Council cuts toilet paper to make a point

IT will go down in history as the Battle of Pokolbin Public Loos.

Cessnock City Council left its visitor information centre without toilet paper to make a point in a bigger war about control.

General manager Lea Rosser froze Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourist Board’s $470,000 funding without warning on Tuesday last week, saying its operations had to go out to tender.

But it was on Friday, when toilet paper ran out in the public toilets at Pokolbin visitor information centre, that the proverbial hit the fan.

Cleaners provided emergency supplies, but by 2pm yesterday, and after calls from the board, the council confirmed it would no longer provide toilet paper at the centre.

‘‘I’m speechless,’’ said Cessnock MP Clayton Barr, who described it as a new low for a council that was ‘‘more like a dictatorship than a democratic level of government at the moment’’.

He criticised spiralling legal bills after mayor Alison Davey took Supreme Court action in March to stop a majority of councillors from voting Ms Rosser out of a job, and said the consequences had left the general manager with powers unchecked by elected representatives.

‘‘Stopping toilet paper shows it’s a power play, and nothing but a power play, but to what end, and what about the community?’’ he said.

Cr James Ryan, who is fighting the council administration in court today after it pursued him for $8000 costs flowing from a Land and Environment Court action linked to the Supreme Court case, said the Division of Local Government needed to step in.

He estimated the council would spend $25,000 fighting him and fellow councillor Chris Parker for a total of $16,000 in costs.

‘‘There is no democracy left at Cessnock council, and the community is in the appalling situation where even toilet paper isn’t supplied in public toilets, councillors can’t act, and the general manager is not accountable,’’ Cr Ryan said.

‘‘There’s an urgent and desperate need for the division to get involved because we’ve got vast amounts of money being spent on legal actions, and councillors have been silenced because of it.’’

Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourist Board president and Bimbadgen manager Rebecca Poynter slammed the council over the toilet paper, cutting off the board executive officer’s fuel card for discounted fuel at the council’s depot, and failing to notify the board of the changes.

‘‘Having to deal with inane actions such as these distracts us from focusing on our objective, which is marketing the area to attract visitors and ultimately add value to the local economy,’’ Ms Poynter said.

‘‘That council failed to notify us that these small ancillary services had been removed demonstrates a lack of both good managerial process and even worse, reasonable communication.”

Tourism Minister George Souris said ‘‘the decision should be reversed’’, and reminded the council the Hunter wine region was ‘‘one of the state’s pre-eminent tourist regions’’, attracting three million visitors a year and attracting hundreds of millions of dollars.

Alison Davey said she was not aware the board vehicle had been fuelled at the depot. She did not respond to a question about the toilet paper.

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