Prominent businessman rules out running for Council
A businessman widely rumoured to be running in the Coffs Harbour City Council elections has ruled it out; saying the bitter divide over the Cultural and Civic Space is limiting the pool of candidates.
President of the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce Martin Wells says the growing divide over the $76.5m CBD project is out of control.
"In those meetings of recent times there has been a real degradation of respect and professional courtesy towards each other," Mr Wells said.
"That certainly is a commonality in people refusing to run. Why would you put yourself in that position when, I guess, you're going to open yourself up to an unprecedented barrage of unrestrained anger, accusations and defamatory comment."
Mr Wells says he has been approached by several people to see if he would run in September.
"I have been asked to consider that, but at this point in my life it's not going to be the right decision."
The most recent Council meeting on February 13 was particularly bitter with constant outbursts from the public gallery.
There were even some heated exchanges between Councillors and members of the public registered to address the meeting.
Mayor Denise Knight had to repeatedly warn Gai Anderson as she took to the microphone and alluded to ongoing breaches of conduct and conflicts of interest.
"I ask you to please tread carefully Ms Anderson…please do not make allegations…please, I am warning you let's get to the point I have not broken any rules," Cr Knight repeated.
The situation escalated when Councillor Michael Adendorff suggested Ann Leonard, who has been a vocal critic of the Cultural and Civic Space, should "spend more time in the library madam".
Mr Wells is Principal at McGrath real estate and says he can see some merit in the Labor bill to ban property developers and real estate agents from running for council.
"But we do struggle sometimes to find a candidate pool of people who are going to put their hand up to run so if we start limiting that pool it could be a problem so if there was a better way of managing the pitfalls of having property developers and real estate agents on council well that might be a better way of dealing with it."
Tony Judge, the lead Labor candidate in the upcoming Council elections believes the ban would be an important step in ensuring that residents and ratepayers can trust that important Council decisions are made impartially and without conflict of interest.
"Councillors are in a position of trust where they must decide on proposals for re-zoning, development applications and major local works," Mr Judge said.
"It is not hard to see how a developer or agent could benefit either directly or indirectly from having advance knowledge of those proposals."
The bill will be introduced into the Upper House some time this week. It's understood Labor will be hoping to capitalise on a divide in the NSW Liberal Party on the matter to get the bill through.