SHOALHAVEN City Council has become overly politicised and in many respects resembles a secret society.
This is the damning assessment of Cr Mark Kitchener, who has lashed out at what he says is a deliberate attempt to sideline himself and other councillors who are not members of Team Gash.
Cr Kitchener issued a two-and-a-half page statement in response to a South Coast Register story last Friday which showed he outstripped other councillors when it came to expenses claims.
Cr Kitchener said he and other councillors were continually sidelined and treated with complete discourtesy by Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash and her team.
“A recent example of this was a meeting held at SES Headquarters at Ulladulla to which only Gash councillors were invited and, to make matters worse, a Gash Ward 2 councillor was included,” he said.
Cr Kitchener is a Ward 3 councillor who lives in Mollymook and is a member of the Ulladulla SES.
He said the snub was symptomatic of a culture of exclusion at Shoalhaven City Council.
“While I was treated with respect and courtesy by all councillors it was clear that I was considered by some to be the enemy.
“Whenever I approached a couple of councillors talking, the conversation would stop or change and there would be hushed silences. It was like being amidst a secret society.
“Many meetings occurred, and still occur that I was not privy to nor invited to attend. There is privileged information for the selected team and I am not included in the loop,” he said.
Cr Kitchener dismissed the term “teamwork” on which the Gash campaign was heavily based, as “rhetoric”, or a “punch line”.
“We are all mature adults and if the team won’t allow me to participate on an equal footing in the community then I will find ways to participate,” Cr Kitchener said.
Defending his expenses, Cr Kitchener said the exclusion he suffered forced him to throw himself into every council activity he could attend.
“I had my phone set to accept every meeting on the calendar. I attend everything on the council calendar unless I am out of town.
“I drive to Nowra five days a week and over time this has made me invisible. In the background, I quietly listen to and watch everything with the purpose of developing an understanding of all things council,” he said.
“I have attended committee meetings, site meetings, public meetings, board meetings, councillor briefings, training sessions, workshops, conferences, familiarity tours, and work place visits all with the purpose of utilising information learned to improve the quality of life in the towns and villages I represent.”
Cr Kitchener said his attendance at conferences had exposed him to best-practice and the most up-to-date information, which he had shared with council staff.
“I am learning everything as quickly as I can so I can serve the community more effectively.
“Every claim I have made is in direct relationship to the amount of work I am putting into the job. People who elected me expect and demand that I give them 100 per cent and I will give them nothing less.”