Dungog councillors failed to unanimously support a merger with Port Stephens at a council meeting on Tuesday night and chose not to act on a community petition.
Dungog councillors voted down a motion to support a merger with Port Stephens council and acknowledge Dungog Shire Community Group’s petition.
The motion called upon the council to include the petition with its submission to the state government delegate, along with the results of a Dungog Chronicle poll which showed huge support for a merger with Port Stephens.
Councillor Nancy Knudsen raised concerns about the petition but thought it could be acknowledged in the council’s submission.
Councillor Linda Bowden did not want the petition included.
“It’s great the community wanted to do the poll,” Ms Bowden said.
“I have a problem with it being included in the submission. I don’t have a problem with the group putting it forward as part of their submission.”
Mayor Harold Johnston said he had been “bullied and intimidated to take a certain position” on the merger issue and voted against the motion.
“I won’t succumb to that,” he said.
According to the council papers, the councillors could have chosen to do nothing about the petition, or chosen to reject the petition, or accept the petition and supported a merger with Port Stephens.
Port Stephens councillor Ken Jordan spoke in the chamber before the councillors debated the issue. He urged Dungog councillors to send a strong message to Macquarie Street and vote in favour of a merger with Port Stephens, saying it was what the community wanted.
Port Stephens’ 10 councillors had already unanimously voted in favour of a merger with Dungog.
“Our mayor Bruce Mackenzie has been down to Macquarie Street … [and was told] if the Dungog councillors agree, as has the Port Stephens council, it would go a long way,” Cr Jordan said.
“If you were to do that we would have two council areas saying they want to merge … I believe it would back the [government] into a corner.”
Cr Jordan urged Dungog councillors to imagine what it would be like to receive the merger compensation funds, like the new Mid Coast Council recently received. He said the state government gave that council $20 million.
He also urged them to accept Dungog Shire Community Group’s petition.
“Imagine what that could do for our communities who need it desperately,” he said.