Paulines Comments, Extra Ordinary Council Meeting 14th March 2016

Hi everyone,

Pauline Rowe

Pauline Rowe

Hold onto your hats; grab a coffee, or a very big glass of wine take a seat as here we go again. Again it has been great to see so many LCIT members supporting Peter at these meetings.

Let me preface my following comments by saying I am thoroughly disgusted and disappointed with the events that have transpired in Council over the past 4 months and I now have little to no faith in local government and its processes.

I have deliberately not reported over the past couple of months as since October last year there has been an ongoing saga in Council that has been unfolding over that time and there has been a great deal of conjecture and speculation surrounding all these events. There have been many issues over this time and there is not enough room to report on all of them so I will just concentrate on some of the majors.

As many of you may be aware from print media, radio, and televised coverage and the all-important digital age of Facebook and twitter, Liverpool Council has been making the news again on a regular basis and for all the wrong reasons, we are now looking almost as big a joke as Auburn Council. However, I must say there is a great deal of misinformation and conjecture in a lot of the article’s and only those actually involved know all the full details.

I will first try to summarise the chain of events that have led Liverpool Council to such infamy. Things started to go downhill after the “pork gate” (Interfaith lunch) incident in July last year and from October last year this debacle has become a public battleground in full view of all and sundry in Council Chambers. What started off as a basic food request has downwardly spiraled into what can only be seen as either a racial or religious warfare between some Councillors with Liverpool ratepayers caught in the middle. It has now progressed to faction fighting within a political party, a continual tit for tat nasty exchange between two grown men and is now dividing not just the Council but also the community. It appears you have to be in one camp or the other even amongst our own team we have both – if only it were that simple.

Since “porkgate”, “alarmgate” “Propelgate”  Council amalgamations we have now added asbestos fears, staffing issues including bullying of staff, low staff morale and intimidation of Councillors with death threats, along with the vote of no confidence with the CEO and the Mayor by other Councillors, an expulsion of a Councillor from a Council meeting and a “walk out” of the majority of Councillors from a Council meeting – for all these stories can you either “google” them or look at Clr Harles blog on our website.

There was also talk of sacking the Councillors and bringing in an Administrator and because of this there has been a representative from the Local Government Association at the last two meetings to observe proceedings, goodness knows what he thinks of all this.

A footnote to “porkgate” for the first time in over 3½ years ham sandwiches were actually served at a Council run forum event in March.

Extra Ordinary Council Meeting – Tuesday 15th March, 2016

Now this brings me to the current most controversial meeting (so far anyway) there were the usual 3 security staff to ensure safety and changed processes. The main agenda item was to discuss the current employment of the CEO and the Mayoral delegations.

Once settled we noticed on the screen that there were 7 speakers listed to address council prior to the meeting commencing. Over the past 7 or so years I have attended quite a few extra ordinary meetings and have never seen so many speakers for an extra ordinary meeting and I was concerned that this would unsettle the meeting before it even started as had happened at 24th February meeting. There was a large crowd of people and the mood was very tense.

Of the 7 speakers on the night (each one was espousing the major achievements the Mayor and CEO have accomplished over the last few years), one speaker had previously spoken at the November meeting and the Feb 24th Meeting which was shut down.

A few of the speakers struggled with pronunciation of their written words and as I was taking notes, I wrote beside 5 of the 7 speakers (speech written for them) this was later confirmed by an inside source who stated that they had seen  quite a few of these people the previous week on Level 6 of the Council building. Two of the speakers however, were indeed articulate and one was speaking on behalf of the Liverpool Ratepayers Alliance Group – this is a group I had only just heard about in the past few months and is basically a group of people with a Facebook site which in its own is not a bad site (a little bit Liberally biased for my taste). On this site the administrator who appears to have no name has tried to discredit Cllr Peter Harle and called into question his integrity.

Now here is my problem with these speakers and their sites, for the past 7 or so years I have been attending every Council meeting, every rural forum and a quite few committee meetings and I have not seen many (if any) of these people at the meetings with the exception of one lady. So, to be fully informed on all these matters being discussed and debated you need to know the history behind them and with the exception of a few I don’t believe they do. There was much cheering for the 7 speakers by obviously the additional people supporting the Mayor.

