Local, Politics

Mayor uses deciding vote at last night’s Council meeting………. yet again

Last night Coffs Harbour City Councillors (CHCC) were asked to consider a number of motions, put on the agenda by the General Manager and Executive staff, to approve a number of confidential tenders for the controversial proposed new Council Chambers and Cultural Center (CCCC) in Gordon Street.

The tenders relate to design and demolition work both which in turn relate to the DA for the CCCC project overall.

The eight Councillors who voted at last night’s meeting. Photo: CHCC archives.

This DA for the CCCC was the subject of 874 submissions to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment who are ultimately responsible for approving or denying the application.

The Department is yet to make a decision on this DA and Outlook understand a number of objectors have recently written to the Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, asking for public hearings to be held on the DA application and prior to any decision being made on it.

The proposed project was also the subject of a petition to State Parliament which raised almost 15,000 signatures in opposition to the new CCCC.

The proposal has divided Councillors four/four on a number of occasions with Mayor Denise Knight using her deciding vote to progress the project.

Interestingly the Mayor has recently been reported as now having declined to do this, saying a tied vote means the motion is lost based on Council’s code of conduct.

From a recent Coffs Coast Advocate article in the hard copy newspaper

Despite this the Council was yet again tied 4-4 on the motions with Councillors Amos, Arkan, Rhoades and Swan voting against the motions and Councillors Adendorf, Ceccato, Knight and Townley voting for them.

As a result, and in spite of what Mayor Knight has been reported as saying about tied votes recently, the Mayor once again cast her deciding vote in favour of passing the motions.

Mayor Knight once again used her casting vote

Public speakers were allowed five minutes each to speak for and against the motions. Johnathan Cassell, the Greens candidate for Coffs Harbour at the last State election, spoke in favour of the motions while Gai Anderson and Ann Leonard spoke against them.

Several Coffs Coast Outlook comments posters attended the meeting last night attended last night and have posted their views of what happened last night on this site already.

Those comments can be found here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/are-our-elected-council-representatives-and-senior-staff-being-fair-dinkum/#comment-2709

And also here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/do-you-think-there-should-be-public-hearings-on-new-council-chambers-cultural-center-da-then-read-on/#comment-2711

The following is an interview Moffey of TripleM Coffs Coast had with Cr Rhoades about last night’s meeting;


  1. There should have been a by election when Jan Strom resigned. This 4-4 decision making is a farce. Cancel all further votes until after the next election.

  2. If the information contained in the Advocate’s article is correct, i.e. Denise stated that “a tied vote meant that the motion was lost based on the council’s code of conduct”, a number of questions may be raised:
    Does her action, in using her casting vote again last night, place her in breach of the council’s code of conduct?
    Does her apparent somersault, fall into the category of political gymnastics, similar to John Howard’s famous backflip -“There will be no GST under my government.”?
    Does it constitute corrupt behaviour misleading the council and community?
    Does it reek of hypocrisy?
    Does it reflect a petulant determination to doggedly pursue her agenda, no matter what the cost?
    Or does it just mean that The Advocate got it wrong?

    • 100% correct Julian on all counts. The Mayor has gone past the point of credibility and all due to her own actions or those manipulating the strings. It beggars belief that the Mayor would so openly and publicly say one thing and do the opposite.

      The coming elections will deliver sweeping changes in the ranks of Councillors and executive and not before time either.

  3. I don’t think the Mayor plans to run again so she doesn’t care about the election!

    What‘s taking the Minister so long! Time for some public protests for him to wake up and put a stop to this farce.

  4. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and approve or decline tendors received to date, in order to progress the development prior to D.A. approval. Unfortunately some of the speakers lost sight of this and spoke only of their objections to the development, which has previously been done at various council meetings to little avail, and thereby creating a lot of angst between some of the councillors and audience.

