On Saturday, Port Macquarie-Hastings ratepayers will go to the polls to elect a new council and mayor to lead the crucial decision-making and delivery of services to our region for the next four years.
Three candidates have stepped up to the plate to contest the leadership role.
Running for the position of mayor are Peta Pinson, Peter Besseling and Sharon Griffiths. Throughout the campaign, all three candidates have come under significant community scrutiny.
Our readers have asked - who are they and are they ready to effectively lead our council?
First-time candidate Peta Pinson will run for the position of mayor only - a position she says will give her "the best opportunity to make significant change for our community".
At the foundation of her campaign is opposing a rate rise of 52.4% that she believes was agreed to by the current council in its IPART Fit for the Future submission.
A rate rise of 52.4% has been refuted by council's general manager Craig Swift-McNair as incorrect. The Fit for the Future process was undertaken by all NSW councils and submissions made to the state government are non-binding.
He further added that no application has been made to increase rates by the current council. The incoming elected council, if it decides, has until February 2017 to make application for a special rate variation.
Ms Pinson disagrees.
"The rate rise is council's submission to the state government. They have not advised the Minister that they do not intend to follow through with the plan.
“They also have not advised the community about the plan or if they are making an application to IPART in February," she said.
Ms Pinson, who has rolled out an extensive election campaign including large billboards and street placards, says the fair distribution of funds to Camden Haven and Wauchope, traffic issues/parking, footpaths and sports fields are at the top of her agenda as well as being an alternative choice as mayor for voters.
Her campaign, she says, has been entirely self-funded and she is not supported politically by The Nationals.
I have no legal conflict of interest with anyone. As the mayor, only the general manager and directors are available to have working relationships with. I am a professional within my working environment.- Peta Pinson
Ms Pinson owns road construction company Stabilcorp while her husband owns Mid Coast Road Services, an adjoining business in Commerce Street, Wauchope.
Mid Coast Road Services is currently embroiled in Supreme Court action against Port Macquarie-Hastings Council over a contractual dispute relating to works completed on Ocean Drive, Lake Cathie.
This matter is yet to be finalised. In 2014, Greater Taree City Council paid $215,000 to settle a contractual dispute with the same business.
Ms Pinson said the court matter relates to a company she has no legal involvement with and is not relevant to her campaign.
"I have no legal conflict of interest with anyone. As the mayor, only the general manager and directors are available to have working relationships with.
“I am a professional within my working environment," she added.
Incumbent mayor Peter Besseling's relationship with state and federal members has not escaped public scrutiny either.
Mr Besseling has served a full four-year term on council after being elected mayor in 2012.
His political career began in the latter half of the 90s when he joined forces with Robert Oakeshott to assist with his successful campaign to become the NSW Member for Port Macquarie. After returning to the Hastings from Japan in 2005, the alliance continued when Besseling was appointed Oakeshott’s senior political advisor.
Mr Besseling was then elected as the state member in 2008 following a by-election for the vacant seat of Port Macquarie, but failed to retain the position with current MP Leslie Williams claiming victory in 2011.
When asked how important amicable relationships are in delivering council services and securing additional funding, Mr Besseling said it is the “nature of politics” to have a difference of opinion on some matters with his state and federal members.
“My relationship with all MPs, which also includes David Gillespie and Melinda Pavey, is professional and courteous. Regular meetings are scheduled and of course, different positions may be taken from time to time on certain issues,” Mr Besseling said.
He is running as a councillor and for the mayoral role on a ticket with Justin Levido, Rob Turner and Geoff Hawkins, who are together self-funding the campaign with a number of “small donations”.
Aside from his involvement in a number of community and sporting organisations, Mr Besseling says he does not have any business interests he considers to be a conflict of interest with council decision making.
“However, from time to time at council meetings I have declared family interests that have the potential to conflict with a specific agenda item. These conflicts have been declared and are a matter of public record.”
Councillors and staff have a good working relationship, which is important in ensuring effectiveness and efficiency.- Peter Besseling
Claims have been made publicly by outgoing councillor Adam Roberts about a culture of bullying existing in council ranks.
Mr Besseling does not agree.
“I am not aware of any bullying claims made to any local government authority, council’s general manager or Fair Work Commission, nor have I received any complaints personally,” he said.
“I am aware of a former councillor's interview with a local publication that claimed there was an amount of “attempted bullying” in council.
“The claims did not reveal the source or any specifics relating to the attempted bullying, nor whether or not the attempted bullying was by councillors or staff.
“Councillors and staff have a good working relationship, which is important in ensuring effectiveness and efficiency.
“The culture within the councillor group is very collegiate and staff morale and culture has improved enormously.”
Councillor and mayoral candidate Sharon Griffiths wouldn’t be drawn on the claims of bullying, only to say that if it did occur, the appropriate steps should be taken to have an incident addressed.
“Everyone who has an incident of bullying in any situation should take appropriate action to make it cease. Councillors should work in a cooperative manner to ensure they are providing the best outcome for residents,” Mrs Griffiths said. “Rather than focus on the negative, I tend to focus on the community and their expectations.”
The owner of Hilberts Hardware in Wauchope is running a ticket with June Bricknell, Sheryl Barnett and Katie Scott.
Of the three meet the candidates meetings held across the region, Mrs Griffiths only attended the Port Macquarie gathering hosted by the Resident’s Action Network. Her colleagues did not attend any of the meetings, citing illness and personal matters as the reason.
Everyone who has an incident of bullying in any situation should take appropriate action to make it cease.- Sharon Griffiths
Mrs Griffiths said her team had the opportunity to discuss matters with the Lake Cathie Progress Association prior to the candidates’ forum.
The Wauchope businesswoman, who is self-funding her campaign, said council’s accounting practices ensure transparency in decision-making and managing potential conflicts of interest.
“I never needed to leave a council meeting due to a conflict. Council has a purchasing policy which tracks expenditure and new rules have been implemented through accounting practices,” she said.
Voters go to the polls on Saturday to elect eight councillors and a mayor for council’s next four-year term.