News & Updates

November 26, 2021

Q&A

HVRRA’s question to the Mayor at HVC meeting 24 November 2021.
HVRRA: Our question relates to the Legal and General Report Agenda Item 15.030/21 ‘Implementation of the General Manager Recruitment Review Recommendations’ (page 13 of the agenda)

Having already spent around $25,000 on attempting to manage the flawed GM recruitment process Council is now considering spending more than another $20,000 of ratepayers’ money to train councillors who will be 80% through their term at that stage. Councillors who may not even be candidates for re-election let alone succeed.
The Auditor General’s report recommended that: ‘Council review and improve the recruitment and appointment process by developing guidance and implementing a process whereby those involved in a recruitment process: declare conflicts of interest, or lack thereof, once applicants are known, implement management strategies that are commensurate with the nature and extent of the conflict ‘

Nowhere does the Auditor General’s report recommend engaging consultants to train councillors who are near the end of their term of office.

The publicly available, ‘redacted’ version, of the council commissioned Edge Legal report makes no mention of a recommendation that councillors undertake further training. If included in the original report it must have been redacted. The recommendation for training does not appear to fall within the reasons given for redacting from the report i.e to protect Council from ‘breaches of confidentiality, privacy and possibly defamation’.

One can only wonder what else was redacted.

We are talking about ‘Governance 101’ here. The basic stuff. The kind of training that should, and probably was, undertaken during councillor induction in 2018.

All the required information is available at the click of a mouse and the Integrity Commission can provide advice if any elected representative is having trouble understanding it. Training and education is a core role of the Integrity Commission. As taxpayers, we already pay for it to do this.

So our question is in two parts:

1 If the report from Edge Legal recommended that Councillors undertake training in relation to managing conflicts of interest why was the this recommendation not included in the redacted version of the report that was made public by council? Alternatively, if Edge Legal did not recommend further training why has the proposed further training and expense been presented to the public as though it were a recommendation from an independent report?

2 Bearing in front of mind that Council’s Code of Conduct states that ‘Local Government should implement decisions and follow processes that make the best use of the available people, resources and time, to ensure the best possible results for the community’ and, knowing that the Minister has instructed the Director of Local Government to prepare a Ministerial Order relating specifically to GM recruitment issues, why is council now considering spending tens of thousands of ratepayers’ dollars engaging consultants to develop guidelines that may well be included in the Ministerial Order and to provide basic training to councillors who are nearing the end of their term of office when all the required information is readily available and the publicly funded Integrity Commission and the Director of Local Government are able to provide further advice if needed?

RESPONSE

MAYOR – OK, on the meeting of the 15th of September, which was a special meeting of Council, there was a motion that was put forward to the councillors to undertake the training as part of the recommendations that were made identifying that there were certain parts that were identified in the Edge Legal report that would assist the council.
HVRRA – That were redacted.
MAYOR – No, they weren’t redacted. But I’m going to have to go to the internet to have a look at the actual report if that’s all right.
HVRRA – It’s not necessary to do that now.
MAYOR – So, it was a formal decision of Council, the Director of Local Government was supportive of that occurring. And I consulted with the Director of Local Government about who I should speak to, who would be appropriate person, which was the CEO of the Local Government Association of Tasmania to identify appropriate trainers that would meet what the Auditor General’s expectations would be and the Director of Local Government’s expectations would be.
There was no discussion about delaying that. It was clearly a matter that was of concern from the Director of Local Government with community interest, etc, that this council didn’t continue for the next 12 months without resolving those issues that had been brought forward through identification in the Edge Legal report. And more so in the Auditor General’s report. And I know you’ve read the Auditor General’s report. HVRRA But he doesn’t recommend any training. And it’ll only be eight months by the time the training is undertaken virtually at the end of the term. But as you said, there’s no debate. So I’m not going to start debating this.

MAYOR – What the the matters you’ve raised. I’m sure other councillors have considered as in the term of this council, what the expectations are of the Director of Local Government, what the expectations are, because the commitments been made to the community as well, very publicly about undertaking the training, about making sure the documentation is updated. And which includes training about committees as well. It’s quite broad, as you know, from reading the report about the expression of interest. And I’m sure all the councillors here are considering that but also about any future Council that’s to be elected to ensure that as it has also been publicly stated, that no other council finds themselves in this exact position again in future at the Valley Council.

HVRRA -This was all approved prior to the Ministerial Order.

MAYOR – So the Huon Valley Council, sorry. So the Huon Valley Resident and Ratepayers Association acknowledge your your introduction, your question, and I’m sure councils will consider that tonight. Yes, thank you.

HVRRA – It should be pointed out that this was prior to the Ministerial Order, the recommendation.

FOR THE RECORD

There was no recommendation about training of councillors in the version of the Edge Legal report that HVC released to the public.


OCTOBER 15 2021

The Auditor General has released his report into the Huon Valley Council’s recruitment of the new general manager.

