Letter: What is Council Hiding?

Filed in editorletters, Just In by November 20, 2019

The Editor,

When the Upper Hunter Shire Council keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?

On the 24th September, 8 weeks ago, without response to date, I wrote to the Council General Manager and the Director Corporate Services to advise them that the Council was keeping information from you, that you are entitled to know. The Council meeting minutes are required to contain the details of all resolutions, whether discussion has taken place within closed Council, or not. This Council has couched these resolutions obviously to prevent the public disclosure of the actions contained with-in those resolutions, hidden from any knowledge or scrutiny by the public.

I followed that letter with two more letters to Council and included the non-compliance in prior Letters to the Editor, the Council cannot defend itself with a lack of awareness. In direct defiance, the Council at its latest meeting on 28 October, the draft minutes on Council’s website, demonstrate no less than 17 separate resolutions in my view, non-compliant with the Local Government Act Regulations and Council’s own adopted Code of Meeting Practice.

What are they trying to hide?

  1. What is the “Strategic Asset Purchase” that was recommended for adoption, the resolution was moved by Cr. Morris Collison, seconded by Cr. Campbell, supported by Crs Bedggood and Cr. Driscoll, but was LOST, with the remaining Councillors voting against it. What was this “strategic asset”, why was it proposed to be secretly purchased? How was the need for the capital expenditure being justified—remember the Airport justification fiasco? Where did the asset purchase fit into priorities and what alternatives were considered? What are the financial implications, remember the ongoing Airport Business Plan that doesn’t stack up to scrutiny! Councils in NSW MUST undertake community consultation and engagement processes prior to committing to any Capital Expenditure, such as an existing building and land, where that expenditure exceeds $1miilion. Clearly, had this recommendation been approved, Council may well have committed to a Capital Expenditure Asset Purchase through a resolution not compliant with Council’s Meeting Code and not compliant with mandated Capital Expenditure requirements. It is these same Capital Expenditure regulatory requirements that Council previously ignored for both the Airport and Saleyards Projects.
  2. What are the details surrounding the “Easement Acquisition” for the Murrurundi pipeline, noting that the Mayor, Cr. Bedggood “left the room”. The commercial numbers do not have to be disclosed, but a resolution to “adopt the amended recommendation as per the confidential report” is NOT compliant with the Code of Meeting Practice, in my view. Who knows what the amended recommendation contains, you have a right to know.
  3. Under the Heading of Upper Hunter Land Committee, the minutes contain 16 separate resolutions, adopting recommendations from a Committee Report. This reporting again, in my view, is in direct defiance of Councils Code of Meeting Practice, which states committee recommendations as far as they are adopted by Council, are resolutions of the Council, and must therefore be publicly disclosed immediately following the meeting and fully recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

What did the committee recommend and council adopt, what purchases or sales, what new or old development are we going to learn about by selective media release or more Council spin? You are entitled to know, what is the Council hiding??

The culture of secrecy operating within your Council cannot be allowed to continue. It is not my role to be the moral compass of this Council, but it has surely lost its way. Collusion, corruption, maladministration and misconduct are all outcomes closely linked to such cultures and must be called out before it is too late.

Upper Hunter Shire Council has the responsibility to this community for the PRUDENT management of community assets and finances. It is doing an appalling job on both counts.

The Audited Financial Statements have been advertised for the last financial year, demonstrating a significantly weaker financial position where, on basic financial criteria, the Office of Local Government would consider criteria unsatisfactory and the Council may face some financial risk. “At risk is the adequacy of working capital and the ability of Council to satisfy its obligations (at least in the short term)” OLG. Cash Expense coverage is 30% worse, outstanding rates 20% worse, debt service ratio 37% worse, unrestricted current ratio less than 1(0.85), which in a commercial world is a move toward bankruptcy. Clearly, these figures are a complete reversal of the sound financial position from just a few years ago and this Council intends to borrow another $13.2 million for the Airport Project. That is on top of the $9.4 million (and climbing) loans for the Saleyards Project, which has blown out in costs, where ratepayers are forced to subsidise its operations, when it was “sold” as self-funded and not a drain on ratepayers.

In addition to an Independent Review of the Airport Project, a serious review of this Council is required by the Office of Local Government.

Sincerely,

Daryl Dutton

Daryl Dutton is a resident and ratepayer of Scone, he is also a former General Manager of the Upper Hunter Shire Council.

 

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