Council’s waste court costs to remain secret to the public for now

The amount of money Council has spent on lawyers during contractual disputes over waste will remain confidential, for now. 

Cr Paul Amos asked council staff for the amount of money spent on “legal fees contesting contractual disputes with our current waste services provider” during this current term. 

Staff provided a response ahead of Thursday’s Coffs Harbour City Council meeting together with legal advice relating to the public release of a key briefing memo documenting the legal proceedings, which includes the cost.”

CCO Comment: The above, from a story by Tim Jarrett in today’s Daily Telegraph/Coffs Coast Advocate, highlights the opaqueness that appears to surround the Coffs Harbour City Council on many issues.

Apparently the costs can not be made public because Council is not permitted to do so yet under the arbitration rules.

This comes as rumours swirl around how much the ultimate legal and other costs will amount to with CCO hearing figures as low as $1m through to estimates that all costs involved could be in a range of $13-$17m.

What we do know is that Council have been singularly unsuccessful to date with its legal cases against Biomass and associated companies HandyBin and Coffs Coast Waste Management Services.

CCO is aware that there is unease among Councillors as to how the proposed raising of the England Road Landfill walls as suggested by consultants Gilbert&Sullivan fits in with any wider waste management strategy. Or indeed if such a strategy even exists.

Additionally there is also consternation that numerous Council motions over the past eight years approximately have been delivered on and made operational. To say that there may be concerns as to the veracity of managerial advice on waste management would seem to be an understatement.

Tomorrow night’s Council meeting could get interesting when the agenda item to raise the landfill walls is discussed.

The Daily Telegraph/ Coffs Coast Advocate story of Wednesday 9 June 2021 referenced above can be found behind the paywall at; https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/coffs-harbour/waste-dispute-legal-bills-remain-secret-despite-coffs-councillors-query/news-story/d92a36f4285c8859d6197e4a3de099ee

10 thoughts on “Council’s waste court costs to remain secret to the public for now

  1. May I just add please that the figures here are singularly for the legal cost, which is not the complete cost to the region.

    Actual cost includes very considerable staff hours and resources applied to maintain legal action. This includes the hours committed by Steve McGrath at a massive hourly rate, which alone, as a staff cost, is considerable.

    On top of these are the costs incurred due to the matter holding up a resolution between parties that could be resolved by personal attention, and animosity of attitude that legal action often creates which can inhibit or prolong a resolution. Legal action takes a long time to complete. The Waste problem, in other words, is vastly prolonged.

    Added on top of these are costs that a council, in being tied to extensive legal action, continually, imposes on the community for other council matters not being attended to due to being tied up in maintaining legal action.

    We should remember, too, that legal action begets legal action. Let’s see if a councillor has the business and community sense to enquire therefore of the complete cost of legal action that CHCC management is taking. And Waste is just one area of it.

    Going down the path of taking extensive legal action against a contract partner should never be taken lightly, under normal circumstances. My view is that Steve McGrath, from Singleton (population 16,500 or so), prior to that from the tiniest of towns being Young, was ill-equipped to firstly identify the Waste problem upon his installation (under dubious circumstances) as a matter needing immediate Managerial attention, and secondly being ill-equipped to envision a forward path for the Waste problem, and thirdly, insufficiently equipped and inexperienced in complex commercial negotiation. Not, thus, normal circumstances.

    Bottom line view: Steve McGrath took over the job of General Manager lacking hands-on knowledge, has been out of his depth since then, and not been able to get his head above water since. Hence the reliance on consultants and legal action.

    Finally, for another perspective. People who are excellent negotiators love doing it. Try stopping them. The last thing they want to do is to have a negotiating opportunity and occasion sucked away from them into the heavy slog-swamp of lawyers fussing to achieve what they can quickly by being hands on. They relish it. Complete opposite of what we’re seeing.

    1. You are dead right 40c – the extra costs from lost time, lost opportunity costs because of deferred alternative important tasks and managerial time devoted to court cases that should have been negotiated and mediated instead would be about $4 for every $1 spent on legal costs.
      But knowing the overpaid pretenders masquerading as Executive Management at the CHCC none of that will be accounted for in any way whatsoever.
      I mean it’s only our money after all.

    2. Ah, this born to achieve fella Steve McGrath. What legacies !
      Before examining the present stint at Coffs Harbour, (no, let’s not) let’s recollect the outstanding achievements at Young council, where the locals were highly regaled during his tenure. A move then to Singleton council, but why on earth wouldn’t he settle there until reaching retirement at 65 with a nicely swollen Super fund? Bored, bigger fish to fry elsewhere, a persuasive tap on the shoulder perhaps, or simply time to experiment with testing one’s deep down hidden talents much better fitting to Private Enterprise?
      Passing the interviews and intensive personality testing, here we go, “lookout Morrison Low Consultants here I come you very lucky people”. Oh well, umm duh.
      Not phased and confident in what may have been foretold in the Tarot cards, Stevo presses on until finally – Bingo ! A large, conveniently experienced and familiar hand pulls him into the Coffs Harbour fold. “You’ll achieve big things here, won’t we”, he was directed.

      Wow, an even bigger LGA stage than Young to really show off his legendary management skills. More suckers per square centimetre than anywhere else hitherto. What a fabulous playground. “All this money and I can even fire and then hire like thinking executive staff”. “Lots of buck passing opportunities here”.

      Well Stevo, having surprised (sorry, fooled) everyone, exceeded un-called for expectations, it’s time to loosen your belt, hang up your boots, close the wine cabinet, take down off the wall the togetherness pictures of Mayor Denise and finally time to ride off into the distant sunset somewhere; preferably far far away from the much treasured (by everyone else) Coffs Harbour.

