Sunday, May 13, 2012

And the topic was...

WILLOW Court was the main topic discussed at this month's councillor workshop, held on May 3. Deputy mayor Barry Lathey took the chair in the absence of the mayor, who is on personal leave this month. It was great to have two members of the public present (Anne Salt and Allyson Lock) with some questions about the council's policy on film-makers visiting Willow Court. Also in the gallery was Tim Morris MHA and it emerged that he had been called to the meeting to account for comments had had not made in Parliament. That exchange was saved for the closed section of the workshop.

Anne Salt and Allyson Lock expressed their concerns at film-makers exploring paranormal themes at Willow Court, which prompted an interesting discussion that extended beyond the 30 minutes now allowed for public participation at workshops, and I thank the deputy mayor for his tolerance in that regard. Cr Nicholson expressed the view that paranormal types had jumped onto the Willow Court committee formed back in 2009 "when the community squealed".

The closed section of the workshop featured a presentation by security consultants recommended by Cr Lester. They spoke about the problem of Willow Court's isolation and lack of use and proposed a multi-faceted approach to security based on a site inspection with the mayor, general manager and Cr Lester. Their confidential report will be discussed in a closed session after this week's council meeting. In response to a question from me, the general manager advised that comparative quotes would not be provided. 

This brought us to Tim Morris. Cr Bromfield said she had requested his presence because she had been "disgusted when you put us down so badly in Parliament." This was in reference to a motion tabled by Mr Morris on March 8:
  • Mr Morris to move That the House:

    (1) Notes that the Willow Court Historic Site at New Norfolk is a significant part of Tasmania's built heritage and should be protected in its entirety.
    (2) Congratulates:
    (a) those owners and managers of parts of the site who have made significant investments of time and finance to protect and reuse those parts of the site they are responsible for; and
    (b) those community members, such as the friends of Frescati and the Willow Court Working Group who have volunteered their time to work on the site.
    (3) Notes concerns with:
    (a) the lack of progress by the Derwent Valley Council in protecting the parts of Willow Court that it owns and is responsible for; and
    (b) that a further building has been deliberately burnt beyond repair because of a lack of care by the council.
    (4) Further calls upon the council to:
    (a) move immediately to secure those remaining buildings that they have stood back and allowed to be vandalised;
    (b) report regularly to the community on its plans for, and progress with protection and development of the site;
    (c) not to attempt to sell off any further land that is part of the site; and
    (d) respond positively and promptly to the Government's proposed Memorandum of Understanding that will define rights and responsibilities and provide state funds for work on the site.
Council general manager Stephen Mackey asked Mr Morris what he had done in Parliament to help the council. Mr Morris said he had lobbied and supported and had not criticised the council until the loss of F Ward. When asked about critical comments he had made when his motion was debated in the House, he pointed out that it had not yet been brought forward.

As the workshop drew to a close, Mr Morris asked about the future ownership of the former business enterprise centre, now known as the Carinya Education Park. Mr Mackey said the council had a two-year lease and option to acquire the property. It was reported that the buildings were suffering from vandalism. 

April agenda

ANOTHER month has flown by and it's now only a couple of days until the May council meeting, which will be held at Westerway this Thursday night, starting with a community forum at 5.45pm. Please do come along. You can download the council agenda documents here.

Last month's meeting saw some great debate on a couple of issues. My colleague Cr Lester certainly sparked some controversy with his motion on notice seeking some information from the Willow Court committee. I voted against this motion as I believe the information he requested is already available on the council website in the form of minutes and an annual report. Cr Lester amended his motion at the meeting and it was carried by majority.

Next on the agenda was my motion on notice, calling on the council to cease charging the costs of offices at 2 High St to the Royal Derwent (Willow Court) Reserve Account. From my speech notes: "Mr Mayor, this is a straightforward motion. Since 2002 nearly $350,000 has been charged to Willow Court for the costs of the offices at 2 High St. There has been some income from the same source, but the total loss has been about $230,000. I believe the figures have been provided to all councillors. In the current financial year, income from 2 High St has been nearly $9000 but the costs have been $37,000, for a total loss of $28,000. These charges are for offices which no longer have any connection to Willow Court. The tenuous link via Valley Vision was severed more than two years ago and the costs should cease being charged to Willow Court." This motion generated some discussion and was supported by the majority of councillors.

My second motion was for the general manager to investigate and report on the apparently excessive cost of electricity at Willow Court. So far this financial year, Electricity costs of $24,000 have been charged to the Willow Court account. An investigation into this cost was supported by all councillors.

I did not support the adoption of an updated council policy on councillor allowances as I do not agree with the payment of additional allowances on top of the fixed payment that is already made to councillors. From my speech notes: "Mr Mayor, I will not be supporting this motion. I made these remarks at the committee level and repeat them here for the benefit of the council. While the prescribed allowances are within the law, I believe they are unnecessary and excessive when Derwent Valley councillors already receive a fixed yearly allowance of nearly $11,000 each, the deputy mayor receives nearly $21,000 and the mayor receives more than $37,000. The Lord Mayor of Hobart receives a fixed allowance of more than $100,000 per annum, plus a car and driver. Additional allowances for travel, phone calls, child care and other things are within the law, but I regard them as double-dipping when councillors already receive a generous allowance that increases every year." All other councillors voted in favour of the policy.

I did not support a proposed new Highways and Stormwater Bylaw as I believe it is unnecessarily draconian in some aspects. The bylaw is intended to control such things as the roadside sale of cars and the growing number of roadside signs. All other councillors voted in favour of the new bylaw. The public will be able to have its say before it becomes law.

From my speech notes: "Mr Mayor, I will not be supporting this draft bylaw in its current form. I believe it is excessive to fine a person $390 for driving on the road with dirty wheels, and I am not convinced that we are bedevilled by persons going door-to-door seeking to buy rag and bone and that they should be fined $260. I would also make the point that items such as this draft bylaw are ideal for actual workshopping by councillors at their monthly gathering, rather than having their first discussion take place at a formal meeting."

All councillors voted in favour of the Memorandum of Understanding with the State Government, but not before several of us expressed our disappointment with the document. From my speech notes: "Mr Mayor, I am far from satisfied with this latest version of the MOU. In effect it obliges the government to nothing and the council to everything. I believe the only real advancement is that we have the support of a man of goodwill and good intent in David Llewellyn and at this stage I will put my trust in him rather than the government."

For the benefit of those friends who wonder whether I ever support anything, I voted in favour of routine items including the monthly financial report and planning applications dealt with by delegation, as well as the new customer service charter, and a proposed review of councillor numbers, but I voted against the council going into closed session to discuss two items behind closed doors.