Hawkesbury Council say independent candidate Dr Billy Gruner 'not eligible' to stand for election
Hawkesbury Council has decided well-known Bilpin district candidate Dr Billy Gruner of Mt Tomah should not be able to run for office in the upcoming local council election because he does not meet the criteria.
Dr Gruner had planned to stand with The Locals group of Bilpin region locals in a bid to get elected, and help their area get improved representation on Hawkesbury Council in the December 4 elections.
Dr Gruner is a Mt Tomah resident and therefore in Blue Mountains Council area. That doesn’t necessarily stop him standing in Hawkesbury, given he runs a business in our local government area. But he was judged ineligible to stand because, according to Hawkesbury Council, he couldn’t prove he had owned a business in the Hawkesbury in the same place for at least three years.
Dr Gruner has a high profile in the Hawkesbury, having moved from Faulconbridge to Mt Tomah in 2019, just in time to be burnt out by the Black Summer bushfires that ravaged Bilpin District.
Dr Billy Gruner - right - with his good mate, well-known Aboriginal artist Graham Davis King
Known as a tireless community advocate, he helped organise the Bilpin district recovery from the fire disaster. He was elected Chairman of Kurrajong Heights Bowling Club, and he founded the Mt Tomah Society whose membership takes in residents from upper Bilpin district and Mt Tomah areas. This is the area many locals call “the forgotten zone” - the boundary between Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains Councils.
During the bushfire recovery, Dr Gruner successfully obtained funds from Blue Mountains Council, and most recently Hawkesbury Council too, for resilience activities in Bilpin district.
In June, Dr Gruner says he approached Hawkesbury Council about nominating for Council elections. Hawkesbury Council officers referred him to the NSW Electoral Commission, he says, who said they had no problem with a person who worked in a local government area nominating for election, but it had to be decided by Hawkesbury Council.
Dr Gruner went back to the Council and says he had many phone discussions with them and provided proof of his office space where he conducts his business in Berambing, which is in the Hawkesbury.
A community campaign began to support Dr Gruner’s potential bid for election to Council and a Facebook Page with videos of him making his campaign pitch were put up.
Since arriving in the district, Dr Gruner, who is a visual artist, has used office space at Berambing to carry out his community and cultural activities. He calls his office the Upper Hawkesbury Community Hub. The office is in the Hawkesbury LGA.
But on October 26, Dr Gruner took a call from Hawkesbury Council’s Manager of Corporate Services, Charles McElroy. Dr Gruner said Mr McElroy told him the Council had advised the NSW Electoral Commission they would not support his nomination to run for election as they "couldn't be satisfied that his office was located in the Hawkesbury LGA”.
Dr Gruner says when he offered to provide proof that the office was in the Hawkesbury LGA, Mr McElroy told him it was too late - the deadline for providing information had passed.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Dr Gruner. “Those senior managers can't even look up their Council rate records. But then I started to get really concerned because it's not in these bureaucrats’ interest that people like me stand for election.
"If elected I'm going to be asking the NSW Government to intervene and appoint a Planning Administrator to Hawkesbury Council.”
We asked the Council what had happened and in a statement Mr McElroy said “a person claiming eligibility for inclusion on the roll of occupiers of rateable land must establish that they have a legally enforceable right to continuous occupation of the land for not less than three years from the date of the claim.
“On the information provided by Dr Gruner, Council was not satisfied this could be established. Legal advice was sought which supported Council’s view,” he said.
Dr Gruner has also received a letter from Elizabeth Richardson, the Council’s General Manager - dated November 1 - laying out the reasons in detail for rejecting his application.
The letter says Dr Gruner gave Council a copy of a letter from the person who owns the land his office is on, saying there was an agreement for him to use the office space from 12 months from July 2021.
“In my opinion there is insufficient evidence to be satisfied that you meet the eligibility criteria for inclusion on the [electoral] roll,” Ms Richardson said, adding if Dr Gruner was dissatisfied with the decision he could apply to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review.
Dr Gruner says it’s not right.
“We must do something about this,” he says.
“They can't determine who gets to stand for election to Council and who doesn't - it's undemocratic! This is something the residents of Hawkesbury should decide.”
If you are already a Hawkesbury Post supporter, thank you! Our site is free, relying on our supporters to operate. Independent journalism is more important than ever, please consider contributing.
Don't pay so you can read it. Pay so everybody can read it!