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Clarence Valley News

Councillors “out to get GM” says Toms



Councillors “out to get GM” says Toms

Councillors “out to get GM” says Toms


By Tim Howard

Clarence Valley Council has doubled down on its decision to award its general manager, Laura Black, a 2% pay rise, despite a State Government-legislated freeze on political and senior executive salaries.

And a veteran councillor said the motion was evidence of a group of councillors “out to get” the council’s general manager Laura Black.

A rescission motion brought to the first ordinary council meeting of the year last week, failed in its bid to overturn the original decision, which added around $7200 a year to the general manager’s pay packet.

Ms Black had declared an interest in this item and left the council chamber while it was debated.

The motion, moved by Cr Bill Day, was also signed by former mayor Cr Ian Tiley, former deputy mayor, Cr Greg Clancy and current deputy mayor Jeff Smith.

The original decision, made at an extraordinary meeting of council just two weeks earlier and passed 5-4, was controversial.

In a broader sense it side-stepped a NSW Government decision ruling to freeze politicians and senior executive salaries.

And closer to home it has become a touchstone for the two factions that have emerged among the councillors.

While the decision was not unexpected the spiteful nature of the debate was a low point for council that does not look interested in mending an obvious split.

In one exchange Cr Karen Toms was warned twice in a couple of minutes drawing rulings from mayor Peter Johnstone.

Cr Clancy was clearly becoming exasperated with his colleague’s failure to follow protocol.

“Point of disorder”, he called out the first of a number of times.

It began a heated exchange.

Cr Johnstone: Can I just check that? Do you consider you called Cr Clancy a liar?

Cr Toms: Probably.

Cr Johnstone: Okay. In that case, Cr Toms, you must apologise and withdraw the remarks.

Cr Toms: Okay. I unreservedly apologise for calling you a liar, Cr Clancy.

Cr Clancy: Thank you. Apology accepted.

Cr Johnstone: Cr Toms.

Cr Toms: Thank you. So this might upset him too.

In the rest of her address Cr Toms alleged the rescission motion was “retribution for the findings of the code of conduct that Cr Day mentioned earlier.”

She revealed she had requested a GIPA finding so she could make public the findings of a Code of Conduct investigation of Cr Clancy.

Cr Toms said these findings were different to those released to councillors.

The mayor ordered Cr Toms to stop this line of argument several times and she finally agreed, but her dissatisfaction was evident as she criticised the council’s processes.

“Okay. I’ll try and behave. Okay, so here we are. It is a kangaroo court,” she said.

But Cr Toms was not finished, alleging the motive behind the rescission motion was a plot “out to get” the general manager.

“You know, there was there’s actually a plot here,” she said.

“And I think we can all read between lines. There’s a plot here and the fact that there’s a rescission motion when it was a clear five four vote.

“And then Cr Clancy on the radio again says ‘oh, there’s a few days might be able to someone might change their mind’.

“She’s doing a good job. She’s saved this council hundreds of thousands of dollars, saved them.

“And yet we’ve got four councillors here who spent their whole bloody term out to get her. It’s a vendetta.”

Cr Toms’ suggestion of a plot against the general manager adds significance to the manoeuvres which led to the performance review and pay rise coming in a mayoral minute to an extraordinary council meeting on February 15.

Initially the four councillors who signed the rescission motion called an extraordinary meeting to deal with what they described as an issue with senior staff.

But on the morning of the meeting, they decided to withdraw their request when other councillors, including Cr Toms, called for an extraordinary meeting the same day to deal with the mayoral minute.

Cr Day, who moved the rescission motion, argued the pay rise was out of step with community expectations during difficult financial times and the performance review process was flawed.

“The performance review report outlines many positive achievements of Clarence Valley Council and I do believe in all honesty, that this council does many things quite well, very well something but it would be truly tragic If an organisation which employs nearly 500 staff could not achieve anything,” Cr Day said.

“However, this report, the performance review report, totally ignores the negatives and therefore it has no balance.

“And believe me, there are a number of substantial negatives for experienced councillors to acknowledge….

“Some of the negatives include problems with community engagement that includes the Brooms Head management plan that’s on the agenda today. Quite tragic.

