Vital changes or amalgamation by stealth? Mayor wins debate after extraordinary marathon

After a marathon 12 hours of debate during six meetings called under the mayor’s powers to hold “extraordinary meetings”, Strathfield Council has resolved on a new way to assess its general manager’s performance.

With the threat of amalgamation and even oblivion hanging over its 130-year history, it may seem an esoteric point.

But it has raised the temperature in the Council Chamber, caused residents to rally throughout the long hours of debate and sparked a clear division among the councillors.

According to Liberal Mayor Sang Ok, a series of mayoral minutes designed to change internal procedures at Strathfield Council are essential to satisfy the Office of Local Government, who issued a 430 order on the council last year.

Fellow Liberal Stephanie Kokkolis told the meeting:  “The minister hasn’t issued his report, so we are allowed to add addendums to our report.”

But according to Councillors Helen McLucas, Daniel Bott and Raj Datta, the council, has already responded to the requirements of the order and at least five separate bodies have agreed the council’s response is sound and meets all the requirements.

They are concerned that the constant division and late-night meetings could present the State Government with an opportunity to sack the council, because of its vocal opposition to amalgamations, and place an administrator in charge.

This morning at 9am, the councillos met again to try and resolve the impasse over the mayor’s procedural changes.

The six Mayoralminutes up for rescission.  But Councillors Ok, Gulian Vaccari, Ms Kokkolis and Deputy Mayor Andrew Soulos voted for them to stand.

The investigation by the Office of Local Government has placed the general manager and his role in the spotlight.

Many residents have contacted The Scene to support him, stressing the work he has done in the community for almost three decades.

Councillors, too, have rallied behind him.

“On 12 November, everybody signed the report and now you say you want to submit another report. The General Manager has an excellent reputation, and this has nothing to do with 430, it is purely do with amalgamation,” said Cr McLucas

“Do you realise by going through amalgamation, 175 staff will lose their job. The only thing missing is your platter with General Manager’s head on it. I say this is amalgamation and not 430 - you are hiding this under 430.”

Cr Bott agreed.  “It’s an amalgamation by stealth. You have put our council at such risk. I don’t know what your aspirations are. Why didn’t you do something when this was going on for years.”

But the Mayor defended his views claiming that all he wished was appropriate good governance for Strathfield Council.

“We supported the 430 report but the Office of Local Government has recommended to fix this and I am just trying to implement that.”

Councillor Stephanie Kokkolis added, “This is an opportunity to close on any potential loophole and any conflict of interests with regards to the General Manager.”

Councillor Vaccari supported Mayor Ok, adding that the council needed a plan B on amalgamation.

 “This council remains united on the position that we don’t want to be amalgamated. But we are being spoken about at meetings of Bankstown council, Auburn council. By leaving that chair vacant, we are leaving it open for other councils to decide our future. I am entitled for my personal views and my view is that this council needs a plan B.

“I was part of the review process for one year and exited it following harassment from other councillors. We need to formalise the process. I also wish to confirm that I have been on multiple boards in my profession and I know what a good process is,” said Cr Vaccari.

The debate led by Councillor Daniel Bott and Helen Mc Lucas questioned the future of over 170 council staff.

“These meetings come at an enormous cost to the council. The report we signed off to the Minister reports that general manager exceeds expectations and in 12 days you want to back flip on the decision. Residents want to know why there’s a significant change since 3rd November.”

Cr McLucas maintained the mayor was talking to the Office of Local Government.

“You are sending mails to other councillors and not us because you feel we won’t be interested in 430 report. Since November 3 you have gone ballistic. The four of you are colluding,” asked councillor McLucas.

Councillor Bott was equally outraged.

“Do you realise the wounds you are inflicting? You are treating the staff appallingly; they are working 14 to 15 hours to assist the Local Government and you have the nerve to trash their reputations,” he said.




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