• Tony Bosworth

Councillors demand answers after Hawkesbury council General Manager’s sudden resignation

Near the beginning of this week’s regular council meeting, Mayor Patrick Conolly used his Mayoral Minute device to suddenly take the meeting into Confidential mode.

At the end of that confidential meeting – which five of the 12 Hawkesbury councillors had not been told about before it happened – councillors had accepted the resignation of General Manager Peter Conroy by seven votes to five.

Mr Conroy leaves the council today, a mere three days after handing in his resignation.

The vote was a formality, given Mr Conroy had tendered his resignation that very day, but it has raised questions about what exactly happened leading up to the resignation.

The five councillors who say they were kept in the dark are furious they weren't consulted before being suddenly taken into Confidential meeting mode where they learnt of the resignation, with the GM due to leave today.

Councillors who voted against, and who want answers: top left and across: Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett, Emma-Jane Garrow, Danielle Wheeler, Paul Rasmussen, Pete Reynolds

They are demanding answers, with one senior councillor saying no-one wants the words cover-up to be levelled at the council.

Mayor Conolly has so far given no explanation on the details of the sudden resignation to any of the five councillors, says Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett, who says she knew nothing of the resignation until she was told about it in the closed session. Ms Lyons-Buckett was Mayor when Mr Conroy was appointed and worked closely with him.

Long time Hawkesbury independent councillor Paul Rasmussen said in the interests of public transparency the Mayor, and the Liberal, and Labor councillors as well as Cllr John Ross, who voted to accept the resignation “have to answer why ‘all of a sudden’ the GM had to go”.

“No lead-up, no prior discussions, just ‘bang’ and the GM is gone immediately,” Cllr Rasmussen said.

“In the interest of transparency and good governance of Council and its finances as well as its future under unprecedented events, the Mayor should explain in clear and unequivocal terms what happened, when it happened and the full circumstances.

Anything less could be seen as a ‘cover up’ and nobody wants that levelled at Council.

“I saw, and heard no compelling reasons, why the ratepayers should have to foot this large financial burden at a time when all Council’s resources, including its Human Resources, should be sharply focused on the recovery and rebuilding of the Hawkesbury City after a series of unprecedented and traumatic events over the last 18 months and longer,” said Cllr Rasmussen.

Independent councillor Emma-Jane Garrow is also annoyed at the sudden development and said, “The best General Manager the Hawkesbury has ever had. A great man with the community in his focus, all brought to a sad end at the hands of the Liberal/Labour block. Why? Political agendas put ahead of our community. Absolutely appalling!”

Councillors who accepted the resignation: from top left, across: Amanda Kotlash, Mayor Patrick Conolly, Barry Calvert, Tiffany Tree, Nathan Zamprogno, John Ross, Sarah Richards

The councillors who voted to accept Mr Conroy’s resignation were Liberals Mayor Patrick Conolly, Sarah Richards, and Nathan Zamprogno, plus Tiffany Tree, John Ross, Barry Calvert and Amanda Kotlash.

Those against were Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett, Pete Reynolds, Paul Rasmussen, Emma-Jane Garrow and Danielle Wheeler.

Hawkesbury Council put out a short media release after the council vote saying, “ The resignation of Hawkesbury City Council’s General Manager Mr Peter Conroy was accepted by Council at its Council Meeting held last night, 10 November 2020. This will be effective on Friday, 13 November 2020."

During the Confidential meeting, councillors also voted by a majority to appoint the council's Director Support Services, Laurie Mifsud, as Acting General Manager.

"The Mayor of Hawkesbury, Councillor Patrick Conolly thanks Mr Conroy for his service over the past three and a half years and wishes him all the best for the future,” said the release.

Cllr Nathan Zamprogno, one of those who voted to accept the resignation, put out a statement online which said: “I acknowledge the desire of some for further information regarding the resignation of the General Manager, Peter Conroy.

“Mr Conroy is entitled to privacy and the wording of the resolution of the Council meeting of 10th November is all that can be said.

“It should be stated however that the motion put by the Mayor related only to acknowledging a resignation that had already been tendered, and to empower the Mayor to engage in those industrial processes related to a staff member's departure.

“It was not a vote on whether to dismiss him. No inference should be drawn on my opinion concerning that question.

“Peter’s work for the Council since 2017 is appreciated and I wish him well.”

The Post asked Mayor Conolly for his response and we put a number of questions to him. The mayor asked us to put those questions in writing, which we have done. We received a response from council’s media department this morning saying the mayor would respond to us by Monday after a meeting with the Acting GM, and we will of course bring you that response when we receive it.

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