JUST as the NSW government flags new laws that may allow it to suspend dysfunctional councils, Newcastle’s elected local government body is starting to show signs of serious internal tensions.
Already the council has drawn back from a vote on the apparently simple matter of swimming pool charges, because the matter seemed destined to be tied.
Worse, a storm has erupted over a voice message left on a councillor’s phone by lord mayor Jeff McCloy.
Cr McCloy, a millionaire property developer, ran for council on a progress platform, promising to sidestep the petty politicking that has characterised Newcastle local government in recent years.
That may be proving harder to achieve than it initially might have appeared. Numbers on the council are tightly balanced between Labor and its allies, and those in the lord mayor’s camp, almost ensuring a tense time for most debates.
Cr McCloy has expressed deep frustration over his perception some of his fellow councillors may be more interested in ‘‘petty politicking’’ and ‘‘self-serving agendas’’ than with fixing the city.
But it isn’t clear whether the decisive, no-nonsense qualities that have helped Cr McCloy succeed in private business are necessarily an advantage in every aspect of council operation.
Given the numbers in council, and given the nature of Newcastle politics, the mayor must get used to the idea of seeking consensus, while also accepting that won’t always be possible – even if it should be. Equally, the mayor’s opponents must acknowledge he has some degree of mandate from voters to implement his progress agenda.
Newcastle people won’t thank any members of the elected council who insist on feuding and jockeying for personal advantage when what they really want is to see the organisation make a clean break with the bad practices of its past and start showing unity and leadership. The last thing the city needs is another period of political deadlock and policy paralysis at a time when it faces so many difficult challenges.
The state government, with its proposed new rules, will be able to issue dysfunctional councils with an ultimatum. If they can’t lift their game, the government will be able to impose an administrator for a three-month period.
After two such suspensions, sacking will be an option.
That isn’t what Newcastle ratepayers want, need or deserve.
The city’s councillors should draw a deep breath, drop the bickering and get on with the job they were elected to do.