It is available here https://www.audit.tas.gov.au/publication/council-gm-recruitment-appointment-and-performance-assessment/

Despite the very limited scope of his review, the report makes it clear that the recruitment process lacked integrity. The most relevant information starts at page 30.

HVRRA considers that the recruitment process was flawed from start to finish.

The Auditor General came to the following conclusion:
• the Panel’s consideration of the conflict of interest in the recruitment process did
not demonstrate an understanding of the significance of the Consultant’s reported
conflict of interest and pecuniary interest
• the Panel accepted the Consultant’s suggested approach to managing the
Consultant’s conflict and did not seek to appropriately mitigate the risk that
emerged as a result of that decision
• Council decided to proceed with the recruitment despite knowing, after receipt of
the report from its Legal Adviser, that the process lacked integrity.

“These matters cause me to believe the Council’s approach to managing conflict of interest during the recruitment process to appoint a general manager was not effective.”

Here is the timeline as provided in the report

The Auditor General’s report makes it clear that it was a ‘Limited Assurance Report’ and that he did not investigate whether there was any misconduct or corruption.

The report raises almost as many questions as it provides answers.


Mayor Enders asked to meet with the HVRRA committee and then didn’t attend

We would have liked to ask her:

  • Why rush ahead with the appointment of the new GM? Why not wait for the external legal advice that the Director of Local Government had already asked you to obtain? As Chair of the Recruitment Panel you knew there was a serious conflict of interest involved and yet you went ahead regardless. There was no hurry and Edge Legal was quick to tell you that the process lacked integrity.
  • Why did the Recruitment Panel not consult Integrity Commission Tasmania when faced with this serious conflict of interest issue? All the required information is on their website: free of charge at the click of a mouse.
  • Why did the Panel not consult HVC’s Fraud Control and Corruption Prevention Procedure (2015) when it became clear that the contracted Recruitment Consultant was unable to fulfill her contract with integrity? Council has a policy that outlines exactly what to do if contractors do not fulfill their contract.
  • Why did you apparently not recognise that making this appointment in these circumstances would bring Huon Valley Council into disrepute? Media interest has ranged far and wide and none of it has shown HVC in a good light.

In response to the Auditor General’s report, Mayor Enders has committed to ensuring that further training of councillors is undertaken in relation to Conflict of Interest.

Under provisions in the Integrity Commission Act she was responsible for ensuring that councillors had already received this training at the beginning of their term of office. If they did undertake such training it wasn’t very effective.



OCTOBER 1 2021

At the September 29 meeting of council HVRRA posed the following questions:

Our questions relate to Agenda item 16.011/21 (The Review of Fraud Control and Corruption Prevention Policy and Procedure) and the Departmental Report 20.066/21 relating to the Independent Review of General Manager Recruitment Process – Legal Advice on Release of Information that is to be considered in closed council. Given that Edge Legal Pty Ltd was only registered in December of last year our questions are:

Question 1 How often over the last ten years has Mr Rod Collinson, the co-founder and director of Edge Legal, provided legal advice to HVC in any capacity and is this the same Rod Collinson who prepared the Page Seager report that the then Council commissioned in 2016 in response to the Draft Report from the Board of Inquiry?

Answer 1 : Mr Collinson was previously a partner with Page Seager.

Page Seager were engaged by Council to prepare responses on behalf of the Council in relation to the Draft Report from the Board of Inquiry.

As to the number of times over the past 10 years that Mr Collinson has provided legal advice to Council in any capacity, there was insufficient time to review all Council files to ascertain this information for tonight’s meeting.

However, what I can confirm is Mr Collinson left Page Seager Lawyers at the time Edge Legal was established on 1 July 2018.

Mr Collinson has confirmed that until being engaged to undertake the independent review by the Acting General Manager on 3 September 2021, Edge Legal had not previously provided any legal services to the Huon Valley Council.

It is Mr Collinson’s recollection that the last time he personally provided any legal services to the Council was when he was working at Page Seager in around 2016, he provided assistance to the Council in preparing responses in relation to the Board of Inquiry Report.

As a point of clarification, the Council delegated the securing of the independent review of the general manager recruitment process to the Acting General Manager.

The Acting General Manager (Paul West) appointed Edge Legal based on the fact they were a Hobart based law firm which specialised in the discreet areas of employment and safety law.

The Acting General Manager (Paul West) in appointing Edge Legal (Mr Collinson) had no knowledge of any past involvement he may have had with Huon Valley Council.

Question 2 Does the Mayor maintain that all Council’s actions in recruiting the new General Manager are in accordance with HVC’s Fraud Control & Corruption Control Policy and Procedure that stipulates, among other things, that Council has “a responsibility to act with integrity and not engage in activities that damage the Council’s good standing” ?

Answer 2: Council accepts with the benefit of hindsight that the management of the conflict of interest in relation to the recruitment of the new General Manager was deficient and fell below expected standards.

Council is committed to improving its processes by developing and implementing guidelines to support its Code of Conduct in respect to identifying and managing conflicts of interest.

