Willis out of line: Cr Moran

SHELLHARBOUR City Council general manager Michael Willis has been accused of acting as an eighth councillor, following discussions on the City Hub project.

Last week, councillors discussed the quarterly budget review where Cr Peter Moran queried the council's ability to maintain its assets on an ongoing basis if the City Hub came onto the books.

"As the city's asset base changes, then obviously the amount of money that's required to fund it will also change," he said.

When Deputy Mayor Paul Rankin allowed Mr Willis's request to respond to provide a "balanced argument", Cr Moran accused him of weighing into the debate.

"It's not up to the general manager to provide clarification if no-one's sought clarification," he said.

"For him to be able to sit there and take part in the debate as an eighth councillor is totally improper - the general manager runs the operational side of this council, he is not a councillor."

Later, Cr Moran put forward a notice of motion to seek quotes for independent public opinion polling on whether ratepayers wanted the hub. However, a memo from Mr Willis had been sent to councillors the previous day, advising them to take into account their previous rejections of a council-run referendum.

"Quite clearly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how a poll could be fairly conducted with any significant confidence that those being polled have the same understanding of the full consequences of the City Hub project, as those who have been elected to make such decisions," the memo said.

Mr Willis's memo also recommended councillors take into account the long history of planning for the hub.

But Cr Moran argued councillors were treating the community as if it was "too stupid to know what they want".

"Well, I've got something to say: sometimes the community is not quite as dumb as people think," he said.

Councillor John Murray said it was a rescission motion under a different name.

"We have in this case a couple of councillors who are unhappy with the majority decision . . . We decided we were against a poll," he said.

The motion was lost, leaving Cr Moran disappointed.

"No council is bound by previous decisions," he said.

Cr Moran said the memo should have been included with the business papers the Thursday before the meeting, but it was not sent until Monday, leaving him little time to respond to the content.

"The general manager is there to provide information on what is being debated by the council, but he's just called upon all the time to offer his opinion," he said.

"It gives him a huge amount of power.

"I'll just call a point of order whenever he's called upon to give an opinion."

According to the NSW Local Government Act 1993, the functions of general managers include ensuring council decisions are implemented, assisting the council in the connection to and development and application of its strategic plans and programs, and carrying out council functions as the council delegates.

A council spokesman said the general manager's role was to ensure the council was provided with information to ensure decisions of the council could be upheld on legal and policy grounds.

The council's Code of Meeting Practice allowed general managers to put forward a recommendation when notices of motion had "legal, strategic, financial or policy implications".

At the meeting, Mr Willis said the memo was issued late as he was absent from the office and the delay was unintended.

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