Image for Passion in the raw down Huon way. SACKED! Taylor is Commissioner ...

*Pic: The Mercury front page, September 21

FRIDAY, October 7 ...

Mercury: Former Glenorchy mayor and Elwick MLC Adriana Taylor new Commissioner of Huon Valley Council … “At the end of that period, the Government will decide whether to extend the Commissioner’s contract or to call fresh elections.” …

• Bob Hawkins in Comments: Now that the council is sacked, a commissioner can delve deeply into the administrative entrails of HVC. I think there is far more to find there than you would ever be able to find out about the individual actions of all nine sacked councillors. Expect a steady roll-out out of places to look, and matters to consider, over coming weeks. I’m sure the commissioner would welcome contributions from anyone who thinks they have something to say about the performance of their council down the years. In the meantime, I suggest the commissioner starts reading all four-score or so submissions that good people of the Huon made to the Board of Inquiry team. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the commissioner had some long, confidential sessions (that is, with no one else present) with the two members of the BoI. It will be a happy day when people can look forward to a brand new council and a brand new management, preferably in tandem with the good people of Kingborough. That would mean massive admin and operational savings and, more importantly, a severing of the age-old nexus between council and certain valley interests.

Peter Gutwein: Appointment of a Commissioner of the Huon Valley Council

THURSDAY, October 6 ...

ABC: Peter Gutwein completes troubled Huon Valley Council’s dismissal

Labor: Disappointing result in the Huon Valley

• Bob Hawkins in Comments: #19. That’s a great basis on which to start the future of LG in the HV. Most importantly, we must remember — now that Gutwein has sacked the councillors — that the commissioner makes it a main task to assemble a completely new senior management team to complete the clean-out. I’m pointing no fingers. It’s just that LG in the Huon, whether on its own or, preferably amalgamated with Kingborough, re-starts with a completely clean sheet — new councillors and new management — so that no one, not even the chief stirrer for new elections (and eternal but forever unsuccessful mayoral aspirant) will have anything to complain about.

Peter Gutwein: Huon Valley Council This morning at a meeting of the Executive Council, I recommended to Her Excellency the Governor that she dismiss the Huon Valley Council. Her Excellency agreed to that request and I have today written to each of the Huon Valley Councillors informing them of that decision. This is not something that the Government takes lightly, but this is an appropriate response to a very serious situation …

SEPTEMBER 28 ...

Huon Valley Guessing Games  Roll up, roll up! It may be your last chance to witness what normally is one of the most excruciatingly boring shows on earth. Venue: Huonville council chamber at 6pm Wednesday (September 28); starring: a dysfunctional, about-to-be-sacked, Huon Valley Council.

As usual, on one side, will be the majority, mired-in-the-past Heart of the Huon team; on the other, a disparate, but never disrespectful, trio of light.  For a change, possibly motivated by a will for survival, the Heart may not be its usual uncompromising self. Laying down the rules, and providing “qualified advice”, will be a public-service GM favoured by a heavily biased Local Government Act.

The outcome of the meeting? That’s probably as obscure as the doubt and dithering that have characterised Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein’s decision-making since June, when he was handed his board of inquiry’s final report that declared HVC dysfunctional and beyond mediation. At first, Gutwein dodged what should have been inevitable by choosing to ignore the BoI report, opting instead for the totally not recommended mediation route.

Even though Mayor Peter Coad gave mediation a good go, he soon found himself back in the firing line. First, General Manager Simone Watson, in an August 11 special meeting report to council, declared him guilty of 15 cases of non-compliance with Gutwein’s Ministerial Direction No. 3; then, on August 31, he was denied the right to sit on any council committee, even as an ex-officio (or, as I’m fairly certain I heard Cr Paz Ruzicka say, “aficionado”) member.

How could anyone consider mediation in the face of such hostility — from management and fellow councillors? So, finally publicly acknowledging the mediation process (approved by the majority Heart of the Huon group and organised by management) was a farce, Coad pulled the plug. He was soon followed by Crs Ian Mackintosh and Liz Smith (each for their own reasons).

Thus, Gutwein was faced with a situation he had threatened earlier would leave him no option but to sack council’s elected members.
 
So, in State Parliament on September 20, he declared he would have to do just that. Well, sort of. In reality, he had again cunningly conjured up yet another way of putting off what he obviously doesn’t want to do: which is to sack the council. His delaying tactic this time was to give the councillors one last chance — just one last chance.

As I understand it, each councillor (depending how she or he is inclined) has until September 30 to write to the minister and tell him why he shouldn’t boot them all out and appoint an administrator. This letter-writing invitation gives the Heart team one last chance to caucus — to decide on the best way to convince Gutwein — before it loses its meaning for being.

Gutwein’s decree caused much angst, anxiety, gnashing of teeth, blame-gaming, even hysteria, especially on the part of the long-serving Cr Mike Wilson. He was soon telling ABC, and any media that wanted to quote him, that he had given his life to the valley, and that the Gutwein announcement had left him “gutted”.  (Within a couple of days, one Mercury reader opined that there were plenty in the Huon keen to get their hands on a garter.)