QUESTION – If council delegated ‘the securing of the independent review of the general manager recruitment process to the Acting General Manager‘ why did the acting general manager not ask HVC’s Director of Legal and Governance whether Edge Legal could reasonably be considered ‘independent’?

QUESTION – Why did the acting general manager not seek an assurance from Edge Legal that its key personnel (ie co-founder and director Mr Rod Collinson) had not previously conducted work for HVC?

QUESTION – Edge Legal’s report states that ‘the late disclosure by the recruitment agency would have made it undesirable to remove the recruitment agency from the process at a late stage‘. Why does Edge Legal consider that this was ‘undesirable’ given the importance of the appointment and the fact that that there was no urgency?

QUESTION – Edge Legal’s report also states that ‘Each of the Councillors selected their preferred candidate following the process recommended by the recruitment agency and free from any influence or bias created by the recruitment agency.’ If councillors were following a process recommended by the conflicted recruitment agency how can Edge Legal maintain with any degree of certitude that this was free from any influence or bias created by the recruitment agency?

QUESTION – Edge Legal’s report states that ‘Council’s appointment of the recruitment agency, a reputable and highly credentialed executive recruitment agency in Tasmania, was appropriate in the circumstances.’ On what basis does Edge Legal assert that the Red Giant recruitment agency is a ‘highly credentialed recruitment agency‘ ?

HVRRA has significant concerns about the recruitment process and wrote to all councillors before the meeting at which this decision was made. Here is the letter.

Dear Councillors,

You will recall that I wrote to you on 24 August 2021 on behalf of the Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association concerning allegations in the public arena of conflict of interest around the process for selecting a new General Manager.

We see that the process is the subject of Special Meeting of Council to be held this evening with two items related to the General Manager recruitment process (Independent Review of Process and Contract of Employment) to be dealt with in Closed Council.

We wish to re-emphasise that recruitment of a General Manager is likely to be the most important decision that you will make during this term of Council.

Under the Local Government Act responsibility for recruitment of a General Manager lies with the Mayor and Councillors. The Act includes leading and participating in the recruitment of the General Manager among the functions of the Mayor. Under the Act, Council collectively has the function of appointing the General Manager and the Act specifically states that Council must not delegate any of its powers relating to the appointment of the General Manager.

In making your decision on this matter we ask you to consider very carefully your responsibilities under the Local Government Act and to the residents and ratepayers you represent.

We ask you to consider the following:

  • Are you certain the recruitment process meets the high standards of governance expected of a decision of this significance?
  • Are you comfortable that there has been no actual conflict of interest in the recruitment process?
  • Are you confident that the recruitment process will not undermine public confidence in council or bring council into disrepute?
  • Are you certain there is no risk that a disaffected applicant could take legal action against Council on this matter?
  • How have you personally verified that the short-lists provided by the recruitment agency genuinely included all the best applicants and were not manipulated to favour a particular applicant?
  • Most importantly, could you look every resident and rate-payer in the eye and say with absolute certainty that the best applicant for the position was selected from the 85 applications received?

Please remember that as Mayor and as Councillors you are personally responsible for the decision you make in recruiting and appointing a General manager.

Notwithstanding any expert advice you may receive under section 65 of the Local Government Act, you cannot delegate the function of recruitment of a General Manager or your responsibility for ensuring good governance throughout the process.

Yours sincerely, Patrick Synge (President, HVRRA Inc )

August 24, 2021

OPEN LETTER TO HVC COUNCILLORS

Dear Councillors

As has been pointed out by many of you, and others in the community, the appointment of the new HVC General Manager is likely to be the most important decision that you will make during this term of Council. 

As such the Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association and the broader community expects all councillors to conduct responsible due diligence.  

The HVRRA committee is aware of the article published in Tasmanian Times on Monday 23rd August https://www.tasmaniantimes.com/2021/08/flawed-general-manager-recruitment-process/ .

The issues raised in it are of a serious nature.

Before making your decision on this matter we ask you to answer each of the following questions:

  • Have you read the article published in Tasmanian Times on Monday 23rd August? Yes/No
  • Have all the CVs and interview responses of the last four short-listed candidates been provided by the General Manager Recruitment Panel (GMRP) to all councillors? Yes/No
  • Were the deciding factors for the ultimate selection of one person from the 85 contenders, in your opinion, valid? Yes/No
  • Is there any professional or personal link between the candidate recommended by the GMRP and the Red Giant recruitment agency that might make the appointment questionable, reflect badly on HVC and Councillors, and diminish the standing of the new General Manager from the outset? Yes/No
  • Does the recommended candidate have substantial LG or other relevant experience that qualifies that person in particular for the position of GM? Yes/No
  • Did one of the four members of the recruitment panel resign due to the perception of conflicts of interest? Yes/No
  • Do the reasons provided to councillors for the resignation raise questions about the process to date? Yes/No

If you cannot answer these questions to your own satisfaction we consider that you are not yet in a position to make a responsible decision.HVRRA would very much appreciate any comments you might choose to offer.