    Ms Leonard in her address got the purpose of the meeting back on track and was further assisted by Councillor Rhodes. Their reasoning made a lot of sense, which basically asked all councillors to strongly consider the use of further ratepayers money prior to the necessary approvals being in place, this being a very rational and sensible consideration.

    The meeting could have been used by some, or all, of the councillors to acknowledge the strong concerns of a large section of the Coffs community and to at least wait until all the formalities were in order before progressing the project.

    However this was not done and those councillors who approved the project continued with their win at all costs attitude, which only further exacerbated the community’s strong feelings against them and the Mayor, and the growing division between the two groups of councillors.

    Their actions only fuelled speculation that they want the building to a stage whereby it’s impossible to rescind prior to the next council elections, which is totally irresponsible as stated by Councillor Rhodes.

  5. Graeme Sheehan

    Your last 2 points are the most valid and correct Julian.

    What is occurring in our ‘democratic’ council are the actions of an ‘absolute ruler’ who is taking maximum advantage of her casting vote and an incomplete compliment of councillors brought about by Jan Strom’s resignation not long into the council term.

    Surely, there is provision in the Local Govt. Act to appoint an additional councillor mid-term in the event that one resigns, dies or whatever and if so, the question (among many others) needs to be asked, why wasn’t Jan Strom replaced?

    Since the motions that were adopted last night with the mayor’s casting vote have enormous financial implications before the DA is even approved, it is time for the dissenting councillors to get ‘fair dinkum’ and either resign as a group or make representations to OLG Minister Shelly Hancock to explain how CHCC is dysfunctional and why it should be dissolved. Either way this would bring the CCCC proposal to a halt until an administrator or a new council is appointed.

    Rather than being memorialised as a ‘champion of the arts’ the Mayor’s tyrannical conduct throughout this entire affair will forever be negatively etched on the minds of the citizens of Coffs Harbour.

  6. I totally agree with the previous comments.

    I was truly sorry to hear of Cr.Strom’s illness and subsequent resignation, however she should have been replaced. I personally feel the reason she wasn’t is because it’s been four councilors against four councilors , and so far out from an election four of them knew they would always have the Mayor ‘s casting vote to help them push their own agenda.

    It’s time to be honest and obviously a lot of you, if you do run, will not be re elected. What a wonderful legacy to leave the next council.

    Hope you’re very proud of yourselves, because the community is not and you will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

  7. Graeme …hi….. Jan Strom unfortunately, and very sadly, became extremely ill quite some months before her resignation was ACCEPTED.

    Something that I heard, but haven’t as yet looked backwards thru the minutes to attempt to check, is that Jan wrote her resignation letter months before the critical date 18 mths out from the next election after which councils are not obliged to hold a By-elections.
    I had a Councillor tell me that putting her on a leave of absence until March last year was done to save $300,000!
    Some research I did actually states that this is common practice! I think it was the Office of Local Govt that I read it on!
    Having a look how far before March involves cumbersome dipping into agenda and minutes….. But it does hold a lot of interest…

  8. Graeme, Re: Your remark about the dissenting Councillors needing to either resign as a group or make representations as a group to OLG Minister Shelly Hancock to explain how the CHCC is dysfunctional – Can anybody explain what the rules are if the group were to resign?

    Would that cripple the remaining council’s ability to continue to go ahead with this unwanted building?

    • Graeme Sheehan

      On reflection Bill, I concede that the resignation of dissenting councillors is probably not the best course of action. My idea was to find a way to deny meetings of council a quorum, thereby scuttling its ability to make decisions and thus rendering it unworkable. But further reference to the Code of Meeting Practice shows that a quorum is simply “a majority of councillors of council who hold office” so if dissenting councillors did resign as a group they would no longer hold office and the remaining councillors would be, just as they are at present, unhindered in their decision-making. I guess the most obvious question is: how can dissenting councillors disrupt further decision-making without being suspended from council? Perhaps we need input from someone qualified in government law which clearly I am not.

