The NSW Government has announced a public inquiry into Central Coast Council. 

The council was suspended in October last year with interim administrator Dick Persson appointed to provide independent governance to address widespread financial, reputational and organisational issues.

The council was suspended last year to stop its $89 million debt spiralling out of control, which saw the State Government forced to pay 2,000 of the council’s staff when doffer ran dry.

Now, Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock says a public inquiry will provide a transparent process to help improve the council’s performance and sustainability.

“The performance of Central Coast Council, particularly concerning financial management, has been of great concern to the local community,” Ms Hancock said.

“On behalf of all Central Coast ratepayers, I want to see Council performing in the best interest of the community and this public inquiry will help get to the bottom of the issues which have impacted its performance, resulting in my suspension of Councillors and appointment of an interim administrator.

“Any member of the public with concerns about the council can now raise them directly with the Commissioner of the public inquiry.”

Ms Hancock has appointed Roslyn McCulloch as Commissioner to undertake the inquiry. Ms McCulloch has three decades of experience in local government and planning law and conducted the 2019 public inquiry into Balranald Shire Council.

At the conclusion of the inquiry, the Commissioner will present a report to the minister. The Commissioner may make recommendations having regard to the findings of the inquiry, including issuing a Performance Improvement Order or dismissing the council.

Ms Hancock said the decision to hold a public inquiry also means that the local government election scheduled for the Central Coast in September will now need to be postponed until late 2022.

“My decision to order a public inquiry aims to give the community the best possible chance to restore confidence in its Council,” she said.

“As such, I have formed the view that it is in the public interest for all Central Coast councillors to remain suspended during the public inquiry process.”

Mr Persson was joined by former local government general manager Rik Hart to oversee the council’s operational recovery. Mr Hart will now assume the role of interim administrator in May following Mr Persson’s decision to step down from the role.