Thank you, Pat Synge

(Public officer – Huon Valley Residents & Ratepayers Association (Inc)

JULY 22, 2021

The proposed changes to the Constitution were discussed at length and in some detail.

A number of amendments were made before being approved unanimously.

The General Meeting took place immediately after the AGM.

The good attendance and constructive discussion reaffirmed HVRRA’s relevance at a time when HVC is facing some uncertainty.

A number of issues were discussed including:

  • The General Manager selection process in general and the reported breach of confidentiality.
  • HVC financial management issues.
  • The significant cash reserve ($13m) that is currently losing value in the bank while Council is selling land that is almost certainly appreciating in value.
  • The rate rise of 4.95% (which is approximately 4 x inflation).
  • Ongoing lack of transparency in some areas of operation.
  • What appears to be continuing inappropriate use of Closed Council.

July 4, 2021

 Annual General Meeting

 7pm on Wednesday 21st July

at the Huon Valley Hub, 23 Main Street, Huonville

Special business: amendments to the HVRRA constitution

Proposed amendments: Draft amended constitution

July 2, 2021

FOR SOME MONTHS NOW COUNCIL HAS BEEN DRIFTING

Mayor Enders stood down in March to campaign (unsuccessfully) for election as a Liberal parliamentarian. She has now announced that she will not stand for re-election as a councillor and appears to have anointed the Deputy Mayor, Sally Doyle, as her successor.

Also in March the General Manager Emilio Reale resigned. This came as a surprise to many as he had just had his contract renewed.

Currently Andrew Wardlaw is the acting GM until a new GM is appointed.

The GM selection panel was elected in closed council (which HVRRA considers was quite inappropriate). It was then thrown into disarray when a member of the panel, Mike Wilson, had to stand down as a councillor. He became ineligible to be a councillor on a technicality.

Former Cr Wilson then publicly accused council of a vendetta against him. The Mayor, of course, refuted these claims. This is not a good look for any council. And especially for one that was recently sacked due to infighting and other poor behaviour.

Sue Clark has now replaced Mike Wilson as councillor and a new GM selection panel has just been elected consisting of, Mayor Enders, Deputy Mayor Sally Doyle, Cr Christine Campbell and Cr Mick Newell. This second election was held at a Special Meeting (this time open to public scrutiny) but it was conducted in an unprofessional manner that must have been confusing for some councillors.

Most councillors recognise that the appointment of the new GM is possibly the most important decision they will make during this term of council and we certainly wish them all success.

We understand that there were 49 applicants for the position though the Mayor has refused to give any figure despite this being normal practice for many recruitment agencies.

Rates have just risen by 4.95% which is more than 4 times the CPI and, despite this substantial rate hike, HVC is anticipating a deficit of around $400,000.

April 15, 2021

The role of General Manager is the single most important position on Council.

The GM “hires and fires” all staff, has extensive delegated powers, runs all the day to day operations and, effectively, controls the council agenda.

HVC has a history of employing General Managers that have close relationships within the Valley and/or with the Selection Panel. And this history has not been a good one.

Since amalgamation in 1993 we have seen all our GMs either arrive under a cloud or disappear into one. Variously they have resigned after being accused of bullying, been sacked, been appointed after having been caught bugging a Mayor’s office or, in the case of Emilio Reale, resigned with no real explanation soon after having had his 5 year contract renewed.

And what do they have in common? They have all been previously associated with members of the Selection Panel.

HVRRA strongly maintains that it would be preferable to appoint a General Manager that has no previous history with anyone in the Valley and, preferably, someone from outside Tasmania.

We all know that this is a small state and that there are linkages throughout. We recognise that it’s impossible to guarantee independence but if you select someone into this important role who already has local allegiances this is even less likely.

We hope that the Selection Panel will understand this and “do the right thing”.


July 15th 2020

Legislative Council elections 2020

We had hoped to hold a series of Q&A sessions around the Huon electorate in the lead up to the Legislative Council election on the 1st August but the Covid situation has made this impossible. Instead we are hosting an online Q&A with candidates. We will record it and make it available for streaming.

In some ways this will be more convenient for the many people who don’t go out much but would still like to actually hear from the candidates before voting. The sessions we held before the HVC elections in 2018 were well attended and very successful and by using this technology voters can watch it when it suits them best.

All six candidates have been invited to participate and we hope that they will all take advantage of this non-partisan opportunity to present themselves to the public.

We will give each candidate exactly the same opportunity to present themselves and answer questions that have been submitted by HVRRA members. The order of speaking for each question will be randomised using an online list generator and the speaking time will be strictly controlled to ensure that no individual candidate has an advantage. Depending on how many candidates participate the session should run for between 60 and 90 minutes.

It has been a difficult election campaign for the candidates with lockdown conditions followed by strict Covid prevention protocols preventing the usual door knocking and face to face opportunities.

Written candidate statements are useful but they’re carefully crafted and revised. It’s quite different from hearing and seeing a candidate answer live questions. The recording will be unedited so what you see will be exactly how it happened. Just like live TV.

