Pandemic powers proposed for mayor

COUNCILLORS will tomorrow (Thursday) night vote on giving Derwent Valley mayor Ben Shaw emergency powers to make decisions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic in between council meetings. This may include decisions on abandoning community events or ceasing to provide community services.

In a late agenda item for the March council meeting to be held at the New Norfolk Courthouse tomorrow at 6pm, acting general manager Brian Barrett recommends that councillors “delegate authority to the mayor to make policy decisions required to provide an effective response to COVID-19 between council meetings.”

In his report, Mr Barrett says the council has developed a contingency plan to respond to the potential threat of the coronavirus to its staff and the community, and the council’s continuing capacity to deliver services to the community.

Mr Barrett says the council is following advice provided by the state and federal Departments of Health as well as the Local Government Association of Tasmania. “What is abundantly clear is that we need to be agile in our response,” he says.

Mr Barrett says his proposal for the mayor to be granted special powers for six months was due to the Local Government Act preventing mayors from making policy decisions on behalf of councils. “The general manager has operational responsibility for council,” he said. “Many of the responses to COVID-19 can be made within that authority. There will nevertheless be decisions that need to be made that have a policy implication that [the] council should rightfully consider as the elected representatives of this community.

“This could include whether to abandon community events or to cease to provide some services to the community. Emergencies require immediate responses. They cannot wait until a council meeting  cycle allows the elected council to consider such matters. They need to be made on the best information available and in a timely manner and be proportionate to the perceived threat.”

Derwent Valley Council acting general manager
Brian Barrett, left, and mayor Ben Shaw.

Mr Barrett said mayors in New South Wales had the power to exercise policy-making functions of the council “in cases of necessity” and he believed that power needed to be delegated to the Derwent Valley mayor in order for the council to make “agile responses” to the emerging threat of COVID-19.

“As it is unclear how long this threat may continue, the delegation is sought for six months. As with all sound decision-making it will be expected that the mayor will act only with the advice of the general manager. That is not to say that the mayor is required to follow any recommendation made,” Mr Barrett says.

It is understood that this will be Mr Barrett’s final meeting as acting general manager, which his appointment due to finish on Friday. In other agenda items at this week’s meeting:

  • Mr Barrett seeks authorisation to develop a new licence with the New Norfolk Rowing Club to enable building works to continue on the Esplanade site and resolve a funding disagreement;
  • Mr Barrett proposes that expressions of interest be sought for the use of High St (between Burnett and Charles streets) as a mall on any day of the week;
  • Mr Barrett asks councillors to note the resolution of a Code of Conduct complaint against deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove by former councillor Anne Salt;
  • Community development officer Bec Tudor recommends the allocation of $14,000 in community grants;
  • Regional development officer Jess Dallas and communications officer Daniel Cheetham ask councillors to endorse the Derwent Valley Brand and Identity subject to a further report next month;
  • Mr Barrett recommends the start of an expression of interest process to operate a market in High St on Saturdays for a minimum term of five years;
  • Mr Barrett provides a censored copy of the council’s independent investigation of a geese cull  at Tynwald Park on June 28 last year;
  • The operations manager recommends the reduction of the speed limit on Cawthorns Lane to 60km/h;
  • Ms Dallas reports that Salamanca Arts Centre no longer wishes to include Frescati House in its proposed use of the Willow Court site;
  • Ms Tudor recommends that the council engage with the Tasmanian Road Safety Strategy;
  • Acting corporate and community services executive manager Amanda McCall reports on a draft Cemetery Management Policy;
  • Ms Tudor recommends that councillors approve a process to allow a “hydrobike” business to use the pontoons at the Derwent Esplanade at New Norfolk;
  • Ms McCall asks councillors to endorse the guiding principles for a review of the council’s Special Committees
  • Mr Barrett presents a discussion paper on Integrated Litter Management.

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