‘More sorrow than anger,’ is how former councillor and Greens party member Tom Tabart describes his parting words on the Byron Greens as he leaves the area for Geelong in Victoria.
Tabart portrays a largely disengaged Greens membership with Greens councillors uninterested in participating in monthly meetings. Greens policy positions on contentious local issues are also being stalled by the mayor, he claims.
The Greens, along with other left -leaning councillors, won a thumping majority at the 2016 Council election.
Tabart told The Echo, ‘All three Greens councillors are still very much under mayor Simon Richardson’s influence,’ he says, ‘as they have virtually no background in council realpolitik. General manager Ken Gainger runs them like a clockwork train.’
With claims of around 200 Greens members, Tabart says the monthly meetings are ‘lucky to get 20 regulars, who think mayor Simon Richardson is wonderful because of his media presence.’
‘The older hard-core members are largely engaged with state matters and organising elections. They would really rather not know what Simon and his three novice followers are up to – at the last group meeting no councillor attended.’
Tabart says along with himself, Chris Harris Jones, former MLC and mayor Jan Barham, they have been ‘blindsided by general disinterest and the mayor’s filibustering’ over their attempts to introduce policy positions for the Byron Greens.
‘It looks like this will now flounder,’ he said.
A draft policy supplied to The Echo by Tabart included positions and recommendations on the Byron Shire sewerage plants and re-use issues, holiday let/Airbnb, the Myocum tip, North Byron Parklands and Byron traffic management issues.
The document reads, ‘The absence of effective community engagement policies has been highly problematic in Byron… In other cases, community opposition to the proposed outcome has been ignored, as in the case of the Brunswick Heads Caravan Parks and Yelgun (Parklands).’
‘Council is currently reviewing its community engagement policy and the Greens should engage with this process and adopt its own preferred policy.’
Tabart says he came to Byron in 1992 on a yacht and lived in Bruns harbour for a year.
‘Byron Greens were founded in 1993 by Ian Cohen, Jo Faith, Jan Barham, Sandra Heilpern, Duncan Dey, Richard Staples, the odd other and myself after the ’93 federal election. Jo Faith was our first candidate.’
‘The Byron, Ballina and Tweed Greens all came from this start.
‘Until the end of the Barham term as mayor, the group ran on a reasonable consensus model regarding policy, and then Simon became mayor.’
Asked if Tabart’s assessment was an accurate portrayal, mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo, ‘I won’t comment on every one of Tom’s attacks as I respect his work on behalf the Greens over many years, though I have a different interpretation of things.’
‘I believe however, that regardless of his consistent criticisms of me, pretty much since day one as mayor I have remained respectfully silent; his dismissal of councillors and seemingly every Byron Greens member except a couple who agree with him should be defended.’
The Echo also asked the mayor that given the Greens are now a year into the council term, ‘are you comfortable with all decisions made thus far, including whether they were transparent, fully informed and included community engagement?’
He replied, ‘The great work, commitment and passion our Greens members have for this shire has been unwavering. From our group’s birth to our present.
‘In fact, since we moved meetings to Ocean Shores, our attendance at meetings is generally consistently higher than when I first joined a decade ago. The diversity of our members is greater; our membership has grown significantly over the last five years and our members’ willingness to roll up our sleeves with actions to match our words has also grown. The Byron Greens are a group of wonderful people with a wonderful commitment to our community, our shire and our planet.
‘I do share far more sentiments of Tom’s than a passive observer may believe. For example, I share his desire for council to develop a better community engagement policy and I’m stoked to be able to share that we will shortly achieve this.
‘I convened a community policy development group to work alongside the council to literally go over every line of our previous two policies.
‘[We kept] the best components, and established [better and] clear directions for staff to know what types of engagement are required for each type and level of activity.
‘For example, what communication and engagement should be done for a development that is significant on a shire level, right down to one that is insignificant even in a localised part of the shire.
‘This has been worked upon by community leaders and representatives from across the Shire and both the community and Council will benefit from this work.
‘I also am incredibly proud and impressed by the stellar work done so far by my fellow Greens councillors.
‘They are tackling some hard issues with courage, intelligence and love for Byron Shire at the heart of each decision. I sat next to Tom Tabart for my first four years on council and learned a lot from him and my respect for his efforts on behalf of our shire remains intact.
‘I wish him well on his next stage of life in Victoria.’