Once speakers finished then Cllr Hadchiti gave his glowing overview of the CEO and his achievements over his tenure. The length of his speech was then called into question by Cllr Ristevski on the time it was taking – it was then agreed as per Council meeting procedures that Councillors are also limited to the 5 or 6 minute limits. The Mayor was next, pretty much saying the same thing talking about all the achievements this present Council has initiated during his term and the great work the CEO was doing etc., etc.,

And then, our own Councillor Peter Harle began to speak, and I thought oh here we go. Let me explain, Peter had attended the carry over Ordinary Council meeting the night before which due to more discussions finished late that night and Peter has been under a great deal of stress over the past couple of months with all the dissention in Council which saw him wind up in hospital early Tuesday morning, so we were very concerned about his health on the night and he refused to not go as he believed the matter to be too important.

Peter being the true independent he is, stated he was fed up with the politics and the lies that were being spread with this whole saga. He highlighted to the Mayor, Councillors, Speakers and the audience that the many, many achievements listed by both Councillors and Public Speakers during their speeches and publicly touted in the media as major achievements by the Mayor and CEO were actually set in motion by the previous Councillors (2008-12 term of Labor, Liberal and Independents) and Council staff and the previous CEO. For the current Mayor and CEO taking full credit without acknowledging previous Councils efforts was wrong. He also highlighted the continually mentioned current surplus of monies achieved by the CEO through good management was misleading but rather a manipulation of accounting practices from a cash style accounting to an accrual accounting method that made Council appear to be in the black. Along with the very deceptive mark down of the maintenance backlog from $280 Million down to $80 Million  and since we all know our roads and rubbish problems have not miraculously fixed themselves over the past couple of years where did the $200 Million and all the outstanding maintenance go?

Peter was forthright, articulate and direct in his speech and received rapturous applause from the audience. This whole sordid affair has weighed very heavily on Peter over the past few months and he takes his role as an elected Councillor very seriously and works very hard to fulfill his role with integrity. Peter is a very humble person and he only speaks at these meetings when he has something important to add to the conversation or he feels that there has been an injustice as he did tonight. Well done Peter.

Now I know I am biased here, as I consider Peter one of the most honest and hardworking people I have EVER met in not just my personal but also my professional life (and that spans a great deal of years) and I would not be part of this organisation if I did not believe in his main purpose of being a Councillor was to serve the ratepayers of Liverpool and help advance Liverpool. He does this not for political gain as very few of his achievements are ever recognised probably very similar to those of the many other good Councillors, they do this because that is what they were elected to do.

Now I have watched Ned (Mayor Mannoun) over the past 7 years grow into a consummate politician who takes advantage of every opportunity to sell not just Liverpool but his own profile and for all intents and purposes that is okay because that’s what all career politicians do. I will give credit where credit is due and Ned has put Liverpool on the map, he also happens to be in the right place at the right time with the States policies for growth in the South West being at an all-time high and he comes across as a young, progressive, forward thinking figurehead. However, for those who remember, he actually voted in favour of the Moorebank Intermodal back in 2009 and he publicly stated he would vote against any airport at Badgerys Creek prior to his election to Mayor (as I said a consummate politician ready to flip-flop when required).

I do not have any personal beef with Ned but what I cannot tolerate is his self-serving attitude that he has turned Liverpool around single-handedly, and that Liverpool Council is his own fiefdom to do with as he pleases with his autocratic style of leadership. People talk about democracy, there are 10 other Councillors on this Council and each and every one of them is doing their part to better Liverpool and getting very little recognition for it. Councillors appear not to be allowed to be involved in many of the processes or policy making decisions and this is against what a Council should stand for. Ned is very quick to remind all and sundry that he is a popularly elected Mayor and I would like to remind him so were the other 10 Councillors who receive very little media or recognition these days. I would like to see not just the Mayor but all of the Councillors photographed at events and the like.

