COVID-driven restrictions meant that the public gallery at Narrabri Shire Council’s first meeting was limited to 16 attendees on Tuesday last week.
Earlier, given the colour of the election campaign, it had been anticipated by many there would be a ‘full house.’
The first meeting of a new council sees the election of mayor and deputy and traditionally some procedural matters.
The general manager Stewart Todd opened the meeting and called for nominations for a chairperson to oversee the procedures.
Crs Redding and Lamont nominated with Cr Redding voted for the role.
Cr Redding chaired a 35-minute deliberation on the voting methodology to be applied to the election of mayor and deputy after Cr Clements sought clarification.
Cr Clements moved for an open vote, a ‘show of hands.’
The options for the voting system contained in the business paper were queried, with Cr Clements seeking assurance that the system would be ‘first past the post’ decided with the show of hands.
This was adopted, however, Cr Boehm dissented, not favouring the show of hands procedure.
The call for nominations for mayor and deputy mayor each drew two, Crs Clements and Campbell for mayor and Crs Lamont and Redding for deputy.
The vote was five to four in both instances in favour of Campbell and Redding.
Crs Clements, Boehm and Lamont expressed their concerns with a procedural confirmation of the minutes of the last meetings of the former council in November and December.
Cr Lamont said the minutes needed to be ‘worked through’ and urged that the minutes be examined.
“After a five-year term the community has indicated it wants change,” he said.
Cr Boehm said there were ‘important issues’ in the minutes with implications for future meetings of the new council.
Cr Campbell said there would be an opportunity to examine and review all the documents.
The minutes were not signed off with Crs Tiemens and Dickinson abstaining from voting.
Cr Clements said the financial reports should be tabled at the next council meeting, with Cr Boehm urging that ‘the incoming council must have all the detail and information.’
“The financial statements are of great significance to the community and councillors,” said Cr Clements.
After the meeting, Cr Clements said the financial report for the year presented at the December meeting should be returned for review by the new council, with the auditor present.
“We feel the council should make clear to the staff the new council wants to do this.”
Cr Campbell said councillors would have access to the financial statements which would be tabled as an agenda item at its next meeting.
A new provision allowing councils to fill a casual vacancy via a ‘countback’ if a councillor leaves within 18 months of an election was included in the business paper.
The alternative would be a by-election which council heard would cost about $140,000.
The council was obliged to resolve, at its first meeting after the election, if it intended to use a countback to fill casual vacancies.
“If council does not resolve this at the first meeting after the election, they will be required to fill casual vacancies through a by-election,”
Lindsay Mason, director corporate and community services said in a report to the meeting.
Cr Redding’s motion that the countback methodology be accepted was ultimately adopted.
However, Cr Clements argued against the motion.
He said a by-election would actually be a new election, not a part of an election held 18 months previously (as a countback would be).
A by-election would give the community the opportunity to express its view on how the council
Cr Lamont supported the by-election option to fill a casual vacancy that occurred within 18 months.
“What is the cost of democracy? It (a countback) goes against the spirit of what we are about.”
The next council meeting will be held on February 22.
Tensions emerge during first meeting
Last Tuesday’s first meeting of the new Narrabri Shire Council was conducted in a generally harmonious atmosphere but tensions emerged from time to time.
A note on the business paper advised that the meeting would be recorded for webcasting on the internet, and reminded that ‘all those present should refrain from making any defamatory statements.’
Three of the four councillors, elected on a ‘new broom ticket’, challenged several items on the business paper, including the procedural acceptance of the minutes from the last meetings of the former council in 2021.
These were the ordinary meetings of November 23 and the extraordinary meeting of December 3.
Cr Redding moved adoption of the minutes as a true record of the meetings, noting she had been present.
This is in virtually every instance a routine procedure.
However, the minutes were not signed off, following a 3-6 vote (Crs Campbell, Richardson and Redding in favour and Lamont, Browning, Clements and Boehm opposed and Crs Tiemens and Dickinson abstaining.) The minutes will be presented at a future meeting.
Another item that was contested was a new proposition from the NSW Electoral Commission that if a vacancy occurs among the elected representatives within 18 months of an election the councillor’s spot be filled with a ‘countback’ review of the votes recorded at that election and an appointment made accordingly.
The countback proposition was agreed to with Crs Campbell, Redding, Richardson, Dickinson and Tiemens in favour and Crs Lamont, Browning, Clements and Boehm against.To order photos from this page click here