The link for streaming the Q&A will be available here and on our Facebook page at Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers as soon as possible after the Q&A which will probably be held next Wednesday (22nd July). We are still waiting for a response from some candidates.



August 8th 2019

Reform to the Local Government Act

The state government is currently undertaking a review of Tasmania’s local government legislation framework. This is currently at the Stage 2 phase with this Paper outlining the proposed reforms for consultation having been released.

190132_DPAC_Local_Government_Directions_wcag

Submissions are invited and should be submitted by COB, Monday 30th September.

For more information or to complete the survey visit www.dpac.tas.gov.au/lgreview

HVRRA is preparing a submission and we would welcome your input.


JUNE 30, 2019.

On June 26th HVC decided to sell the Cygnet Medical Centre despite considerable community disquiet about the proposal.

A petition with  144 signatures was lodged  and 13 formal objections were submitted to council presenting a wide range of concerns. In the words of the author of the consultation report on the potential sale “None of these objections raised any issue relating to who owns and operates the building or whether there is a personal impact to (sic) the objectors if Council no longer owns the building”  All questions raised by objectors were deemed not relevant because “it raises a question but does not provide any evidence or argument”.

Various arguments were made by the author of the report including emphasis of the fact that the population of Cygnet is only 1556 without any mention of the fact that the Medical Centre is the closest such facility for over 4200 people (over 25% of the population of the municipality).

The report was clearly biased in favour of the sale of the facility and, while it emphasised valid arguments for selling, it presented no case for retaining ownership despite there also being valid reasons for doing so.

It is understood that some relevant information was requested by councillors but withheld.

*************************************************

HVRRA policy

We maintain that:

  • ratepayers are entitled to know why decisions are being made, what arguments are being presented and by whom at all stages of decision making.
  • information provided to councillors should be factual, complete and unbiased.
  • unless confidential matters are being discussed there is no valid reason for the public be excluded from workshops/briefing meetings.
  • if workshops are to remain closed to the public the 2017 HVC Board of Inquiry’s Recommendation #23 should become formal HVC policy.

BoI Recommendation #23 – “Information discussed in voluntary workshops should, where relevant to a council decision, be disclosed at council meetings and contained in council meeting papers.”

15 July 2020

We had hoped to hold a series of Q&A sessions around the Huon electorate in the lead up to the Legislative Council election on the 1st August but the Covid situation has made this impossible. Instead we are hosting an online Q&A with candidates. We will record it and make it available for streaming.

In some ways this will be more convenient for the many people who don’t go out much but would still like to actually hear from the candidates before voting. The sessions we held before the HVC elections in 2018 were well attended and very successful and by using this technology voters can watch it when it suits them best.

All six candidates have been invited to participate and we hope that they will all take advantage of this non-partisan opportunity to present themselves to the public.

We will give each candidate exactly the same opportunity to present themselves and answer questions that have been submitted by HVRRA members. The order of speaking for each question will be randomised using an online list generator and the speaking time will be strictly controlled to ensure that no individual candidate has an advantage. Depending on how many candidates participate the session should run for between 60 and 90 minutes.

It has been a difficult election campaign for the candidates with lockdown conditions followed by strict Covid prevention protocols preventing the usual door knocking and face to face opportunities.

Written candidate statements are useful but they’re carefully crafted and revised. It’s quite different from hearing and seeing a candidate answer live questions. The recording will be unedited so what you see will be exactly how it happened. Just like live TV.

The link for streaming the Q&A will be available here and on our Facebook at Huon Valley as soon as possible after the Q&A which will probably be held next Wednesday (22nd July).

Historical notes from Bob Hawkins

adriana T
Commissioner Adriana Taylor

Former mayor says nay to an old warhorse

Former Huon Valley councillor Mike Wilson, in a November 28 Mercury article, ‘Taylor’s plan spurs questions’, was critical of Adriana Taylor as a result of a Mercury article, published November 27, headed, ‘Taylor-made solution’ with a strapline ‘Huon Valley Commissioner seeks suitable candidates’.

In the November 28 story, Wilson is quoted thus: “It is not the role of the commissioner to state she will identify potential council candidates and encourage them to stand at the next election.” In the same article, it is reported that he said he had written to Premier Will Hodgman and Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein “regarding the [Taylor’s] comments”.

On the basis of the November 27 article, Wilson’s remarks might be viewed as reasonable. But the commissioner didn’t see it that way, arguing that the November 27 article had not accurately reflected the sentiments she had expressed in her interview with the Mercury. (The article also didn’t reflect this writer’s understanding of what the commissioner, for many months, has had in mind about helping potential candidates to understand their responsibilities.)

What Wilson is believed to have said in a media release that Huon News received from him prior to the November 29 council meeting also displeased Taylor. What got her dander up were three observations attributed to Wilson: it seems he had criticised Taylor’s role regarding candidates for next year’s LG elections, and described her as a caretaker; had complained that the general manager at the time of council’s sacking need not have been terminated; and alleged that HVC had “five new ex-Glenorchy Council staff who do not reside in the Huon”.

