Lismore scuttles plan for closer Ballina ties


LISMORE City Council general manager Paul O'Sullivan has made an audacious bid to win control of both the Lismore and Ballina councils.

In a council meeting last week, Mr O'Sullivan surprised the city's councillors with a Power Point presentation outlining potential benefits of merging the two general manager offices.

Under the plan, unprecedented in Australian local government, Mr O'Sullivan would become general manager of both Lismore and Ballina councils, and senior staff between the two councils would be slashed from eight people to four.

Councillors who attended the meeting said Mr O'Sullivan argued that merging the general managers' and directors' offices could slash Lismore's $629,000 senior management wages bill.

Mr O'Sullivan pointed to the operation of Far North Coast Weeds, Richmond River and Rous county councils, which had shared a single general manager since the 1980s.

The mergers would improve resource sharing between the councils, further reducing costs and visibly bowing to the State Government's direction that councils work together.

The merger would make Mr O'Sullivan one of the most powerful men in the region, but Lismore councillors were not buying what their top council officer was selling.

With warnings the move could lead to full amalgamation, the councillors, most already riled over moves to merge the Lismore and Ballina tourism offices without consult- ing them, voted the plan down seven-to-five.

And several of those who voted for the plan yesterday said they did so only because the motion covered a general push to explore ways Lismore could combine with other councils to save costs and improve services.

They raised fears a general manager responsible to both councils would be forced to choose between them when the councils disagreed.

They also said a general manager and senior officers working between two sites 30km apart would be less accessible to members of the public and staff, and they would be less able to deal with issues that developed at individual sites.

The strongest backer of the plan was Goonellabah-based councillor Frank Swientek, who said the vote rejecting it was a wasted opportunity.

"He (Mr O'Sullivan) didn't want to change the world; he just wanted a modest report with recommendations to the council at a later date to see if it (the plan) had legs," Cr Swientek said.

"But we didn't get the opportunity to see if it did, because most of the councillors thought it wasn't for them."

He said finding ways to cut costs and work with neighbouring councils would make forced amalgamation less likely.

Having two centres and councils would have protected Ballina and Lismore's separate identities and would have delivered savings for ratepayers.

"Local government was designed for horse and buggy days and it's still has horse and buggy boundaries, but now we have motor vehicles and relatively good roads and modern technology and communica- tion equipment," he said.

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