Dungog council ‘in denial’

REBUKE: Outgoing Dungog Council General Manager has issued a strongly worded rebuke of the remaining four Dungog councillors, saying they were "in denial" about the council's financial position. PICTURE: Jonathan Carroll

REBUKE: Outgoing Dungog Council General Manager has issued a strongly worded rebuke of the remaining four Dungog councillors, saying they were "in denial" about the council's financial position. PICTURE: Jonathan Carroll

CRAIG Deasey has used his last meeting in charge of Dungog Council to offer a stinging rebuke of the troubled shire’s four remaining councillors, accusing them of being “in denial” about the state of their financial bottom line.

Mr Deasey resigned last month after councillors voted against his recommendation to pursue a voluntary merger with Port Stephens Council.

His departure prompted a mass exodus of other councillors who had supported the merge, including former mayor Harold Johnston.

Now, one of the four remaining councillors, Nancy Knudsen, has been elected mayor, and says she wants to reassure ratepayers that “nothing terrible is happening”.

But in his final report to councillors before stepping down Mr Deasey didn’t hold back in his assessment of the decision to ignore his advice, saying they had failed to properly articulate what they wanted the staff to do.

After last month’s vote against the merger the staff were instructed to begin negotiations with neighbouring shires about a possible merger, before a community poll at the September election.

However staff have apparently been frustrated by the lack of clarity about what they are supposed to be negotiating, and Mr Deasey said the council has been unable to “elaborate any further and explain the intent” of the motion.

“Everybody is in the dark as to what the councillors are trying to undertake despite several years of lost opportunity to do so,” he wrote in his brief.

Since the vote the state MP for the Upper Hunter, Michael Johnsen, has called for his own government to call in the administrators, saying the council is dysfunctional.

But during his visit to Singleton this week deputy premier John Barilaro demurred when asked if he believed the government needed to step in, instead suggesting the four-person council continue until the September election.

“What we are doing is monitoring the situation in Dungog,” he said.

“If we’ve got a dysfunctional council, and I know Michael has a view and he has put that view to the government [then] we’ll respond in due course.

“But right now our job is to watch and to make sure we’re giving service delivery for the community, and also acknowledge that we are going to local government elections in September this year and that’s an opportunity for the community to send a clear message to that council.”

Cr Knudsen said she never considered leaving the council, saying it was here “obligation to continue”.

“It never came up for me as a question of whether or not to stay,” she said.

“It would be extraordinary for me to do anything else [but continue].

“Naturally I don’t think it’s ideal to have four councillors.”

The story Dungog council ‘in denial’ first appeared on Newcastle Herald.

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