The next election for Coffs Harbour City Council takes place in 2020.
The next election for Coffs Harbour City Council takes place in 2020. Janine Watson

Five councillors shoulder the burden on some weighty issues

A SIMMERING issue was brought to the fore as just five councillors sat to debate a number of important issues at their most recent meeting on November 8.

The full Coffs Harbour City Council comprises nine councillors. Since the start of the year, the only meeting at which all nine were in attendance, was on March 22.

There have been 19 meetings so far this year and Crs Sally Townley and Paul Amos have attended them all.

With Cr Jan Strom on extended leave, which has been approved until February next year, this often leaves eight councillors with Mayor Denise Knight called on to cast a deciding vote.

This was the case in August when they considered a proposal from the Bunker Cartoon Gallery to provide $180,000 in seed funding to implement plans for a major upgrade. Votes were tied and Cr Knight made the casting vote ruling against providing the full funding.

The Local Government Act 1993 does not specify a maximum leave period, so this is left to the discretion of individual councils depending on circumstances.

Cr Strom was contacted for comment but did not reply.

Cr Townley says the guidelines should be improved to ensure ongoing representation without incurring extra costs.

"If a councillor becomes ill or leaves during their term, legislation does not allow for a simple countback (of the election votes) throughout the period.

"Councils are faced then with an expensive by election. We need a more streamlined way of seeking replacement councillors," she said.

At the most recent meeting on November 8, numbers dwindled even further with only five councillors to consider a number of significant issues including the half-day public holiday for the Coffs Gold Cup; the future of the City Square and the formation of a working group to oppose the current proposal for cuttings on the Coffs Harbour bypass.

Local Government NSW has confirmed that a quorum is formed when a majority of councillors are in attendance but some have expressed concerns about the level of representation and lack of debate at last week's meeting.

Federal Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker was critical of the move to establish the Coffs Harbour Bypass Impact Working Group.

"I believe this should have been debated by a full council," he said.

Chairperson of the CBD Masterplan Committee David Doyle was also disappointed to see so few councillors there on the night.

"Where were the rest of the councillors? - are they not game to turn up if the issues become too controversial," he said in reference to the motion passed to embark on a new plan for the City Square, which involves the removal of the kiosk occupied by Caffeine Central.

The next Coffs Harbour City Council election will be held in 2020.

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