State government given power to intervene in council's squabbles

CHANGES to the state government’s powers to intervene in unruly councils have been accepted by Orange councillors.

New powers have been given to the Minister for Local Government Paul Toole to issue performance improvement orders and suspension orders for councillors who cannot resolve their own problems.

Councillors noted the changes at last week’s meeting but Orange mayor John Davis said Orange City Council was robust at the moment.

“We have had, I believe, over the years workable councils - we haven’t had the extremes of some of the councils where they have had enormous divisions, where they’ve been suspended or had administrators in,” he said.

However, he said it was disappointing the new rules had to be brought in at all.

“A lot of things are personal now, that’s why it’s disappointing to have to have these rules,” he said.

“Councillors, council staff and the community try to work together, but it’s not a perfect world.”

Until now, councils which were dysfunctional or failing to meet their legal obligations were encouraged to address the problems voluntarily and public hearings were held when voluntary efforts failed.

However, hearings often followed years of avoidable problems, cost taxpayers $200,000 on average and deprive ratepayers of democratic representation. 

New powers will allow Minister Toole to seek further information from councils and issue performance improvement orders or suspension orders before a public hearing is required.

Suspension orders would allow individual councillors or entire councils to be suspended for up to three months, with a possible extension time of three months - an administrator could then be appointed in  council’s place.

The minister would also be able to set quorums for councils where councillors intentionally left meetings without a quorum to disrupt them or stop decisions from being made and a temporary adviser could be appointed to assist the council to comply with requirements.

Orders would be considered based on the scale of the problems, the risk to the council and whether previous intervention attempts have failed.

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