THE 17 candidates for Clarence Valley Council were scrutinised by questions from readers of The Daily Examiner on Wednesday night at the Grafton District Services Club and some didn't handle the heat particularly well.
The Grafton Meet the Candidates night followed a similar format to the forum on Monday night at Maclean Services Club and both were hosted by The Daily Examiner's editor, Jenna Cairney.
Candidates were given two minutes to sell themselves and their policies to the 90 or so people in attendance on Wednesday, before the questions began - each candidate having a turn at a first response before other candidates could raise their hands to address the issue.
Topics covered in the questions included:
- economic development;
- tourism and branding issues within the Valley;
- council bureaucracy;
- coal seam gas;
- population growth;
- timber industry;
- the new waste management service;
- the (alleged) new Grafton bridge;
- maintenance of flood mitigation infrastructure;
- damming the Clarence River;
- vegetation on pedestrian crossings and roundabouts in CBDs;
- homelessness and;
- RV-Friendly Town benefits.
First-time candidate Jason Kingsley was asked what else, other than the "rates holiday" proposed by Councillor Craig Howe, could CVC do to attract and help small business in the Valley.
"If council does not apply pressure to government departments we will experience a local recession," Mr Kingsley said.
Maclean developer Andrew Baker said until councillors addressed the integrity of the development application process the area was "buggered".
Mental health nurse, and former Kempsey councillor, Paul Parkinson said the council should lead by example and use local products and services - picking up on Mick McIvor's platform.
Branding issue - "we have a problem"
Asked whether the Clarence Valley could be marketed as one destination for holidaymakers, Cr Margaret McKenna explained that the council's current tourism policy segregated the coastal areas from the inland areas and that more needed to be done to take advantage of our National Parks.
She said the Valley's tourism marketing was administered by the Clarence River Tourism Association, which received about $500,000 annually to this end.
Mayor Richie Williamson said his recent trip to Sydney to promote the valley at Country and Regional Living Expo uncovered a serious problem.
"The Clarence Valley brand is not recognisable in NSW," he said. "We have a problem - they know Grafton and Yamba but not the Clarence Valley"
Mr Williamson said the council was planning on reviewing its current memorandum of understanding with the CRTA to address this issue.
Cr Karen Toms said we needed to market our "coast, river and mountains" to the western regions and not waste money on advertising to local residents.
Dr Greg Clancy said the area's nature values and the fact the Valley centred around the biggest river on the East Coast was not pushed widely enough.
Asked by host Jenna Cairney where savings could be made in the council budget, candidate Jane Beeby had to admit that she'd never looked at the CVC budget.
The issue was prompted by a question over whether it was CVC's responsibility to house the homeless and while Cr Howe acknowledged that the "bucket" was not unlimited, he said council could assist by advocating for the homeless.
Cr Jim Simmons said average wages had not kept up with the costs of living.
Cr Toms said the timber industry was suffering but there would always be a need for it so it should be encouraged in a sustainable way. "It's in the industry's own interests to be sustainable," she said.
Dr Clancy began on the issue by saying there was no future in it in its current form but ended up clarifying that the species being planted were the wrong ones for quality sustainable growth.
Damming the Clarence
"Whether I'm elected or not I will oppose the damming of the Clarence," said Joy de Roos.
"I'll fight it till my last breath," added Dr Clancy.
The Grafton Bridge
Asked for a better way to manage traffic on the current bridge, Ursula Tunks said school times were the real peaks on the bridge and these needed to be managed better along with improvements to the pedestrian pathways and, just as an idea, perhaps even a school ferry.
She expressed concern that there was "no plan B" if the old bridge became unusable, for whatever reason.
When the topic of flood mitigation was raised, Brushgrove candidate Rod Morrison likened the current situation of his home village to a piece of a jigsaw puzzle missing.
"The council has an obligation to treat everybody equally," he said.
Jeremy Challacombe said the Clarence River County Council was one of the most successful organisations the Valley had seen and many farmers were managing their floodgates responsibly.
Vegetation on crossings
Micheal McIvor said vegetation on road crossings was a liability and it was only a matter of time before someone had a serious accident.
Cr Howe said he did not buy into the RMS argument that "if you can't see where you are going, you slow down".