Councillors “out to get GM” says Toms

Cr Karen Toms

“Treelands Drive Community Precinct project in Yamba, defamation actions that have occurred, councillors being denied information, Grafton Aquatic Centre Project, a recent Code of Conduct against a councillor, various staffing issues.”

Cr Day said councillors needed to acknowledge these issues too.

“You already know about most of these matters,” he said,

“The councillors certainly know about them, and many of you choose to ignore them.”

Other councillors defended the original resolution and said council needed to get over this decision and move on.

Cr Steve Pickering said, while not knowing a lot about the performance review process, accepted its finding, which showed the general manager performing above expectations.

He pointed out the review process had been set up with former mayor, Cr Ian Tiley, who was one of the councillors now questioning the process.

“This is the way that the system has to work within nominated councillors to be on this review panel to work to analyse the performance of the general manager and report back to council so that the other councillors not on the panel would know how the hell the general manager’s performing,” he said.

Cr Pickering said the performance review panel has met twice and given the general manager an above average rating both times and he was prepared to accept that.

Cr Clancy, who had been on the first performance review panel, said he had walked away from it because he was “unhappy with the process”.

He came under attack for his stance and the fallout from it.

He also dismissed the notion of a plot against the general manager.
“We’ve been told that we’re some sort of organised, get-the-general-manager group and I take offence at that,” he said.

“We’ve all got our own views. I’ve always had a concern about the process of the general manager’s review panel.

“I’ve always had that problem because as Cr Day pointed out, it doesn’t drill down in certain areas when there are problems.”

Cr Debrah Novak, who sat on both performance review panels, said it had become concerning how many different stories were emerging from the one event.

“Elected councillors are the boss of the general manager,” she said. “We must act with dignity. We must act with probity, and we must act with professionalism.

“Otherwise as elected councillors we can be exposed to be sued.”

She said “spreading rumours” and “throwing petrol on the fire” demeaned the processes council must employ and demeaned the office of general manager.

“I’m all about the position of GM that that is upheld and it is honoured because that person is in charge of the 500 employees,” she said.

She “Is in charge of delivering what our community has asked her to deliver and been voted on to deliver through council resolutions through our community strategic plans.

This sideshow that’s going on makes us look like clowns.”

Cr Smith said Cr Novak had given him some valuable advice to get in contact with the Office of Local Government to learn about process.

“I’m so glad I did, like I can speak about how process is so important.

“And in that respect, I’ve been so glad to be able to sit here with a with a clear mind listening to the debate on this subject. Thank you.”

Cr Smith voted in support of the rescission motion.


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Our Seniors Are Tops!




Seniors Achievement Award

Our Seniors Are Tops!


State Member for Clarence Richie Williamson has shown his appreciation for the invaluable contributions of seniors in our community by presenting the inaugural Seniors Achievement Award in Lawrence today.

During this year’s Senior’s Week celebrations, Mr. Williamson called upon the community to nominate individuals and groups who exemplify dedication and commitment to enhancing the Richmond and Clarence valleys.

“I was thrilled to receive numerous nominations showcasing the remarkable efforts of seniors and senior’s groups,” Mr. Williamson said. “These individuals and organisations consistently go above and beyond, supporting various aspects of community life, from maintaining community halls to providing essential transport services.”

The first Seniors Achievement Award was awarded to Connect You Too, a not-for-profit community-based organisation dedicated to enhancing the lives of residents in the Clarence Valley. Connect You Too offers a vital range of services, including transportation for people of all ages, meal delivery in Iluka, Maclean, and Yamba, non-emergency medical transport, shopping excursions, and social outings. With a team of 60 volunteers and staff, Connect You Too plays a pivotal role in fostering community well-being.

“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the board, volunteers, and staff of Connect You Too,” remarked Mr. Williamson. “Their outstanding commitment to serving seniors and the broader community is truly commendable, making them deserving recipients of this prestigious achievement award.”

Mr. Williamson anticipates presenting additional achievement awards across the Richmond and Clarence Valleys in the forthcoming weeks, further acknowledging the exceptional contributions of seniors and senior’s groups.


