Blue Mountains Greens councillors have asked the State Government to investigate practices at Blue Mountains Council claiming they are “detrimental to open and effective government”.
Councillors Kerry Brown and Brent Hoare lodged a formal complaint to the Office of Local Government on Monday. They say they are being obstructed from fulfilling their roles under the Local Government Act. The issues relate to transparency, bin overcharging, the issues over the Wayzgoose cafe in Leura, confidential land sales and more.
Cr Hoare said they are seeking an inquiry under section 430 of the Act “to investigate repeated failures to implement the Act, the obstruction of elected councillors from governing the council, and the lack of transparency”.
“A culture has developed which prevents councillors accessing information and being able to provide effective oversight,” Cr Brown added.
She said councillors are forbidden from moving notices of motion that set or change policy or that incur expenditure which they considered a breach.
“Determining council policy and overseeing expenditure are core responsibilities of elected councillors under the Act.”
Cr Hoare said they were also concerned about council selling land without open tender, citing a council property in Loftus Street Lawson that was confidentially offered to a purchaser without advertising last year.
“This approach to sale of council property is clearly not transparent and is a corruption risk. I should have been able to move that council adopt a policy of transparent land sales that go to the open market but, under the current code of meeting practice, all I could do was call for a report from staff.” He said they were still waiting for that report nine months later.
Mayor Mark Greenhill called the move “deeply disappointing” adding the pair had “made allegations and statements that are incorrect”.
“Blue Mountains City Council takes its governance responsibilities very seriously. The council’s current position is strong, being deemed Fit for the Future by the NSW Government and demonstrating significant civic achievements, including improved financial sustainability, in recent years.”
“Each councillor acts as a member of the governing body of the Council, in accordance with section 232 of the Local Government Act. Recent amendments to that Act have emphasised this role. All councillors need time to familiarise themselves with that role and with the opportunities and limitations that the role confers and imposes on individual councillors.”
Cr Greenhill said he would be writing to the Office of Local Government to provide a response to the pair’s allegations.
Cr Brown said two groups would be supporting their push for an inquiry – those caught up in the saga over the Wayzgoose Cafe and residents who were overcharged for their bin services.
Cr Brown said she had repeatedly sought details on the extent of long-term domestic waste overcharging and “received partial information and then silence”.
She had a five-month battle for access to files on the Wayzgoose building in Leura. When she recently sought figures on council’s expenditure on the property and its development application, she was told “staff will not be diverting resources to that task at this time”.
The councillors said the “final straw” was discovering the general manager’s delegations had not been approved since 2009 despite all councils being required under the Act to approve these within the first 12 months of their term.
“Serious questions remain about the legality of operations in the last term of council which never approved the delegations,” she added.
Leura retiree John Mann from the Residents Against Garbage Exploitation (RAGE) is supporting the call for an inquiry, as is Wayzgoose spokeswoman Lorraine Droga.
Mr Mann discovered in June last year he had paid for two garbage services for at least 20 years. After much campaigning by Mr Mann and other RAGERS, council repaid five years of overcharging to those affected.
“The fact they’ve overcharged us is an incompetence,” Mr Mann said. “I think the local government is simply non responsive to the public. I've been appalled by the discussions about Wayzgoose and on the residents waste overcharging issue. All they want to do is badger and bully us and think we’ll go away.”