The blow-up at Singleton

AS the September local government elections loom closer, many voters and ratepayers across the Hunter must be wondering how they might use the poll to remedy the problems in their councils.

At Port Stephens, rival blocs of councillors seem to be in a state of permanent warfare while they struggle to deal with serious and expensive problems.

Cessnock – long regarded as the ‘‘sick man’’ of Hunter councils – is again boiling over with political and personal enmity that appears to have infected the organisation at multiple levels.

And now long-festering problems at Singleton have come to a poisonous head, with revelations of private investigators watching groups of councillors meeting at coffee shops, nasty letters dropped in mailboxes and tit-for-tat allegations flying furiously between rival camps.

Each case shares some obvious common denominators. One is the tendency of these feuds and fights to bring the affected councils into disrepute. Another is their detrimental effect on the councils’ ability to properly do their work. And still another is the appalling financial cost to communities of this noxious behaviour.

Singleton’s entry into the category of ‘‘sick’’ councils is a relatively recent phenomenon but it is clear that the ailment is especially deep-seated.

One might have expected – and ratepayers were surely entitled to expect – that the council would have been chastened by critical findings against it by the Supreme Court. The court highlighted the secret involvement of former council general manager Scott Greensill in a code of conduct complaint against deputy mayor Paul Nichols, who appears to have done no more than talk to constituents involved in a dispute against the council.

But that finding has not stopped the council supporting still more code of conduct complaints against one of its own elected representatives. Despite a clear lack of success in pursuing these complaints, the council is continuing to throw good money after bad in similar actions.

Ratepayers deserve better than this.

They are entitled to ask why, if these expensive legal manoeuvres are as futile and ill-advised as they seem, they should be obliged to foot the bill at all.

If any councillors, on any council, can’t see beyond petty politics and personal disagreement and appreciate their responsibility to their constituents, they should seriously reconsider their continued occupation of public office.

A funding implant

WITH so much bad news about the government’s failure to properly resource Hunter hospitals, it’s refreshing to report a big boost in funds to children who need cochlear implants.

In the past such procedures were limited in the Hunter to the privately insured or the charitably supported, with most public patients obliged to travel to Sydney.

Thanks to a $500,000 grant, 14 implants will be possible over the next year or so.

That’s a pleasing result, though it raises the question of why the funding hasn’t simply been made a recurrent component of the Hunter’s yearly health budget.

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