Why is the Office of Local Government protecting Jilly Gibson? Or is the Minister thinking a few moves ahead?

There’s never a dull minute at North Sydney. Last month we ran through the litany of disgraceful and embarrassing things that are happening and it just continues. We hoped, in calling for the sacking of Mayor Jilly Gibson, that the OLG and the Minister would do something. And we are not the only organisation calling for something to be done either - as we understand it, everyone is pressing both the Minister and the OLG to do something. But what’s happened and what have they done?

On 17 August we received a letter from the Chief Executive OLG, Marcia Doheny, referring to our emails of 23 and 24 July about North Sydney Council and saying this:

“I appreciate that this is a difficult situation for all parties involved. However, all individuals have a responsibility to ensure that working relationships are productive and professional despite any personal differences that may exist.”

What? Code of Conduct findings, misconduct, Council resolutions to apologise, a censure resolution by the Council, failed conflict resolution processes that make the Minister’s Performance Improvement Order a joke, a failure to disclose an interest etc etc etc, and all of it only “personal differences”?

We were disappointed. Here’s our response.

On the same day the OLG send us this letter, the Council met (with a furiously note-taking OLG manager in the gallery) and things didn’t get any better. Procedural abnormalities as the Mayor refused to accept dissent on rulings and closed the meeting to resume 10 minutes later and then the Sydney Morning Herald revealed on 19 August, what appeared like the Mayor having failed to disclose an interest over the building of a road to a house across a public reserve - a house that is owned by two people whose signatures appeared in the hundred signatures of members to allow Mayor Jilly Gibson to form a political party. While the Council supported the road, some councillors sought to rescind that approval having discovered the link between the Mayor and the two members of her political party.

Then there was some to-ing and fro-ing about whether the signatories had really signed (if they hadn’t, who had signed on their behalf?) and then resignations from those people from the political party, as if that removed the need to disclose an interest. Then, somewhat hilariously, three days after the meeting the Mayor did disclose the interest. That’s a first, a retrospective disclosure. And the Mayor wanted the retrospective disclosure incorporated in the minutes. What a farce.

What would need to happen as local government is dragged further into disrepute, for the OLG to think it would be appropriate?

Jilly isn’t the only one caught up in funny things happening like this. The Mayor of Hurstville is still being wondered about by OLG over his behaviour and didn’t we all wish we’d been invited to the classy wedding of Auburn’s famous Deputy Mayor and property developer. The Kardashians were even envious.

While the low profile NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley said he wasn’t going to take issue if “a young bloke wants to lair it up at his wedding”, he did think that developers and real estate agents shouldn’t be ineligible to stand for local government (and LGNSW President Keith Rhoades leapt to their defence) at least it flushed out some action from the Minister who said “if there is an issue, we will fix it - and that’s what’s going to happen”.

Gee Minister, there is an issue at North Sydney, when are you going to fix that?

This could all be just a litany of maladministration, poor performance, indifference and lacklustre application of obligations under the Act but, maybe the Minister, like a good chess player, is really thinking a number of moves ahead.

The Sunday Telegraph on 16 August had a copy of a leaked paper prepared for Cabinet by the Minister for Local Government which included six options for the reform and amalgamation process. One of those options include the sacking of all councils to get the bleating self-important councillors out of the way so that changed boundaries can go ahead without the self-interest of the politicians getting in the way. While the Government distanced itself from the paper, we think the OLG and the Minister are smarter than that.

It can’t be that they’re sitting back like they are powerless or uninterested. It must be, it has to be, that they are sitting back and watching these colourful councillors behave so appallingly that the locals will be delighted when the Government gets rid of the lot of them.

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