Can the Coffs Harbour City Council be trusted ‘to honour its word’? – Coffs Outlook August 2017.

The following recommendation is on the agenda for tonight’s 26 April 2018 meeting of the Coffs Harbour City Council:

That Council:

  1. Note the consultation exercise that examined how we are progressing in achieving the objectives outlined within the City Centre Master Plan 2031 and whether these are still relevant five years since adoption (Attachment 1).
  2. Adopt the revised City Centre Master Plan Committee Terms of Reference (Attachment 3).
  3. Call for applications for membership of the City Centre Master Plan Committee consistent with both the current and revised Terms of Reference.

The full CHCC 26-4-2018 agenda can be found here.

 The following story was published in the old Coffs Outlook on 10 August 2017.  We re-publish it today in light of the above agenda recommendation because we are of the opinion it spells out much of the history behind it.

 “The former Chairperson of the Coffs Harbour CBD Masterplan Committee, representing those CBD business ratepayers who agreed to pay a Special Rate Variation (SRV) to the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC), resigned recently because he believed the CHCC was reneging on an agreement that was outlined and written up in Council minutes, associated Terms of Reference and other supporting paperwork.

Rod McKelvey, a former Councillor and Deputy Mayor, makes it clear in his resignation letter to the CHCC that he believes the Council has got in the way of the CBD Masterplan Committee, re-written agreed Terms of Reference and believes it can “do whatever it wants with the SRV money”.  In his resignation letter he cites a CHCC employee at a CBD Masterplan Committee meeting in late 2016 saying; “it’s our money (Council’s) and we can spend it on whatever we want, and we don’t need your permission.”

In essence, and we are paraphrasing here, Mr McKelvey resigned because he had serious doubts about whether the CHCC can be trusted ‘to honour its word’ and to act with probity, at least in relation to the SRV and Council’s agreement with the CBD Masterplan Committee.

Let that sink in for a minute.

It doesn’t get much more problematic than that at a Local Government level really other than corruption, which is not being alleged in this article.

Mr McKelvey is not alone in this. Complaints from other SRV payers and some CBD Masterplan Committee members lead to the member for Coffs Harbour, Mr Andrew Fraser, making a statement in the NSW Parliament on the matter. Mr Fraser’s statement, on 17 March last (2017), direct from a link to Hansard, was  published here in the Coffs Outlook on 22 May last  wherein he mentions issues raised by John Rafferty, the CEO of C-Ex, about the CHCC and dissatisfaction with Council’s actions, attitude and responses to the CBD Masterplan Committee and also their overall management of the SRV. Mr Fraser cites a letter from Mr Rafferty wherein Mr Rafferty says;

“Clearly, what’s happening now is not what they (the SRV rate payers) agreed to. Central to the negotiation of an extension to the SRV, was that CBD Landowners (the Special-Rate payers) would have a majority of votes on the committee so that no expenditure could be made without their explicit, minuted approval. That was the deal maker. All of the discussion about establishing an extension to the special rate, focused on that critical point. They did not want a situation where Council controlled the decision-making. (Our emphasis).

Those paying the SRV are very disappointed that the agreed Terms of Reference can also be rewritten at any time. And I think that that goes to the heart of the issue, in that Council has assumed control of the Masterplan funds.”

 Interestingly only Coffs Outlook published Mr Fraser’s statement in Coffs Harbour from what we can ascertain.  Make of that what you will.

Also issues about the agreed use of SRV funds, and alleged variations to this, are also raised in Mr Fraser’s statement to the House.   Reading between the lines of his statement it seems to me Mr Fraser is asking the NSW Government to consider appointing an Administrator to the CHCC.

Let that sink in for a minute too.

It is obvious there are quite a few disgruntled SRV rate payers.  Disgruntled with the upper echelons of the CHCC that is.

What could make them think Council is not keeping its word?  Well the Ordinary Meeting minutes of the CHCC on 14 June 2012 provide clear and compelling evidence as to why. On Page 52 of those minutes under the heading ‘Central Business District Masterplan Committee’, and voted for by Councillors at that meeting, is the following paragraph;

The delegation of the ability to manage the implementation of a Masterplan to the CBD Masterplan Committee empowers the local property owners in the delivery of projects that are directly funded by special rates collected directly from them.  This will ensure a far greater level of ownership and engagement with the property owners, and will assist in the development of a partnership between the property owners, and will assist in the development of a partnership between the property owners and Council in the delivery of much needed infrastructure works in the CBD.

Let’s ‘cut to the chase’ here.  This says Council agrees to work ‘hand in glove’ with the SRV ratepayers who in turn will have a higher than normal degree of control over what happens with SRV money as spent on the CBD.  In fact it gives CHCC agreement to the CBD Masterplan Committee having a level of micro-management in this regard.

So well done the current ‘freshman’ lady Councillor who recently flippantly dismissed the above agreement as “micro-management.”  You are right, but for all the wrong reasons!

But now it would appear the CHCC has ‘turned its back’ on this agreement and believes the SRV money is theirs to do with as they wish.  What train of events, if any, would lead them to think this?  Has IPART told them they can do this and if so doesn’t this still make their actions unprincipled at best?

In our opinion what we see here is a culture within the higher levels of the CHCC that thinks reneging on agreements with ratepayers is OK and that it will have no consequences.  It shows a real lack of genuine commitment to our community really. Is it not this culture that in some ways has also led to the recent decision on awarding the swimming pool contracts to an outside organisation as referred to in Mr Fraser’s statement?

Shakespeare said; ‘there is something rotten in the state of Denmark’.  Do we now need to replace the word ‘Denmark’ with Coffs Harbour?”

 

The above item was originally published in the old Coffs Outlook in August 2017.