A character familiar to Byron Shire residents but less so to denizens of the Tweed made an unexpected appearance at a council meeting across the shire border last week.
Former Byron Shire councillor and resident critic John Anderson (aka Fast Buck$) has warned Tweed councillors they would be ‘grossly irresponsible’ if they chose either of two candidates being considered as a replacement for shire general manager Mike Rayner.
The Tweed Echo revealed last week that two former general managers of other NSW councils who had applied for the Tweed GM’s job both had been mired in much controversy in their former roles.
One is Max Eastcott, the former Byron Council GM who was attacked in parliament by former North Coast MLC Ian Cohen for ‘having driven that council into financial penury and administrative mayhem’ in his three short years in the role in the 1990s and ‘squandering the council assets in a completely reckless fashion’. In October last year, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced that it was looking into Gwydir Shire Council, where Mr Eastcott is now GM, for possible corruption.
The other contender is believed to be Rod Oxley, who ran Wollongong Council during the years of corruption that led to a notorious scandal and its sacking by the state government. ICAC had ruled that Mr Oxley’s conduct was liable to ‘allow, encourage or cause the occurrence of corrupt conduct’, but no charges were recommended against him.
Mr Anderson, a Byron Shire councillor in the late 1990s, told Tweed councillors last week that if either Mr Eastcott or Mr Oxley were shortlisted candidates for the GM job ‘you’d want to be asking some serious questions about your management consultants and who chose them’.
Mr Anderson, who titled his speech ‘good governance’, talked about Mr Eastcott’s administration of Byron council when it ‘posted a $7 million deficit’, while in his speech about Mr Oxley, he said: ‘Now supposing one of your applicants came from Wollongong council, a GM named Rod Oxley from there spent quite a bit of time on TV and in the papers saying he knew nothing of what was going on in his planning department, the table of power, the special deals, the sexual liaisons; would you want to hire someone who doesn’t know what’s going on in his organisation? I don’t think so.’
In an extraordinary exchange during Mr Anderson’s speech, an angry mayor Barry Longland tried to cut him off several times, saying he was ‘speculating’ on the applicants and threatened to call security to remove him.
Undeterred, Mr Anderson fired back saying he was not speculating and that the mayor was trying to ‘intimidate’ him.
Cr Longland told him there was ‘no protection against defamation in this chamber,’ but Mr Anderson said he would ‘take responsibility for defamation myself,’ and was only repeating facts already in the public domain.
The mayor again interrupted Mr Anderson as he continued, telling him that councillors wouldn’t be ‘interested’ in what he had to say.
But Mr Anderson told Cr Longland to ‘speak for yourself’ and that it should have been made clear to him when he booked to speak ‘what did or didn’t’ interest them.
When Mr Anderson closed by saying, ‘If you select either of these guys you’ll be grossly irresponsible,’ Cr Longland said, ‘that’s enough of your impertinence’.
Mr Rayner is set to retire in April after nearly 30 years in the organisation, the past five at the helm.
He surprised staff and councillors when he made the sudden announcement late last year to leave a year before his contract ends.