RIP democracy?

Last Friday was a day to celebrate or mourn – depending on where you stand on council mergers.

The merger between Holroyd and Auburn councils reached its first 12 months, where staff enjoyed a barbecue lunch and cake to celebrate their achievements. That included $24 million invested back into the community, establishment of the Cumberland Council Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel, new youth and events strategies and policy reforms to improve transparency.

Parramatta Council hosted similar celebrations, where staff had the afternoon off to enjoy games, music, afternoon tea and mocktails.

But a wake was held at Merrylands Oval to mourn the first year of Cumberland Council.

According to former mayor Greg Cummings, out of the 166 former Holroyd and Auburn employees who have left the council in the last year, 136 were Holroyd staff. 

“At Holroyd, we had employees who wanted to work for the council,” he said.

“Nor were there any complaints or suggestions of wrongdoing. I feel for the residents as services have gone backwards. They’re now waiting astronomical amounts of time for calls to the council to be answered.”

Former Mosman Council general manager Viv May has sat in the Cumberland chair for the last year and made decisions previously made by 12 elected councillors.

In the last fortnight, he has put the council’s waste services to tender and dissolved 24 local park committees.

Mr Cummings believes another big decision is looming with an extraordinary council meeting next Wednesday.

He also fears the waste services tender will be signed off before the September 9 council elections.

“It’s the death of democracy,” Mr Cummings said. “These are major changes that should be left up to a democratically elected council.”

Bruce Dalkeith, 70, has lived in Merrylands all of his life and worked at Parramatta Council for 47 years. “Cumberland Council got the rough end of the deal. It now manages two golf courses and also Granville pool, not to mention all the other pools. This area is going backwards,” he said.

Mr May was unavailable for comment. Cumberland Council general manager Malcolm Ryan said the staff celebration was about recognising and rewarding council staff.  “It was very disappointing to see a staff celebration co-opted for political purposes. It undermines and diminishes the tremendous efforts of the people working hard to transition this council into a stronger organisation for the community,” he said.

Parramatta Council will appoint an internal ombudsman to provide greater accountability for the community and staff to have complaints independently investigated. The possibility of sharing the role with Cumberland will be investigated.

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