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Grafton News

Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart

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Going, going… Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay has begun his exit strategy from council. He went on long service leave on Friday and will officially resign in October next year.

Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart

By Tim Howard

Four years of leading from the front for Clarence Valley Council general manager has taken its toll on the 22-year veteran of local government Ashley Lindsay.
Mr Lindsay, who came to the Clarence Valley from Sydney’s Northern Beaches to take up the finance manager’s role at Maclean Shire Council in 1999, retired last Friday after four of the toughest years in the region’s history.

Pitched into the role after the sudden departure of his predecessor Scott Greensill in March 2017, he found himself leading his council through crisis after crisis.
Some were self inflicted, like dealing with the asbestos uncovered on the site of the council’s controversial South Grafton depot build.
Others, like imposing a three-year rate hike through a special rates variation and meeting the State Government’s Fit for the Future requirements, were imposed from outside.
And the triple whammy of drought, fire and floods which devastated the Valley in quick succession between 2018 and 2020, was definitely a force of nature.
And as he considered his exit strategy to retirement, Mr Lindsay has found himself leading the council through a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has turned this term of council into a five-and-a-quarter-year marathon.

“I originally intended to work with the new council for the first few months after the election in September and then go about now,” he said.
That time frame went out the window when the election, originally postponed for 12 months from September last year, was put off until December 4.
Mr Lindsay contemplated altering his plans until a “health scare” in mid May reframed his view of the job.
“The health scare that I had, that certainly gave me some direction on what I should do and that was get out of a stressful environment,” he said.
Typically Mr Lindsay downplayed the “scare”.

It was actually a potentially lethal brush with ventricular tachycardia, which in his case was the bottom chambers of his heart beating out of synch with the top chambers.
The result was lack of oxygen reaching the brain and his decision to go to hospital rather than go home for a lie down, saved his life.
“I was lucky, my heart rate was 217 when I got on the table,” he said.

“They hit me with the paddles. I was wide awake. I jumped. I felt like I hit the roof
“It whacked my heart back into rhythm. Then I went off to Lismore and Gold Coast and had the pacemaker put in. If I’d gone home, I would have laid down. It would have been it.”

Council amalgamation is another issue that has played out during his time in Clarence Valley councils and he has changed his views on it over time.
But he also believed the State Government could have handled the 2004 version in a more financially responsible fashion.
“I marched up the main street of Maclean with all the other staff, opposing the amalgamation when it was being considered,” he said.
Mr Lindsay found himself right at the coal face when the call to amalgamate came.

“I took the call from the Minister for Local Government (Tony Kelly),” he said. “Ross Bryant was the general manager of the day and he was away at the time.
“So I took the call, that said ‘your council’s been sacked’.”

But unlike the 2016 round of council amalgamations, where councils received between $10 million and $15 million from the government to smooth the process, the new Clarence Valley Council was left to fend for itself.

Accompanying the amalgamations were regulations forbidding forced staff redundancies for three years, but there was an even bigger and more costly challenge that soaked up any savings amalgamation might have meant for the new council.

“It was significant for us to get all the offices networked up for IT purposes,” he said.
“We had to go to tender for a new corporate finance system.

“Initially the councils operated from the amalgamation date through to July 1 2005 we were using the former councils’ accounting systems.
“So Grafton, Copmanhurst, Maclean and Pristine Waters. We were all paying the staff with the former council’s accounting systems, then consolidating those to create the first set of accounts for Clarence Valley Council.”

He said the inability of the council to exploit the efficiencies of amalgamation allied to the failure of state government to subsidise the costs, contributed to the need for the Special Rates Variation which jacked up rates by 8% a year from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
The amalgamation also turned a lot of the public against the council and more than 17 years later many in the community would like to see the decision reversed.
But Mr Lindsay is not one of them.

He described the merger of the four general purpose and two county councils as “the best outcome for local government in the Clarence Valley”.
“The organisation now has the capacity to meet the various challenges that face local government,” he said.
“We’ve got greater capacity. The replacement of the timber bridges is a great example.

“The organisation has a greater capacity to manage. We’ve got $31 million in grant money to replace 31 timber bridges.
“Some of those we’re doing ourselves, through us managing the project. Others we’re working with Transport for NSW and Kyogle Shire Council through a joint tender process.”

Working at this scale both allowed the council to fix a problem that’s been building in the region for decades and create some real cost savings.
“Long term that’s a significant operating cost reduction for us, because those bridges should last 100 years,” he said.
He also said the council’s decision to stop borrowing and reduce its debt will pay dividends.

“I think the general fund should be debt free by 2027-28 – and that’s not far away – that will be an annual saving of between $3 million and $4 million a year that can be allocated to other infrastructure.”
While Mr Lindsay was confident he was handing over the council in a better state than when he took control, there was still a major financial issue to work on.
“On the downside of things, we still don’t meet out infrastructure benchmarks,” he said.