BEFORE getting around to ticking off Wilson, Commissioner Taylor dealt with the November 27 Mercury article. She said at the November 29 council meeting: “There was an article in the Mercury . . . which was an interview . . . which has been misread and misunderstood by some members of the public. Clarification has been issued of the language used in the article and my role as commissioner and how I see the public being involved in elections next year and potential candidates . . . A media release has been issued today to this effect.”

Inter alia, the November 29 release, ‘Preparing for Huon Valley’s future’, reads:

The Huon Valley Council commissioner, Adriana Taylor, is encouraging potential candidates to prepare for the council elections next October. [She said:] “I will be organising open workshops for any and all candidates . . . These workshops will be open to anyone wanting to learn more about local government but will be aimed particularly at those nominating . . . I have indicated to the minister that it is very important that the community has enough time to get to know and prepare any prospective councillors. I am already encouraging our communities to identify community leaders to consider standing and for those who know the good leaders to support them to do so . . . it is important for residents to get to know as many candidates as they can so they can make an informed decision . . . Councillors need to represent the views, wishes and concerns of the community. I look forward to contributing to this process.”

Nothing much wrong with any of that, though there is perhaps a hint that our politicians today would much prefer us all to accept their “guided democracy” rather than unfettered democracy. But it is nothing that former councillor Wilson should have a problem with.

ADRIANA TAYLOR took over from the sacked nine valley councillors in October 2016 and chaired her first meeting the following month (November 30). Wilson, one of the nine removed councillors, attended that meeting. To my knowledge he did not attend another council meeting until last month (November 29).

At that meeting, Taylor said she was pleased Wilson was present to hear her reaction to his assertions. She bluntly reminded him that her authority as commissioner was no less than that of an elected council: there certainly was no “caretaker” element to her job.

A modified version of her statement at council, issued the following morning, does not contain Taylor’s initial observations about Wilson’s apparent criticism. Inter alia, that statement reads:

Local government is a public service industry that requires specific skills in such areas as planning, health regulations . . . Employees regularly move from one council to another. We have employees who have worked at Kingborough, Hobart, Clarence, Sorell, Tasman and, no doubt, many other Tasmanian councils . . . And they have employees who have worked here [Huon Valley Council] as well. It’s a normal avenue to get more experience and to get promotion.
Huon Valley Council has eight or nine staff who have at some time . . . worked at Glenorchy council . . . Since I have been commissioner, I have been responsible for the employment of one staff member who has worked at Glenorchy . . . that being our GM.

I have no say at all in the employment of any other staff. The employment of all other staff is the prerogative and responsibility of the GM . . . He tells me that . . . he has employed two staff who have previously worked at Glenorchy Council . . .

Innuendos of nepotism and poor governance, apart from being untrue and insulting, do damage to the reputation of this council and the whole community . . .
THOSE WHO read Huon News will recall Mike Wilson as the leader of HVC’s six-councillor majority bloc — known in the valley as the Heart of the Huon (HotH). It was a political grouping that, when it suited, could call the shots on any matter that it liked.

mike wilson
Former councillor – Mike Wilson

In a nutshell, with both council management and the Heart of the Huon quite clearly unwilling to co-operate with the then new mayor, Peter Coad — or even, it appeared, to pay serious respect to the office of mayor — council lapsed into dysfunction soon after the newly elected council first met in November 2014. Not much more than six months later, Coad, acknowledging the dysfunction, advised LG Minister Gutwein, who, in September 2015, appointed a board of inquiry, presumably in the hope of sorting out the mess. When the antagonism continued between Coad on one side and management and HotH councillors on the other, Gutwein, in October 2016 — by then armed with the findings of an inquiry into HVC’s behaviour — sacked the council and appointed Taylor as commissioner.

MIKE WILSON, before the 2014 election and throughout the life of the subsequent elected council, was a carping critic of Mayor Coad, at council meetings and in Huon News. In one brief theatrical outburst in the council chamber, Wilson accused Coad (who had only two informal supporters — independent Liz Smith and Green Ian Mackintosh) of running a dictatorship.

Peter Coad
Former mayor – Peter Coad

Coad — deputy mayor of Port Cygnet Council at the time it was abolished in 1993, HVC’s first deputy mayor the same year and an HVC councillor until 2005 — returned to council in 2014 on a reform platform he intended to promote should he also win the mayor’s job. His hopes got short shrift from the HotH team. For them, it was very much a case of wanting more of the rubber-stamp, visionless dross that former mayor (now MLC) Robert Armstrong’s various majority teams had served up since 2001.

Coad — whose mayoral victory had come as a surprise to his main opponent, Wilson, and probably to the valley’s influential behind-the-scenes old guard —  found he had inherited a council with no investments in, or coherent plan for, the uncertain future facing the, as usual, struggling valley economy.

