There’s a feeling of déjà vu in the Maitland City Council chamber.
Next month marks the 21st anniversary of council’s historic sacking following months of bitter division between elected representatives, staff and the then general manager the late Rhonda Bignell.
It was at times a personal and political hotbed – a scene becoming more familiar around the 2018 horseshoe.
It’s clear our current council is factioned and fractured with Mayor Loretta Baker and her ALP colleagues clearly outnumbered by the pseudo independent Team Penfold and some members of the Liberal Party.
Cr Philip Penfold was pipped to the post by Cr Baker for the mayor’s position at last year’s local government election. Instead of putting his hand up for deputy mayor he nominated the Lib’s Cr Sally Halliday who was voted in. Last month’s election for deputy was a race between the ALP’s Ben Whiting and the Lib’s Mitchell Griffin. Cr Griffin got the gong.
This week the division between councillors was taken to the next level with Team Penfold member Peter Garnham quashing a Mayoral Minute nominating former mayor Peter Blackmore for Freeman of the City.
You see there’s no love lost between Cr Penfold and Mr Blackmore – in fact they pretty much despise each other. Ironically Cr Garnham ran on Mr Blackmore’s ticket to snare his first term on council. He was on Mr Blackmore’s team in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 but when Mr Blackmore retired last year Cr Garnham jumped on the Penfold train. This set the foundations for a nasty pre-poll booth exchange between Mr Blackmore and Cr Garnham’s wife – a story Fairfax Media carried at the time. Team Penfold has not spoken to The Mercury since.
Last year’s election was a dirty one with the polling booth spray and an anonymous letter campaign. One letter which said “leave Phillip alone”, was shoved under candidate Brian Burke’s coffee shop door, a second under the The Mercury’s door.
There was also drama before a councillors’ Christmas function with Team Penfold refusing to attend if Mr Blackmore was dining with them.
The Mercury understands the current climate has also affected senior council officers who now refuse to attend after meeting dinners with councillors.
This council was divided before it was even elected. Surely ratepayers deserve better and expect our civic leaders to do what they were elected to do – run the city.