TWELVE years ago, the doors opened to possibly one of the best regional entertainment centres in New South Wales.
Architecturally stunning and right in the heart of Port Macquarie's CBD with a multi-level art gallery and tourism hub, The Glasshouse is the pre-eminent cultural epicentre of our regional city.
From international acts to hands-on and interactive community and school programs, anyone who has sat in the 600-seat main theatre surrounded by the stunning horseshoe of acoustic timber panelling, or walked through the main foyer wrapped by soaring floor to ceiling curves of glass, it is hard to leave the building without being just a little bit impressed.
Unfortunately, the place comes with 'history'.
Mention the word 'Glasshouse' to a local and it is oft met with a groan - and in some cases a long and impassioned recount of how the theatre got a council sacked after initial costings increased seven times over and blew out the project to a whopping $41.7 million.
There are a few who still throw stones because of our then council's Glasshouse mess. It was an amazing project marred by mismanagement that left ratepayers digging deeper into their pockets and slogged with special rate hikes to pay the final bill.
Most of us have moved on and the knockers who remain are not entirely bitter either. They are ratepayers who value what it means to hold our elected body to account, who demand sound financial management and transparency - all of us should expect this from the people granted the privilege to shape the future of our communities.
A full public inquiry in 2007 by the then Minister for Local Government Paul Lynch resulted in the council and its mayor being dismissed and an administrator initially appointed for four years.
What should have been a monumental achievement to celebrate in 2008, the opening of the Glasshouse became an enduring symbol for public scrutiny across all of council's financial decision-making into the future.
Ratepayers were watching and when council didn't quite get it right, the Glasshouse scab was knocked right off the wound all over again.
Many would agree that when a council is in administration, stuff gets done. But for Port Macquarie-Hastings, the dramas weren't over.
Two administrators quit before a third, former council director Neil Porter, steadied the ship until the 2012 council elections. Three general managers also walked in and out the door.
Our first elected council post-administration had a lot to prove and buckets of trust to earn back from a community that had lost faith in local democracy and the grassroots decision-making that, by its very nature, should be collaborative, inclusive and for the betterment of the place we all share.
The new team on the block paved a way out of administration before then mayor Peter Besseling also decided to call it quits just months into his second term at the helm in 2017, forcing a by-election for the position.
This instability was again unsettling, but made space for newcomers to take the lead. Current mayor Peta Pinson replaced Besseling in 2017 - the council's first woman in the top job, who has not wavered from her mandate to serve the needs of her community and be a voice for the people since being sworn in.
It is a platform, however, that has been labelled by some as 'popularist', often leaving her to be a lone champion on issues and up against what she has always alleged is a 'voting block' against her.
That allegation was usually swiftly rebuked, often mid-meeting debate, with a reminder about the importance of respecting council process, informing the community with facts and considering the expertise/advice of specialist staff as a part of the elected body's decision-making responsibilities.
The frustration from all parties was often palpable.
The clash of personalities, verbal side-swipes and unsettled rumblings within the group has not gone unnoticed and on more than one occasion, has spilled over into public allegations by the mayor of bullying and harassment and an ultimatum to her fellow councillors to work together or resign.
The mayor even went as far to declare that council as an elected body had become a 'warring faction', was 'toxic' and 'dysfunctional' and incapable of representing its community. Some agreed, others found the accusations baffling.
The mayor on one occasion even had an ally in radio shockjock Ray Hadley who launched a scathing on-air attack on the council's leadership. He even went as far as calling the GM a "boofhead".
NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing and Nationals MP for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, even weighed in on the debate via phone during the radio broadcast saying "Peta Pinson was just trying to do what the community expects of her".
At the time of this public lambasting, election campaigning toward the September 2020 polls was already gaining momentum and community division on council's management of the Lake Cathie waterway had reached boiling point.
The mayor unsuccessfully made a bid for an early election. Another councillor threw a barb back comparing the internal discord to a Muppet Show.
The Code of Conduct and its role in local government came under scrutiny.
Local governance is simple really - make sound and sensible decisions based on fact, research and collaboration with each other and the community. Tell the truth, be transparent. That's democracy.
Three councillors did calls it quits during this term, and so did council's general manager - all on their own terms and for their own reasons. The GM even organised professional remediation for councillors and the mayor before his departure.
After bushfires had ravaged our region and COVID came knocking on our door, it seemed our council had lost its way, again, when our community needed leadership the most.
When the September 2020 local government elections were postponed, 12 more months of internal bickering seemed unbearable.
But to their credit, our current mix of councillors - while they most certainly do not agree on everything - have worked hard to get the job done. At the end of the day, despite how they might feel about each other, they would all attest they are there for the right reasons.
Local governance is simple really - make sound and sensible decisions based on fact, research and collaboration with each other and the community. Tell the truth, be transparent.
Councillors don't have to like each other - I think we all agree some of them don't. And robust debate on big ticket issues is healthy.
However, we do expect them to work together and be respectful of each other and the democratic processes in place to best serve the community they have been elected to represent.
It's not a job for everyone, but come voting time, it's important those of us who don't step up to the plate put some genuine thought into electing a diverse and motivated mix of people who can lead our community with integrity and purpose.