Personality politics blamed for farcical council meeting

Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba.

Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba.

Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba said ‘‘personality politics’’ is the source of tension between Shellharbour City councillors as yet another council meeting descended into farcical scenes on Tuesday night.

However fellow councillor Peter Moran said the increased use of confidentiality to hide issues, rules being applied by the mayor to one side and not the other and partisan council staff are some of the causes of friction which has Shellharbour City Council again on the verge of being labelled as dysfunctional.

On Tuesday night Shellharbour council’s ordinary meeting finished at 9.10pm with little drama compared to recent meetings, however three ‘‘extraordinary’’ meetings followed.

Two meetings were called to discuss issues surrounding the controversial sale of the Warilla Library and former council chambers and a third meeting related to declassifying the recording of a confidential meeting regarding The Links, Shell Cove.

The first two meetings relating to the Warilla properties were both opened by Cr Saliba and closed without discussion as the motions were ruled ‘‘out of order’’ by  the mayor.

As the third meeting opened Cr Kellie Marsh excused herself from the chambers saying she was feeling ill, and Cr Stewart followed her out of the room.

Cr Peter Moran decided he ‘‘might as well’’ join them.

With Cr John Murray away on Tuesday night it left just Cr Saliba, Cr Paul Rankin and Cr David Boyle in the chambers.

Not having enough councillors for a quorum, the mayor closed the meeting at which time about a dozen hardy council watchers in the gallery left the building.

However with Cr Stewart then indicating her willingness to return, the mayor re-opened the meeting and adjourned it for five minutes.

Both Cr Marsh and Cr Stewart then resumed their seats but Cr Moran left the chambers saying the meeting had been closed.

Twenty minutes later the council resolved not to release the recording of the The Links, Shell Cove debate, overturning a previous resolution of the council.

Cr Marsh said it wasn’t a walk out as such but said she ‘‘felt sick to the stomach’’ when the two meetings were closed without any debate. She said she excused herself, had some water and returned.

‘‘I am sick and tired of being shut down,’’ Cr Marsh said.

‘‘I will not be stifled, issues that need to exposed will be exposed.’’

Cr Moran said he was concerned that the council  was ‘‘too happy’’ to go into confidential session when issues do not meet reasons outlined in Section 10A2 of the Local Government Act and said a memo from the general manager Michael Willis regarding why councillors take issues behind closed doors was misleading.

‘‘Staff are taking sides in this,’’ Cr Moran said.

Cr Saliba said the council worked hard to be open and transparent and declassified reports where they could, but when it came to ‘‘declassifying ’’recordings of confidential meetings that was a different issue.

‘‘Not only do we not have the technology to go through and take out sections of a recording that are confidential can you image what it would sound like, with bits of sentences joined together and bits taken out, ’’Cr Saliba said.

‘‘It is also subjective as to who makes the decision on what is being said ... we would need legal advice on every sentence.’’

Cr Saliba said staff were not biased, but she felt they were frustrated by the ‘‘carry on’’ by councillors.

‘‘How do we ensure a good work ethic when the councillors can’t work co-operatively or at least abide by a democratic decision,’’ Cr Saliba said.

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