Blue Mountains City Council has escaped suspension after the local government minister backed down on threats to appoint an administrator over its management of asbestos.
The minister, Gabrielle Upton, announced her decision on December 22 after earlier issuing council with notice to suspend it for three months.
The decision has placed pressure on Ward 4 Liberal councillor Brendan Christie who had publicly urged the minister to suspend council for six months, not three months. He was joined by Ward 1 Liberal councillor Kevin Schreiber in voting against council’s submission to avoid suspension at an extraordinary council meeting before Christmas.
“Minister, if you back down [on the suspension notice] and something happens, it is on you and I will seek your resignation for it,” Cr Christie told the council meeting on December 19.
Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill described Cr Christie’s remarks as “extraordinary” but hoped he would “re-examine his view” and continue to serve on council.
“I think we should all be prepared to take this challenge forward as a team. I’d rather see him part of that team. [But] if he genuinely hasn’t got the answers and doesn’t think he can be part of the journey then that’s a matter for him,” he said.
But Cr Christie indicated he has no plans to quit council, repeating his call for council to be placed in the hands of an administrator.
“I’ll continue to pursue a robust and bold policy agenda to ensure our community receives the highest level of support and service we deserve,” he said.
“Asbestos in many ways is symptomatic of a council that needs large scale renewal at the operational level and the most effective way to deliver that renewal is through the appointment of a temporary administrator. The minister has made the decision not to take this action. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues and hold the council to account to ensure we are delivering and building on the service our community rightfully expect and deserve.
“Today it was asbestos, yesterday it was cancelled Anzac Day marches, Australia Day under threat, a wasteful Badgerys [airport] campaign, dangerous dogs and the whole Wayzgoose [cafe] fiasco. These issues are systemic, ongoing and as many residents have expressed to me, not representative of the values or quality of service they expect, especially when they’re paying ballooning council rates,” he said.
Despite not suspending Blue Mountains council, Ms Upton said she remained “seriously concerned that the safety of its community and workforce has been compromised by inadequate processes to deal with asbestos”.
“Councillors cannot wash their hands of the problems under their watch. Blue Mountains City Council is now facing extra oversight from the Office of Local Government as well as investigations from SafeWork and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.”
The minister instead issued a Performance Improvement Order “to hold the council to account and make sure it takes the necessary action to address its poor record on asbestos management”.
Councillors had suggested this course of action at the December 19 council meeting.
“Consistent with the council’s request and recommendation, the minister has foreshadowed the issuing of a Performance Improvement Order,” the mayor said in a statement after the minister’s decision. “This approach is considered to be a more targeted and effective response to the minister’s concerns, recognising the seriousness of asbestos management and reflects the council’s intention to place the safety of its staff and community at the centre of its operations and organisational culture.”
Cr Greenhill thanked the minister “for her consideration of our submission and for her decision to not proceed with suspending the elected councillors of Blue Mountains City Council”.