Dungog Mayor Tracy Norman to resign as mayor, stay on as councillor

Stepping down: Dungog mayor Tracy Norman says her position has become untenable. Photo: Kristine O'Sullivan

Stepping down: Dungog mayor Tracy Norman says her position has become untenable. Photo: Kristine O'Sullivan

Dungog mayor Tracy Norman says her position as mayor is untenable following what she calls inconsistencies in council's decisions.

Cr Norman announced on Friday morning she has asked the council's general manager to call an extraordinary meeting to elect a new mayor and deputy mayor

"It is with much regret that I will stand down as mayor at that meeting," she said in the statement.

"I will continue to serve as a councillor until the September 2020 election as I have a responsibility to those that elected me and a commitment to the wider community."

Cr Norman said she had been concerned for some time about some of the council's decisions.

"I personally believe that there are decisions being made that are not in the best interest of ratepayers and residents and do not represent a good use of council funds," she said.

The regressive pathway that councillors are sending council and the community on is contra to the progress made by council during my time as mayor in partnership with the outgoing general manager.

Cr Tracy Norman

"This places me in an untenable position as the mayor who is the spokesperson of council."

She highlighted the council's decision this month not to proceed with a new logo and rebranding after spending resocurces over a six month period on the project.

Council also resolved not to renew a communications contract which included a new website.

"The result of this is that council will close down its Facebook site, will not be able to offer electronic newsletters to residents, many of which have already signed up for this service, and we will continue to labour with a website from 2003 that is defunct and not able to be technically supported," she said.

"These actions are contrary to my strong commitment to keeping people informed, engaging in a modern way and providing people with the opportunity to easily give feedback to council.

Cr Norman said the outgoing general manager, Coralie Nichols felt professionally undermined and embarrassed by the decisions made by council at the February meeting.

(Ms Nichols resigned earlier this month has been appointed as the Diocesan Chief Executive of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.)

"She understands the profound effect these decisions will have on the operation of the Council and impact it will have on staff's ability to undertake their roles in an efficient way," said Cr Norman.

"The regressive pathway that councillors are sending council and the community on is contra to the progress made by council during my time as mayor in partnership with outgoing general manager.

"I remain extremely proud of all that we have achieved for Council and for the community.

"It is well recognised by the other levels of government and by our Hunter colleagues that Dungog is in a much stronger position than it has been for decades."

Cr Norman apologised to those in the community who felt let down by her decision to step down as mayor.

"I feel strongly that I need to be aligned with my values and act with integrity," she said.

"I will remain as a Councillor and continue to represent the community as best I can.

"I will continue to play my part in the chamber."

Read the mayor's full announcement:

"Today I have asked Dungog Shire Council's General Manager, Coralie Nichols, to call an Extra Ordinary Meeting of Dungog Shire Council to elect a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

It is with much regret that I will stand down as Mayor at that meeting. I will continue to serve as a Councillor until the September 2020 election as I have a responsibility to those that elected me and a commitment to the wider community.

I have been concerned for some time about certain decisions being made by this Council and the inconsistences in these decisions. I personally believe that there are decisions being made that are not in the best interest of ratepayers and residents and do not represent a good use of Council funds. This places me in an untenable position as the Mayor who is the spokesperson of Council.

A review of the February 2020 Council Meeting Minutes will provide examples of the decision making by this Council that causes me to arrive at the decision to stand down as Mayor. The example I would like to highlight is the decision making in relation to our communications strategy. Early in 2019 Council resolved to contract a consultancy company. Part of the brief to this company, which was endorsed by Council, was to conduct a rebranding exercise, in alignment with our Community Strategic Plan. This company conducted three workshops with Councillors, utilised the services of a graphic designer and ran a focus group. The end result was the design of a new corporate logo for which Councillors gave substantial feedback in terms of colours, wording and final graphic design.

At the February 2020 Ordinary Meeting, however, Councillors voted not to adopt the new logo and to do no further work on it. I accept that this is the decision of Council, however my concerns extend to why time and money was wasted over a six-month period undertaking this work to arrive at outcome where no further work will be conducted. Concern was expressed at the meeting in relation to the need for further community consultation, however, most of the debate was centred around the cost of implementation. Council spent money and time coming up with a logo, in accordance with the resolution of Council but we will not be implementing this logo. Whether you agree with the new logo or the need for one, Council spent a great deal of money in accordance with a Council resolution to arrive at no outcome.

Council also resolved to not renew our contract to provide communications for the Shire, including the completion of a new website. No alternative motion was provided, meaning that Council now has no ability to continue with the development of the new website or have any communications strategy in place. The result of this is that Council will close down its Facebook site, will not be able to offer electronic newsletters to residents, many of which have already signed up for this service, and we will continue to labour with a website from 2003 that is defunct and not able to be technically supported. These actions are contrary to my strong commitment to keeping people informed, engaging in a modern way and providing people with the opportunity to easily give feedback to Council.

I also believe that this decision is not in keeping with the community's expectations that Council improves its communication with the community. It has been a widespread community concern expressed in community engagement sessions and surveys that the community expects better communications coming from Council.

In my recent mobile office and engagements around the Local Strategic Planning Statements, I have been concerned and astonished at the number of people who have talked to me about the fact that they feel they are not represented and have been forgotten by Council. Some even expressed that they don't know who their Ward Councillors are. While my concern remains, I am no longer astonished, given that the majority of Councillors voted to have no communications strategy.

Dungog Shire Council's outgoing General Manager, Coralie Nichols felt professionally undermined and embarrassed by the decisions made by Council at the February Ordinary Meeting. She understands the profound effect these decisions will have on the operation of the Council and impact it will have on staff's ability to undertake their roles in an efficient way. She also is strongly committed to community engagement. It reaffirmed for her why she has made the decision to not continue in the role of General Manager. With questions being asked by Councillors as to why change was even needed, I can see why Coralie holds this opinion.

The regressive pathway that Councillors are sending Council and the community on is contra to the progress made by Council during my time as Mayor in partnership with outgoing General Manager. I remain extremely proud of all that we have achieved for Council and for the community. It is well recognised by the other levels of government and by our Hunter colleagues that Dungog is in a much stronger position than it has been for decades.

The views expressed above are my personal views. However, I feel strongly that I need to be aligned with my values and act with integrity. I appreciate that not all will see this as I do, and I apologise to those who feel let down by my decision to not continue on in the role of Mayor.

I will remain as a Councillor and continue to represent the community as best I can. I am a firm believer that publicly elected officials should remain in office for their entire term, unless prevented from doing so for health or family reasons. I will continue to play my part in the Chamber."