Monday, December 28, 2009

Midlands continues to show us how to do it

TOWNS through the midlands continue to show us how we could do things better in the Derwent Valley. Campbell Town is going ahead in leaps and bounds, with a new cafe/fish bar opening there recently. Creatively named "Hooked" (pictured) the new business is in a converted garage. The coffee is great (far better than the bakery chain over the road) and a small portion of chips will keep you fortified for the rest of the journey.

Rightly or wrongly, Campbell Town is famous for having the best public toilets in Tasmania. Now there's a challenge - why can't New Norfolk have the best in Tasmania (or at least the best on the Lyell Highway). The flash flushers have been credited with creating a tourist boom in Campbell Town. Business people know that the biggest problem for Norfolk's CBD is its location, off the highway. If it takes a top-notch set of loos to bring visitors up the hill into town, let's build them.

Another great innovation on the Midland Highway is the burgeoning spread of steel cut-outs of bushrangers, convicts and more. Without blatantly copying the idea, surely the Lyell Highway could have something similar? After all, it's the oldest highway in Tasmania, dating to 1818 and built by an ex-convict. There's a plaque commemmorating this fact along the route, but it hardly jumps out at you.

Well, that's Damo's thought for the day. What do you reckon? Why not leave some feedback below, or email

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This month's press advertisement

AT the last couple of council meetings I have copped a little bit of good-natured ribbing about my newspaper ads. One councillor said he would like to see the council running similar ads, possibly instead of mine. One of my election platforms was that the council should produce a newsletter or I would do it myself. My newspaper ads are a major part of my communicating with the community, and every ad prompts people to send me an email or give me a call. This is as it should be.

So yes, the council needs to get cracking with a communications strategy, but no, my advertisements will not be stopping until I run out of money. My first month's advertising cost me more than I received from my councillor allowance. I wonder what other councillors do with their allowance?

I can tell you this much...

IT took two and a half hours but we finally developed an appropriate process for the proposed sale of the Willow Court oval and adjacent buildings during our closed council meeting on Monday night. And, in a first, I was able to convince fellow councillors to legally reveal at least a little of what went on. My motion "That the council make public the decision of this closed meeting" was apparently too much to take and failed for want of a seconder, but kudos to Councillor Jim Elliott who successfully moved a watered-down motion "that the council put out to the public the decision to put the oval precinct out to tender". This was seconded by Cr Craig Farrell, and was supported by all councillors but me (I abstained because the motion did not reveal as much as I wanted to).

Anyhow, what this means is that an earlier, secret, decision to sell the oval to a supermarket developer has now been withdrawn. Next month the council will call for tenders for the sale of the oval and the building complex known as Derwent, Esperance, Glenora and Franklin Houses. Personally I am not in favour of selling any part of Willow Court, but it is clear that the funds raised from any sale will help to preserve and promote the real gem of that site, our barrack square. This is a convict site second to none in Tasmania, and yet it is neglected by both the council and the state government, both of which stand condemned for their neglect.

I could be charged with breaching the Local Government Act if I told you too much of what went on at the meeting. However, I said something along these lines:

  • The shoddy process followed so far by the council in the proposed sale of the council showed that nothing had been learned since the council's original (botched) subdivision of the Willow Court site
  • Once again the council had rushed to sell property without having a long-term, strategic and holistic plan for the whole site
  • Once again a sale had been proposed without an appropriate property title or even a clear picture of what the council was selling
  • Inappropriate buildlings had been sold in past and the council will most likely have to buy them back once Willow Court gets going as a tourist attraction
  • The council's ill-considered sale of other parts of the site (including roads and footpaths) had left only one possible car parking area, and now this area could be lost
  • I successfully gained agreement that the car park on The Avenue not be offered for sale
  • The Willow Court conservation management plan says the buildings known as Derwent, Esperance, Glenora and Franklin Houses cannot be demolished (some councillors thought they could be pulled down).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Questions remain over Willow Court oval sale

IT'S pretty exciting to think that three major developers, including representatives of Australia's largest supermarket chains and one of the biggest hardware retailers, are interested in building on the old sportsground at Willow Court. But it is worrying to think that the council has botched the sale process to such an extent that there have been threats of legal action from several sources.

At this point I am largely in the dark about the matter, because the sale was approved by the council before my election. I have asked for minutes of meetings which would include this topic, but my requests have been refused by the general manager because I will not agree to a confidentiality agreement. I believe my undertaking to respect all necessary confidences is covered by the oath of office I declared and signed at my first meeting.

Here's what I want to know, on your behalf:

  • What changes have been made in the Heritage Council's overview of the oval and its redevelopment?
  • How does the council propose to conduct an open sale that will restore public and corporate confidence in the process?
  • Whether or not the buildings known as Derwent, Esperance, Franklin and Glenora are included in the land parcel being offered
  • Whether or not the car parking area adjacent those buildings will be sold or preserved
  • What provisions will be made for visitor car parking if that area is sold
  • How will the proceeds of any sale be sold
  • What else does the council propose to sell?
  • What are the plans for the section of George St located between Woolworths and the Willow Court oval?
Tomorrow night and on Monday night the council is holding closed meetings where I expect to be briefed on all aspects of this sale process and a legal matter relating to Willow Court. Once I enter those meetings I will be legally bound not to publicly reveal what is discussed there. This secrecy does not sit well with me and I will be encouraging my colleagues to decide on an appropriate communication strategy so you can be kept informed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two-for-one offer

WHY not come along to this week's council meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) night. This month only, there are two meetings for your entertainment and edification. At 6pm the council will hold its annual general meeting. You can download a copy of the annual report from the council website (click here) or collect a copy from the council chambers in Circle St. Councillors were advised this meeting will be held in the council social rooms, but the agenda lists the courthouse as the venue, so if you are coming along please try the social rooms first and then the council chambers. This is your opportunity to question the council on its performance and the public can move motions which must be considered by the council at next month's meeting.

