EDITORIAL/OPINION: Margaret Mackay Editor
The State Government has made a decision to extend the governance by an Administrator of the District Council of Coober Pedy for a further maximum time of four years.
Minister for Local Government Geoff Brock said, “The decision to continue the current administrative arrangement is not a decision that has been made lightly and that it would not be responsible to require locally elected members to manage the Council due to the significant issues that remain to be resolved.”
According to the local community, this latest blight on Coober Pedy’s history is largely due to the failure of the current administrator Tim Jackson to rein in debt, curb his own spending, engage appropriately qualified staff, and provide stable services to the community, including essential services. Council owes around $13M that we have become aware of, which is around $4M more than when Jackson arrived.
The question on the lips of the community is, how does Coober Pedy recover from what most consider to be 4 years of going backward, where the town has lost valuable local talent and progress because the State Government of the day made a poorly informed decision about its future governance? Tim Jackson will not be continuing as Administrator after November.
Currently, under the Local Government Act 1999, the Council must return to an elected member body at the upcoming Council elections. However, a Bill to extend the administration that is in place at the District Council of Coober Pedy will be introduced to Parliament in the first sitting week in September.
Minister for Local Government Geoff Brock MP said, “Removing an elected member body and replacing it with an appointed administrator is a serious decision.”
“The need to do so in Coober Pedy, and to continue the arrangement, reflects the very significant issues that were identified by the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General in 2018.”
The Coober Pedy community believes that the 2018 Ombudsman’s decision lacked the strength needed to protect a small community from those found guilty of serious maladministration. Coober Pedy, District Council of – Coober Pedy Power Purchase Agreement – Final Report  SAOmbRp 16 (3 July 2018) http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/other/SAOmbRp/2018/16.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=Coober%20Pedy%20270%20review
In some cases, the same members had been found guilty of maladministration previously and were not only able to bury the 270 Review (report) from within the council, they were able to re-engage as part of the council as if nothing had happened.
The community did not discover until three years later when the buried documents were released, that they had unwittingly re-elected a council already guilty of Maladministration!
‘BURIED’ MALADMINISTRATION REPORT SURFACES AT COOBER PEDY COUNCIL AFTER 3 YEARS! https://cooberpedytimes.com/2018/03/27/buried-maladministration-finding-surfaces-at-coober-pedy-council-after-3-years/
Administrator Tim Jackson was recommended for an appointment at Coober Pedy by then Minister for Local Government Stephan Knoll. An alliance that the local community has speculated about privately for some time now.
Jackson’s flight arrived at Coober Pedy simultaneously as the newly elected council discovered they were suspended by Minister Knoll. Jackson admitted in an interview with the Coober Pedy Regional Times that he had not been given a brief by Minister Stephan Knoll at that time and so of course 2019 was a clumsy year for everyone with the Administrator trying to ad-hoc his role, as he embarked on a mission of discovery, and of course trial and error.
The opal mining township of Coober Pedy was scheduled to return to a normal Council at the end of 2019 after the one year that Jackson was given to sort out the holes in the internal controls and other financial/governance issues listed by both the Ombudsman and the Auditor General. Jackson was unable to complete the task in one year and said he needed a further three-year extension to try and complete the task.
Jackson’s proposal for a three-year extension of his employment was put to a community poll with Jackson stating the following:
Do you support the term of the administration of the Council being continued until the next scheduled general election for the Council in November 2022?
The reason for asking the question is that the answer will help inform the Minister for Local Government regarding whether the State Government should extend the period of administration should the Parliament give it the power to do so.
In January 2019 the Governor declared the Council a defaulting Council under the Local Government Act. The maximum period of administration under the current legislation is twelve months.
The decision was based on the findings of the Ombudsman that the Council had committed “one of the most serious examples of maladministration” he had seen. There was also an examination by the Auditor-General into the governance of the Council which found there were multiple significant failings in how the Council was run.
One question that has arisen is whether a maximum period of twelve months is sufficient to fix problems of this magnitude.
The role of the Administrator is to take the place of the elected Council. The Administrator is not the CEO. It is good governance practice to separate the role of the Administrator and the CEO. The Administrator role is currently a full time one. The total cost – salary, superannuation, vehicle, accommodation and travel – for the first year is $255,000. This amount is paid by the Council.
It is envisaged that should the period of administration continue the role would reduce to a half time role at some time in the second year due to the reducing requirements of the role. The total annual cost would be approximately $135,000. If the elected Council is
reinstated the total allowances payable to the Mayor and Councillors would be $73,000 per year.
Roxby Downs Council is the other Council in South Australia to have an Administrator. As the Council is in good financial shape and it is operating effectively, it has a part time Administrator who works one week a month.
It is also understood that if the State Government amends the Local Government Act to allow for an extension of the period of administration an additional amendment to the Act would be sought to provide that suspended Councillors do not receive
their allowance while suspended.
The Case for Voting Yes
It would allow the Administrator time to complete the job, particularly in respect of the Council’s long term financial sustainability and improved governance.
It would allow the Administrator to make the necessary arrangements for the return of a properly functioning elected Council.
The Case for Voting No
It would provide a clear message to the Minister that the voters want the return of an elected Council.
It would be cheaper if an elected Council was reinstated.
Jackson’s Newsletter in January 2020 stated.