“Asset management and identifying and putting together everything we look after has been a real challenge.
“We’ve discovered in the last 12 months a number of assets that flood plain and water assets that we didn’t have on our books.
“What that’s done, it’s increased our depreciation which has impacted on our operating performance ratio.

“I believe council’s in a sound financial position, but it’s still got some way to go to address the infrastructure renewal that’s required and do it at the right time.”
Mr Lindsay also has some thoughts on his replacement.

There was some controversy about the council appointing governance director Laura Black as acting general manager when Mr Lindsay stepped down.
Council voted 5-4 in favour of Ms Black, but the five supporting votes came from councillors not contesting Saturday’s poll.
Mr Lindsay was concerned the new council might overturn that decision.

“That would be disappointing,” he said. “I don’t think the council had a good experience when Stuart McPherson left, they appointed an acting general manager from outside the organisation.

“I feel the councillors of the day found it was not a good experience for them.
He said in discussions with the mayor and senior staff decided to seek stability in the team.

“We’ve only just appointed a new director of environment and planning and the director of works and civil, Jamie Fleeting only been here 18 months,” Mr Lindsay said.
“We’ve embarked on significant change in the organisation. Were still trying to put together the new organisational structure.
“Laura is very much aware of the direction we’re taking and what we need to achieve.
“She has a very good understanding of the new integrated planning and reporting requirements for the council.”
While the council has been a part of for more than two decades begins to reshape itself, Mr Lindsay was looking forward to getting away from it all and returning to his home town of Warialda to spend time with his parents.

“I haven’t been able to get home for more than six months, so that’s one of the first things on my agenda,” he said.
But the council staff hasn’t seen the last of him as he plans to continue his fortnightly Brekky with the Boss sessions he started when he came to the job.
“I cook a barbecue breakfast and staff have a chance to talk with me about issues at work,” he said.

It’s also a chance for us to recognise staff achievements and hand out awards to recognise milestones in careers and other achievements.”

 

Clarence Valley News

Second death in custody at new jail

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Clarence Correctional Centre

Second death in custody at new jail

By Tim Howard

A 29-year-old inmate has died at Clarence Correctional Centre on June, the second man to die in custody at the jail in the past six weeks.
The man, identified as Dictor Mayen Dongrin, was due to front Coffs Harbour Local Court the following day on two charges of common assault, one of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and two of stalking and intimidation. 
A spokesperson for the jail operator Serco said Mr Dongrin was found unresponsive in a medical holding room by staff around 1.30pm and was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly after.
Serco, Corrective Services NSW and NSW Police were investigating the incident.
All deaths in custody are subject to a coronial inquest.
Mr Dongrin was also involved in a apprehended domestic violence hearing with another family member
The court has ceased all proceedings involving Mr Dongrin because of his death.
The spokesperson said Serco extends its condolences to the family and friends of the man.

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Clarence Valley News

Appeal fails: John Edwards behind bars till 2035

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Appeal fails: John Edwards behind bars till 2035

