Did a Councillor ‘let slip’ CHCC’s legal costs in waste dispute?

Did Councillor Sally Townley let slip the legal costs so far in regards to Council’s legal cases with Biomass and associated companies?

By the Editor

During discussion during last night’s scheduled Council meeting Cr Townley made a reference early in the meeting to $4.5 million being spent by council on legal fees.

Later on, after Councillors had gone into a ‘confidential in camera’ discussion on what to do in regards to adjusting the wall heights at the Englands Road Waste Landfill managed by Council, Cr Townley said; “Why is it a secret that we have spent $4.3 million dollars on legal fees?”

The latter was possibly in relation to Council legal advice, from HWL Ebsworth’s Sonia Kroon, which questioned the “utility and prudence” of releasing the figure without any overall context while also making it clear it had not actually been considered that releasing the total cost all up was permissible or not.

CCO understands that the figures mentioned by Cr Townley would only apply so far to Council’s own legal costs in regards to ongoing action against Biomass, HandyBin Ltd and Coffs Coast Waste Management Services.

Nor would the figures quoted by Cr Townley include associated lost resource allocation and opportunity costs due to council resources being redirected so as to focus on the arbitration tribunal cases.

CCO also understands the figure would not include the legal costs Biomass can claim relating to the arbitration decision in their favour that was announced in 14 August last year. Nor would the figure also include legal costs relating to similar cases underway between the Coffs Harbour City Council and the Nambucca shire Council and the Bellingen Shire Council that also relate to the same contracts.

If the above factors, and their costs, are taken into account the figure could be quite a lot more than $4.3-$4.5 million quoted

Additionally CCO also understands that the CHCC has been singularly unsuccessful in any of the actions and claims that have so far been ruled on by the adjudicator although decisions on other cases are currently pending.

Additionally last night Councillors rejected the CHCC Executive’s recommendation to build a 10 meter high extension wall at the Englands Road landfill and instead opted for a four meter high wall instead. Presumably this was done so as to force Council and the State Government to agree on a new waste management site. A new site that, according to CHCC General Manager, Steve McGrath might not be in the CHCC LGA area at all.

An amendment to the original agenda item by Cr John Arkan requiring Council to immediately start planning for a new waste site was ruled inadmissible as ‘new general business’ by the GM after a query from Cr George Ceccato.

A report by TripleM Coffs Coast’s Moffee from his breakfast show this morning can be heard here; https://omny.fm/shows/triple-m-coffs-breakfast/4-3-million-coffs-councils-waste-battle-legal-cost

Photo montage: TripleM Coffs Coast.

8 thoughts on “Did a Councillor ‘let slip’ CHCC’s legal costs in waste dispute?

  1. Under the present clandestine executive management and superficial mayor, Coffs Harbour City Council has degenerated to an untrustworthy corporate citizen. Persistent conflict with neighbouring councils, investors, and local businesses is only topped by the egregious wasted spending of ratepayers funds.
    The lack of probity, questionable claims of confidentiality, secrecy, overcharging rates and bullying of Councillors, it is hard to believe we have an executive officer serving the community in its best interests.

  2. What we know for certain is that the “complete cost of legal action regarding Waste, including legal actions involving other councils, and costs due to inefficiencies (as put forward above by CCO and other commenters)” has not yet been provided by CHCC Management to the local community.

    No councillor has yet asked that question. If this governing body is worth anything, that’s the question that is pressing, and has to be asked if, in my view, they want to get elected again. That figure is getting bigger every week. It’s already beyond the point of remaining unchallenged.

    The General Manager, and not a subordinate, should know it, and know it on the spot.

    Here’s where the last meeting gets interesting. As background, Denise Knight was absent with George Cecato chairing the meeting. Cecato and McGrath seem pretty much widely believed to be rather big wine drinkers together. Some say as mates. Cecato would reasonably then have been well versed, by McGrath, in how to handle questions on notice, that further questions in chambers have to then be “for clarity”, and that McGrath is hypersensitive about these costs being public knowledge. The latter was very evident in the meeting.

    (The above question concerning “complete costs” to me fits into the “for clarity” guidelines, but accepting it’s at the Chair’s discretion. Thus, needs to be asked on notice for the next meeting.)

    With that background, McGrath finally added to an answer by declaring the term “legal proceedings” as determining the unwanted question’s reluctant answer. In chambers, McGrath defined it. A quick google search shows many Australian law firms providing a definition of terms, and that definition by McGrath isn’t the only one, though is commonly provided.

    If you’re interested, here’s the link:
    The relevent section starts at around 4 hours and 6 minutes.

    The intriguing bit is at the end of that discussion, after that remark was put forward by McGrath. The remark, which came across as the definition-as-dodging, didn’t go down well. You can hear in the background audio a councillor, female, sparking up about that definition.

    At this point, you’d reasonably fairly expect that another question would follow, certainly by that obviously concerned councillor, and no doubt others, following McGrath’s remark. You’d expect a moment to briefly — councillors only have a few seconds — to gather their thoughts and put up a hand for another question to obtain more “clarity”.

    Those few seconds weren’t granted. Suddenly, Cecato shut down discussion and instantly moved on to the next item. In real time, that was brutal and obvious, and seemed to be a prepared action by the Chair. You may want to have listen in and see what you think. Was the time of further questioning given sufficient airing, or was it cut short?

    Back to the “complete figure”. One reason given as inhibiting an answer on the question so far by councillors is that it’s bound by arbitration laws. Fair enough, if that’s true and it no doubt is. But it’s not relevent and not the question. These councillors have continually been done over by management by having their responses, ‘advice’ (leading to recommendations), and chamber discussion framed by management in such a way to steer a governing body away from being effective.

