A group of like-minded residents in the Macleay Valley have presented a petition to the State Government to take action against Kempsey Shire Council.
The group is seeking intervention from the Minister for Local Government to issue a performance improvement order citing a perceived lack of transparency, community engagement and due diligence by council.
The petition, which started in May, has gained over 900 signatures. It was hosted at numerous locations across the Macleay over an eight week period and received more than the minimum number of signatures required for the Minister for Local Government to provide a response within 35 days.
The petition was delivered to the office of Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey's office on Friday August 16.
"Although each group have specific concerns relating to their own community, we accept that there are different points of view across the whole shire on individual issues," Save Kempsey Airport Action Group President Adam Ulrick said.
"What the groups have in common is a total lack of confidence in Kempsey Shire Council's decision making process and governance."
Kempsey Shire Council have acknowledged that the petition has been lodged by the collective group and general manager Craig Milburn said residents have the right to express their opinion and a petition of this kind, seeking greater levels of community engagement from council, is a strong sign of an active community.
"In this term of council, the elected representatives have had to make some significant decisions in seeking to implement the Community Strategic Plan to grow the size of the community and boost the local economy," he said.
"Its understandable that in a population of almost 30,000, some sections of the community are not going to agree with those decisions. That's democracy at work."
Council has implemented new initiatives actively seeking to increase community engagement and interaction over the last 12 months. Digital platforms, such as Your Say Macleay has allowed residents to have their say on issues important to them while a program of quarterly community catch-ups across the Macleay Valley has also helped councillors meet with residents to review local issues.
"We have acknowledged the sensitivities for some residents regarding the airport use and established the Kempsey Airport Reference Group (KARG)," Mr Milburn said.
"Significant time and resource over the last 12 months has gone into working with KARG to review the complexities of airport management in order to bring the community opinions into the discussions and document development."
Although council have implemented these new approaches over the past year, secretary of the Crescent Head Residents and Ratepayers Association, Gail Ryan, said lack of community engagement is still an issue for a number of locals.
"Lack of openness and transparency coupled with outcomes predetermined by council were consistent themes detected during the petition period," she said.
Mr Ulrick agreed, calling council's attitude 'dismissive'.
"The dismissive attitude and manipulative actions displayed by council to legitimate community concerns is reminiscent of that identified by the Commission of Inquiry that led to the sacking of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council some years ago," he said.
Kempsey Shire Council will continue to work with the community in the future, with council's Corporate Improvement Program for this financial year including a focus on the Community Engagement policy and toolkit.
"Unfortunately the opportunity to have a say doesn't always translate into getting the outcome you desire and that's where we need to keep working with the community to help them understand the levels of engagement, the constraints and legislation that also affect council's decisions," Mr Milburn said.
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