Toole’s Prince Philip’s knighthood moment?
NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole wants to confer the title of ‘Honorary Councillor’ upon some of the local councillors he unceremoniously sacked in May this year when the state government forcibly amalgamated 42 councils.
Mr Toole wrote to the 19 new NSW councils last week, expressing his desire to recognise the contribution of ex-councillors currently serving on the local committees of new councils by giving them a title. He is keen for council administrators to press ahead with a council resolution to make this happen.
But the move might be too little too late for some councillors.
One of the loudest criticisms of the forced council mergers – some of which are still before the courts – is that the government’s battle plan entirely did away with any elected local representation on councils, all of which are now run by government-appointed administrators until local government elections in September 2017.
When the mergers were proclaimed some people criticised NSW Premier Mike Baird for failing to acknowledge the years of service given by former councillors and claiming that he had treated councillors shabbily.
At the time, Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Keith Rhoades slammed Mr Baird for sacking 378 local councillors without so much as a backward glance.
“He didn’t even have the respect or the manners to say: ‘I know this is a difficult time for those councillors involved and as Premier I wish to thank you for your services to the community of NSW and I wish you all the best’. In some cases it’s in excess of 40 years’ service,” Mr Rhoades told Government News.
Whether Mr Toole’s overture will be seen in a positive light by deposed councillors remains to be seen.
Former Leichhardt Mayor Rochelle Porteous, who served 12 years on the council, said that giving the title of “Honorary Councillor” to councillors who had been sacked was “offensive and a slap in the face of local democracy”.
She opted not to join the local committee of the Inner West Council, the Sydney council formed by amalgamating Leichhardt, Ashfield and Marrickville.
“Councillors are elected local representatives who are elected to make decisions in consultation with the local community, for and on behalf of the local community. The former Councillors on these committees do none of this and to imply any relationship between the role they had previously and the one they have now is deliberately misleading.” Ms Porteous said.
“I expect most people will quickly realise that this is just another very bad, very expensive idea rolled out by the Baird PR army and it is unlikely to be seen as anything but what it is – a lie.”
Paul Braybrooks served on Cootamundra Shire Council for almost 25 years, many of these as Mayor. When his council merged with Gundegai Shire Council he volunteered to sit on Gundegai Council’s local committee.
“My only thought from a personal point of view is I’m either a councillor or I’m not a councillor,” Mr Braybrooks said.
“Quite frankly I would rather not be an Honorary Councillor but I’m quite happy to assist the administrator over the couple of coming months to set up something that will work.”
LGNSW’s Keith Rhoades said there was no provision for the new title under the Local Government Act and that he had never heard of such a title being conferred before.
“I don’t know what he (Mr Toole) is doing. I can’t work out why. Has somebody lobbied him for it? What about the councillors that aren’t on these committees? They will feel worse.”
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