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Lismore councillors quit citing friction after council faces bushfires, floods, pandemic and budget deficits

By Bronwyn Herbert and Joanne Shoebridge, Thursday August 13, 2020 - 07:29 EST
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Councillors, Gianpierro Battista and Greg Bennett (centre back) have both resigned. - ABC

Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith said councillors were struggling to contain their frustrations after facing a run of natural disasters and major financial challenges during the current term.


Last week, councillors Gianpierro Battista and Greg Bennett both resigned, leaving nine elected representatives to serve the remaining 12 months of the extended term.

Councillor Battista, who has served on the council for more than a decade, said it was with sadness and relief that he was leaving.

But he took a parting shot at council management, saying he felt disconnected from the decision-making process in recent years.

"It has been terrible," he said.

"Trying to deal with a bureaucratic machine that is bent on making some of us redundant and disconnected from the decision-making process has taken its toll."

'Wasn't feeling part of the group'

Councillor Battista cited one of his many concerns as how the General Manager and Mayor had rejected a Federal Government $2-million election pledge in 2019 to refurbish the Lismore Lake Pool.

"For the life of me I don't know why the General Manager and the Mayor decided we didn't need to be informed," he said.

"I started thinking of that from a governance point of view that two people who are in charge, one is the general manager and one is the mayor … making a decision for the whole of the council.

"We should have every proper document to make our decision.

"You can't ask people to make decisions with an hour's notice of what they are going to decide on.

"I wasn't feeling comfortable being part of the group."

Challenging circumstances

Mayor Isaac Smith agreed with this description, which he said had been brought on by the challenging circumstances.

A $6-million budget deficit was revealed in 2019, at a critical time when the community was trying to recover from one of its worst floods in recorded history.

The local government area has also been affected by bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've faced too many natural disasters, it really would have been unthinkable at the start of the term, so there's been a lot of friction amongst the elected body, that's absolutely true," Mayor Smith said.

Lismore City Council general manager, Shelley Oldham, has defended council procedures in providing information.

"We've had 12 per cent more briefings and the quality and integrity of information before councillors has more rigour than what I've seen and what I inherited," she said.

Ms Oldham said in relation to the Lismore Lake Pool, councillors had unanimously decided they did not want to spend money on a third pool in Lismore and instead passed a motion to explore other options for the land.

That vote occurred before the Federal Government offered financial support for the project.

Statewide council elections will be held on Saturday 4 September, 2021.


© ABC 2020

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