PORT Macquarie-Hastings mayor Peta Pinson failed in an attempt to push for an early election to end what she describes as a "warring faction" within the elected body rendering its decision-making capacity in the community ineffective.
Cr Pinson said at tonight's (June 3) meeting, the council is now toxic, dysfunctional, is not working for the public good and called on general manager Craig Swift-McNair to make a request to the Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock to bring a local election forward.
She said there was "growing community dissatisfaction with the elected representatives of council".
Cr Pinson cited bullying and harassment in her role and "experiences of dysfunction like (she's) never seen before".
She told councillors to consider her statements as a warning the community was expecting more of their local leaders.
Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann said it was difficult to understand what had prompted the mayor's move without specific examples. She suggested the matters would be better dealt with out of public eye if specific details could be provided.
"I'm shocked you need to ask that question and you should be ashamed," the mayor shot back.
The mayor's motion was rejected.
It is a growing concern of the community that should Local Government elections remain scheduled to occur in September 2021, the community will continue to be tethered to an ineffective and self-serving council.Mayor Peta Pinson
Cr Pinson then attempted to push for a private meeting with the Minister to seek advice as a "first-time mayor", and as the first woman elected to the position in Port Macquarie-Hastings, while calling for additional professional external support for councillors.
She said as the mayor and the leader of the community, she would pass on advice from the Minister to councillors.
That too was rejected by councillors Intemann, Hawkins, Alley, Levido and Turner on the basis that all councillors should be offered the same advice at the same time.
Instead, all councillors, except for Cr Pinson and Griffiths, agreed to a motion put forward by Cr Turner that the general manager be delegated the authority to seek professional external advice and support for council's elected representatives to ensure optimum performance into the future under the "extenuating circumstances". He said that advice could, if required, be sought from the Minister.
Council elections in New South Wales were due to be held in September but have been postponed until 2021 due to the impacts of the COVID health pandemic.
"Evidence of warring factions within the elected council are now publicly evident, with the deep divide between some councillors and myself as the mayor rendering the council as dysfunctional," Cr Pinson said in her address to the meeting.
"Councillor behaviours in council meetings have not been consistent with the Code of Conduct which has caused significant harm to council's reputation.
"Now is a vulnerable time for the community of the Port Macquarie-Hastings region which requires and expects more than ever before, calm and strong leadership. It is now questionable that as mayor and councillors, true effective leadership will be delivered due to the ongoing toxic dysfunction.
"The community deserves council representatives who will champion their needs and future visions whilst also providing accountability and stability within the organisation.
"It is a growing concern of the community that should Local Government elections remain scheduled to occur in September 2021, the community will continue to be tethered to an ineffective and self-serving council."
The current council was elected in 2016.
There is another eight per cent which is not unanimous - it is not a reflection of dysfunction. We are elected independent members of this body, to think for ourselves and make our own decisions - the fact that there is not unanimity amongst all of us for all meetings is again not a matter of dysfunction but rather an exercise of democracy.Cr Lisa Intemann
Cr Intemann said the question over whether a council is operating functionally or not is guided by criteria and performance measures set in the Local Government Act.
She believed council was meeting those criteria, and customer satisfaction surveys have not suggested that council was in fact "dysfunctional".
If it was a matter of "relationship issues", Cr Intemann said she had asked the mayor to provide her with examples and she had declined.
"Ninety-two per cent of our decisions I believe are made unanimously with all councillors agreeing," Cr Intemann said.
"There is another eight per cent which is not unanimous - it is not a reflection of dysfunction. We are elected independent members of this body, to think for ourselves and make our own decisions - the fact that there is not unanimity amongst all of us for all meetings is again not a matter of dysfunction but rather an exercise of democracy."
Cr Turner said he did not accept any evidence council is dysfunctional and believes is has the confidence of the community.
"I agree now is time for calm, unifying and strong leadership, there's no argument about that. That's best thing we can do," Cr Turner said.
"I acknowledge though that, as well community, councillors ourselves are potentially having to deal with a lot of issues around COVID ... and then we have added responsibility of helping council and the community get through this on top of our own personal circumstances."
Cr Sharon Griffiths said she has had a disappointing three and a half years on council.
"I think we've been less productive and less effective than we possibly could be. There hasn't been that same open conversation that we've normally had - there's been less communication, there's been less listening to what the other party is actually saying," Cr Griffiths said.
She said that disruption has including "blocking" and done in some instances to "gain public attention".
"We can move forward. We need to be more productive, we don't need to have in-house disputes. Let's all get on with what we're here for which is achieving for our community. Not this in-house irritation which we just don't need."
Cr Justin Levido said in the face of challenges presented by the COVID crisis, political leaders and people in all levels of government are being tested.
He said they must now look ahead to the broader needs of the community and personal aspirations must be let go.
"Everybody is suffering in this crisis. Everybody is seeing aspects of what they planned for and wanted affected. No-one knows where this is going to end.
"But it's fair to say I think that our community expects all of its leaders have a broad and mature and adult approach to the way these things are done.
"It's important that we don't focus inward, that we focus outward."
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