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playing catspaw …

The Beagle Editor, Those of your readers who follow local politics in the Bega Valley Shire may be interested in our latest media release.

   playing catspaw

Amongst the more ridiculous items appearing on the agenda for today’s ordinary meeting of Bega Valley Shire Council is a Notice of Motion tabled by Cr Russell Fitzpatrick.

The stated purpose of Cr Fitzpatrick’s absurd motion is to resolve “That Council staff only respond to the BVSRRA correspondence within the priorities of the Council’s resources and that any items requiring current or historical financial data be refused until Council staff are in a position to reply.

After it became aware of Cr Fitzpatrick’s intention, the Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) wrote to him expressing surprise at his belated interest in its correspondence with council, in particular given his consistent failure to acknowledge, let alone respond to, submissions it has made to him over a period of years.

The BVSRRA took issue with the prejudicial & inaccurate nature of Cr Fitzpatrick’s comments regarding its correspondence, concluding that it could only assume that he hadn’t bothered to read it, but was probably relying instead on a self-serving characterisation of its contents prepared in the shadows by an anonymous bureaucrat who lacks the courage & character to speak for him or herself.

The BVSRRA advised Cr Fitzpatrick that if he had been at all interested in the facts, he would have established that the BVSRRA wrote to council on June 24th, 2019, politely requesting details of councillor expenses paid between 2010-2018. He would have discovered that on August 2nd, 2019, council's general manager responded to its request, detailing the other priorities faced by council’s finance staff & confirming that the information would be made available as soon as resources would allow. He would also have learnt that the BVSRRA responded the following week on August 9th, 2019, acknowledging the general manager’s advices.

And had he bothered to check, he would have known that the requested information was finally provided to the BVSRRA on October 8th, 2019, after it had waited patiently for some three months for it to arrive.

Indeed, as Cr Fitzpatrick himself acknowledged in his background comments “The BVSRRA have previously advised Council that they will be guided by the organisation as to capacity in relation to responding to their correspondence”.

So why the need for Cr Fitzpatrick’s proposed motion?

While it is obviously open to Cr Fitzpatrick & others of his colleagues to consider the BVSRRA’s requests for information to be an inconvenience or an irritant, it would not be lost on them that it was through the association’s efforts that ratepayers were made aware of a number of serious & embarrassing irregularities in council’s management of the shire’s financial affairs, including the adoption of a false annual financial statement for 2017-2018, the failure to conduct a required Quarterly Budget Review meeting in 2017 & its latest stuff-up over the publication of incorrect information relating to councillor expenses in the 2017-2018 Annual Report, as acknowledged by council’s general manager in response Cr Fitzpatrick’s Question on Notice on the subject, to cite just a few.

The BVSRRA believes that, based on its content, Cr Fitzpatrick was encouraged to pursue his motion by council officials who have become increasingly frustrated & angry at the exposure of council’s obvious ineptitude when it comes to the management of its financial affairs.

The BVSRRA has advised Cr Fitzpatrick that instead of attempting to frustrate its reasonable attempts to access information from council, he & his colleagues would be performing a far better service to residents & ratepayers if they took meaningful steps to address council’s dysfunctional management culture, the hallmark of which is its genuine lack of accountability for performance.

If Cr Fitzpatrick’s urgers think that his motion will persuade the BVSRRA to discontinue its efforts to hold council to account, they could not be more mistaken.

It disappoints the BVSRRA to have to say that it believes that by pursuing his motion, Cr Fitzpatrick is simply playing catspaw to incompetent & unaccountable council management.

John Richardson


Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association