Port Stephens Council considers $10,800 training option for councillors

PORT Stephens ratepayers are entitled to feel weary of controversy from their council after the past few years of often volatile local government.

So it’s no surprise that a report to Tuesday’s council meeting asking councillors if they would like to attend a five-day “directors course” – at up to $10,800 each and at the council’s expense – would have some people unhappy.

Certainly the report to the council is light on the kind of detail that should accompany such a proposal, which could cost ratepayers more than $100,000 if all 10 councillors opt to attend. The report includes promotional material which describes the “directors course” as “an opportunity to enhance your directorship knowledge and meet like-minded peers”, but there is nothing in the report about the organisation running the event. If the public is footing the bill it at least has a right to know that.

The only information provided says the “Company directors course” was established in 1975 and is designed for “executive and non-executive directors, CEOs and senior executives who report to boards, from publicly listed, private, government and not for profit organisations”.

Councillor Jamie Abbott applied to the council to attend under recent changes to the Local Government Act which encourages councils to fund professional development for elected representatives.

As the council’s governance manager Tony Wickham says in his report, the “directors course” will allow councillors to “further their skills and knowledge, in particular around governance”.

Such a high price tag for a course not specifically tailored to local government seems like overreach.

Here’s a suggestion for any Hunter elected representatives wanting to learn more about the job.

It is easy to find the 2008 report of the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council public inquiry into the Glasshouse arts centre debacle, where a project originally budgeted at less than $10 million blew out to more than $40 million in just a few years.

In more than 340 eye-watering pages commissioner Frank Willan makes clear who failed, how they failed, and how the community was completely sidelined and ignored despite crying out for transparency and honesty from their council.  It’s online, it’s free and every councillor who respects his or her community should read it.

Issue: 38,722.