From my observation point, Wilson’s outburst was over the top, especially coming from one of the leading players in a two-year melodrama that has left HVC in a sad pickle. Now it’s had its formal performance review — and it has failed miserably.

The Mercury quoted Deputy Mayor Ian Paul sheeting home the blame to “certain councillors”. Paul, I am certain, knows exactly who those councillors are. He might also have someone else in mind.

Wilson seems to have been frantically casting around for a lifeline. He would seek an urgent meeting with Gutwein, he said. And he wanted new elections within four months. What for? Simply to get the same line-up again around the council table; and for the Heart to be able to continue its vendetta against a mayor, who, if he should chose to stand again, could expect an even bigger vote? Wilson also seems to have been hoping for a get-together of councillors to seek a compromise course that would satisfy Gutwein. The trio of light — Coad, Mackintosh and Smith — would be insane to accept any compromise offered by their foes, even if it were heart-felt.

If Gutwein finally manages to wriggle his way to preserve an intact council, it would be a travesty of justice. Huon Valley Council is a disaster today, and has been for years. Why it was not investigated sooner is a mystery. That things have got worse can, perhaps, be measured by the chaos that has been council’s human-resources division these past three years. It’s experienced a total turnover — and when HR is a mess, it’s usually a sign that the rest of the organisation is likewise.

What it is that made Gutwein so reluctant to take the advice of his BoI remains a mystery. Words like forestry, Duggan, woodchips, fish, Armstrong, biomass, Harriss, barges, jetties, exports (plus a mix of other pie-in-the-sky speculation), have been flying around for yonks in the cargo-cult cocoon that occupies a substantial chunk of Huon society. Could any of these have anything to do with the quandary with which Gutwein wrestles?

And where’s Premier Will Hodgman? The Huon, for goodness’ sake, is his electorate. Surely, if only behind the scenes, he is putting in his two-bob’s worth. Or is he playing the hands-off premier role and letting Gutwein think through the awful mess all by himself.

HVC is a can of worms, its lid barely half open. Here’s hoping Gutwein’s final ploys to dodge having to bring down the axe have been exhausted. Only then will it be possible to get the lid fully off and have a close look at what’s inside. That, of course, will only be possible if politics plays no part in Gutwein’s selection of administrator (the Act uses “commissioner”), and that he or she is recruited outside of Tasmania. 

Whither the future? If Kingborough will have us, let’s hope the Huon Valley municipality will become a component of the super council mooted in a September 24 Mercury article. But there was something a bit spooky about the way Alexandra Humphries made not one mention of the Huon in her story. Surely, as well as two super southern Tasmanian councils, we’re not still going to have a Huon clowncil after the Hodgman Government has muddled its way through its long-vaunted local government-reform vision?

A way must be found to break the nexus between our council and the woe-is-us cargo culture that has characterised our valley for so long. If that nexus is to be broken, amalgamation seems the only sure option.

Wednesday evening in the Huonville council chamber will be an historic moment. Never, since the amalgamation of councils in 1993 has a Tasmanian council met in public in the knowledge that it was about to be sacked. For most regulars in the public gallery, it will be a moment for celebration. But it’s still not certain whether — despite the obvious irreparable dysfunction that ravages HVC — Gutwein will have the ticker to make good his threat in mid-October.

Wilson’s demeanour at the council table will make for special interest. Make sure you’re there to see it. We might even witness a stirring emotional speech or two. Wilson once stressed to me that he is “passionate about the Huon Valley”. Even as a blow-in, I share that passion about one of nature’s most beautiful and bountiful valleys. It’s just that our notions on how to make our passion work in the best interests of the valley bear little or no resemblance to each other’s.

Bob Hawkins has been covering Huon Valley Council for Tasmanian Times since early 2009. He is a friend of Cr Smith, and an admirer of Mayor Coad for doggedly trying to bring reason to a dysfunctional council.

THURSDAY ...

Mercury: Councillors heckled from public gallery in tense meeting

Geoffrey Swan, Lonnavale: More confirmation of dysfunction at tonight’s HVC council meeting … Since posting my comment in Tasmania Times I have heard from others who manipulated the survey data. I can now confirm that in excess of 102 of the survey results, complete with one line comments were completed by only 7 people – and 2 live in Hobart. Therefore 27% of the survey is CORRUPT DATA – and that is only from people with whom I have personally been in contact. How is it possible that Cr’s Wilson, Paul, Lange, Ruzicka and Heron can agree to accept the data as being of any future use whatsoever? …

MERCURY SATURDAY, October 1 ...

Probe into Glenorchy Council tape

• Robin Charles Halton in Comments: … Eventually Peter Gutwein will have to sack the Huon Council, the longer he leaves it the worse it will get. It seems the Liberal government are stuck in the past too!