Ballina councillors have backed away from a move tentatively favouring Lismore City Council’s management of the Richmond Tweed Regional Library (RTRL) and will join Byron shire in considering a return to shared administration of the service.
Councillors voted 6-4 on Tuesday to rescind a previous decision giving in-principle support for the administrative council model by which Lismore council has been running the service for nearly two years, and which critics had described as a ‘takeover’.
The Ballina councillors decided to reserve their position on the library’s future till further advice was received on recent changes to the Library Act, which paved the way for a return to the independent shared model of running the service, and wait for Byron council to report back on several options discussed at a recent meeting of all four member councils of the RTRL.
Tweed Shire Council recently voted to back Lismore’s current running of the service after being told the previous county-council style of governance was not legally sound.
A public meeting called by North Coast MLC Catherine Cusack earlier this month decided to run a campaign for a return to the previous co-operative model of management.
The following day at a meeting of the member councils, Byron councillors and staff expressed serious doubts about Lismore’s running of the service and called for more information on options to run it. Some of them suggested Byron would go it alone rather than be bound by the current model.
At Thursday’s Ballina meeting, Cr Jeff Johnson said the current draft five-year library agreement had ‘gaping holes’ in it and if Byron council opted out, library services would decline.
Cr Johnson said it would be prudent to wait for the further advice from the State Library on the new legislation and a preferred model would be one in which each council had input on staffing, services and resources of the library.
But Cr Sue Meehan said the current service-level agreements between Lismore and the other councils was where Ballina council had more scope for input and considering further options was just ‘beating around the bush’.
Cr Peter Moore said there was deep-seated fear in the community that library services were being reduced under the current model and that other options should be looked at to ensure services were not diminished.
Cr Robyn Hordern said the ‘misplaced passion’ for the library to return to its old style of governance had moved to an ‘aggressive level’ and singled out Byron mayor Jan Barham for ‘aggressive attacks’ on councillors favouring Lismore’s management suggesting they had not read all the reports on the issue.
‘These aggressive acts are seriously counterproductive,’ Cr Hordern said.
Cr Sharon Cadwallader praised former longtime director Martin Field, who earlier told councillors that Lismore council’s own solicitor had concluded the library should be run under a county council mode.
Cr Cadwallader said Mr Field had taken the library from one of the worst in the state to one of the best before the Lismore council took over its running.
Mayor Phil Silver said the most important thing was to keep all four councils ‘in harness’ saying the recent meeting was member-councils’ ‘most embarrassing’ with councillors ‘squabbling with each other’.
Cr Silver said Byron had ‘overreacted to the harshness’ of Lismore’s administration of the service and he wanted to pay his ‘respects to them for sticking their necks out to ensure it stayed operating’.