Two Mountains councillors quit: voters back to the polls

Former councillors Robert Stock and Geordie Williamson. By-elections will be held to fill their council positions.
Former councillors Robert Stock and Geordie Williamson. By-elections will be held to fill their council positions.

Two councillors have resigned after a blow-up over the city's financial woes, with both saying they feel council is no longer working in the community's best interests.

Robert Stock, an independent from Ward 1, and Geordie Williamson, a Greens representative from Ward 2, resigned on Monday following an at-times heated debate at last week's council meeting over the issue of staff wages.

By-elections will have to be held in Wards 1 and 2. Both former councillors said they were deeply sorry for the extra expense their resignations would incur.

Mr Williamson walked out of last Tuesday's meeting after the mayor, Mark Greenhill, said he was "attacking the workers, the street sweeper, grave digger, ranger" by suggesting that staff wage increases be limited.

Mr Williamson said he believed it was "a question of equity", that all options should be on the table when considering council's budget shortfall.

"I am told that staff wage increases over and above CPI are untouchable. Moreover, I have been accused of being an enemy of these many honest workers for even raising the issue," he said.

Mr Stock said council's financial management was "something that is just not addressed".

"There's a reluctance to go down that track. The only answers staff or the other councillors seem to have is to put the rates up and that's not manageable in my book.

"If you've got a situation where the rates have increased by 100 per cent in 11 years and you have gone into debt of $58 million, you've got to say something's wrong.

"By remaining a councillor under these circumstances, I believe I would be endorsing and giving credence to a council that in the area of financial management has become dysfunctional in its operation," he said.

Mr Stock cited as an example the situation with council's 67 commercial buildings, which generate $3.5 million annual income but also have associated costs of $3.35 million, leaving a profit of only $150,000 a year. When he asked, in April, how this could occur, he was told he would be given an answer in November.

Mr Williamson said he believed he was elected to serve the community by listening to the views of residents and then representing those views on council.

"Obviously that was deeply naive on my part," he said.

"On numerous occasions over the last two years, I have identified currents of strong feeling in the community - a genuine wish and practical drive to effect positive change - which I have sought to assist. But whether it was dog walkers seeking more off-leash space or historians fighting to preserve a remnant stretch of Cox's Road, or groups wanting to bring music and theatre to the Mountains' public halls, I have been stymied in part or whole each time.

"It has become clear to me that staying on council is to address council's desires, not those of the people of the Blue Mountains. It is to accept that council and not representatives of the public shall decide how public funds will be spent. I am resigning because my proper role as councillor has become impossible to fulfil."

Both former councillors said they hoped their replacements would prove more effective.

"I really hope that whoever replaces us is someone who can walk into that room and say, we are going to hold you to account and ask the difficult questions, week in, week out... Someone with a thicker skin, really," Mr Williamson said.

Clr Greenhill acknowledged that the issue of financial sustainability had generated "vigorous debate" in council.

"I welcome the debate and respect the differences of opinion that ensued on this matter, and indeed, on any matter before the council," he said.

"The council's decision to ask our community about their preferred option for acceptable and affordable levels of service is proper and demonstrates good leadership."

He also thanked Mr Stock and Mr Williamson for their service as councillors and wished them well for the future.


Discuss "Two Mountains councillors quit: voters back to the polls"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.