On the stroke of midnight the remnants of a packed public gallery, councillors and council officers started to depart the Cessnock City Council Chambers after a hard day’s night.
The meeting last Wednesday night had been in session a marathon five and a half hours.
It was a night of high drama with a vote of no confidence in Mayor Alison Davey gaining support nine votes to three, a vote of no confidence in the general manager Lea Rosser failing eight votes to four and Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourism having its annual allocation assured and locked in at $470,000.
Assistance with legal costs ($16,000) incurred by councillors James Ryan and Chris Parker in the Land and Environment Court with council also gained support seven votes to three with both those councillors excusing themselves from debate in the chamber.
Three of these four decisions came after urgency motions by Deputy Mayor, Cr. Cordelia Burcham and Cr. Jeff Maybury.
Cr. Davey told councillors she did not believe the motions for a vote of no confidence in her and Ms Rosser were urgent, but they proceeded after Cr. Neil Gorman moved dissent from the chair.
Cr. Burcham said (we) have been approached in droves by the community to bring some finality to what has been taking place.
Cr. Bob Pynsent moved that council allocate the $470,000 to Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourism and Cr. Allan McCudden moved the money be sent to the organisation within 14 days if possible.
Cr. James Ryan objected to the decision and said council should have information on how the money will be used with a written explanation.
Cr. Burcham countered saying council did receive a written submission from the board that set out how it will be used.
She added that making the allocation was in the interest of the area as a whole and that tourism is the main economic driver for the city with a huge flow on effect. She added that supporting the tourist board was not giving money away.
Adding to the business of the night which took five and a half hours to get through was a successful motion by Cr. Neil Gorman. He moved that after August 1 all legal proceedings initiated by council staff against other parties in the NSW District Court, the NSW Supreme Court and the NSW Land and Environment Court shall require the consent of councillors at a duly constituted council meeting after they have been briefed on the merits of the case by council officers.
It went on the say that similar consent will be required before actively defending any matters if council is sued in any of the same courts.
A notice of motion by Cr. Ian Olsen that council contact Minister for local Government, Don Page, requesting he defer the upcoming council elections was lost 10 votes to one.
Cr. Olsen said the elections should be deferred until a period of at least one month after the ICAC investigation findings have been released to the public, allowing time for every candidate to go to the polls with no slurs hanging over their heads.
“Currently there is a lot of speculation in the community about current councilors and who is doing things that could be classed as corrupt.
Cr. Pynsent, one of the councillors who opposed the motion said all the people want is to bring the election on so that they can have a say who is running the city.
Another motion by Cr. Burcham will see general manager Lea Rosser relocate to the office always occupied by the general manager on the upper level of the administrative building.
In her motion, Cr. Burcham said the area had been designed and provided for in a strategic manner for councillors to be able to work with the general managers past and present and future. The move was to be effective immediately.
Cr. James Ryan described the general manager’s move to a ground floor office significant and that councillors should have been advised. He said it was important councillors were part of the decision making process.
The public gallery was packed out with a large number there to hear the outcome of a rezoning application on land owned by the Catholic Church on John Renshaw Drive and Black Hill Road.
Council decided not to accept the planning proposal at this stage, however council will conduct a full public meeting at Blackhill School in late November, when the new council has settled.
There will be a public meeting that all of the community is invited to and that starts a process of council consultation with the local community over the planning proposal.
The aim of this is inform councillors and the council more specifically as to how the community view their locality and how they see options for planning proposals to be presented in the future.
The Blackhill Environment Protection Group and the Buttai Community Development Group will be specifically notified of all details of the public meeting.
The Advertiser’s Managing Editor, Bruce Wilson, who has been covering city council meetings for more than 42 years, said he cannot recall a Cessnock City Council meeting lasting so long.