At 6.30pm the monthly meeting for December will be held in the courthouse. I promise this one will end well before 11.30pm. There is a light agenda, but I have three motions on notice and a handful of questions. My motions ask the council to investigate options for an indoor swimming pool at New Norfolk; to set aside a room for councillors to use as a shared office; and that the council offer to formalise the Willow Court Working Party. This last one is pretty important. One councillor got it into his head that I was trying to abolish that group. Far from it. It has served a valuable purpose so far and I hope it will continue to do so. My only problem is that it meets in secret and everyone knows how much that type of thing grates with me.

I hope to see you tomorrow night at one or both of our meetings. Let me know what you think of my ideas. I won't be offended if you tell me I'm dreamin'.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Secret squirrel

I MUST admit to misplacing my cool for just a little while at the end of tonight's closed council meeting. I am prohibited by law from saying what the meeting was for, but believe me, it was more than a little pointless and could have been dealt with in open session.

It's what happened after the meeting that got my dander up. After declaring the meeting closed, Mayor Martyn Evans advised that if councillors were contacted by a certain party in connection with legal action against the council and certain individuals, we were to advise the gentleman in question to contact the general manager or the council lawyer.

I immediately asked for a full briefing on the matter, as I am in effect one of the council's "board of directors" and should be aware of matters affecting the council. Mayor Evans advised that as I not a councillor when the legal matter arose, and as I had refused to sign a confidentiality agreement, I could not be briefed on the matter. Some would say that this is where I hit the roof.

As a lawfully elected councillor and having signed a declaration of office, I am obliged by law to keep confidential any matters from a closed council meeting, I said. I demanded a full briefing and also the details of who had been named in the legal action. General manager Stephen Mackey invited me to visit his office for a personal apprisal of the matter. I refused this offer because I will not be party to backroom briefings. All councillors should be provided with exactly the same information at the same time.

Cr Judy Bromfield objected to my making notes of the exchange, and left the courthouse. Cr James Graham advised that he too knew nothing of the legal matter. Cr Jim Elliott supported my stance and said all councillors should be brought up-to-date with the matter.

After much posturing (mostly by me) and a funny little exchange where the general manager and I repeated ourselves for a while, I demanded that a closed meeting be held next week for a full briefing. The mayor agreed to this and undertook to make the necessary arrangements.

So in the next few days you will see a notice in the daily newspaper, advising that you are not allowed to attend a meeting that will be held next week. I regret that a closed meeting appears to be the only way to deal with this matter. However, the truth will eventually see the light.

As I prepared to leave the chamber the general manager reminded those present that the meeting was still "closed" and no details could be made public. I replied that the meeting was indeed "closed" in the sense that the mayor had long since declared it finished, and the last half-hour or so had been a post-meeting discussion.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Taking care of business

IT was a pleasure to slip back into the cut and thrust of local business promotions at the monthly meeting of the New Norfolk Business Association tonight. I helped to establish this group about 10 years ago and having had a few years' rest from the committee, I was pleased to be elected as the council representative and chairman. This committee is responsible for the management and expenditure of a promotional levy raised among businesses in New Norfolk's central business district, plus a council contribution. The participating businesses will be able to see some of their money at work when the 11th annual New Norfolk Christmas Parade takes to High St this Saturday at noon. See you there!

Sorry, Maydena

DUE to work commitments I was unable to attend what should have been my first meeting as the council delegate to the Maydena Community Association last night. I am already aware of the good work of this group and look forward to attending its next meeting in the new year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dipping a toe into the water at Bushy Park

I LOVE driving in to Bushy Park (and Glenora :-) This agricultural district is one of the Derwent Valley's real gems. At this time of year, the hops are half-way up the strings, and the raspberries are being picked. Christmas must be around the corner. The purpose of the trip was to attend my first meeting of the Bushy Park Swimming Pool Committee. Because this committee's meetings clash with the council's "workshops" councillors have been reluctant to put up their hand, instead opting for a rotational roster of sorts. It was my pleasure to volunteer for this committee and if it means missing workshops, so be it.

The Bushy Park Swimming Pool (it's actually located at Glenora but who's arguing?) was built in the late 1950s as the district's war memorial. As well as providing welcome summer recreation and relief, the facility has a comfortable hall which hosts the local Anzac Day observances.

The facility is managed by a dedicated local committee, under the auspices of the Derwent Valley Council. I was already aware of the committee's great work and this was reinforced when deputy general manager (and fellow committee member) Robert McCrossen gave me a tour just prior to the meeting. This is a facility the district, and our whole municipality, can be proud of. Set in a scenic location, surrounded by lush lawns and under the shade of well-established trees, it is the ideal place for a swim.

After the meeting I enjoyed a Christmas drink with the committee and was brought up-to-date on local issues. The discussion reminded me that we are a close-nit community - especially when I was asked for my opinion on New Norfolk's famous planter pots. My position on that subject remains unchanged. The existing pots are dangerous and should be removed. I'll have more to say on that at the next council meeting on December 15. Why don't you come along?

Congratulations to committee president Janice Gittus and her team. I am really looking forward to working with this group and helping it to achieve its aims.


WITH a choice of two meetings to attend tonight, I opted for the Bushy Park Swimming Pool Committee, to which I am the council representative. This meant I missed the first of the new-style "open and advertised" council workshops. I look forward to hearing how it went. Did you go? Why not post a comment (below)?