      • Graeme, I think the practice in Big Parliament is to filibuster – to make incredibly long and boring speeches, which I think councillors would be entitled to do, thereby dragging out meetings ad infinitum, and making it extremely difficult, if not impossible to put a motion to the vote.
        No doubt, there would be some regulation in council’s meeting procedures which would prevent this, and if there weren’t, Denise could probably make one up.

  9. Next local government election is 12 September. We can wait

  10. Our dead-locked Council is now dysfunctional. The citizens should act by TAKING OUT AN INJUNCTION against proceeding with the CCCC until after the elections. A worthy crowd funding project!

  11. For what it is worth, and it is something I reluctantly suggest, is to boycott the businesses of those Councillors who refused to call a halt to the Council proceedings last Thursday.

    Cr. Cecato runs the Thrifty- Rent- A -Car franchise in Coffs Harbour – DO NOT rent a car, truck or vehicle from Thrifty,and advise your friends not to if they need to rent a car or truck.**
    Cr. Adendorf is a Solicitor – if you need legal advice, representation or any conveyancing -DO NOT us his legal services.
    Cr. Townley- I understand runs a bakery in Bellingen and Sawtell along with a Circus School* – Do not buy anything from her stores or send your children to her Circus School.
    Mayor Knight is a full time Mayor, so there isn’t much you can do there unfortunately I would suggest.

    Unfortunately, and regrettably perhaps, it seems to me the only way to drive the message home to these Councillors is to hit them where it hurt most, ie; their businesses. By sending a message that by their actions the Community do not and will not support them while they continually turn their backs on large sections of the community over the Gordon Street debacle.

    It is beyond belief that despite all the advice, community outrage, they have for almost nine months, stuck to the advice of the General Manager, Steve McGrath, that they cannot stop the Council building new offices in Gordon Street.

    Editors note: ** We understand Cr Cecato sold Thrifty last year – and *that Cr Townley may no longer own a share of the ‘Circus School’ either.

    • I think that is going too far. Suppose we boycotted any business owned by a future Councillor because we disagreed with their vote. That is not democratic. Instead run candidates against them and vote them out, or, if they retain their position, recognise that democracy works,

      • We would argue that people boycott things every day of the year for a variety of reasons and that by doing so they are in fact practicing democracy.

        What would be profoundly undemocratic in our opinion though is legislating against the right to organise boycotts. That would be a very ‘slippery slope’ indeed.

        • Who suggested legislating against boycotts, Editor? *

          But our Councillors are community members and often run businesses. They are not usually career politicians, Rhodes being an exception. Disagreement with Council decisions leading to organised boycotts would, in the extreme, keep Councillors from making any decisions that are controversial.

          In a relatively small community that would shrink the size of the willing candidates. Boycotts in Coffs Harbour are a poor excuse for not determining the direction of Council through elections .

          A by-election would have ended the whole discussion.

          Editors note: Not you Buster, we accept that you did not mention legislating against boycotts. We were referring to what the PM raised in a speech to the Minerals Council late last year. We probably should have made that clear. See; a report on that very issue here.

          We agree that an organised boycott at Council level is not a clear cut good idea and there are broader consequences that would need to be considered as you rightly discuss above.

          What we were also highlighting though is that many people take individual decisions to ‘boycott’ products, organisations and people for reasons of their own. These are often not organised boycotts but are a form of them nevertheless. They are also a matter of indivdual choice too.

          Re the by-election issue? Yes, we agree 100% with you.

  12. Now is the time for us to start putting forward our “nomination’s” ( wish list ) of people we would like to run for Council .
    I will start with my nomination , Tom Strickland.

  13. Graeme Sheehan has raised a point and it may be the key to the current debate over the Civic Centre building A by election would resolve the issue one way or the other. This way out of the dilemma was available to Council before and the council did not take it.

    Of interest is the Local Government Act of 1993 covers the “casual vacancy”. (See chapter 10 Part 5). Without trying cover every condition the rules can be summarised as:
    a). to fill a casual vacancy a by election is held,
    b). council can make application not to have a by election.