WITH that brief backgrounding, it’s back to Commissioner Taylor’s words at the beginning of the November 29 meeting. Continuing her pre-agenda statement, Taylor said:

. . . the Huon News has brought to my attention today that there has been further comments made in the public forum, I have not seen them but have been told about them, and I have been asked to clarify and comment on some questions. I would like to do so now and I am very pleased to see Mr Wilson in the gallery tonight as I believe these questions came from him and he might be pleased to hear the responses to them.
The HVC November 29, 2017, draft minutes record Taylor’s responses to Wilson’s apparent criticisms:

  1. It is not the commissioner’s role to identify potential council candidates and encourage them to stand at the next council elections. Her role is that of a caretaker until such time as members of the public who believe they have something to contribute to council are elected.

“Commissioner Taylor read an extract from the Ministerial statement provided upon her reappointment and signed by Mr Peter Gutwein dated 17.07.17: “In her role, the commissioner has the powers to perform the functions of the councillors and has been working with council staff to implement the relevant ministerial directions and board of inquiry recommendations.
While the implementation of many of the directions and recommendations are complete, some that are of significant importance to the governance and operations of the Council are still underway. It may take some time before they are finalised and robust enough to properly support an incoming council.
“The work that is still to be completed includes the development and/or finalisation of statements of expectation to manage key relationships within the council, internal and external communication and consultation plans and processes, and a comprehensive councillor induction program in preparation for a new council.
“For clarification, Commissioner Taylor hopes this makes it clear what her role is, and that it is much more than just ‘caretaker’.”

  1. Simone Watson’s termination was unnecessary and unwarranted. [Watson was HVC general manager until her services were terminated, with a payout of as much as, maybe more than, $200,000, a few weeks after Taylor moved in as commissioner in October last year.]“Commissioner Taylor has no comment on this.”3. Commissioner Taylor was once mayor of Glenorchy City Council and that we now have five new ex-Glenorchy Council staff who do not reside in the Huon working at the Huon Valley Council. [Taylor, an MLC 2010-2016, was a Glenorchy councillor 1999-2011 and mayor 2005-2011.]“Commissioner Taylor would like to clarify that in actual fact there are probably eight or nine staff that have worked at Glenorchy City Council. Local Government is a public service industry which requires specific skills including such areas as planning, health regulations, compliance with the Local Government Act.

“Employees regularly move from one Council to another. We have employees who have worked at Kingborough, Hobart, Clarence, Sorell, Tasman and no doubt many other Tasmanian Councils as well as interstate ones. And they have employees who have worked here as well. It’s a normal avenue to get more experience and to get promotion. When position descriptions are advertised they regularly state ‘desirable to have local government experience’.

“Huon Valley Council has eight or nine staff who have at some time in the past worked at Glenorchy Council as well. Since I have been commissioner I have been responsible for the employment of one staff member who has worked at Glenorchy, Kingborough and previously this council. He was employed through a transparent, well documented process, that being our general manager.

“I have no say at all in the employment of any other staff. The employment of all other staff is the prerogative and responsibility of the general manager as the head of our operational arm. He tells me that since his appointment he has had direct involvement in the employment of two staff who have previously worked at Glenorchy council, the director of infrastructure services and the director environment and development services. Each director gave a brief description of their employment history.

“So the statement that we now have five new ex-Glenorchy City Council staff is incorrect. Whether they reside in the Huon Valley or not is immaterial.

“Innuendos of nepotism and poor governance apart from being untrue and insulting do damage to the reputation of this Council and the whole community. I look forward to members of the public bringing their concerns and questions to us, so that we can provide them with more accurate information in future.”

THE DAY after the November 29 council meeting, Taylor told Tasmanian Times that her reason for issuing a clarification was that the article in the Mercury had provoked emails and “a comment by Leon Compton on the ABC that clearly misunderstood what I was planning to do next year”. Taylor said that Compton had asked GCC commissioner Sue Smith whether “she thought me handpicking councillors for next year was appropriate”.

Taylor said that, after writing the media release re her plans for helping candidates, she had an email from the Huon News asking her to comment on three statements made by Mike Wilson.

“I do not know and have not seen to whom those comments were made, only that the Huon News obviously had received them and asked for comment.”

She said she had met the Huon News journalist, and, because it was council meeting night, “and for the sake of reassurance for the community that I am not overstepping the mark in my role”, she had “decided to share that information with you all at the council meeting”.

Taylor said she was particularly pleased that Mike Wilson was present “so that I could give him more accurate information than he obviously had in the hope that we might work more closely in preparation for next year’s elections”.

A SIDELIGHT to the method of helping candidates understand the role and duties of councillors comes in the form of a request in September from the incorporated Huon Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association for one of HVC’s “community grants”. [The author declares here that he is a paid-up member of HVRAA because he supports its aims to promote competent and honest local government.]

The association was formed last year with, among its aims, the intention “to provide community representation when the elected councillors were dismissed”. It has as its main objective, “helping to ensure that a strong and diverse council is elected at the next elections”.