Appeal fails: John Edwards behind bars till 2035

By Tim Howard

A former Grafton school teacher jailed for 24 years for the murder of his wife nearly seven years ago, will serve out his entire sentence.
John Wallace Edwards, 65, was convicted of the murder of Sharon Edwards in December 2019 and jailed for 24 years with a non-parole period of 18 years.
On February 14 a panel of three Supreme Court judges, Chief Justice Tom Bathurst and Judges, Stephen Rothman and Hament Dhanji unanimously rejected Edwards’ appeal against his sentence.
At the October 20 hearing, Edwards counsel argued a four-point appeal that the trial judge should have directed the jury to the availability of a manslaughter verdict, and that the murder verdict was unreasonable and could not be supported with the available evidence.
But the Appeal Court was not swayed.
They found the trial judge, Robert Hulme, had provided the jury with sufficient direction on the possibility of a manslaughter verdict.
In addition the defence, while aware of the possibility of a manslaughter verdict, had not argued for it until late in the trial.
Central to the four interconnected points of the appeal was Edwards post-offence behaviour.
Edwards counsel argued the judge should have directed the jury that this behaviour should be described as “intractably neutral”, that is, it was equally indicative of manslaughter or murder.
But the appeal judges found Edwards behaviour after the events of March14-15, 2015, was that of a murderer.
Although they disagreed Edwards had provided “13 different accounts” of what happened on the night of his wife’s disappearance and almost certain death, there were certainly a number of different stories.
They found the differing versions of events and other lies Edwards told indicated he had been prepared to inflict serious injuries that could have led to the death of his wife.
One of the accounts, told to two of his sons, was he had a physical altercation with this wife on the night of her disappearance.
“…yeah he said, ‘He’d, like he’d snatched the iPad, he’d wrestled with her’…he had her hand pinned behind her back or her side and he slammed her on the floor and she hit her head and then she got up and went to bed‘,” a son told the trial jury.
The appeal judges also said evidence he had broken a bone in his right hand, described by a doctor as a “boxer’s fracture”, around the time of the offence, indicated he had been capable of inflicting a blow powerful enough to cause serious injury leading to death.
In his finding Justice Dhanji noted: “There was no evidence of any disturbance consistent with an argument on the night of the deceased’s death. Nothing of this nature was heard by the neighbours. Nor was there any evidence that the applicant was intoxicated. Even if any assault was unplanned, these matters point away from an uncontrolled outbreak of violence. In these circumstances the possibility that the applicant struck the deceased with a blow sufficiently hard to break a bone in his hand suggests a level of force consistent with an intention to cause, at least, really serious injury.
“Further, if, for example the deceased hit her head as a result of falling on a hard surface after such a blow or otherwise, death was unlikely to have been instant. For the reasons discussed above, not seeking assistance and then disposing of the body suggest, a disregard for the deceased, and point away from an intention to do something less than inflict really serious injury.”
Edwards’ determination to withhold the location of his wife’s remains, despite the pain it caused the rest of the family was another indication his wife’s death had been deliberate rather than accidental.
Other indicators, such as Edwards realisation his wife was about to leave him for another man, and financial concerns about their jointly owned properties strengthened the case for a verdict of murder.
The murder of Mrs Edwards, who disappeared after a night out with friends in Grafton in 2015, shocked the Clarence Valley.
Initially treated as a missing person investigation, on April 1 it turned into a homicide case and Edwards and the couple’s three sons made impassioned pleas for people who knew anything to come forward.
The popular teacher had no enemies, but it emerged her marriage to Edwards was finished.
During the trial it emerged she had rekindled a relationship with an old flame, William ‘Billy’ Mills, who had been with her on the night of her disappearance and they had plans to live together.
By mid 2017 and despite no sign of her body, police were convinced Edwards had killed his wife and he was formally charged with murder.
At his trial, which concluded in December 2019, a jury found Edwards guilty of his wife’s murder. Son Josh said after the trial he no longer considered Edwards his father for what he’d done to his mum.
Edwards has never hinted at the location of his wife’s body.
He will serve out the remainder of his sentence of 24 years with a minimum of 18 years non-parole from June 20, 2017. His earliest release date is June 19, 2035.

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Clarence Valley News

Grafton’s time-old royal tradition leads the way against gender discrimination

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Grafton’s time-old royal tradition leads the way against gender discrimination

Grafton’s time-old royal tradition leads the way against gender discrimination

By Lesley Apps

FOR the first time in its 88-year history the Jacaranda Queen program will welcome kings and ambassadors into its entourage.

While the role of Jacaranda Queen is traditionally female, to honour the inclusive spirit that festival manager and the committee have been championing over the past few years, people of all gender identities are welcome to enter the 2022 event.

Reigning Grafton Jacaranda Queen, Hanna Craig said the committee decided the time was right to recognise the diversity of gender and update the festival’s program accordingly.

“We are an inclusive organisation and welcome everyone and support safe and diverse spaces, and this move is in line with this approach,” Miss Craig said.

She said accepting how someone identifies was the right step to take.

“Acknowledging this not only supports the Festival’s contemporary approach but paves the way for other (similar) events to do the same.”

Festival manager Mark Blackadder said all entrants will be referred to as Jacaranda candidates (junior or senior).

“Winners can choose whatever title they feel comfortable with, Queen, King or Ambassador.”

While the festival committee was looking forward to welcoming a more progressive competition this year it’s not the first time the format has deviated from its all-female tradition.

In 2003 two male candidates, Wayne Herbert and Scott Kelly, showed interest in entering, causing varying degrees of controversy as the local paper reported at the time before both pulled out of the competition.

It reported Mr Kelly had partnered two Queens vying for the title in the past but wanted to be called King, while Mr Herbert, then manager of the town’s Gay and Lesbian Resource Centre, was happy with the Queen title but withdrew his candidacy after challenging the festival’s fundraising rules after he wanted to nominate his own charity rather than support the annual event.

While the Jacaranda Committee at the time (almost 20 years ago) was supportive where possible, it generated plenty of press coverage and community conversation, prompting a former queen to write to the paper to say the behaviour of the male candidates was “inappropriate and distasteful” and made a mockery of the event.

Nominations for the 2022 Grafton Jacaranda Festival Queen, King or Ambassador are now open. A candidates information evening will be held at the Grafton District Services Club on Friday, March 18, 6pm. For more information on the Grafton Jacaranda Festival visit: www.jacarandafestival.com

Caption: Reigning Jacaranda royal party, from left: Junior Jacaranda Princess: Aaliyah Scarlet Roach, Jacaranda Princess: Breeze Paine, Jacaranda Queen: Hanna Craig, Junior Jacaranda Queen: Brooke Chapman. Change is in the air with a new gender inclusive Jacaranda Candidate program for 2022.

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