DPOP debacle at Council Meeting

Filed in Just In by June 9, 2021

THE process for how a Councillor can raise issues with Council’s budget and operational plan became contentious at the May Council meeting, as Cr Sue Abbott tried to raise a motion to ensure key projects the Council has previously committed to were included in the new delivery program and operational plan (DPOP).

During the meeting, Cr Abbott was advised she should put her requests in as a community submission, which had already closed.

Mayor Maurice Collison and Cr Ron Campbell insisted Cr Abbott was not “above the law”, although there is no legal requirement for Councillors to make a community submission and no statute of limitations on when a Councillor can raise a motion on any issue.

Councillor Abbott said she wants to ensure key things are addressed in the plan and Councillors have every right to raise issues in subcommittees, put up motions and propose amendments.

“I asked for an investigation into all of the resolutions we’ve ever made. We (Council) made resolutions that I know haven’t happened. Why haven’t they happened and what else hasn’t happened? I decided to do a Notice of Motion to raise it so we could think about it,” Cr Abbott said.

“For example, I asked how the director of corporate services would come up with a sponsorship plan for White Park and the saleyards because they put up a target to increase numbers at the cattle saleyards, okay how? When I asked how we would increase sales last year I was told ‘we’re optimistic.’ I told Council staff optimism isn’t a strategy, how are we going to do this? If you have that as a target, what’s your plan? It can’t be optimism,” she said.

“All these things and we just park them, where is the plan? It should be in the DPOP, so why isn’t it? Why has it been left hanging? The things I raised weren’t specifically listed in the draft DPOP and they need to be, otherwise we haven’t got them in there and they won’t be considered,” Cr Sue Abbott said.

Councillor Abbott had lodged the motion before the meeting and before the community submission deadline, but Council staff advised a submission may be more useful way to ensure the concerns were part of the evaluation process.

At the meeting Cr Abbott said she was happy to withdraw the motion and make a submission, however she was then advised the deadline for submissions had passed and since she had just withdrawn the motion, that option was no longer open to her either.

“The (Council) staff did answer my Notice of Motion in a helpful way and then I’ve absolutely had the rug pulled out from underneath my feet, when the General Manager is whispering to the Mayor that if I don’t put the notices in, they won’t get into the DPOP and I’ve missed the deadline. Well, that’s nonsense, there is no deadline for Councillors,” Cr Abbott said.

“It’s also absolute nonsense that it’s a hard and fast deadline for the community as well. Prior to this year, we’ve always taken late submissions from the community because why would we ever not? Why would you not be open to good ideas from the community . . . some of which are amazing and you’d be foolish not to listen to them,” she said.

“Last year, Councillors were told submissions were already being collated, but to bear in mind late submissions were coming in. There were only two Councillors who made the ‘submission deadline’ and that was myself and Cr Campbell,” she said.

“Clearly management has gotten confused, as has the Mayor and one of the other Councillors, who weighed in to point out to me that I was ‘not above the law.’ That was irrelevant and it was not a question of that. There is no statute of limitation to what Councillors can suggest,” said Cr Abbott.

Cr Lee Watts was also surprised by the sudden change in Council process, which did not allow for Councillors to make submissions to the process after the community closing date.

“I thought Councillors were allowed to continue to put their submissions in after the 28th of May? That was my understanding and it has been for 17 years, so I don’t see why all of a sudden it’s different,” said Cr Watts.

“This Notice of Motion would have been put to Council prior to the 28th of May because it would have been put in seven days ago,” she said.

Greg McDonald general manager of Council said the process was consistent across other Councils he was aware of and did not understand why people had a different understanding of the process.

“I don’t know where that understanding comes from,” said Mr McDonald.

Cr Watts asserted, “from 17 years on Council, so I think it’s only fair we get the same this year and if that’s how it’s going to be in the future, we change it.”

Mr McDonald conceded to extend the submission deadline for Councillors until Wednesday, but was interrupted by Cr Collison who maintained Cr Abbott’s contribution could not be made.

“Cr Abbott you were given an email before the closing date with a suggestion that you put this in the DPOP like other Councillors did. Why wouldn’t you put it in a submission to the DPOP instead of a Notice of Motion? It would have done exactly the same thing . . . you don’t know whether you’re going to get the support of Councillors tonight,” said Cr Collison.

Cr Abbott had emailed her matters to Council staff to raise as a motion before the submission closing date, however Council would not accept the email to staff as a submission.

“For four years I have been putting in submissions, this time I wanted to put this in, if it’s not to go in, I will not support the DPOP . . . the staff have commented and I accepted because I was under the assumption we would be having a meeting at some stage to go through the community submissions. The staff comment is quite misleading because I read the comment and thought, ‘fair enough,'” said Cr Abbott.

Mr McDonald explained the Workforce Management Plan will come back to Council regardless however, there is no current resolution to include it into the DPOP due to the May 28 deadline.

“I read these (staff) comments and said I would be reasonable, accept what they say and wait. Now with what you’re telling me, I’ll have to object to the DPOP and that can’t be a good look,” said Cr Abbott, before making a final decision to withdraw her motion.

“I have been totally outmanoeuvred by Upper Hunter Shire Council yet again, so I’m intending to withdraw it,” Cr Abbott said.

Despite the DPOP submission debacle, Cr Abbott said she will “one-hundred percent” be bringing up the requests at the upcoming DPOP workshop.

“They’re carrying on as if everyone’s putting in a tender, it’s not a tender this is brainstorming,” said Cr Abbott.

“I’ll just be raising it all over again because I don’t have to be bound by the nonsense,” Cr Sue Abbott said.

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