Councillor defends decision to take leave

Paul Belcher

IN a wide-ranging interview on community radio this morning, Derwent Valley councillor Paul Belcher defended his decision to apply for three months leave from council duties and challenged other councillors to show that they were earning their allowances.

Cr Belcher told Tyga FM host Nigel Jones that he had contacted the station after hearing that he was being discussed on air. He said he did not know whether his councillor allowance would be payable while he was on leave, but he had contacted the general manager for clarification and he was happy to ask for the monthly payment to be suspended.

He said his application had been approved unanimously at last Thursday night’s council meeting, but he would resign from council if ratepayers were upset with his decision to take leave. He went on to criticise aspects of the council’s operations and governance, citing a recent roadworks project that had cost more than twice its estimated expense. Prompted by Mr Jones, he said he would rate the council at about “1 out of 10” at present.

In welcoming Cr Belcher to the Talking Point program, Mr Jones said some people were having “a little snipe” at the councillor and it was only fair to give him a right of reply. “Paul Belcher has taken three months leave from council to work on a business venture. And he’s creating jobs, employment for other people in the Derwent Valley, and Paul welcome to Talking Point,” he said.

“Well certainly there’s a few having a little bit of a snipe at you for taking three months leave. I’ve just read your statement as you put it, up on Facebook. Do you think it’s right that you should be taking three months leave to work on a personal business venture?” Mr Jones said.

Cr Belcher said he saw his role as a councillor as being a representative of the ratepayers, and due to his new business operating mostly at night, he was finding it difficult to fully concentrate on his council duties, including workshops and meetings. “So I’ve just asked for that three months leave, but I am quite happy that if the ratepayers are upset and there is people upset with me, I’m quite happy to resign from council if that is the case.”

Mr Jones: “So you would resign if there is too much stink?”

Cr Belcher: “Yes I would. Obviously there’s talk about should I get paid. I actually don’t even know if you do get paid when you are on leave as a councillor. I believe I’ve done the right thing by coming out to the general manager and asking for leave.”

Continuing, Cr Belcher said there were other elected members who had taken six to eight weeks leave in the current term of council without applying for leave. “And I believe that they probably would’ve still been paid,” he said. He returned to the same topic several times in the interview: “If people are that upset and having swipes at me on social media … I think they should go back over the last four months and see how many people have attended their committees, their workshops, and council meetings.”

Cr Belcher said the $1050 monthly allowance paid to Derwent Valley councillors was a pittance considering the amount of work involved. “I’ve never been concerned of whether we get paid or not … one thing I can tell you, I’ve never never claimed for travel, I’ve never claimed for phone, I’ve never claimed for child care, you know, and never got a personal loan with ratepayers money.”

Turning to the council’s performance, Cr Belcher questioned its priorities. He said it was only necessary to drive two minutes from High St to find the unsealed section of Sharland Avenue which he described as being absolute disgrace, while further afield at Molesworth, Collins Cap Rd remained unsealed despite a promise eight years ago.
He said $240,000 had been estimated as the price of recent works in Grey St, but this ended up costing $520,000. “That is not good governance. And I voted against that, it was the worst half-yearly budget we’ve ever seen. A staff member got a 20 per cent pay rise – the State Government won’t even give the nurses who work shift work a 2 per cent pay rise pay rise.”
Addressing state and federal funding, Cr Belcher said not enough money was received to fund major projects in the municipality. “We got some money from the state election last time from the Liberals for Glenora Rd but there’s no work started on Glenora Rd yet.”
Cr Belcher said $5 million had been promised for a new police station in New Norfolk. “I think the trouble is it’s no good having a Taj Mahal police station if you can’t have the police here to man it. I believe that the police station where it is at the moment could just use a bit of tidy up and I think that’s what the Labor Party [offered] … to just do some renovations and employ more police here which I think is a more commonsense. Knocking down a police station which I think is still in pretty good condition, it might be outdated, everything gets outdated … but I just think that the money could have been spent better if it does actually get spent here.”
The 15-minute interview also touched on the progress of Mr Belcher’s business, Pauly’s Pizza, and his plans for a second venture, as well as the absence of harness racing from Kensington Park. 
Wrapping up, Cr Belcher said even though he was taking leave from council meetings he would still deal with constituent inquiries. “I have a lot of ratepayers call with concerns and I’m still prepared to do that,” he said.

Mr Jones invited the council general manager to speak on his program or issue a statement to the Derwent Valley Gazette about the policy around the payment of allowances when councillors were on leave.

Any councillor wishing to comment is welcome to do so:

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