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Byron Shire
April 19, 2024

Tweed councillors ramping up political high jinks as elections near

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Each of the seven newly-elected Councillors took their Oath or Affirmation of Office before the General Manager. From top left (clockwise): Cr Nola Firth, Cr Reece Byrnes, Cr Rhiannon Brinsmead, Cr Meredith Dennis, Cr James Owen, Cr Chris Cherry and Cr Warren Polglase (centre).

Tensions are running high at Tweed Shire Council (TSC) as the upcoming September election pushes some councillors into overdrive in their desire to look like they are personally achieving outcomes for the community. 

The significant increase in the number of Council Requests and Customer Service Requests has seen Tweed Council staff bring to the recent council meeting a ‘Council Requests and Customer Service Requests’ report that highlights this sudden increase in requests from some councillors. 

With one councillor having placed 192 email requests/questions through to staff in a single week the report states ‘It has become evident over the last several months that the currently adopted resources to service Councillor Requests is not meeting the demand generated by Councillors.’

Mayor Chris Cherry highlighted the impact this is having on staff being able to do other aspects of their roles other than answering emails as well as the staff feeling their job security and mental health is being impacted by the ramping up of some councillor activities and staff councillor engagements. 

Cr Cherry put a motion that councillor requests be limited to 20 a month. 

Cr Rhiannon Brinsmead (Liberal) Tweed Shire Council.

During the debate both Liberal councillor James Owen and his partner and fellow Liberal councillor Rhiannon Brinsmead’s questions made it clear that they believed they were two of the councillors who had been asking a significant number of increased questions. They proposed an amended motion ‘to immediately respond to the increase workload and job demand, approve additional funding of up to 3 additional positions to deal with the high volume of requests now coming through the system’ and ‘That Council re-allocates $312,500 from the Sustainable Communities and Environment budget/s towards the increase in service levels for councillor requests’. This motion was lost.

Tweed Shire Councillor Dr Nola Firth. Photo Aslan Shand

Electioneering 

Speaking to the original motion councillor Dr Nola Firth, who seconded the motion, said ‘I really am concerned about what is happening in terms of staff health. As the mayor said, we have a responsibility to do something about it. It [the increase in customer requests] has only begun happening this year. For the rest of the term, and my first term, there was no problem like this whatsoever. I have to note that it is an election year.’ 

Tweed Shire Councillor Meredith Dennis. Photo Aslan Shand

During the debate Deputy Mayor Meredith Dennis reprimanded Cr Owen who decided to stand up while she was talking about the fact some councillors were attempting to drive their agenda through putting out material through social media. [Cr Owen had at a previous meeting he zoomed into removed his t-shirt while on camera].

Tweed Shire councillor James Owen (Liberal). Photo supplied.

‘James [Cr Owen], can you sit down? I listen to you. Can you just sit down? Okay, we’ll stop talking while you’re talking. It’s actually really rude,’ said Cr Dennis. 

Cr Dennis highlighted the fact that Crs Owen and Brinsmead had put up a motion for a 50m olympic pool ‘in the northern part of Tweed Shire’ yet there was already a proposal for an indoor aquatic centre that they both knew about and that a meeting had been held about in February which they had attended. 

While Cr Owen implied that the Aquatic Centre proposal had only come onto the agenda for this meeting following his motion for an olympic swimming pool he was also taken to task by conservative councillor Warren Polglse. 

Councillor Warren Polglase. Photo supplied.

Cr Polglase pointed out that a pool costs ‘millions and millions of dollars’ not only to build but for the upkeep. He then went on to highlight that on the Facebook page where this had been raised by Cr Owen, where he talked about ‘the amount of support he got, I know people that put some comments on there and they were scrubbed. I don’t know how – but it did, it happened several times,’ said Cr Polglase.   

Tweed Shire Councillor Reece Byrnes. Photo supplied.

Labor goes for Greens

Labor Councillor Reece Byrnes, who is also employed by Federal Richmond member Justine Elliot, had entered the political fray earlier in the meeting when he sought to ban ‘political candidates from ratepayer funded events’. This was seconded by Cr Brinsmead. 

This was in relation to Greens Candidate Mandy Nolan, who ran against Justinen Elliot at the last election, MCing the opening ceremony of the Tweed Seniors Festival. 

Mandy Nolan. Photo David Lowe.

