Candidates disagree on CEO and mayor accountability
CORDIAL and at times humorous, the Gympie Regional Council election forum for Division 2, 4 and 7 candidates at the Civic Centre on Thursday night covered plenty of territory.
Division 2 candidate Martin Poole was absent, with forum adjudicator Kerren Smith announcing Mr Poole had advised he was "no longer actively campaigning".
The prickliest subject raised during the forum, organised jointly by The Gympie Times and the Gympie Chamber of Commerce, was the issue of council accountability and the working relationship between incumbent mayor Mick Curran and CEO Bernard Smith.
Division 2 councillor seeking re-election, Rae Gate, rejected suggestions accountability was an issue.
"I have no issue with the mayor and the CEO is accountable," she told the crowd of more than 60 people.
"(The CEO) needs to be under the Local Government Act and things are accountable and transparent now."
Fellow Division 2 candidate Glen Hartwig did not agree.
"Things aren't transparent," he said.
"There are so many people asking questions.
"We need to open council up and have more effective communication."
Incumbent Division 4 councillor Wayne Sachs sided with Cr Gate.
"I've worked on three councils and this council has been more open and transparent," Cr Sachs said.
"Eight of the nine councillors have worked well with the major and CEO."
Fellow Division 4 candidate Darryl Dodt acknowledged the public's perception council was not open.
"There's a groundswell of thought that council is not transparent," he said.
"But I've always had the ear of (the late former mayor Ron Dyne) and Mick Curran.
"I don't think that's just because I am a doctor."
Mr Dodt proposed a twice-yearly round table debate and a "state of the region" database.
The database would provide a snapshot of key statistical indicators showing the region's progress to provide transparency.
Graham Engeman, a former councillor seeking a return to the Gympie Town Hall in Division 4, said the CEO had "an arduous job" while Glenn Tierney, also seeking Division 4 election, pledged his support to mayor Curran.
Division 7 candidate Donna Reardon said it appeared the CEO had more powers when he was "not duly elected".
"There needs to be more consultation, feedback and accountability from the CEO to the councillors," she said.
Incumbent Division 7 candidate Tony Hanlon said transparency was an over-used word, felt a closer connection was needed between the CEO and councillors and said councillors appeared "disenfranchised".
Bob Leitch, also of Division 7, said council meetings were open to the public and record-keeping allowed the public to look up how councillors vote on issues.
THE issue of flood mitigation was raised, including the contentious subject of a flood levy abandoned by council.
Ms Reardon was direct with her thoughts.
"Rivers flood," she said.
"My family owns businesses down Mary St and they have a plan in place (to deal with flooding)."
Mr Hanlon supported a levy similar to an existing one in Lismore while Division 4 candidate Ross Caulfield wanted to lower the 100-year-level flood line by diverting Six Mile Creek into Lake Cootharaba.
ANOTHER question put to the candidates touched on responsible spending of the environment levy.
Mr Engeman said green waste shredding at the tip should not be funded by the environment levy, which attracted audible agreement from some members of the audience.
Cr Sachs and Gate spoke of an environment strategy review which would guide the levy's spending, determining which resource management groups would receive funding.
Cr Leitch highlighted weeds, wild dogs and a koala study as funding targets while Mr Hanlan raised the Mary River and beautifying camping grounds.
Ms Reardon said she wanted consultation to maximise community benefit while Mr Caulfield acknowledged concerns about coal seam gas exploration and food security, suggesting Gympie could look at investing in hydroponics.
Mr Dodt spoke about co-production and the community working collectively while Glen Hartwig said he would talk to more community groups to ensure the best outcome.
THE candidates present at Thursday's night election forum were given two minutes to address voters and state why they felt they should be elected to council.
Their responses were passionate, biographical and outlined their vision of council's next four years.
Responses from candidates in each division are as follows:
CR GATE said she was a full-time councillor and holder of the current social wellbeing portfolio.
"Unmaintained roads remain on my radar," she said.
Cr Gate said she was keen to boost activities in the region centred on canoeing, kayaking and walking trails.
MR HARTWIG said he was a father of three and had served nine years in the police service in addition to being a small crops farmer and business owner.
His changing occupations, he said, gave him experience.
"People are tired of council and the expectation ratepayers do more for less," Mr Hartwig said.
"Council needs to stretch its dollars to be more efficient.
"Roads are gravel need repair and it is time for change."
CR WAYNE Sachs said he was a tireless community worker involved in numerous community groups.
He said he had more than 42 years' experience as an ambulance officer and had been in Gympie for 21 years.
Mr Sachs prided himself on achievements including the Gympie Civic Centre upgrade, the concept design for Mary and Smithfield streets, a plan for Nelson Reserve and the Gympie netball courts upgrade.
He committed to work towards keeping rates increases limited to inflation over the next four years.
"CHANGE is in the air," an animated Mr Dodt told the crowd on Thursday night.
"We need a new paradigm and transparency."
Mr Dodt spoke about co-production and standing together to produce a bright future.
"I am from a business family...and I want to remove the stigma attached to the town," he said.
"We need to encourage the young to return to the region with skills."
Mr Dodt also raised literacy, numeracy and access to higher education, along with caring for the elderly, as other areas of interest.
MR ENGEMAN said Division 4 was the "centre of Gympie".
He said water mains needed upgrading and highlighted Garrick St as being in need of repair.
"We need more busses and a bigger pensioner discount on rates," he said.
"There needs to be more health and fitness equipment and Mary River access.
"There needs to be business growth and we have to fast-track an infrastructure plan."
MR TIERNEY said he had lived in Gympie all his life and had respect for hard work.
"I understand you have to put in the hard work to get the results," he said.
"I will give 60 hours-a-week to the people.
"We need to help our youth who have lost direction and older people need more respect."
"I KNOW every blade of grass in Division 4," Mr Caulfield said.
He asked for a show of hands for everyone in Division 4.
As hands shot up in the air, Mr Caulfield grinned.
"You are the lucky ones who have received my informative brochure," he said.
MS Reardon said the region needed to entice visitors to "relax, enjoy, stay and play".
"I see billboards promoting the region," she said.
"We need to highlight the Mary Valley, the aquatic centre, our steam train and markets.
"But we have no rattler, no hydro pool, and no Mary River access.
"We need to fast track these."
MR HANLAN said he had been in Gympie all his life.
"Let's talk about the Local Government Act," he said.
"This needs to be bolted to the floor and locked; it's a dangerous weapon.
"We need face-to-face communication and ratepayers are the employer of councillors."
MR LEITCH said he was appointed to council 11 months ago and was focused on a number of Southside issues, including curbing and channelling and unmaintained roads "within three kilometres of Mary St".
"I would like to see footpaths on Waldock Rd and have discussions with Transport and Main Roads about a high level bridge over the Mary River and a pedestrian bridge at Normanby."
Mr Leitch said he had supported council's lowest rate rise and pledged to work to keep future rises "no more than (inflation)."
What do you think is the most important council election issue?
This poll ended on 18 March 2016.
Spending of the environment levy.
Gympie Regional Council CEO and mayoral accountability.
Flood mitigation strategies.
Improving the region's tourism image.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.