file is hovering around a massive 150 Mbytes. With my previous internet connection I could not access these audio files.

    When I asked management if I could bring in a USB stick and obtain a copy I was advised “Unfortunately the policy approved by Council does not contemplate providing recordings to residents. You are welcome to come and listen to the recording in the customer service room. We just need notice to ensure that it is not being used at the time (it operates on a booking system).”

    It is 2016, our Census has been hacked… why is the HVC still in the dark ages with all this IT stuff?

    And then there is the Huon Valley promotional video which Council attempted to project on the big screen at a HVC Council meeting a few months back… only to spectacularly fail. For some reason no attempt has been made to present it to us again…

    And I must comment again on the microphones around the table – $54,000+ on legals is perhaps why Council cannot afford to purchase additional microphones and a larger sound desk so that Councillors don’t need to be consistently reminded to speak into the microphone…though it does appear to me that a couple of our elected representatives are a little “media” shy about being recorded, or even heard in the public gallery.

    Dysfunctional* (BOI page 4)

  3. Helen Walne

    August 29, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you to Bob Trish and Geoffrey for keeping us well-informed about proceedings. By now the ratepayers would know about, and be able to participate in, the people’s petition requesting HVC’s adherence to the recommendations of the BOI Report in spite of Minister Gutwein’s sloppy directions.
    Why then has there not been a bigger response and participation by ratepayers in signing this petition? Is it telling us something about the apathy/ignorance of the community and/or disinterest in the integrity and commitment of those who represent us?
    Nothing good will happen unless people take an interest and support those who are fighting for the right thing to happen. Too many ratepayers are prepared to sit back and hide in silence and let the bullies rule. Perhaps they are happy with the status quo. In which case it makes amalgamation look like an interesting scenario if that’s what is on the agenda of government.

  4. Steve

    August 31, 2016 at 12:10 am

    #3; You make a very valid point Helen. Affairs in the Huon are a State away from me, however I observe with interest.
    I have no doubt that others do also. The level of apathy in the populace is of constant interest in political circles. We drop our guard at our peril.

  5. Bob Hawkins

    August 31, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    HVC hugely dysfunctional again last night (Wednesday). Re the petition item placed in “closed” council by management: it stayed there, the eight-councillor meeting splitting 4-4 on a “procedural motion” (no debate) by Mackintosh to bring it into open council. (There was very strange behaviour by one councillor on this vote — too difficult to explain in a few words. Maybe in a later article.) Having been kept in closed council, one can only assume that, if the council’s responses to the BoI are not released, the petition was thrown out. That $54,000 is looking, to this ratepayer, more like questionable use of the public purse.

    — An amazingly unconvincing reply by Wilson to Mayor Coad’s questions about Wilson’s role as a go-between for council and a law firm.

    — Council is still doing its best to play down the chaotic scene that is its HR department.

    — Voting on council’s “new committee” system (which makes a mockery of the minister’s direction to get rid of its “portfolio” system) was fairly predictable, with the mayor not winning a place on any committee; and the Heart councillors denying a move to give the mayor ex-officio (able to participate in debate but no voting right) status on each committee.

    All in all, a shambles. The day must be drawing near when Minister Gutwein will have no option but to dismiss council.

  6. Helen Walne

    September 1, 2016 at 1:52 am

    We’ve seen the movie about the treatment of the American who came to the Huon with hope seeking evidence of the vanished thylacine. I wonder who will play the lead in the exciting developing story of vanishing probity…..if it ever existed.

  7. Geoffrey Swan

    September 1, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    As a interested Ratepayer attending Council yet again this week, I am left in do doubt we have before us what the BOI has aptly described as a Dysfunctional Council.

    Simple Definition of dysfunction:

    “the condition of having poor and unhealthy behaviours and attitudes within a group of people”

    I attempted to contact Director Local Government Mr Phillip Hoysted yesterday only to be advised he has taken early retirement and former Deputy Greg Brown is now acting in that role.

    Here’s hoping the Acting DLG will see the farcical situation for what it truly is and convince Minister Gutwein to move sooner rather than later. After all.. this is our Ratepayers’ money being wasted on all matter of things at this time.

    Why should our Community have to put up with this charade any longer…

  8. corinne

    September 15, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    my understanding of the latest petition was calling on the council and senior management in council to be sacked and re-elected. it seems to me that the problems seem to be on both sides of the fence?

  9. Helen Walne

    September 15, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    The petition is calling for the Councillors to be sacked, administrators to step in, and another election for councillors to be held down the track. No mention of sacking the management employees of HVC. Although…….

  10. Trish Kyne

    September 15, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    #8 Corinne – There has been a rumour started that the entire staff will be sacked. Absolutely ludicrous. Equal to the Labs scare campaign during the Federal election.

    Sacking the council means all councillors – which includes the mayor.
    An administrator would be appointed as there is a Local Government law in relation to the lead-in time to any election, and the council can’t be rudderless.

    There would then be an election for all council positions. HOWEVER, if the minister changes the rules to oust the mayor, there would be a by-election. If the person elected to the mayors position does not have enough experience to BE mayor, then the remaining councillors pick their own mayor. So people who cannot win in their own right because they do not have the support of the public, can end up mayor.

    Despite the fact that most of the BOI 55 recommendations were operational issues and therefore in the domain of the GM’s position,the GM can only be sacked by the councillors.

    As the holder of the petition, I am encouraging the residents of the Huon Valley to be able to have a voice and stop the rot now. The minister has used parliamentary privilege as a poison chalice to further destroy the mayor’s character in the public eye. Why should the person who is trying very hard on behalf of the residents to bring transparency and good governance to council practice be the scapegoat while the real issues remain buried and covered up? This is the 21st century. A few people maintaining a strangle hold on the valley population is not on.

    I was speaking to an agent recently who told me that between 2 local agents 100 properties had been sold in the valley in one month. How many did other agents sell? I think that is an enormous turnover. Why can’t the valley retain the residents who bring another perspective, and their experience to the community, and for the retirees they also bring their cash.

    What is wrong with the community that people move in and out again? To provide growth and jobs and keep the economy buoyant, a community needs the injection of new blood and new ideas.

    I hope the helps.

    If you look at the petition – type
    Change.org Peter Gutwein MP
    into your search engine and the petition will come up under the heading – Implement the Board of Inquiry recommendations.
    Read other peoples’ reasons for voting. 345 at this point.

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