    The Act refers to a date of 1 October in the year prior to the end of the last term.

    The vacancy arose from the resignation of Ms Strom. After the July 2019 council meeting during which Mayor Knight declined to give an opinion on Ms Strom’s view, the ex-councillor spoke, as a member of the public.

    There was over a year to run before the term was up.

    But, no by-election had been held. Council had made application to dispense with the by-election in full knowledge major decisions were to be made. In recent times Council has tried to link the need for new council chambers back to 2017.

    Yes the Council was thinking of us, the poor residents. In their application not to have a by-election they argued they were saving the residents the cost involved of a by-election. Yet a by-election would restore an uneven number of Councillors; the Mayor would not need to keep using her second vote. – when it suits her.
    The solution was so simple. How did it all go wrong?

    Strategic thinking went out the window. So why would anyone believe the council has a long term strategy we, the residents, know about? It is, after all, the resident’s money council is so freely spending, but will council tell us they are saving residents the cost of doing the costings. Really!

    The current mess should never been allowed to happen. There could have been a by-election.

  14. Interesting points of view on both sides.

    But as the editor commented that is democracy, which is both good and bad and is also the freedom to say or do what you believe within the law. Countries like China just ban anything with free speech like Google ,Facebook,internet etc.

    Orwell was certainly ahead of his time with his ‘alternative facts’.

    What is our alternative in getting this Council to listen?

  15. Gai Anderson and Dr Jan Lindrum* get my Oscar Award with their 5 minute speeches at Coffs Council Meetings over this CCCC debacle .
    Also to the lone male protestor who stood at the entrance of this Council Meeting with his placard reading SACK THE COUNCIL. This protestor was ushered out as as the TRUTH HURTS and his sign was just a MIRROR to the Reflection of The sitting chamber members.
    What I have observed is words,words,words,words, running commentary that has become repetitious and this Council and Mayor Denise Knight and GM Steve McGrath the $360,000 man… taking the piss with Coffs Ratepayers and residents.
    ACTION speaks louder than words and PEOPLE POWER has always been the way.
    Lets visualise. If 15000 people signed a petition against the CCCC project and it’s fallen on deaf ears…..imagine a tenth 1500 of actual people gathering in Brelsford Park and walking to Gordon S and the Council Chambers in protest.
    Ray Hadley has just exposed this council on his broadcast from Coffs on Friday so keep the momentum going. You want TV media coverage now and the only way is to peacefully protest. Make your presence felt in people Power as all this energy in typing words to our goverment is wasted . The Political Tree is Rotten from the Top to the roots and they are taking the piss as seen what is happening in Coffs and Australian Politics.
    The media are like seagulls all fighting over a chip so make a noise and a visual story and bring them to Coffs to EXPOSE the TRUTH.
    ACTION speaks louder than words!

    Editors note: We think you’ll find Ann Leonard spoke last Thursday – not Jan Lindrum – Observer

    • Sorry Editor. I was referring to Dr Jan Lindrums 5 min speech at last July’s Council Meeting 2019 .
      Yes Ann Leonard speeches at Thursday’s Council were very impressive and Ann always speaks well at Council meetings.
      I thank all those passionate people who have been the voice at our Council Meetings trying so hard to bring common sense to this Mayor, GM , and 3 councilors.
      Also I would like to thank and applaud all those working tiresly behind the scenes giving their time freely to oppose and try to pause this CCCC project in Gordon St .
      I was disgusted that last Thursday’s firey controversial Council Meeting was not reported in Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday!
      Keep up the good work Coffs Coast Outlook as I am sure your readership numbers are increasing.

  16. RE the Observer = gathering in Brelsford Park and walking to Gordon Street and the Council Chambers in protest.
    My wife and myself are in our seventy’s but we would gladly join the group to get our message across .
    Just tell us when .

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