Keen interest in council meeting at Molesworth

Councillors listening to public questions at this month’s council meeting.

LOCAL residents had surprisingly few questions for the Derwent Valley Council during the community forum at this month’s council meeting at Molesworth but made up for it during a lengthy Question Time session during the formal meeting straight after.

The second of three council meetings scheduled to be held outside New Norfolk this year, the May 17 meeting was held in the gymnasium of the Molesworth Community Hall rather than the meeting room upstairs.

Cr Anne Salt was present for her first council meeting since her private swearing-in on April 6. Deputy mayor Ben Shaw was in the chair due to the absence of mayor Martyn Evans. He started the proceedings with an acknowledgement of the efforts of council staff and community volunteers during the flooding events earlier in the month.

In public question time, Andrew Lawson from Collins Cap Rd asked about damage caused by stormwater diversion on Collins Cap Rd and residents’ rights to compensation. General manager Greg Winton said a council officer would be sent to investigate Mr Lawson’s assertions.

Jeanette Kaiser asked for a second time about the long-running lack of communication between the council and its youth advisory committee (D’FAT), including the committee finding the locks to have been changed as its meeting place. Cr Shaw said reiterated his earlier advice that the council had not changed its position in relation to the committee’s role. He said councillors had not had any further discussions about youth strategy and he asked to be advised if any council staff or councillors were failing to respond to communications from the committee. Cr Julie Triffett spoke up, saying she was the council representative on the D’FAT committee. “I haven’t been communicating with D’FAT because D’FAT have actually changed their meetings to Thursday night and that’s our night that we have workshops and things, so I haven’t been able to physically get to the meetings,” Cr Triffett said.

Albert Stephenson commented on a later agenda item dealing with councillor representatives on about 40 council committees and noted that the council did not have a climate change committee, bushfire commitee or strategic infrastructure committee. “The council should really consider three main committees instead of 40 Mickey Mouse committees,” he said. The deputy mayor agreed to a certain extent. “I certainly think, personally, there’s a lot of Special Committees that probably could be condensed or brought into one group,” Cr Shaw said.

Anne Stephenson again drew attention to the bridge on the corner of Tubbs Rd and Collins Cap Rd, which needed a sign indicating it was a single-lane bridge following many near-misses due to it being a blind corner on an 80km/h road. Cr Shaw said Mrs Stephenson had made a fair point and he asked the general manager to “get onto it” straight away.

Wayne Shoobridge asked about the previous month’s closed council discussion about an expenses claim by mayor Martyn Evans. “Was the claim allowed, disallowed or do we have to go through the rigamarole of Freedom of Information to get it?” Cr Shaw referred the question to the general manager, who said he was not at the meeting but offered the following advice: “In terms of can or will it be made public, it could be made public if the council chose to, but at this point in time it hasn’t, and will it be made public, again, is a decision for the council to make.

Mr Shoobridge also followed up his question from the previous month, about the tabling of an economic impact survey of the High Street Market. Cr Shaw said he would take that question on notice. In a second part of his question, Mr Shoobridge asked why payments made to the council’s elected members were not listed in the monthly financial statements. General manager Greg Winton said a bulk figure was given in the monthly statements and individualised amounts appeared in each year’s annual report.

Dianne Cowburn asked a question about stormwater management and the council’s failure to adequately maintain bulk litter traps designed to stop rubbish from entering the River Derwent and Lachlan Rivulet. Cr Shaw took the question on notice.

General manager Greg Winton gave a presentation on flood
damage to the community forum before the council meeting.

Len Butterworth asked a question about a code of conduct determination against the deputy mayor but noted that the matter was the subject of a report later in the meeting. Mr Butterworth alluded to local scuttlebut that the council’s acting general manager, Mark Eady, had been asked to represent the deputy mayor in the code of conduct hearing, and noted that it did not happen.  Laughing, Mr Winton said: “For the sake of clarity Mr Butterworth, am I to understand that what this is about is that someone said in a local cake shop that the acting general manager was planning to represent Ben Shaw at a code of conduct hearing?” Mr Butterworth replied: “Correct.”

After 35 minutes of public questions the meeting moved on to notices of motion lodged by two councillors, voting 4-3 against a Cr Belcher’s motion that a ratepayer be reimbursed for expenses incurred in completing an unfinished council project; and 6-1 in favour of Cr Shaw’s motion to introduce a 30-minute open session at the start of each month’s council meeting.

In other business, the council received minutes of meetings from the Friends of Willow Court, Friends of Frescati, the Derwent Valley Access Advisory Committee, the New Norfolk Swimming Pool, and the Tynwald Park Committee – which is proposing a statue of Peter Hudson.

The council deferred a proposal by acting general manager Mark Eady that the appointment of councillor representatives and proxies on 40 committees, working groups, authorities and associations be reviewed.

A report was received and noted from the acting general manager following a code of conduct investigation into the deputy mayor, which resulted the dismissal of several allegations of a conflict of interest but the upholding of a complaint that he had failed to declare a perceived conflict of interest. The complaints all related to a Development Application for a quarry near Maydena.

The council also noted and released a draft asset management policy for public comment; discussed how it would vote on matters at the Local Government Association’s meeting on May 18; and received the senior management report.

Councillor questions without notice included Cr Salt asking how people without access to computers would be able to find out how to participate in a survey about the council’s proposed dog park. A voice from the gallery suggested using the Derwent Valley Gazette. Cr Belcher asked whether the council would offer free tip entry for flood-affected residents and the general manager said this might be possible for flood-affected residences that were eligible for a government contribution.

Cr Belcher also asked about certain local roads being narrowed during reconstruction works and then queried whether the acting general manager had considered representing the deputy mayor at his code of conduct hearing. Cr Shaw he had asked Mr Eady to do so, but advice was received that this was not appropriate and as such it did not occur.

Cr Graham then asked whether it would be possible for the audio recordings of council meetings to have a time stamp or some other indicator to allow listeners to jump to items of interest. “It was brought to my attention that a person likes listening to it, and it’s a good thing, but they didn’t want to listen to the whole thing,” Cr Graham said.

The council then took a 20-minute adjournment, intending to resume at 9pm for a closed meeting to discuss a report on kerbside waste services; two proposals to conduct tours at Willow Court; a proposal to film a documentary at Willow Court; and the closed senior management report. As reported previously, the closed meeting was abandoned due to a ratepayer staging a sit-in.

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