Liberal members and Labor members of the Sutherland Shire Council have responded to stinging criticism of their efforts by an independent candidate in the December 4 election.
Tony Robins, lead candidate for the Shire Independents, said, during interactions as treasurer of the Sylvania Heights Youth and Community Club and through other organizations, that he had seen inefficiencies at the councilor and staff level.
Sir. Robins said residents were unhappy with the council’s performance, “a little more energy and fresh faces” were needed and the dominance of the major parties removed.
Deputy Mayor Tom Croucher was surprised by the comments after receiving an email in June this year from him and two other youth club leaders thanking him for “all your efforts over the last six months” to secure additional funding to renovate the playing fields.
“I worked for many hours over many weeks with staff and councilors to get funding for their project in this year’s budget,” Cr Croucher said.
“As Mr Robins was not a candidate for the next election, he was happy to write his name to the email.
“But now that Mr Robins wants to be elected to council, I’m inefficient, lack energy, and residents are unhappy with my performance.”
Cr Croucher, a Liberal who is retiring after nine years of service in the council, said the range of issues addressed by councilors was extensive.
“The role requires people who are positive, dedicated and willing to learn – mostly from the council’s excellent staff,” he said.
“We do not need people with a negative and aggressive attitude who claim they want to solve all the problems.”
Labor councilor Barry Collier, who is also retiring, said: “On the whole, I think the majority of the elected Sutherland councilors are committed to the Shire and their congregations, despite the ‘Yes Minister’ environment that they often operate in “.
“In my opinion, there are far too many agendas that are not of the city council members’ own manufacture,” he said.
“When it comes to development issues, councils are now akin to the canine organs of the current state government.
“Not only are city councilors powerless, they constantly trap society when new, big development proposals raise their ugly heads.”
Cr Collier said that while councilors on both sides generally worked well together, such as by supporting funding for the Sylvania Heights club, “the political environment can be toxic”.
“At times, the council chamber is a forum for the underlying factional warfare within the local liberal party,” he said.
Cr Collier said an example was that “10 minutes before the coup, who would see Carmelo Pesce replaced by Steve Simpson as mayor”, a senior liberal asked him (Cr Collier) if he would like to be mayor and could ” make it happen “.
“Of course I said no,” he said.
“There is, of course, room for change in the way the council works,” Cr Collier said.
“In my opinion, it is high time that the people of the shire get a popularly elected mayor, instead of having ‘the face of the shire’ settled behind closed doors after election day and the midterm elections.
“Unfortunately, and even after 115 years since the formation of the Council, there does not seem to be an appetite for this.
“It’s always easy to take a stand against city councilors, and unfortunately, being a politician these days is like wearing a sign of shame.
“I would urge voters to make sure that the ‘independent’ they may be thinking of voting for is not just a channel to direct their preferences to a political party.”