We know, for example, that council is at last publicly acknowledging that its strange long-term $4 million investments in a risky exotic “financial product” appear today to add up to no more than $0.00.
And we’re starting to get some idea of the process the council has in mind for selecting a successor to the general manager whose contract expires sometime next spring.
And, even though it hardly matters any more because of the establishment of Southern Water, information about the council’s plan for coping with the valley’s water and sewage challenges has also seeped out.
All of this might not have happened if it hadn’t been for the constant probing of council behaviour that has gone on at open council meetings in recent months. From both sides of the Huon have come questions that must have made some councillors and officers squirm in their seats at the thought of having to come up with convincing answers.
LOOKING a bit closer at the first of the three issues above — council investments — it is clear many more questions need to be asked and that there is still a long way to go before voters in the valley will accept that they have a council that will look them in the eye and give it to them straight.
For example, on the question of the lost $4 million or so:
— Why was such a large sum invested for such a long time (from five to six years, apparently) when council perennially has been unable to find money for a variety of projects?
— How does council still suggest an investment portfolio book value of about $14 million when it knows full well we’re never going to see at least $4 million of that amount, possibly even more?
— Why, when other councils across Australia have been uttering mea culpas and itemising huge CDO (collateral debt obligations) and similar investment-product losses, is our council still saying — after admitting there have been “further defaults” on its CDO investments — that “further defaults could result in the future redeemable amount being reduced”; and that “as a result of this, it will be necessary to further adjust the market value of these investments in the Financial Statements as at the 30 June 2009”? (Those quotes are from “Council Connections” in the Huon Valley News of May 20.)
— Why doesn’t council fess up and tell us that, barring a miracle, the money’s gone; and that instead of about $14 million invested (that’s a new figure the council is touting, up from $12 million-plus in earlier documents), there’s really only about $10 million at the most still working to earn money?
— Where did all these investment millions come from in the first place?
— Why was so much of it invested for such long terms? Surely all council money should be notionally allocated for whatever needs to be done rather than being salted away for what seems to be proving to be irresponsibly long periods?
AND, on the issue of the “process” for appointing a new general manager, there are still unanswered questions, for example:
— What is the identity of the “consultant” the council said, in a media release of May 18, had been appointed to assist its recruitment panel? Is the consultant a person, a professional recruitment agency or something else?
— And is there anyone else on the recruitment panel the council announced in its May 18 release other than the five councillors named? (The release said the panel “will include”, from which it is reasonable to infer there could be other unnamed members.)
We can’t expect council to want to say much more about its humungous investment losses. But we can reasonably expect more information about the process being implemented to make a decision (appointment of a new GM) that will have a profound effect for years to come on the performance of the Huon Valley Council and on the interests of every resident of the municipality.
Despite council saying it had appointed a consultant to advise the recruitment panel, mayor Robert Armstrong resisted naming the consultant when requested to this week by a ratepayer. He told the ratepayer the matter was to be further discussed at a special meeting (presumably closed) of the council tonight (Tuesday May 26).
Let us all hope that by tomorrow, the council’s overworked media officer will be crafting a suitably transparent media release for the edification of all municipality residents concerned that the future of their valley will be in the best possible hands after the present general manager passes on the baton sometime in spring.
To all those out there who care about the future of the Huon Valley being securely in the hands of a team of councillors and officers dedicated to its wellbeing, and to transparency at all times, let us hear your views.
And don’t be afraid to identify yourself. The more we remind our present secretive council that we are watching its every move, the more it will realise that as long as it squares with us the better we will trust its motives and good intentions.
There is nothing to fear about the possibility of an outsider coming to the valley to run the council. A properly run recruitment process could turn up a brilliant selection of candidates from across Australia. The council already has on its staff a vast wealth of local knowledge and talent that would be invaluable in helping a newcomer to get to grips with the huge challenges with which the municipality is confronted.
— BOB HAWKINS
Blood out of a stone, pulling teeth, prising information out of Huon Valley Council on sensitive issues — it’s all much of a muchness. Yet progress is being achieved. On several fronts, cracks are appearing in the council’s hitherto wall of silence. Really, it’s quite amazing how much the voters of the Huon Valley now know about issues that the council might have preferred to keep to itself.