Opinion

Administrator defends council decision-making

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June 13, 2017

Sir,

I write in response to Sally Dye’s letter, published the Friday, June 9 edition of the Pastoral Times, outlining her reasons for resigning from her position on Edward River Council’s Local Advisory Committee (LAC).

Let me first put on record my appreciation to Ms Dye for serving on the LAC over the past 12 months, and my disappointment in her decision to stand down from the LAC, three weeks before it is scheduled to be dissolved.

Ms Dye had always been an active member of the LAC and I appreciated the experience she brought to our committee, and the counsel she provided me in my role as Administrator.

While Ms Dye always articulated her views with conviction, the reality is that her views were not always shared by her peers on the LAC and in any committee system — as with any elected Council — the view of the majority must be reflected in the chair’s decision-making.

Firstly, in response to Ms Dye’s comments on Council’s new organisational structure; I reiterate that all local governments formed through mergers in May last year are required to develop and implement a new organisational structure, and Edward River Council is no different.

We are required to have our structure delivered and populated by the September elections, and we are well on track to achieving that objective.

Our new organisational structure was developed following extensive consultation with our workforce, with all staff members given several opportunities to have their say on how we can shape a more efficient and effective organisation and one that is better positioned to respond to the priorities of our customers and our community.

In fact, the LAC was also consulted extensively on the development of our new organisational structure and the feedback I received from the committee was incorporated as part of that process.

Secondly, the recruitment of a new General Manager was necessary to progress the merger, improve organisational culture, and support our staff.

With those considerations in mind, it was resolved that a new General Manager was needed sooner rather than later. The alternative, of having Council function for seven months without a permanent General Manager in place, was not conducive to providing good governance.

The decision to appoint a permanent General Manager has not only been welcomed by many in our local community, but more importantly, by our staff.

I can genuinely say that the morale within Council’s organisation has improved markedly over the past weeks and months, and I am proud of their efforts and their commitment to the continued success of our local government and our community.

Council’s Implementation Advisory Group was consulted in making this decision, with former Conargo mayor Norm Brennan and former Deniliquin mayor Pat Fogarty heavily involved in the recruitment and selection process.

Thirdly, the NSW Government established the Stronger Communities Fund so that newly merged councils can kick-start projects which deliver better services and community facilities in their respective local government areas.

Under the guidelines set by the NSW Government, all projects funded under the Major Projects Program had to go through a thorough community consultation process, and I am proud to say that the Edward River Council has conducted an incredibly exhaustive consultation process to determine how best these funds should be spent.

Tomorrow, the Stronger Communities Fund Assessment Panel — which includes Murray MP Adrian Piccoli, a representative from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, an independent probity adviser, as well as Mr Brennan, Mrs Fogarty and me — will convene to determine which projects will be funded through our $8.6 million Major Projects Program.

To the more than 300 residents and ratepayers who provided us with their feedback over the course of our consultation process, let me say thank you.

I can assure you that the panel has an excellent grasp of your views on the shortlisted projects, and your opinions on how best these funds can be expended to benefit the entire Edward River region.

Finally, let me address Ms Dye’s comments regarding the NSW Government’s approach to the local government reform process and her suggestion that the creation of Edward River Council should be reversed.

In short, we’re just weeks away from our first elections: It’s just not going to happen.

Following the Fit for the Future process, the NSW Government determined to merge the former Conargo Shire and Deniliquin Councils to form Edward River Council, and as recently as late February, Premier Berejiklian confirmed that the mergers of rural and regional councils that had already commenced — including Edward River — would proceed.

I have consistently said since my appointment as Administrator that the creation of Edward River Council would bring both challenges and opportunities.

My own view is that my role as Administrator — and the roles of our former councillors, the LAC members — is to overcome those challenges and make the most of the opportunities.

The conversation we should be having now is not whether we can go back to the past and to what is familiar, but instead about how we can build a stronger community, grow our economy to create a more prosperous Edward River region, and deliver the right leadership to get us to where we want to go and achieve what we set out do.

I close with encouraging all Edward River residents to ensure their voter registration details are up-to-date with the NSW Electoral Commission, and urge all those who are passionate about our community to consider standing as a candidate at the forthcoming election.

The response from the community since Ms Dye’s letter has been overwhelming. Thank you to everyone who has contacted me and voiced their support for Council and expressed their desire for us to continue getting on with the job at hand.

Yours etc.

Ashley Hall

Administrator

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