For more seniors news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Mayor to “eyeball” AG over courthouse hours cut




Attorney General

Mayor to “eyeball” AG over courthouse hours cut


By Tim Howard

Clarence Valley mayor Peter Johnstone is brushing up on his diplomatic kung fu, after his fellow councillors voted to have him “eyeball” the NSW Attorney General over a state government decision to cut service hours at Maclean Courthouse.

At its March meeting, the council indicated it was not satisfied with the government’s response to a letter to the Attorney General, Michael Daley, in December 2023, advocating that face to face services at Maclean Courthouse, remain the same.

Instead the parliamentary secretary to the Attorney General, Hugh McDermott’s reply, indicated the cuts to services would remain.

“The Attorney General has asked me to respond on his behalf, Mr McDermott wrote.

“I’m informed that in May 2023, court services in the Department of Communities and justice initiated a change in the level of face to face service delivery at Maclean based on the low level of demand for this service.

“The service was reduced from five days per week to five days per month.”

Crs Debrah Novak and Ian Tiley combined to provide a motion to stiffen the council’s opposition to the decision.

After fine tuning of the wording, the council settled on the motion: That council:

  1. notes the report.
  2. makes direct representations to the NSW Attorney General, seeking support of the Member for

Clarence, Hon Richie Williamson, objecting most strongly to the service hours reductions at Maclean Court House, and the mayor seek to meet the minister to convey these concerns.

Cr Novak said the decision was clearly not in the interests of Clarence Valley people.

“We have the key issues here in front of us in black and white,” she said.

“So this motion now is to go back to the NSW Attorney General and the minister with Richie on one side, the mayor on the other side to the minister saying we’re not happy with what you’ve determined.

“What you think is in our best interest because at the end of the day, it is not in our LGAs best interest to have this service downgraded.

“It’s in the state government’s best interest because it’s a cost saving measure.”

Cr Tiley said the council had little to lose and a lot to gain.

“It’s a matter of great concern, especially to the people of the Lower Clarence, as Cr Novak has well articulated that yet another important service will be lost,” he said.

“Perhaps the next one’s Ulmarra Ferry if we meekly acquiesce on this. What next will we lose?”

The approach was not to the liking of all councillors, including unlikely allies on this matter, Crs Karen Toms and Greg Clancy.

Attorney General

Cr Debrah Novak is leading the charge to keep Maclean Courthouse open five days a week, moving that the council confronts the NSW Attorney General Michael Daley over plans to cut hours of service.

Cr Toms worried the motion made it seem the council was throwing a “tanty” when a ruling didn’t go its way.

“I find this a little interesting that we’ve actually been there done this,” she said.

“We’ve got a letter back which tells us the reasons, but we as the local government council have decided we don’t like the reasons and we’re going to have another go and we’re going to get up face to face with the Attorney General.”

Cr Clancy said he was more concerned that continued opposition was “pushing a snowball uphill”.

“Are we  just putting our finger in the dyke?” he said. “Because unfortunately, the modern world is moving in the direction of less face to face, more phone or internet connection.

“The response is fairly straightforward.

“And it’s to do with the demand and the cost of keeping it open when there’s no demand.

“It would be nice to keep everything opened forever. But I really think that we’ve taken this far enough.”

Other councillors showed more fight.

Cr Steve Pickering said cutting courthouse hours was just a start to further cuts.

“It’s to cut to cut the courthouse hours from five days a week to five days a month is the start,’ he said.

“Obviously, the next step will be zero days per month and then everybody in Yamba and Maclean will be traveling to Grafton to use the courthouse there, while it’s still open.

“Who knows? In two years time will we still going to have a courthouse in Grafton?

“Maybe we’ll be traveling to Coffs Harbour, but as a council we need to stand up for our community it’s not about having a tantrum.

“It’s about it’s about doing what our community would expect us to do.

“And when we receive a response that we’re not happy with, we need we need to challenge it.”

But Cr Alison Whaites disputed that Grafton could lose its courthouse, because of the presence of the new jail at near South Grafton.

“Because we’ve got Serco here and it’s busy every day I drive past and it’s packed,” she said.