Time Commitment and Cost of the Administrator. As flagged previously there is now scope to reduce the time commitment and therefore the cost of the Administrator. This is due to progress being made in getting the Council back into shape and the recent appointment of an ongoing CEO.
My original estimate was that I could reduce to half-time about mid-year, however I now believe this will be possible earlier. As a consequence, I have sought the approval of the Minister to reduce my time to half time in the next month. Obviously, this will reduce the cost to the community by half. I have also indicated to the State Government that I am prepared to perform the role until 2022 if needed.
Jackson went on part-time, and then commenced a fly-in fly-out arrangement whereby he would attend two meetings per month at Coober Pedy, flying in and out at the ratepayer’s expense.
In 2022, the ADMINISTRATOR SALARY reads: $210,000 +$10,400.00 +$21,000. This does not look like much of a saving, as we were led to believe when we were required to vote on Jackson’s proposal.
Ratepayers have been compelled to query the reduced services being provided by the council and raise issues at the bi-monthly council meetings. One by one, ratepayers that asked questions, or appeared not to agree with Jackson were banned, humiliated, or ostracized from council meetings and booted off webinars. It is now not uncommon for only one or two members of the community to be present at council meetings. In other words, the community, for the most part, has given up.
A good number of residents wrote letters of serious concern, firstly to Minister Stephan Knoll, then Minister Vicki Chapman, but were directed to “speak to the Administrator” about their concerns. That the previous Government saw fit to install a redundant CEO from the city and give him ‘one man rule’ status, is beyond comprehension. Every step should be taken by our Governments to ensure that even the appearance of a dictatorship does not happen within our Democratic Societies.
Generally, the community believes that they were abandoned by an irresponsible and self-serving, former state government and that the impact of Jackson’s failed reign of administration will affect the economics of our town and our personal lives for many years to come. Jackson who lost community respect very early in his tenure has been asked politely many times to step down. What will it take to make this happen more swiftly?
Minister Geoff Brock said, “It is disappointing that the previous State Government dropped the ball on this issue and made little progress on helping to resolve some of the significant challenges faced by the township.”
In 2022 the situation at Coober Pedy has escalated to the point where Jackson has been unable to rein in debt and decided to put up most of the town’s assets as collateral in order to roll funds over until he can sell something off to balance the books.
Residents believe that Jackson’s extravagant and extraordinary use of lawyers, consultants, and extra staffing around the administration area has been the demise of their town. The local community considers all of this to be reckless spending of taxpayer and ratepayer’s monies considering that Coober Pedy only has a population of around 1500 people.
Jackson has indicated on many occasions that selling the communities water asset, would pay out the debt either incurred or not reined in over his 4-year term. And of course, he would walk away clean, but at least having had a well-paid job for 4 years.
Despite 4 wasted years of Administration, not to mention the wasted years of older residents in the town, those that committed Maladministration are still enjoying their “get out of jail free, card”, courtesy of a poor investigation outcome.
Despite many individual attempts to engage with the previous State Government, there was a point-blank refusal, from the Ministers for Local Government to meet with the community for discussions about the real issues that were giving Coober Pedy residents an unequal quality of existence under Jackson.
Minister Geoff Brock said, “I understand that many members of the Coober Pedy community may feel frustrated that these issues have not yet been resolved.”
“As the new Minister for Local Government, it is my intention to work with the Council administration and the community to find workable, long-term solutions for essential services and local government in Coober Pedy.”
Minister Geoff Brock MP will be visiting Coober Pedy for a community forum at the Greek Community Hall 6.15 – 8.30pm on Tuesday, 23 August. There will be a light meal from 5.30pm. Discussions will involve ways forward for the challenges faced by the community. Wayne Lines, SA Ombudsman will give a presentation.
The community has no choice but to put its hopes in the new State Government, albeit not yet clear why another full 4 years may be needed to recover from Tim Jackson. Initially, and after two investigations that outlined what needed to be done by a competent person; Coober Pedy’s exile from democracy has potentially become 8 years!
Coober Pedy residents this week await the outcome of a Defamation and Victimisation case, George Naumovic vs the State of South Australia that has been scheduled to be heard at Coober Pedy on the 24 August 2022. Tim Jackson is accused of Defamation and Victimisation of a ratepayer, elected councilor, and whistle-blower.
The councilor stated that he wanted to take certain concerns to ICAC. ICAC insists that reporting perceived or alleged corruption is a mandatory obligation for public officers (this includes elected members.) However, that is not how the scenario has played out. The District Council under Jackson embarked on a lengthy and aggressive legal campaign to prevent certain information from reaching the authorities. Some of the tactics include ongoing attempts to bankrupt the councilor.
The community believes that Jackson has spent close to a million dollars of ratepayer’s money, in what may well be another of Jackson’s losing court cases, alleging that he was “protecting” the public record, ensuring that certain information did not become public, or apparently get into the hands of ICAC. DISTRICT COUNCIL OF COOBER PEDY v NAUMOVIC  SASC 79 (13 May 2020) https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/sa/SASC/2020/79.html?context=1;query=naumovic;mask_path=
The Ombudsman had previously found in his 2018 investigation that Coober Pedy Council was already guilty of mishandling the public records.
Is it any wonder with all of these shenanigans that there is no money to keep locals employed and maintain the town’s infrastructure and keep the early childhood learning centre open (Mini Gems) among many other failures?
Categories: COOBER PEDY News & Events