SOME members of Cessnock City Council seem convinced that the sudden resignation of the council’s general manager, Lea Rosser, will create an opportunity for a new era in the city.
Ms Rosser quit on Monday, citing personal reasons, after a highly publicised stoush with council staff over their enterprise agreements. She and her supporters had wanted to terminate those agreements from the start of July, raising the prospect of a re-examination of workplace conditions.
Some had suggested this was likely to be good for ratepayers, since some conditions were alleged to be overly generous.
Others disagreed, and the fear of a hefty pay-cut motivated staff to call, again, for Ms Rosser’s sacking. This, of course, was impossible, since Ms Rosser’s position had been shielded by a Supreme Court injunction since she made complaints about the council to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Her complaints to ICAC had come, in turn, after some councillors had earlier moved to terminate her employment contract, alleging performance issues.
It has been estimated – but not reliably confirmed – that this extraordinary stalemate may have cost the council about $1million in court and legal costs.
Mayor Bob Pynsent said, after Ms Rosser’s resignation, that his ‘‘aim from here is to get Cessnock back to being a respected council in the Hunter’’. That’s a laudable aim, with which few would disagree. The question is, how to begin?
Surely the first step must be to provide ratepayers with some rational explanation of the events of the past couple of years. And an itemisation of the financial cost.
Was the general manager martyred for attempting to reform a complacent, inert and resistant organisation?
Or was she driving her agenda in too divisive a manner?
Perhaps the true picture will never really be made clear.
One thing can’t be denied, however, and that is that the council has had serious issues for a much longer period than Ms Rosser’s two-year tenure.
For some years Cessnock’s council has lurched from crisis to crisis in a confidence and morale-sapping series of dramas.
The need for reform and improvement is agreed upon by all, but the council seems to tangle itself so often in conflict and argument that progress is hard to see.
A new era of peace and co-operation is a vision that will surely appeal to ratepayers.
But a certain level of scepticism might be excused, at this stage.