    3. Just one question 40c. GM is on a salary of around $380k. That’s over $1000. A day – even gets paid for Weekends- does he get paid overtime?

      1. Hi Gloria, the current contract for Steve McGrath isn’t known to me. There is an abundance of perks, let’s not forget, such as vehicle and travel and other expenses, which would balloon-out the amount paid. The real cost, though, is the damage that’s done when, well-intentioned, the expertise and hands-on (lived) experience is missing. More of that in a preceeding comment.

        I don’t think it serves well to belittle those salaries, and I know you are not in your enquiring, as the task is a tough one in the context of a continually weakening local government system — although help is available, it’s also easier these days to go wrong. I see no reason not to pay an even much larger salary for a “best of the best” manager. Costs aside, the benefits of that to the LGA, not only financially, would be immeasurable.

        CCO Editor: We understand the GM’s current contract expires in November 2022 and that if he wishes to extend that contract he must give Council nine months notice of his wish to do so.

        1. Quick added thought. Thank you, CCO, in a look-through of a generic General Manager contract it appears it can be terminated by mutual agreement. In a current assessment, it appears now that’s where things are headed. An opportunity, herewith, for new mayoral candidates to consider that as a first-item meeting with Steve McGrath, in private, and with the best of goodwill for all concerned.

  2. Would also be interesting to have the costs of Councils legal costs published regarding waste issues with their partner Councils – Bellingen and Nambucca as i understand they have also had enough of Coffs GM & Director of Infrastructure’s mistruths and poor management and are seeking legal redress. What a wonferful web of deception the executive has weaved.

    1. An excellent point WW. Thanks for jogging our memory on that. Yes the CHCC has associated cases in regards to this issue with out nearest neighbouring Councils.

      And how much has been spent/lost on that so far?

      Or are we resident/ratepayers not allowed to know due to some arcane, deeply anti-democratic, legal mumbo-jumbo?

  3. A little more from Tim Jarrett’s timely and prescient article:

    HWL Ebsworth partner Sonya Kroon advises the briefing memo cannot be disclosed “as Council is not permitted to do so under the arbitration rules” but goes on to state they had not considered whether legal costs could be released.

    “If required, further consideration could also be given as to whether it is permissible for Council to provide a global figure for costs for the disputes,” Ms Kroon states.

    Imagine that. A lawyer somewhere in a capital city decides whether you can see how much of your public money is spent on legal matters by Coffs Harbour City Council management. The law firm may even deem it okay by them to give you a “global figure”. Has it devolved to that?

    That’s not the bloody question. If any councillor tonight accepts that, I reckon vote them out. If councillors think that the question is “how much money is being spent on arbitration” then they don’t get it, or have been done over by sleight of hand by management yet again.

    The question is “what is the complete cost of legal action regarding Waste”. The arbitration figure is lost into that and therefore cannot be determined and isn’t a problem. Are councillors going to accept that one small component of a mammoth expenditure prohibits that complete figure from being given? Is Management going to try and pull this trick over their eyes?

    Tonight’s meeting is a test of the strength of each councillor. If you’re listening, consider who doesn’t speak, as well. For those who choose to speak, let’s hear how direct and accurate they are in their questioning. It is a very simple question, very easily put.

    If management doesn’t know that figure, it’s headless. Management should know that figure with a strong degree of accuracy, on the spot. It’s the figure that a manager carries in mind so as to choose against it the relative value of other options. The Coffs Harbour region needs to know what the complete cost is so far, and by that make a decision as to whether it’s being well spent or not. Then go from there.

    Councillors, you are on notice.

  4. A little weekend reading for the political tragic. And maybe a bookmark for new, and current, candidates to glimpse through as an example of just one way to get a new General Manager. Past councillors may want to reflect on it, too.

    This is a link to a firm that specialises in the recruitment process. However, adding in haste, there are other more creative ways to do it. What about a national quest, or international quest? Make a national or international news item of the quest, seeking the best of the best!

    https://www.blackadderassoc.com.au/how-to-spot-a-great-ceo-gm-candidate/

    Here’s a quote:

    [General Manager] Candidates, during the interview process, need to be asked questions to bring out actual examples of their current performance systems and how they have delivered improvements in their current or past roles. Eliciting answers to these types of questions will tell you a great deal about a candidate’s ability to focus on improving business performance. They should be placed on the spot to quote statistics that can be checked later.

    Let’s add that the above should be in the context of ‘population size’, of course. Clearly the CH LGA has proved it fundamental.

    Time to start thinking about the process possibilities? Definitely. And to add as something to contemplate, setting aside how poorly it’s being handled, this whole Waste Cost tragedy began twenty years ago with an original contract that wasn’t able to envision future problems, and deal with those then and there. Yes, it’s a rapidly changing world. However, contracts can be negotiated and established that allow for changes and provide pathways that don’t weaken the current nuts and bolts required of the day.

    If someone can’t negotiate their way out of an existing problem with a contract, or doesn’t want to, that person shouldn’t be in a position to create contracts in the first place. Because a negotiation out of a contract problem is in effect a smaller component of a larger contract negotiation. If someone can’t do the ‘small’ negotiation, it makes a lot of sense to not let them do the ‘big’. Current councillors and the mayor have been blinded to this and accepted Steve McGrath’s capability without a single question. The community is living in it “when it goes bad”.

    This LGA has two big contracts now in operation, and they’re worrying as hell. Here we are twenty years later with Waste, with a resultant problem that’s as bad as a community can take. Immediate redress is needed on the so-called CCS, by a new mayor and governing body, with a terrific opportunity already discussed to re-purpose it. This new council will also need to get onto that airport lease Industrial Park area and tighten the hell out of it as best it can.

    Meanwhile, happy “new General Manager” ponderings. Minus animosity, it lifts the spirits.

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