Congratulations upon your elections to the important roles of Councillors. I have watched with interest the creation and operation of MidCoast Council, and have recently had the opportunity to reside back in the area for a number of weeks. I make the following observations for you to consider, as the elected representatives of the area.
MidCoast Council and the future.
It seems that the people who live within the boundaries of MidCoast Council are required to accept their fate, while so many communities around NSW did not sing to the tune of the State Government, and have remained without change. This month, Port Stephens Council will consider a motion upon whether they will open discussions again with Dungog Council, regarding boundaries and amalgamation. This is a golden opportunity to talk to Port Stephens and Dungog councils about sensible boundaries for the future.
Did you know that it is 106km from Tea Gardens to Forster, 114km to Taree and only 48 to Raymond Terrace? Perhaps it is time to survey residents south of Bulahdelah to see where their community-of-interest is.
How have Gloucester residents fared in the creation of Midcoast Council? Perhaps now is the time to ask them. Maybe some arrangement with Dungog is now more palatable than it appeared to be two years ago? The point is that you should ask them, and not assume that you know.
You have an opportunity to establish a long and successful future for MidCoast Council, but it requires a strategic view.
The Masters Site.
This reminds me of someone buying something at a fire sale, because it was a bargain, without considering if they need it first. MidCoast Council will always have two large population centres in Forster/Tuncurry and Taree. More MidCoast Council staff live in Forster than in Taree. Modern technology does not dictate that all staff should be under one roof. Sensibly organising functions in each existing office will allow staff to be closer to where they live, and share the local economic benefits of offices in each centre.
As the planning authority, MidCoast Council should not be placing its headquarters in the middle of an industrial estate. The area is prime industrial land, which can be used for that purpose for coming decades.
Many of the people I speak to do not understand how this decision can be viewed as sensible, especially given that there are no detailed cost estimates of converting the building to office space.
Environmental issues in the Tea Gardens area.
When relationships between large wealthy developers and councils come under question, it can lead to very difficult times, and even threaten the existence of a council. With the resignation of the general manager, it would be very wise to ask the Office of Local Government to conduct an audit into development and compliance issues since the creation of the council, and provide a one-off amnesty for staff to provide facts to the investigators. It will clear the air, relieve the staff if there has been any coercion, and be transparent to the community.
The Hunter Joint Organisation.
There are very few people that accept that anywhere north of Bulahdelah has anything to do with the Hunter. This includes from economic development, tourism and community interest perspectives. Being an irrelevant party in a Hunter Joint Organisation is not a sound strategic approach for MidCoast Council. The council should be working with Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and others, where there is a real commonality of purpose, and where council can have a real voice.
Senior Executive Salaries.
The Administrator and General Manager determined that the General Manager’s salary should be $380k Total Remuneration Package (TRP). Prior to advertising the role, council should seek advice from LGNSW and/or McArthur, which carries out annual national salary surveys across local government, as to what is an appropriate level of remuneration. As a comparison, the general manager of Port Macquarie Hastings Council receives slightly more than $300k.
The Local Government Act states that senior officers should be on performance-based employment contracts. The Directors at MidCoast are not on contract, and yet they receive more than $250k TRP, including an overtime allowance, which is almost unheard of for directors. There is an industry view that anyone earning more than $200k should be on a contract. This should be addressed as part of the remuneration considerations for the general manager. This can be achieved through a simple process, and councillors should be wary of advice that comes from those senior staff affected, as there is a clear conflict of interest.
Financial sustainability has become a hackneyed term in NSW. Councils have had consultants concoct scenarios which appear to be financially sustainable, when any independent observation would suggest otherwise. MidCoast Council has solved its issues according to the general manager and it seems to be from spending some State money on roads, say $30m and increasing the capital program by $4-$5m. In terms of road reconstruction, that is 30km of new sealed road, and another 5km each year. To believe that this will solve the road and bridges issue at MidCoast Council would seem nonsensical to most. It is important that councillors are apprised of the facts, and that there is open and transparent reporting. It is your legacy, and the legacy of the people in this area that you are dealing with.
I would ask that you consider these issues carefully. They are important to the community and the staff, and they should be important to you. What do you want your legacy to be?
Thank you. I wish you well.
Ex-General Manager, Greater Taree City Council
(It would be interesting to read what replies he received. Some of our councillors are not known for their diplomacy. Ed.)