‘The issue being there is a political candidate that is officially endorsed, where does the separation become between the pursuit of their political agenda or their day job? In this case, it was Mandy Nolan, who is a local comedian,’ said Cr Byrnes. 

Independent Cr and Mayor Cherry pointed out that the council report had highlighted that ‘we are going very, very close to discriminating against people because of their political activity. And that’s not not permitted in our role as a council.’

Mayor Chris Cherry. Photo supplied

‘The person who hosted the event has demonstrated her work for seniors over many years. She created the stand up for dementia programme which she ran for ten years [and went on] to create several bespoke seniors programmes, including shooting from the hip replacement in the Northern Rivers and on the Sunshine Coast. She hosted our event in previous years and was and was very, very popular and asked back. Actually she was not paid for this event.’

The motion was lost with councillors Brinsmead, Byrnes, and James Owen voting in favour and councillors Cherry (Mayor), Meredith Dennis (Deputy Mayor), Dr Nola Firth, and Warren Polglase voting against. 


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Councillor Reece Byrne is the only member of council that voted against the increase to rates, really the only councillor that deserves the support of all Tweed Shire residents.
    As for Owen and Brinsmead that spent absolutely thousands of dollars on their own self interest only election campaign. We should have nothing but absolute contempt, for their constant grandstanding and petty distractive strategies, wasting council time and money constantly playing politics!

    • Sorry to say that you are naive. A councillor can make themselves popular with some voters by opportunistically voting in a way that is not really in the interests of the people of the Shire, especially when they know other more principled councillors will carry the decision.

      Did you lobby the State MP to try and get the NSW government to take responsibility for its planning policies which put many bridens on local authorities?

  2. Basically all councilors should have no political affiliations and only independents with no political agenda should be able to run for council .that way you people with community at the forefront of their decisions and not some political agenda out of Macquarie street .

    • Candidates for local government In Queensland must on their application form state any membership of political organisations. But probably many voters are unaware of that and don’t avail themselves of the opportunity to know. In any case, I think that membership or sympathy for a major or minor party should not alone rule out a candidate.

      I suggest Alan that you attend a few Council meetings and discover why particular councillors vote and act as they do. Especially if there is a matter you know something about, ask each councillor for their opinion and their reasons for it. Reading the business papers before a meeting will give you better background to the issues.

      The important thing is to vote for

    • Councillors should have no political affiliations? Good luck with that Alan, just try and assemble a few hundred volunteers at election time so you can run for council? “Just pop them out of the freezer and put them in the micro wave, hey presto instant democracy”?
      At least most political party’s have open membership for people to join and in most cases, freely voice opinions and policy.
      Far better than the “Advance” of these ever increasing secretive shadowy far right, anti-renewable energy groups funded by Singapore tax haven based billionaire coal mining!

  3. Sadly it’s not new for some Councillors to behave badly towards staff. The ‘Balance’ councillors, whose decisions often benefited developers to the detriment of ratepayers and residents, freqently attacked staff blatantly and viciously. I recall a meeting chaired by Cr Bob Brinsmead. He allowed a developer to make repeated absurd false accusations against David Broyd, Director of Planning. Staff were often disrespected for doing their job, namely giving ‘frank and fearless’ advice.

  4. Well Crs Owen & Brimsmead admit to putting 192 “requests” to Council in a single week! (on behalf of ratepayers in an election year). They then have the gall to defend this activity by trying to divert $300,000 of environmental funds to pay for extra staff required. Blatant pork barrelling – just months before an election. You can’t claim credit for an olympic swimming pool that was already in progress by just talking about it at a meeting. If you wish to advertise what you have done for the community in your term of office do so AT YOUR OWN EXPENSE. And do so in a truthful manner. When even a fellow conservative Cr can see through your shenanagins you know you’ve got problems.

  5. Na if you have political affiliations you vote a certain way none of this other crap independents only if you know something bad for the community as a whole you vote against it that should always be the rule of thumb no some other bs .

  6. Cr Reece Byrne’s attack on Mandy Nolan for doing a voluntary Gig for seniors is a bit rich. He is, or was, last time I saw him, an employee of the
    Federal Member for Richmond. Mandy has the runs on the board when it comes to helping seniors Me thinks he doth protest too much!
    Frank Ball , Tweed Heads

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