Blue Mountains City Council makes case to avoid suspension

Blue Mountains City Council formally endorsed its submission to avoid suspension by the State Government at an extraordinary council meeting on December 19.

But two Liberal Party councillors, Brendan Christie and Kevin Schreiber, voted against sending the submission for survival to the local government minister, Gabrielle Upton

Ward 4 Cr Brendan Christie said “if the State Government is going to suspend the council, it needs to do it [for] longer and do more”.

“A meaningful period of administration should occur for at least six months and be expanded [to matters including council’s organisational structure and financial position]. I know it’s unpopular, it’s not fun and it may cost me votes but this is an opportunity to clean out all the cobwebs, smarten things up and build a stronger council for the next generation,” he said.

A packed public gallery watched councillors debate the government’s intention to suspend the elected councillors over its handling of asbestos management and appoint an interim administrator for three months.

Councillors voted to put an alternative proposal to the minister at the meeting on December 19.

“Rather than suspending the council unnecessarily, we are inviting the minister to issue the council with a performance improvement order and appoint a temporary advisor with the requisite experience in safety and asbestos management to improve our management of asbestos,” said Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill.

“We are willing to go further than that. The council stands ready and willing to enter into an enforceable undertaking with SafeWork NSW, at the conclusion of the independent investigation now being conducted. That enforceable undertaking would bind the council to adopt and implement the recommendations of the independent investigation.

“As Liverpool City Council addresses its substantial asbestos problems it sought an enforceable undertaking in working with the regulator,” he said. “This approach is 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.

“Given the minister’s concerns about our performance are confined to asbestos management, and not the general function of the council, adopting the performance management framework is more likely to achieve the necessary outcomes than suspending the elected body.”

He said the suspension of the councillors will mean the “loss to the city of its elected representatives”.

“The council is financially sound. The council has been recognised as ‘fit for the future’. It just doesn’t make sense. The residents of the city should not lose the benefit of representation by their councillors based on the minister’s concerns.”

Suspending BMCC at this time would be pre-emptive and may risk directing effort away from the task of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of council workers...

Linda Scott

The peak association for councils in the state, Local Government NSW, has also thrown its weight behind the fight to avoid suspension, urging the local government minister to consider alternatives.

Local Government NSW president Linda Scott wrote to the minister on December 19, urging her not to suspend the council.

“Suspending BMCC at this time would be pre-emptive and may risk directing effort away from the task of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of council workers and the broader Blue Mountains community,” Cr Scott wrote.

“I urge you to consider an alternative course of action available to you so that council can continue to deliver the wide range of other essential services to its community with minimal disruption.”