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Voice of Real Australia: Councils behaving badly? When the administrator is sent marching in

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Wingecarribee Shire Council, which covers the Southern Highlands in NSW, was recently suspended by the Minister of Local Government Shelley Hancock. Photo: file.

Wingecarribee Shire Council, which covers the Southern Highlands in NSW, was recently suspended by the Minister of Local Government Shelley Hancock. Photo: file.

We are often in shock - or dismay - when our local councillors behave badly. After all, they were elected to represent us.

But councillors behaving badly is nothing new.

For the last 18 months, I have watched relationships breakdown in Wingecarribee Shire Council, in NSW's Southern Highlands.

It hasn't been pretty.

I've sat (virtually) through meetings that went for four hours without getting through the business papers. I have watched as councillors talked over each other and muted each other. I've seen councillors asked to leave council chambers, and meetings put on pause.

Recently, Wingecarribee Shire councillors were suspended for three months by the Minister of Local Government Shelley Hancock for their disruptive behaviour with Viv May appointed as interim administrator.

Judging by the reaction on social media, the residents of the Southern Highlands could not be happier with the minister's decision.

But Wingecarribee Shire councillors are not alone when it comes to falling standards of civility at the seat of local government.

The former Liverpool Council administration site that was destroyed in a fire in 2010. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The former Liverpool Council administration site that was destroyed in a fire in 2010. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Liverpool City Council

Up until quite recently, I lived in one of the many suburbs presided over by Liverpool City Council in south-west Sydney.

Where do I start with Liverpool City Council? Perhaps in 2004 with my earliest memories of council dysfunction, administrators and the failed Oasis project.

Councillors were sacked after a $900 million joint venture project between Macquarie Bank, Canterbury Bulldogs Rugby League Club and Liverpool City Council went belly up.

Administrators were called in and stayed there for four years.

Liverpool City Council received another blow in 2010 when council chambers went up in flames.

The blaze caused more than $27 million in damages, with countless DA's, plans and paperwork were destroyed in the fire.

A 29-year-old man was charged in 2020 for the alleged arson attack.

Central Coast Council was also recently suspended. Photo: Newcastle Herald.

Central Coast Council was also recently suspended. Photo: Newcastle Herald.

Central Coast Council

Central Coast Council has also had an administrator put in place after the council admitted last year that it was unable to pay its debts.

Located on the Central Coast of NSW, the Central Coast Council was formed after the amalgamation of Gosford City Council and Wyong Shire Council.

Mr Dick Persson was appointed Administrator of the Council on November 30, 2020, as councillors were suspended in the face of an expected council deficit of $89 million.

According to the Newcastle Herald, the Central Coast Council has outlined a plan to shed 20 per cent of its staff, sell up to $60million worth of assets and borrow $150million.

Wingecarribee Shire Council isn't looking too bad now, is it?

Controversial figure: Salim Mehajer made headlines when he was the deputy mayor for Auburn City Council. Photo: file

Controversial figure: Salim Mehajer made headlines when he was the deputy mayor for Auburn City Council. Photo: file

Auburn City Council and Cumberland City Council

Current Wingecarribee Shire Council administrator Viv May is no stranger to council dysfunction and big personalities.

He was called in when the now-defunct Auburn City Councillors were suspended in 2016. He also oversaw the amalgamated Cumberland City Council which combined parts of Auburn, Parramatta and Holroyd in greater western Sydney.

Auburn Council made several headlines, many to do with former deputy mayor Salim Mehajar, as well as in relation to ICAC investigations.

Prior to his appointment as interim administrator for Wingecarribee Shire Council, Viv May was the administrator for Armidale Regional Council. Photo: file.

Prior to his appointment as interim administrator for Wingecarribee Shire Council, Viv May was the administrator for Armidale Regional Council. Photo: file.

Armidale Regional Council

Mr May's services were again required in June last year when Armidale Regional Council, located in the Northern Tablelands of NSW, was suspended for a total of six months.

The suspension followed serious concerns about the council's ability to function properly amid a breakdown of relationships between councillors and key council officers.

But should we give councillors a break? Is it a thankless task with little reward?

While councillors don't receive a salary, they do receive an annual stipend which is determined by the Local Government Area classifications.

For example, councillors in Wingecarribee Shire receive an annual allowance of $24,325 while the mayor receives $80,000.

And while it seems councillors only appear for council meetings, there is plenty of work that goes on behind the scenes. That includes inspections to better understand proposed development plans, committee meetings, phone calls and emails from the community.

According to the NSW Office of Local Government Councillor Handbook, councillors have a responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of the whole community and should provide leadership and guidance.

Do we expect too much from elective representatives to be mindful of what matters to the community?

I don't think we do, although I think some could benefit from a re-read of that Councillor's Handbook.

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