‘So anyway, so I want to vote against his motion and I really don’t see the point of moving forward with this and the mayor going down and speaking to that person.”

Deputy mayor Jeff Smith said he supported the motion because he believe the community expected its leaders to fight for them.

“I was I was voted in to be an advocate for the community,” he said. “And  there’s often complaints around the LGA that are were very Grafton centric.

“Well, in this case, we’re fighting for something that’s in Maclean.

“And I’m sick of this valley losing out all the time. It loses out to Coffs and it loses out to Lismore and seems to lose out to Byron Bay constantly.

“Let’s just fight it. Let’s have another go.”

The mayor made a rare foray into debate, arguing the council needed to stand up for the region.

“I think we should go for it, shouldn’t we? he said. “I need to brush up on my martial arts skills.

“We should be fighting for our community and we need to fight for our community because otherwise we’ll be seen as a soft touch.”

Summing up, Cr Novak said in the past decade the region had lost many services to Coffs Harbour and Lismore.

“What that actually means to those people because we’ve lost those services, is people now have to travel,” she said.

“So there is a cost imposed to those people who need to access those services.

“We have a high rate of people who don’t have access to computers, who don’t have access or the skills to access computers. All that sort of stuff.

“That just pays puts the onus back on to the potential clients and I think that’s unfair.

“And and we just need to be out there fighting for what we believe is a service that should remain here in the Lower Clarence Valley.”

Council voted for the motion 6-3 with Crs Toms, Clancy and Whaites against.


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Alstonville News

Seniors encouraged to get moving this April Falls Month




April Falls Month

Seniors encouraged to get moving this April Falls Month


Older Australians in Northern New South Wales are being encouraged to get physically active this April, to help build their strength and maintain their independence.

Better Balance for Fall Prevention is the theme of this year’s April Falls Month, an annual event held throughout April supported by the NSW Fall Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network to encourage older adults to become more active and reduce falls.

Locally, exercise and dance classes for people aged over 50 are underway in Alstonville, Casino, Grafton, Lismore, Tweed Heads, Wardell, Yamba and across the Northern Rivers.

Health Promotion Manager, Elayne Mitchell said staying physically active is the single most important thing we can do to stay independent as we age.

“As we get older, our bodies lose muscle strength and coordination, so the more active we remain, the better chance we have of maintaining our physical function,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Improving strength and balance in our legs allows us to complete regular daily activities more easily, including getting up and down stairs, in and out of cars, negotiating uneven surfaces and reducing the risk of falling.

“Older people benefit from regular tai chi, group exercise programs, gym sessions, community-based falls prevention programs such as Stepping On, or simple exercises at home to improve muscle strength and balance.

“Research has also shown that regular exercise can reduce falls in older people by 23 per cent, but slowly building up high-challenge balance exercises can increase the effects of exercise by up to 40 per cent.”

NNSWLHD is partnering with Rotary Clubs across the District to provide pop-up Falls Prevention Awareness information stalls, where you can find out about falls prevention and healthy ageing.


  • Friday 5 April, 10am-4pm, Lismore Square, Uralba and Brewster St, Lismore
  • Sunday 7 April, 8am-midday, Iluka-Woombah Community Markets, Middle Street, Woombah
  • Thursday 11 April, 9am-2pm, Alstonville Plaza, 93 Main St, Alstonville
  • Friday 12 April – Sunday 14 April, 9am – 3pm, Bunnings, 2 Bruxner Hwy, Lismore
  • Friday 12 April – Sunday 14 April, 9am – 3pm, Bunnings, River Street and Horizon Dr, West Ballina
  • Friday 19 April, 10am-4pm, Lismore Square, Uralba and Brewster St, Lismore

The Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC) has collaborated with the NSW Fall Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network to produce a range of April Falls resources for patients, families, carers and health staff.

Fall Prevention information is also available on the CEC website.

To find local physical activity and healthy lifestyle programs, including fall prevention programs, visit the Active and Healthy exercise directory. Information and advice to support older adults to be more active is also available on the Active and Healthy website. This includes home-based exercise circuits designed for beginners to follow along at your own pace from the comfort of your own home.


For more seniors news, click here.

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