Its application for a $2500 grant described in detail a project that it still intends to carry out. The application listed its “project aims”: to increase awareness of the wide range and importance of local government services; to foster public participation through awareness-raising activities; and to encourage members of the community to nominate for election at the 2018 LG elections.

The association told council it would do this by hosting public meetings with relevant guest speakers; printing and distributing brochures; creating and disseminating mainstream media content; generating and sustaining social media interest; and updating the HVRRA website — hvrra.weebly.com — to make it more relevant and informative.

The association told council it had “identified a number of issues relevant to the 2018 local government election”. Among them it listed apathy, lack of interest, lack of awareness and an attitude of ‘What does HVC actually do for me?’.

HVC grants, among other criteria, are for “annual funding and in-kind assistance to support community projects and programs that have a clear community benefit”.

HVRRA’s request was not recommended for approval by the assessment panel, consisting of four council staff members, at HVC’s October 25 ordinary meeting (item 19.007/17) on the ground that it was, “Ineligible. The project is for ongoing administration or operational costs”.

After the October 25 meeting, the association wrote to council to say “we find the assessment of the evaluation panel confusing” and requested a meeting “for clarification”. Its approach proved fruitless. At the November 29 HVC meeting, a “2017-18 Community Grants Re-evaluation” (item 19.013/17) was considered. Cygnet Bowls and Community Club, unsuccessful in its initial application, was now on the list, with a grant of $726 to buy a line marker; HVRRA’s application had again failed to make the cut. This left $5,976.55 unspent from council’s community-grants budget of $25,000.

It’s difficult to imagine why council thought the idea of a volunteer community association helping to polish up candidates for next year’s LG elections was not a “clear community benefit”. It’s also difficult to remove from my thoughts the notion that HVC might be determined to keep such a task to itself.

Or it might have been a suspicion that there could be a partisan aspect to HVRRA that disqualifies it from “encourag[ing] members of the community to nominate for election at the 2018 LG elections”. That the association — which is open to the membership of anyone who is a resident of the valley, or is a ratepayer to HVC — is an organisation that declares its role to be totally disinterested, and apolitical in its approach to all matters, is reinforced by reliable gossip that one Mike Wilson has applied for membership.

Now that’s something, if correct, that tickles my curiosity — and adds to the evidence that the association has wide appeal to valley residents who might be attracted to the idea of an association committed to representing their community interests and problems.

As to finding suitable candidates? God forbid that HVRRA should turn up community leaders gifted with brains, honesty, integrity, independence of mind, and imagination. As a general rule, these qualities don’t seem to have been much in demand in the political sphere, especially this past quarter century

A NAGGING THOUGHT. Why is Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein so determined that HVC will not get involved in local government-reform talks with its Kingborough Council neighbour? For some mysterious reason, Gutwein — despite his enthusiastic appeal a couple of years back to councils to get talking about local-government reform among themselves — has segregated HVC from all other councils and virtually barred it from participating in inter-council discussions, especially on the possibility of amalgamations.

Earlier this year, in a letter in a letter to Taylor, Gutwein confirmed this view by stating that he did not support the commissioner having discussions with Kingborough Council. Anything like that, he indicated, should be left to elected representatives.

That may be all high-flown and principled, but why should Commissioner Taylor not check out all the possibilities over the next year (while she continues to collect her $200,000-plus salary), and then assemble a comprehensive backgrounder to the implications of LG reform and possible amalgamation. That would be a mighty helpful document for consideration by what this writer hopes will be a talented new, younger elected council, with each member — impermeable to the wishes of old power brokers — committed to considering every issue on its merits.

One gets the feeling that the Hodgman Liberal Government has something special (but not for airing) in mind — perhaps, for example, the Southwood proposal for a woodchip export pile near Dover — for Tasmania’s southernmost municipality and doesn’t want its plans hindered by any suggestion of significant co-operation, perhaps even some form of merger or boundary realignment, with Kingborough, a much more enlightened organisation than valley people had to put up with in Huonville before it was sensibly sacked in 2016.

It’s most unlikely that the Tasmanian Labor Party would hold a view that differs much from that of the present largely destructive, imagination-poor, muddling Liberal government. One way or another, neither of the big parties seems to have plans to do much about the welfare — environmentally or economically — of the Huon; but they do seem concentrated on ensuring that in the Huon Valley there are as few obstacles as possible in the way of those who would extract millions of dollars from ultimately unviable industries, such as ocean fish-farming, clear-fell logging and woodchipping.

These industries do provide jobs (mostly unskilled). But for how long and at what cost to a lovely valley that should be seeing, and making, its future economy a mix of environmentally sensitive tourism; creative small businesses; and high-tech ventures, especially in renewables such as water, wind and solar and other activities that would make a belated but serious contribution to the ever-more imminent threats of catastrophic global-warming?

* Bob Hawkins, a journalist since the mid-1950s, has been covering the affairs of Huon Valley Council since 2009. 

Thanks to The Mercury for use of photos of Adriana Taylor and Mike Wilson