Time to get on with the job, Coorong council candidates say
Candidates allied with mayoral candidate Paul Simmons and the “green machine”, Coorong Unites, have had their say at a forum at Tailem Bend.
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Years of anger are giving way to optimism in the Coorong district as the election of a new council approaches.
Despite the division which has marked the past four years, councillors and staff have got the council’s finances under control and progress is being made, according to the candidates who appeared at a forum at Tailem Bend last Thursday night.
The council had stopped running large deficits and accumulating debt.
It had reduced the fixed charge levied against all ratepayers.
It had used federal funding associated with droughts, bushfires and the River Murray to upgrade roads and other infrastructure.
The division among elected members still existed, at least for now.
After all, Thursday night’s forum was organised by the candidates affiliated with Mayor Paul Simmons’ re-election campaign, and only one other candidate showed up.
But the 30-or-so people present at Tailem’s football clubrooms still expressed hope that the next group of councillors might be able to draw a line under all the nonsense and get on with the job.
One of the most optimistic was Jonathan Pietzsch, the former National Party candidate now running with the Coorong Unites team at a local level.
He said projects at Tintinara which had proven hard to get done under previous council administrations had finally got over the line under Cr Simmons’ leadership.
“The current leadership team dealt with the problems in terms of the process, with Paul saying ‘we need to achieve this, to get it done’,” he said.
“Rather than feeling obstructed by council, I’ve felt we can achieve through council.
“Things have changed in the last few years.”
Glynis Taylor said the four years she had spent on the council so far had been far from enjoyable, disrupted as they had been by “haters”.
But she, too, looked forward to getting things done around the district: building on the Coorong’s reputation as a food bowl, growing tourism around the Lower Lakes, developing Dickson Reserve, improving sporting facilities and making Tailem Bend’s town entrances look nicer.
Tailem Bend Football Club stalwart Terry Connolly said he could easily have clashed with Cr Simmons, given the occasional disagreements between the council and Tailem’s sporting clubs over plans for a sports hub in the town.
But he said the mayor had taken the time to explain why the council had not yet committed funding.
“Paul is a can-do man – that’s why I’m supporting him,” said Mr Connolly, himself a council candidate.
“He gets it.”
Coorong Unites candidates Ruth Maidment and Wendy Denmeade also expressed their support for Cr Simmons, as did Brenton Qualmann and Jeff “Tank” Arthur, both of whom are seeking re-election.
Only independent candidate David Seidel, a road safety inspector by trade, declined to offer an endorsement.
He said he would support whichever mayoral candidate the people chose.
Simmons challenges ‘dysfunction’ narrative
Cr Simmons spent about five minutes of last Thursday night’s forum addressing issues highlighted by this reporter in Murray Bridge News and, prior to April 2020, in The Murray Valley Standard.
He argued that most of the council’s problems could be traced back to a meeting in March 2019, at which Cr Vern Leng allegedly assaulted Cr Taylor – an allegation Cr Leng has always denied.
“All I can say to people is that when you’ve had that event happen in your chamber, it’s very hard to come back unless the person who, in my view, perpetuated that issue accepts that they did wrong,” Cr Simmons said.
“That’s been a problem, in my view.”
He described a vote of no confidence in his leadership, passed 4-3 in March and upheld by four councillors even after it was found to be “manifestly unfair”, as nothing more than a political statement.
“(Neville) Jaensch, Leng, (Sharon) Bland and Hill voted to not, effectively, reverse an unsubstantiated position,” he said.
“Some of the rest of us are pretty disappointed that when you can’t prove something you don’t back down.
“In my view, over the last … 12 months, but you could say the four years, some councillors have been trying to bring council into disrepute for their own political ends.”
A string of code of conduct complaints filed by councillors against each other had only served as a distraction from the council’s work, he suggested.
What’s the plan for 2022-26, then?
If elected, Cr Simmons and the Coorong Unites candidates said they would have plenty to do over the next four years.
Sporting facilities at Tailem Bend, Meningie and Peake all needed upgrading.
Coonalpyn and Wellington East needed improved water supplies.
Families around the district needed the state Department of Education to provide adequate school bus services.
Cr Simmons said his vision revolved around economic stability, first and foremost.
After that, he hoped to create new channels of communication between the council and its residents, perhaps using a “parish” model or a focus on interest groups rather than on divisions between towns.
One thing he did not envision was the break-up of the council district itself, or amalgamation with any other district.
Quite the opposite – he hoped the amalgamation of the Meningie and Border Downs-Tintinara football clubs, and of Peake and Karoonda, would bring people in those towns closer together.
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