Council sacked over intimidation
The entire Balranald Shire Council has been sacked.
The inquiry's 82-page report found the shire “failed to act as a reasonable employer”, forcing valuable staff to quit.
NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock has appointed former Bellingen Shire Council general manager Mike Colreavy as administrator of Balranald Shire Council.
Commissioner Roslyn McCulloch says she was told councillors were too intimidated to contribute to debate in council meetings, and that domineering councillors regularly intervened in operational matters.
There were also allegations that the council's handling of a caravan park lease placed three general managers in direct conflict with particular councillors.
Part of the report focused on the behaviour of former mayor Steve O'Halloran, who was censured after multiple code-of-conduct complaints in 2013.
The report says Cr O'Halloran told a female staff member in early 2018; “You tell that husband of yours to clean up the cemetery, otherwise his job might be on the line”.
The commissioner’s “main concern” was “the apparent absence of their understanding of the importance of transparency”.
Ms McCulloch found “improperly closed meetings” had “probably assisted to generate a climate of suspicion and distrust in the community”.
The rural council's general manager, Michael Kitzelmann, said his family was targeted.
“Unknown persons — putting it nicely — decided it was a good idea to use intimidation tactics of pulling right up, putting the big spotlights on the front of the vehicle on, and spotlighting the house in the wee hours of the morning and lighting up the entire house, then taking off revving the engine,” he said.
“That went on for a few hours. Subsequently, the police directed that I install security cameras at that residence and that the executive staff have security cameras installed.
“A couple of days later [when] Cr O'Halloran approached me and informed me that I was mistaken, they weren't doing that to being intimidating and to cause trouble, they were looking for their hunting dogs.
“[He said] I have spoken to the guys about it and they were looking for their hunting dogs.”
Ms McCulloch recommended the Balranald Shire Council remain under administration until 2024, as a “clean break is required”.
“The plans which have been adopted need time to be properly implemented without being watered down or abandoned [and] the community and the council staff need some breathing space and time to heal from the rifts which have arisen,” she wrote.
Sacked councillors German Ugarte said the decision to sack the council was “a bit drastic”.
“We were going through a rough patch, obviously, we were addressing all these things, and when we thought we were over the bridge, really, that's when we got this public inquiry,” he said.
“The only thing it did was divide the community further.”