The Esperance Shire Council have vowed to repair the fracture within the community, committing to a community survey and the potential appointment of an independent facilitator to help mend the relationship.
The move comes after more than 50 residents filled council chambers on Tuesday afternoon, January 15, to watch as council deliberated the six motions moved by ratepayers at the Annual Electors Meeting.
The motion, first moved in an emotional plea from resident Karen Milligan, saw council suspend standing orders for debate.
Following debate, councillor Shelley Payne moved that council investigate engaging an independent facilitator to work with following the results of a Community Perception Survey to be released as early as February.
Speaking to the motion councillor Payne said she believed the fracture was the biggest issue facing the community.
Councillor Steve McMullen spoke against the motion, citing reservations about ‘throwing money’ at yet another consultant.
Shire president Victoria Brown spoke for the motion and said she believed it sent a positive message to the community.
“A fracture is a difficult thing to talk about because it’s not tangible, it’s hard to qualify or quantify – we can’t see how bad it is and we can’t see when we’ve healed it,” she said.
“The divide in the community has come from a number of highly contentious issues that tend then to naturally flow into other areas.
“How we repair that is going to be the challenge moving forward.
“One of the things that we can do to close this divide is to get our community to do what they do best – support each other.
“The community have a responsibility to share truthful information, and that includes the media.
“No more lies, no more innuendo, no more unfounded conspiracy theories.”
The motion was carried 8-1.
The motion was one of three to be amended and passed by council, with council opting to reject the three motions concerning the termination of chief executive officer Matthew Scott’s contract, the capping of salary increases for senior staff and the freezing of council allowances before training.
Motion 1: Motion of no confidence in the CEO and to direct Council to terminate his contract immediately.
The meeting began with an address from Esperance Ratepayers Association president Kaj Nieukerke, who expressed concerns about Mr Scott having prepared advice and recommendations for council on a motion concerning his own employment.
Mr Scott defended his involvement with the report, stating he had a statutory obligation to inform council.
“Regardless of whether I am directly involved in the report, I have to write the report and present it to council,” he said.
“The statutory functions of the CEO are providing advice to the council and, to meet my statutory obligations, I need to prepare the agenda.”
Knowing there may be concerns about the advice given in the agenda, Mr Scott revealed he had the document reviewed by the state’s Local Government Authority prior to the meeting.
After Mr Scott declared a financial interest in the item and left the room, shire president Victoria Brown moved to reject the original motion based on the outcome of Mr Scott’s Performance Review in March and said there had been no evidence of misconduct or breaches of his contractual obligations.
Mrs Brown also addressed that all relevant matters relating to Mr Scott’s performance would be considered at his annual review in April, 2019.
Following murmurs from the gallery, councillor Dale Piercey said although the community may be dissatisfied with the motion, she hoped they would understand that it was necessary.
“I’m not sure if I’m speaking for or against,” she said.
“The community are very unhappy and I think that motion may not fully satisfy them.
“I hope they [the community] understand that this is a process we have to go through.
“At this stage, we have not been given a legitimate reason – our hands are tied in that regard.
“I believe that this solution is the best that we can offer.”
The motion was carried unanimously.
Motion 2: That the rates increase for 2019/2020 be kept at the Consumer Price Index.
Motion two saw councillor Bowman move her own motion, asking council to review the Long Term Financial Plan prior to budget setting and consider the impact of keeping rates at CPI, moving to engage with the City of Bayswater regarding their Participatory Budget Program and work to involve the community in the process.
The motion was met with support from councillor Lara McIntyre, who said she believed involving the community was a positive step forward in creating greater understanding of exactly what the budget process entailed.
Councillor Piercey echoed councillor McIntyre’s sentiments and said the motion demonstrated council were considering the needs of the community and reaching a compromise.
The motion was carried unanimously.
Following the meeting, Mr Scott acknowledged that several other local governments were taking steps to involve the community in the annual budget process.
“I understand that other local governments are trying to allow the community to take part in the budget process,” he said.
“Look, let’s see if we can give it a go, let’s see what we can do.”
Motion 3: That the salary increases for the senior staff, that is the CEO and its Directors, also be kept at CPI.
Councillor McIntyre moved to reject the motion, seconded by councillor McMullen.
Speaking to the new motion, councillor McIntyre said council were not authorised to determine salary of senior staff and that the move would be ultra vires.
The motion was carried unanimously.
Motion 4: That Council abandon Lot 12 Kirwan Road before more ratepayer’s funds are wasted and focus on finding a site with suitable hydrology and geology that ideally embraces all elements of the triple bottom line.
Motion four was like déjà vu for attendees in more ways than one, with the same motion concerning the proposed waste facility at Kirwan Road being given an almost identical resolution as that delivered 12 months ago.
Councillor John Parsons moved that council re-commit to deferring any further decisions regarding the proposed landfill facility until council had an opportunity to consider all elements listed in the resolution and request initial cost estimates to implement the Scoping Document for council consideration by February 28.
Having moved the original motion, Esperance Merivale Tip Action Group representative Mark Biven expressed his frustration at the fact that the motion had been on the table for more than one year and asked council to clarify their project timeline.
“What is the timeline?” he said.
“When will there be something out to the community to consider?”
Shire president Victoria Brown admitted she too had reservations about what could be achieved in the timeframe given but was confident in the process.
External Services director Terry Sargent interjected to confirm that shire staff would be meeting with representatives from the EPA the following day to confirm the details of the document.
Councillor Parsons spoke to the motion and said he wanted to have all of the facts in black and white.
“This is a very important motion, I consider this to be the most important one,” he said.
“From day one, I have tried to do what I could to make sure that we followed due process and gathered as much information as we could so that we could base this decision on hard facts.
“I approach this motion with a desire to have the facts, to have everything in black and white.”
The motion was carried.
Motion 5: That elected members of Council, that their allowances be reviewed only after they have completed their training and be frozen for the duration of their time on Council.
Councillor McIntyre rejected the motion, stating that imposing it would be ultra vires.
Speaking to the new motion, councillor McIntyre said that whilst councillor training had been worthwhile, increasing training would be an expensive exercise likely to impact the shire’s budget.
With talks of the Department of Local Government making training compulsory for councillors, councillor McIntyre suggested that council wait until that time.
Following the meeting, Shire president Victoria Brown said council had taken the motions very seriously and that the meeting had occupied a huge amount of council’s energy following the vacational break.
“As with last year, the Special Council Meeting contained a few controversial issues that our community are dealing with,” she said.
“These issues are complex and there is no simple fix.
“Councillors are elected by the community to make sound, informed decisions for the benefit of the community and whilst we may not all share the same opinions, we are listening.
“Some of the motions raised at the Annual Electors Meeting were not achievable because they would have contravened the Local Government Act.
Councillors spent quite some time individually and as a group determining how we would find solutions to the motions raised.
“Whilst we can’t provide instant outcomes we are committed to providing good governance that benefits the whole Esperance Community.”