Friday, May 29, 2015

What's happening at Willow Court?

TWO of the biggest frustrations associated with the Willow Court site in New Norfolk are the slow rate of progress and the flow of misinformation. The two issues are closely related but one is more easily resolved than the other.

There are several websites dedicated to Willow Court and these quite rightly keep a close watch on progress at the site. That's a good thing. What's not so good is when opinions are presented as facts.

Several months ago when the council was considering the prospect of seeking expressions of interest for the ongoing development of the Willow Court site, a briefing was provided to the three main interest groups (Friends of Willow Court, Friends of Frescati and the Australian Paranormal Investigation Unit) before putting the proposal to a council meeting. All three groups were encouraged to submit their own expressions of interest should they wish to do so.

The proposal was then put to a regular open council meeting in March and I wrote about it here at the time. That meeting resolved to seek expressions of interest (EOI) for the development of the council-owned section of Willow Court and required that a draft EOI document be discussed at a councillor workshop and tabled at the May council meeting. Unfortunately the EOI document was not ready for the May council meeting last Thursday (May 21), so it was put to a special council meeting this Tuesday, May 26.

Contrary to what was stated on one of the Willow Court blogs yesterday, Tuesday's meeting was not a closed meeting. It was advertised in the daily newspaper and on the council website and any person who wished to attend the meeting was entitled to do so. Similarly, the agenda was open to the public and available in hardcopy from the council chambers and for downloading from the council website. The agenda is also available for downloading from the same blog that stated it was a closed meeting. On the night of the meeting, I personally unlocked the front doors of the courthouse meeting room. Sadly the public gallery was empty when council voted unanimously to proceed with the EOI process.

The same blog asserts: "It is expected that the Expression of interest will take up to 12 months, so the site will be left abandoned again for that period of time." I can assure the writer that Willow Court is far from abandoned.

Embarking on the EOI process does not mean we are giving up or stopping work. At the same time as testing the market for interest, we will continue to explore all other opportunities. In the absence of any further government funding, we have resolved to seek expressions of interest in the sale of the lucerne field below the new Woolworths supermarket, with all proceeds to go to Willow Court.

Far from forgotten, Willow Court is the subject of discussion at nearly every meeting of councillors.
  • The Friends of Frescati hold working bees every second Sunday and have recently completed the undercoating of the rear wall of that important historic house to prepare it for painting in the spring.
  • The Derwent Valley Players presented a short play in the grounds at Frescati earlier this month, assisted by the Friends of Willow Court and the Friends of Frescati.
  • Government ministers have been familiarised with the site this month and the governor has visited a Heritage Month display on the site.
  • The first stage of the redevelopment of the Barracks is almost complete, despite having slowed to a snail's pace - and councillors ask about this nearly every week.
  • Bronte House is set to become the new home of the Derwent Valley Community House (more about that here).
  • The council continues to explore all funding opportunities and is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the site's nomination for National Heritage listing.
How can you find out what's really happening at Willow Court? Ask any of the councillors.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New general manager named

A special meeting of the council staff was held earlier this afternoon for the announcement of the name of the new general manager for the Derwent Valley Council. Mayor Martyn Evans told the meeting that it had been the desire of councillors that the staff should be the first people to know about the decision once a signed contract was in place. The contract of employment was approved at a special closed council meeting last night.

Everyone who attended today's staff meeting was provided with an advance copy of a media release to be issued this evening. The mayor, deputy mayor, Cr Triffett and I then visited the council's child care centre to talk to staff who were unable to attend the meeting and provide them with a copy of the media release.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the mayor paid tribute to the outgoing general manager, Stephen Mackey, who he described as a friend and mentor to the staff.


Mayor Martyn Evans has announced the appointment of Mr Greg Winton as General Manager of the Derwent Valley Council. “From a strong field of candidates, we conducted a thorough recruitment process with assistance from consulting company KPMG and determined Greg had the skills and experience we were seeking from the 66 applications received for the role,” Mayor Evans said. “His commitment and experience in strengthening communities by developing strategic partnerships will help us pursue improvements in areas including local employment, education, and health services for residents of the Derwent Valley,” he said.

Mr Winton is no stranger to the challenges facing local government. The majority of his three decades of working in the sector has been in regional areas in Western Australia and Tasmania. Most recently he was the interim General Manager at the West Coast Council, with previous appointments in North-Western Tasmania as General Manager of the Circular Head Council for 11 years and of the Waratah-Wynyard Council for six years.

“I will work hard for strategic, future-focused and positive outcomes in the years ahead and I’m looking forward to moving to the Valley,” Mr Winton said. Mr Winton indicated his focus would be on working with Council and the community to support the delivery of high quality local services. “Building strong relationships with other levels of government and neighbours in the region will assist in making the Derwent Valley a more front of mind destination for visitors and additional economic investment also,” he said.

Mayor Evans indicated that the annual remuneration package of $190,000 (plus a laptop computer and up to $7000 per annum for communications, conferences and memberships) for the three-year performance-based employment contract was reasonable and compared well when benchmarked against other similar Tasmanian local authorities.

Mayor Evans also acknowledged the efforts of General Manager Stephen Mackey. “On behalf of past and present Councillors, Council staff and the community, I wish Stephen well and sincerely thank him for his contribution over the past 15 years to our community,” he said.

Mr Winton will commence work on June 21, starting with a two-week handover period.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Important visitors

EARLIER today it was my great pleasure to be able to take several members of State Cabinet to Willow Court to discuss the council's plans for the site and the need for funding. Premier Will Hodgman and the rest of cabinet met at New Norfolk this morning, followed by a regional cabinet meeting with the council.

Rather than spend an hour talking around a table, we paired councillors with a cabinet minister and used the time to visit local areas of importance. Despite the wet and windy weather, I was able to discuss the council's need for support with Willow Court with Heritage Minister Matthew Groom, Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin, and Human Services Minister Jacquie Petrusma. Joining in the discussion were councillors Barry Lathey, Frank Pearce and Julie Triffett.

No promises were made but with the government still relatively new, it was a worthwhile exercise and it is always inspiring to be able to share the site with such interested visitors as these three ministers were. All three were quite taken by Frescati House and the opportunity to have a look inside.

Other ministers were taken to other locations by some of my fellow councillors. Mr Hodgman later told me this was the first time a council had taken the initiative and showed the cabinet ministers around the community rather than sit around a table. He hoped other councils would follow suit when hosting regional cabinet meetings in future.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

RSL situation explained

THE financial position of New Norfolk's RSL Club was outlined by state RSL president Robert Dick at a meeting at the club this afternoon. All of your councillors were invited to attend and five were at the meeting.

From the outset, Mr Dick made it clear it was not his intention to close the club and he repeated this message during the hour-long meeting. He said the club's business operations had not made a profit in three years but he was working with the executive committee and had put forward a new business plan for consideration. He urged all members to work with the executive committee to help return the club to profitability.