State MP Michael Johnsen has called for the state government to appoint an administrator to Dungog Shire Council following the resignation of the general manager and five of the nine councillors.
Mr Johnsen has labelled the council “dysfunctional” and says it cannot meet its obligations to the community with just four councillors.
“The staff are currently leaderless and need direction and reassurance that they have support behind them,” he said when in Dungog on Friday afternoon to meet with council staff following the fallout from the resignations.
“We need to support the Dungog community as the NSW Government.
“I want to let the staff know the NSW Government is not abandoning them nor the community of Dungog and we will do everything we possibly can to fix the situation as quickly as possible to allow business as usual, particularly for the staff to get on with the job and deliver the services that Dungog residents expect.”
General Manager resigns
The council’s general manager, Craig Deasey, resigned on Thursday, June 1, citing health reasons.
His resignation will come into effect on July 4.
Mr Deasey had previously recommended to the councillors that they accept an offer from Port Stephens Council to voluntarily merge.
The councillors instead voted to further investigate that merger proposal, along with merging with Maitland, a boundary realignment and standing alone.
The results of the investigations were to be put to the community at a poll at the next council elections.
“There were elements of that motion I thought were against some of my principles,” Mr Deasey said.
“It was disappointing that council didn’t articulate the basis around the motion – what to negotiate.
“It was like starting all over again and made me feel as if they hadn’t even read my previous reports on the issue.”
Mr Deasey thanked the council staff for their loyalty and commitment to the community and thanked the community for “standing up and showing an interest”.
Cr Neville Bale resigned on May 26 citing health reasons and declined to comment further.
Deputy Mayor Tony McKenzie resigned earlier in May.
Three more councillors – Mayor Harold Johnston, Cr Glenn Wall and Cr Stephen Farrow also resigned on the evening of June 1.
With the resignation of five of the nine councillors, there were immediate concerns that the council would be unable to form a quorum to meet and make decisions.
Extraordinary Meeting of Council
But on Friday afternoon, three of the four remaining councillors went ahead with an extraordinary meeting.
Crs Nancy Knudsen, Robert Booth and Linda Bowden attended the scheduled extraordinary meeting with an apology from Cr Tracy Norman.
The three councillors considered two items.
The first was the wording for the proposed poll at the next local council elections to gauge the community’s thoughts on remaining independent, merging with Maitland or Port Stephens councils or changing the council boundaries.
They also later considered a confidential item which involved “Innovation fund – round two proposal”.
Resident John Connors spoke at public access before the meeting, telling the councillors the meeting “had no standing”.
He quoted sections of the Local Government Act.
Acting Mayor Cr Nancy Knudsen said the meeting went ahead after a legal opinion was supplied to the council by Local Government NSW (LGNSW).
She also said advice from LGNSW indicated there were no grounds for an administrator to be called in and the ultimate decision rested with the Solicitor General.
“It has been a difficult time in the shire and now we just need to calmly go on with the business in hand and trust to democracy in September,” she said.