Payne to retire
By PETER ELLEM
CLARENCE Valley Council administrator Neil Payne will not be standing for election on March 5 and intends retiring to Minnie Water for some long-overdue fishing, travel and family time.
The former Copmanhurst Shire mayor and insurance broker, who turns 55 on March 20, has not ruled out a future return to local government politics.
Mr Payne yesterday urged voters to shun political party tickets above the line in favour of genuine independent candidates below the line.
However, he declined to endorse any individual candidates He also said that a newly-elected council could not go past acting general manager Ken Boyle, whose contribution he 'could not fault' during a close working relationship over the past 11 months.
The administrator felt that parochial residents in the Lower Clarence, Grafton city and outlying rural areas ? roughly equal in their population bases ? could end up electing three councillors apiece.
He further believed experienced former councillors would be essential in helping debutante councillors understand the complexities of CVC budgeting, rating and organisational structures.
Putting paid to persistent scuttlebutt that Local Government Minister Tony Kelly appointed him as 'a Labor Party stooge', Mr Payne confirmed that he had been a paid-up National Party member at the time of his call-up.
"My politics has always been rural conservative, but I joined The Nationals for a year because I was upset with the Carr Government's proposed fishing ban in the Sandon River and its policies threatening timber industry jobs," he said.
"I literally had 30 seconds to think about it (the administrator's job) on the phone and agreed because I had always been in favour of a one-Valley council and feared that the role could go to an outsider with no local knowledge."
He said: "Some pain is unavoidable in restructuring six councils into one, but a new management and organisational structure will be bedded down by March 5 and a new $1-million computer system should be installed by July 1, streamlining the budgetary reporting process."
Mr Payne claimed he would leave the council, now a $120-million-a-year operation, in a sound financial position with unrestrict- ed cash reserves totalling $3.5million set against a $2.1-million budget deficit.
A $900,000 draft budget deficit had blown out due to $600,000 in unexpected workers' compensation costs and another $600,000 in works carried forward from the previous councils, he explained.
The administrator predicted that a new council would start to make significant savings, originally predicted by Mr Kelly to run into the millions, by the middle of its first term.