WODONGA Council has rejected an invitation to join a cross border swimming pool group, sparking a fierce rebuke by an Albury councillor.
The city’s involvement in the Albury Wodonga Aquatics Facilities Advisory Committee had been formally sought by Albury Council in a letter last December.
But on Monday night, Wodonga councillors voted 5-2 to decline the invitation which followed concern at the management of each city’s pools by contractor Aligned Leisure.
It was argued pool matters were already covered via the Two Cities One Community working group and that the advisory committee would “inappropriately” stray into functional issues.
Former mayor John Watson said: “We’re getting very much into operational areas here and I’m really concerned about that.
“I’m happy for Aligned Leisure to have an aquatics reference group...but we’re here solely to do the strategic part of our planning of our cities.”
Councillor Ron Mildren said it was “irrelevant” if mistakes had been made in the contracts with Aligned Leisure and that his concern was potential legal action.
“I think we are hugely exposed to litigation,” Cr Mildren said.
“If we step on the toes of Aligned Leisure or cause them to suffer loss or cause them other adverse effect then I would expect they would have certain rights under contract law to seek remedy.
“I don’t think us getting into the realm of this sort of operational stuff actually takes us anywhere positively.”
However, Albury councillor Darren Cameron, who devised the advisory committee, said it was incorrect to say the new body would be involved in everyday matters.
“I think they’re on the wrong track,” he said.
Terms of reference provided to Wodonga Council clearly state the limitations.
“The committee shall limit itself to providing advice and recommendations upon policy and strategic facility and management matters relating to the aquatic facilities,” they state.
“These shall not include staff matters or day to day operational or management issues which can be referred to contracted management of the facilities and/or through regular user group meetings that management will co-ordinate.”
Cr Cameron said Wodonga Council was showing poor form.
“I’m not going to say I’m surprised, I’m very disappointed and not consulting with your ratepayers is never a good policy,” he said.
“The Two Cities One Community idea is one of the most important initiatives to be developed in local government in years and stubborn adherence to a closed door policy by Wodonga when it comes to consultation makes it much harder to work with them.
“I say it’s the role of council representatives to take the community to council not council to the community and most of the Wodonga councillors need to re-evaluate their priorities.”
Wodonga would have had a single councillor on the committee, joining an Albury councillor and representatives from the community, youth and swimming and water polo associations.
Wodonga councillor Danny Lowe voted against snubbing the committee, saying it was important to take feedback and he would like to be part of the group.
Colleague Brian Mitchell said Cr Lowe may be compromised as he had information from his Two Cities group role which he could not share with the advisory committee.
Mayor Anna Speedie rejected the committee as ill-conceived.
“When you look at those terms of reference it absolutely very clearly says that it will provide ‘advice and recommendations upon policy and strategic facility and management matters’,” Cr Speedie said.
“So from the get-go this committee would be set up incorrectly.
“It doesn’t mean that it denigrates any of the feedback from community, it doesn’t mean that we don’t hear that.”