Councillors Ron Cummins and Richard Opie have resigned from Upper Lachlan Shire Council (ULS), citing their frustrations with recent council decisions and a belief the council lacks transparency.
They announced their resignation at the council’s ordinary meeting on Thursday, 20 August, leaving seven councillors to serve until the NSW local government elections in September 2021.
A council spokesperson said Mr Cummins and Mr Opie wouldn’t be replaced until the ULS Council election, saying the council had a quorum – the minimum number of councillors needed to proceed with meetings and make official decisions.
Mr Cummins and Mr Opie said they considered leaving the council for 12 months.
It was Mr Cummins’s intention to leave politics at the September 2020 local government elections. However, they were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Opie said he would have run as a councillor again but decided he could “achieve more for the community from the outside than inside the council”. Both men plan to remain involved in community issues and projects.
Among their issues with ULS Council were the allocation of funds in the current budget and a lack of transparency about why Crookwell Pool closed.
“The majority of councillors have voted to spend 90 per cent of the council’s 2020-2021 capital expenditure on roads and bridges with only 10 per cent on the community, environment and economy,” said Mr Cummins in his resignation letter. “That is why we are now in the unenviable position of having to close the shire’s swimming pools for the 2020-2021 season.”
Mr Cummins and Mr Opie voted against the budget and asked for 33 per cent of the budget to be allocated to the environment, economy and community projects including Crookwell and Gunning swimming pools, but they lost at the council’s ordinary meeting on 18 June.
Region Media previously reported on the compliance issues that closed Crookwell Pool, including how it was leaking into surrounding groundwater and potentially contaminating Kiamma Creek.
A new document obtained by Region Media shows councillors were told at a closed workshop on 2 June that the pool’s filters weren’t working properly and staff were mixing chemicals in a green bin, which didn’t comply with health and safety standards.
Councillors were told pool chemicals should not be mixed manually or in an enclosed space. The lack of a disabled toilet, disabled access to the pool and the non-compliant first-aid room were also flagged as concerns to councillors.
New filters, pumps and chemical dosing systems for the outdoor, indoor and toddler pools are part of the works approved for the new Crookwell Pool complex.
Meanwhile, the council is working to install two new pool pumps, filters, automated chemical dosing systems and a fence around the toddler’s pool at Gunning Pool in time to open this summer.
However, Mr Opie said the issues at Crookwell Pool were known to councillors well before the June workshop.
“We had a report some years ago condemning the pool and we never disclosed it,” he said.
Mr Opie added that he and Mr Cummins fought hard for the council’s transparency on the pool issues.
“I was voted on the council to be open, transparent and honest with the community,” he said. “I’ve got to say with the pool, we were not honest.”
ULS Council general manager Colleen Worthy said it was her intention to be transparent on the pool issues, which is why she held the June workshop.
“As your GM, I am very transparent and that’s why I brought all of those things to you two months ago,” she said at the meeting when Mr Cummins and Mr Opie resigned.
However, the pair stood by their opinion that the issues should have gone public.
They also said they felt a general lack of support from the other councillors at meetings.
“We kept hitting our heads against the wall,” said Mr Cummins.
Mr Opie agreed. “I came on the council with the intention of being open, transparent and building a better future for the whole shire,” he said. “For three years, we have fought and debated for this but I finally realised that change was difficult and not the consensus of the council.
“Therefore, I really only had one option left – to leave rather than be associated with decisions made that I didn’t agree with.”