4 July 2024

Coota-Gundagai Mayor's shock resignation in face of threat of intervention

| Edwina Mason
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Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council office, Cootamundra

A decision by Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council to proceed with the 14 September local government election has led to the resignation of Mayor Charlie Sheahan. Photo: Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council.

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) is reeling from the shock resignation of its mayor in protest over the council’s treatment by the State Government, including a threat from its Local Government Minister.

The decision came after Council’s support last week of a decision to proceed with the 14 September local government election, which Mayor Charlie Sheahan, along with councillors and staff, had been seeking to defer locally, given CGRC was in the process of demerging.

Cr Sheahan said the minister had previously stated he could defer the election if the demerger process was delayed but had failed to ratify that.

“I had pursued clarification on this right up until the meeting,” Cr Sheahan said.

When last-minute efforts to have NSW Premier Chris Minns prevail on NSW Local Government Minister Ron Hoenig failed, Cr Sheahan said an ultimatum from the minister’s office left the majority of councillors reluctant to break ranks.

Cr Sheahan said an email from the Office of Local Government on behalf of the minister, received just prior to the 26 June meeting, threatened intervention if the councillors failed to vote in favour of a local government election.

“Three councillors voted with me but the other five were not willing to break the law,” he said.

READ ALSO Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council demerger unlikely before September elections

Prior to the vote, Cr Sheahan told councillors he wouldn’t be a party to anything that would prolong the anxiety and suffering he had witnessed during his two terms since the former shires of Cootamundra and Gundagai were forcibly merged in May 2016.

He said it wasn’t fair to the candidates, the incoming council and could be seen as an unnecessary waste of money, if and when another election was needed for new councils.

“My position was that we’ve got to abide with what our community wants, and I was happy to step outside the law,” he told Region. “Their position was they could put in an administrator which would be worse – I don’t know about that – but I would not have anything further to do with prolonging the agony our community and staff are going through.

Charlie Sheahan

Mayor of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council, Charlie Sheahan. Photo: Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council

“But to go ahead with a local government election, at a cost to the ratepayer in the vicinity of $220,000, when we’re still before the Boundaries Commission just doesn’t make sense, so this is a bit of a protest; I’m voting with my feet,” he said.

Cr Sheahan thanked councillors Bowden, Boyd and Glover, for putting the communities’ interests first and foremost, and not supporting going to an election.

He said since the former Cootamundra and Gundagai shire councils were forcibly merged in May 2016, the degradation of staff and services to the local communities had resulted in a deplorable local government entity, a fact acknowledged by former local government minister Wendy Tuckerman who backed a demerger in August 2022.

Her decision had followed a scathing report from the Local Government Boundaries Commission (NSWLGBC) which recognised the long-term adverse psychological impact of the merger within the council and communities.

But the change in government in March 2023 led to a Labor Government decision to hold a third inquiry into the de-amalgamation of CGRC.

And while in May the government passed the Local Government Amendment (De-amalgamations) Bill 2024, giving amalgamated NSW councils the power to pursue demergers, the minister acknowledged CGRC, already in the throes of demerging, was not subject to the bill and therefore on an alternate pathway.

READ ALSO Demerger bill welcomed with caution by Tumba, Gundagai community leaders

Following lodgement of a sustainability report and a financial report and a public submission period closing in May, Minister Hoenig referred the demerger proposal to the Boundaries Commission on 17 June, The Minister has also appointed the Boundaries Commission to undertake a public inquiry into the proposal.

Yesterday Cr Sheahan had a few choice words for Mr Hoenig, who he had met only once in 14 months.

“Correspondence barely gets acknowledged, let alone responded to …,” he said. “In fact, I’ve been in contact every fortnight with the Office of Local Government and just through those meetings I think they’re getting much the same result.”

Cr Sheahan said he had lost all trust in the minister in regard to the demerger process.

“We’ve been doing all we possibly can do to please the minister; we’ve provided him with everything he’s requested but he just doesn’t even seem to be playing the game,” he said. “He has shown no real commitment or resolve to expedite a solution to the problem of his own making.

“[He] has shown no support or concern for our communities or our staff, who are facing extraordinary difficulties on a daily basis. Many staff have left the organisation, often in tears, losing their jobs, careers that they love and cherish, jeopardising their livelihoods.”

He said he personally didn’t want to see anyone else suffering because of this situation.

“There’s not much room to put too many band aids on but that’s pretty much the shape of it,” Cr Sheahan said.

He praised the work of GM Steve McGrath in keeping the council “patched up” and the efforts of opposition and independent MPs to effect the demerger bill which helped bring the issue into focus.

Cr Sheahan has served three terms as a councillor and this is his second term as mayor, a role he will continue in until 8 July.

He has confirmed he will continue to serve as a councillor until the September local government election but will not be seeking re-election.

“I’m sorry it has come to this; I wish the incoming council to be elected in September well, and hope for a change in the near future to provide a better future for all,” he said.

An extraordinary meeting of Council will be held on 16 July to elect a mayor to fill the casual vacancy.

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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