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Clarence Valley News

Valley’s mayoral candidates keep heads down

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Clarence Valley Council mayoral candidates keep heads down

Valley’s mayoral candidates keep heads down

TIM HOWARD

The resignations of five councillors and a general manager plus the election of six new councillors at the December 4 local government elections has created a rare opportunity for Clarence Valley Council.
Electors sprung a minor surprise at the ballot box, electing six new councillors, although two of them, Ian Tiley and Bill Day, are hugely experienced at local government level.
But the departure of what some ratepayers bizarrely termed the “Grafton mafia”: Mayor Jim Simmons, his deputy Jason Kingsley and Crs Richie Williamson, Andrew Baker and Arthur Lysaught (only two are from Grafton) and the resignation of general manager Ashley Lindsay has opened up opportunities in both the elected and executive branches of the council.
With six newbies on the council the accepted wisdom is former Clarence Valley mayor Ian Tiley would be a shoe-in for the top job.
In fact, Greens councillor Greg Clancy, who finished fourth on the popular vote tally, made no secret he and Mr Tiley would run on a Tiley/Clancy ticket for mayor and deputy.
But other councillors have harboured mayoral ambitions.
Karen Toms has stood for the role of mayor or deputy several times without success.
The departure of five councillors who often stood against her could give her the confidence to try again.
Acting against her is the knowledge she was the last councillor elected, meaning in the public eye, she is the least popular member of the council.
Debrah Novak been one of the most vocal and visible councillors since she was elected in 2016.
She has made involvement in the community her watchword and she is an effective communicator in traditional and social media.
Following an election where voters showed they valued a high level of community mindedness, Ms Novak has every right to put herself forward as a candidate for mayor.
The most popular vote winner, Grafton businessman Jeff Smith, has ruled out a run for mayor, but given the strength of his vote, the electorate has clear expectations of him taking a leading role.
Maybe a term as deputy mayor in this shortened term (two years and nine months), would give Mr Smith enough of a taste of life at the top to take tilt at the top job next time.
The position of general manager is even more interesting than the hunt for a new mayor.
A new council has free rein to choose its general manager should it want to and with the departure of Mr Lindsay there has been moves for a change.
Late last year the council voted to appoint the council’s governance director Laura Black as acting general manager while Mr Lindsay completes his leave period and the council decides who it wants in the top job.
But the 5-4 vote for Ms Black was even shakier than it looked. The five councillors who backed her as acting GM were the same five who were not standing for re-election.
During debate on the matter councillors argued it could overturn her appointment in the new year and bring in outside expertise.
In addition there were some queries about Ms Black’s performance as acting general manager while Mr Lindsay was on sick leave in the middle of the year.
She made decisions to refuse some ratepayers access to information which attracted censure from the Information Privacy Commissioner and on a related matter banned council contact with the same ratepayers, which the NSW Ombudsman said did not follow council procedure.
On his return from sick leave Mr Lindsay said he could offer no explanation for Ms Black’s actions in refusing GIPA access and apologised to them for the council’s actions.
But he did support Ms Black’s decision to ban staff contact with the ratepayers because of their unreasonable contact, despite the statement from the Ombudsman’s office.
He also believed the council should continue with Ms Black in the acting GM role because she was across a number of vital projects the council was on a tight deadline to finish.
Ms Black’s performance was also questioned over the late presentation of the 2020-21 annual report, which turned up as a late item of business at the extraordinary council meeting on December 3, the day before the election.
It was revealed there had been errors in the initial report and their had been administrative mistakes made while correcting these errors.
While Ms Black’s handling of these matter was not faulted, her position as a the director of governance generates an expectation she has intimate knowledge in these areas.
These should be the type of issues the new council considers when it hires the GM it wants.

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