Two former members of the recently dismissed Port Macquarie Hastings Council, Lisa Intermann and Jamie Harrison had effectively separated themselves from the other Councillors with their open and strong criticism of Council’s performance and in particular its management of the Glasshouse project. In the wake of the Council’s sacking, we speak to Lisa Intermann about her views on the situation and whether she plans to stand for Council again in the future.
> You and Jamie Harrison have long been two of the most vocal critics regarding Council’s practices and decision making processes. In particular, you have made no secret about your strong opposition to the Glasshouse in its current form and location. In light of that, was it a shock when the Council was dismissed, or did you expect that result?
Unfortunately, the announcement dismissing Councillors was no surprise. Council was given every opportunity to avoid dismissal, beginning with the first warnings in late 2005.
If the heads of the organisation had been open and honest with the community, the Department of Local Government, and the Commissioner, then the Councillors would still be in place.
It was not the final announcement that shocked me, but what led to it – especially the absolute determination to proceed with the Glasshouse project at any cost and the apparent willingness to mislead the community about true costs.
By the end of the Public Inquiry, I could see no chance that the Councillors would not be dismissed.
> What areas do you think the Council (as an organisation) most needs to improve?
I’d like to preface this by saying I have the greatest respect for the majority of Council staff.
The problems which have emerged in the last few years are not of their doing, but seem to come from loss of focus at the top of the organisation.
The Glasshouse project affected the whole tenor of the organisation. I see three main problems: lack of integration between the various departments of Council; excessive bureaucracy and loss of attention to the needs of the community as a whole, especially strategic planning and development control; and, perhaps most importantly, the long term effect of the costs of the Glasshouse on Council’s annual budget.
The Commissioner’s Final Report confirmed the project will cost about $5 Million per annum, not $500,000 as Council claimed. This will have a very significant effect on Council’s ability to move forward with basic service provision.
> The community will now have no democratic representation at a local government level until the Council elections in 2012. Do you think there are any positives in having an Administrator in place?
Naturally, I’m disappointed there will be no elections for four years. But I don’t agree democracy was lost with the appointment of an Administrator.
If Mr Persson is responsive to real community needs and nurtures good attitudes among staff, then we could see important improvements occurring.
In particular, I am hopeful that this period provides an opportunity to break old habits and allow Council to re-establish its authority, independent of unhealthy political influences.
> Do you think it will have an effect on development in the region?
No-one should be worried that this area will not grow. It is best placed of all localities on the North Coast to accommodate long term growth.
Council needs to invest in good strategic planning, so growth can be accommodated while preserving the natural features and good services which make life here so enjoyable for everyone.
The greatest challenge is not in attracting people to the area, but in attracting employment-generating businesses. There is need for better liaison between local and state governments, or else areas such as ours run the risk of losing control of the rate and direction of development – especially economic development.
> How stressful have recent years been for you and is it a relief to at least have a decision after the Public Inquiry?
I didn’t become a Councillor for the easy life, but certainly these last few years have been very difficult – trying to uncover what was really going on and get the problems addressed.
It’s never easy for individuals to challenge an organisation as big as Council, but I had hoped my colleagues would be more open to reason.
It was particularly difficult to find myself working for my own demise, so to speak. But we’ll never have good government unless people are willing to put themselves on the line for it. It’s why I went on Council in 1995, so it wasn’t really a choice whether or not to defend the community interest.
It’s a relief to have a decision made and a great relief to find that the Commissioner recognised the facts and situation – but it’s no relief to be off Council.
> What sort of response have you had from the community following the sacking of the Council?
I’ve had a huge response of “congratulations and commiserations”. In my view, the vast majority of people could see something was wrong and are glad that action was taken.
I’d like to thank all those people who took the trouble to find out what was happening in the past few years and did something about it.
> Now that you are no longer on the Council, what’s next for you?
I am a scientist by trade. I’m in the process of a Doctorate in Philosophy of science, so my first priority is to finish that. Then I’ll be looking for work, either in science or community development.
> Will you stand at the Council elections in 2012?
At this stage I’m not sure. Right now I want nothing more than to be back on Council, but a lot can happen in four years.
Good luck Lisa and thank you for your time.