    It’s simple. The “complete figure” can either have the “arbitration figure” absorbed into it so invisibly as to not be discernible, as it would be, therefore the question can be asked and an answer demanded. Or, ask that the “arbitration figure” be removed from the answer provided — and let the legal knobblers in that distant capital city somewhere suck on that.

    The key things remain. CHCC Management has NOT yet provided the answer to the community for “complete costs”. And councillors currently in chambers, busting to get elected again, have NOT yet asked the right question.

  3. Thank you 40C for your forensic analysis. It seems strange that the Deputy Mayor is overlooked as Chair in the Mayor’s absence? This smells of a ruling party colluding to shaw up an executive dictatorship. How is it possible that our citizens are NOT ENTITLED to know the truth?

    CCO Editor: I’m pretty sure Cr Ceccato is currently Deputy Mayor Gemini? I’m sure someone will set me straight if I’m wrong though.

  4. Yes, normal procedure was followed, Gemini. It was interesting, too, because the Deputy Mayor, having to vacate the Chair due to conflict of interest in an item, precipitated a rare occurrence of the General Manager taking the seat, who then throws to the governing body for nominations of a councillor becoming Chair for that item. Sally Townley nominated Keith Rhoades, with no other nominations. The GM then acts as returning officer on the vote, which gave Clr Rhoades an occasion to reminisce, and then muse, upon sitting in it. “You never know,” he said, “you never know…”

    Another rare occasion also occurred. Clr Townley’s motion included a point so that the Waste Problem was tied to Management’s KPI. This is a magnificent development, or would be … Unfortunately, it was poorly worded, requiring in fact a call upon the General Manager to help with the wording, whereupon he somewhat awkwardly, and then easily, confirmed the phrase “progress positively” as in progress positively towards solving the Waste Problem. Thereupon he was in effect wording his own terms of assessment.

    Steve McGrath is very articulate, and a strong stickler for wording. Regular listeners to meetings would be tired I’m sure of his use of the “indicate” instead of “said” or “stated”. Something for which Don Watson would chuck his book at him. In McGrath’s world, in meetings, people don’t say things, they indicate things.

    How now to say this? Let’s dive in. McGrath hands a Director a memo with “do better” on it; the Director writes the same on a new memo paper and passes it on. Steve McGrath has now unequivocably shown “positive progress”. Please don’t misinterpret that as a literal circumstance by which McGrath’s performance would be put forward by him; it simply shows how inadequate is the final wording. If push does come to shove, over the Waste Problem, and hopefully it doesn’t, between McGrath and the governing body, then the wording of that in this most problematic matter will be critical. [‘d like to see a mutual agreement.]

    Thus, the meeting was a significant improvement on previous meetings, but with two outstanding matters. That wording needs to be tightened. And the “complete cost of legal action regarding Waste” hasn’t yet been asked or answered. Under a properly functioning governing body, both of those should be achieved. It should be no big deal, but sadly I’m afraid this governing body will let it slip because it hasn’t fully gained its legislated strength. We may, though, be surprised.

  5. It’s a sad irony that CHCC Directorship titles carry the word “SUSTAINABLE”. Council can’t even sustain a hygienic waste disposal facility! What was sustainable about selling the forward planned dump site? Where is the sustainability in building new offices, with no loan funds in hand to pay the contractors? (Who no doubt will soon expect a progress payment.)
    Is it sustainable to hold millions of dollars in development fees needed for essential infrastructure, while our workforce is busily contracting elsewhere? Is it financially sustainable to employ qualified staff, only to engage consultants at enormous cost, then shelve the project? Is sustainability dependent upon engaging in vexatious litigation with neighbours and many of our contractors, resulting in heavy losses? The list goes on.
    “Sustainable”? It’s an oxymoron!

  6. It’s extremely disturbing that legal costs should have been reported in Council’s Annual Report, however they manipulated the figures and instead included them in “Contract Management” costs thus avoiding the spotlight.
    Now that the truth is starting to leak out you can almost sense the anxiousness of Messrs McGrath & Raby. Worthwhile also reading business papers for Bellingen and Nambucca Councils relating to waste management issues with Coffs Harbour City Council and the picture becomes even clearer (or murkier if you like). This executive has in my opinion misled the Council, misled the public, misled the media and now sits on what in my view is a big twisted lie that is unravelling.
    Can’t wait for a change in Council as their first role must be to replace senior executives.
    “Waste” is certainly the correct term when discussing the current management team.

    1. Hiding costs like that is very disturbing, Waste Warrior. Shifty. Thanks for informing us.

      Every single councillor, even those who have fawned and lay and cuddled at the General Manager’s feet, who have defended him in meetings, have tossed a Dorothy Dixer into discussion to steer intent away from better knowledge that would embarrass him; who have drunk with him privately in celebration of the system’s fallibility; who have giggled in meetings in a sick, shared connivancance, openly, so confident are they in their hold over the books, the governing body, the good and innocent council staff, the media portrayals,and the people of the region ; who have gathered together secretly to strategise their personal agenda; who have travelled to five star luxury to do more of it, gaining knowledge of deceptive practices from farther afield, from those in the laughing enclave; who are specious in argument and discussion to fulfill this private pursuit; who glean pride from seeing executive CVs boost inordinately; and the worst of all: who have remained silent, in chambers, in public, in portrayal, jaws shut tight so that none of it is exposed — even these as councillors must now ask the question.

      “What is the complete cost of legal action regarding Waste?”

      Councillors with a conscience must now lead the way.

      Enough is enough.

  7. Makes you wonder what else may be tucked away under the umbrella of “Contract Management”

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