As for the CEO, I declare I am not a fan, because unless you are a politician or a wealthy developer he does not seem to acknowledge us mere ratepayers, I also find his style of management extremely autocratic and off-putting. Again, I will give the man his due, he appears to be very knowledgeable when it comes to local government, he is an eloquent and commanding speaker, people tend to believe everything he says whether it is true or not and he also appears to have charmed many people. Over the past 4 months I have heard stories from Council staff (lower level and upper management) that greatly concern me and as for his business acumen I guess that could be also called into question along with the ever-growing cries of Conflict of Interest where he is concerned.

I also have concerns that the Mayor and CEO have been so focused on concentrating all Council resources, and finances on high-profile CBD projects and media exposure that they seem to have completely forgotten about the urban and rural areas of Liverpool LGA (unless there is a possibility of an airport or an Intermodal) and I think we need to remind them that we are also stakeholders of this Council and they work for us too.

Now this brings me back to the meeting at hand – after the speakers and Councillors made their speeches there was further debate about the Notice of Motion whether it should be heard in open or closed session. Finally it was decided it would be in closed session and therefore, all 100 or so of us along with Council staff and the CEO had to leave the chambers.

For the next 2 ½ hours there was much speculation about which way the Notice of Motion would go re its legality and so on. There was also speculation that if the CEO was dismissed or forced to resign whichever way it was worded, he would receive a very handsome payout. Many followers of the Mayor and CEO were angered by the amount of ratepayers money that the CEO would receive (it is rumoured to be around $500k) and were obviously not aware that some of the current Councillors who were against the sacking of the CEO were instrumental in paying out a very large sum of money to the previous CEO to “get rid of him” along with quite a few highly paid Council staff and directors that they did not agree with (that amount all up was rumoured to be close to the $ 1 million dollar mark) .

I personally am not in agreeance with Councillors using any of our rate payer money to pay out anyone’s contract. I am of the “old school” that if you don’t perform or you are guilty of misconduct “here are your entitlements and there is the door”, unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances, however, it has become all too easy just to pay people (and in a lot of cases the wrong people) money to just go away.

At approx. 10:20 pm we were allowed back into the chamber only to be advised the matter had been finalised under confidential cover and that the meeting was declared closed. Talk about anti-climactic.

As the matter was considered confidential no one was allowed to speak about it, however, if body language was anything to go by the Mayor looked tired and shattered, the CEO had a grin a mile long on his face and a few other Councillors were also beaming. Looked like it was a “done deal” and the CEO would be going, however, we would have to wait until it was confirmed.

However, some people must have spoken, as again, Liverpool is making headlines in the media for all the wrong reasons, with unconfirmed speculation that the CEO has resigned and will finish out his role by 30th March, 2016, some have commented that he has been sacked and one broadcaster is saying that Mayor Mannoun has stated the CEO has not resigned nor been sacked and continues to be the CEO of Liverpool Council.

So only time will tell whether he stays or goes and as for the Mayor I think he got a reprieve on the debating of his mayoral delegation authority and that will probably be carried over to the next meeting. I am in two minds about his delegated authority, he is after all the figure-head and spokesperson for Liverpool Council and he needs to know that is his role and the role of CEO is to oversee all of Council’s operational matters and the two should stay very separate.

And finally, if the current CEO is really going let’s be a lot more careful with the next one, research them thoroughly, there are many tools at our disposal these days such as “google”, Facebook etc., bring in an independent adjudicator (maybe even a highly respected resident or local business person) to assist in the selection process

Or even as a suggestion bring back the previous CEO who although not liked by everyone managed to initiate change without controversy and scandal and to correctly put Council back into the black, a man who was honest, hardworking and regardless of his faith and religion did not discriminate against anyone. He may not have been as personable and charming as this one but he knew Local Government inside out and backwards and managed to keep Councillors in line with their elected duties and responsibilities.

Whatever the outcome of this and the next CEO I would like to think that Council and Councillors can rise above this whole debacle and get back to its basics and start looking after its ratepayers, stakeholders and start looking forward. We do not want to go back into administration as many of you are now realising what happened during that time is only just impacting on you now.

My apologies for the length of this blog if I had covered every aspect of what has happened in the past few months it would have been about 20 pages.

Let’s hope my next blog has more positive aspects.

Pauline

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