NSW councillors have been told to re-apply for their jobs, as the NSW Government lays the groundwork to terminate existing councils as early as next month and begin amalgamations.
On Thursday all councillors received a letter from the Minister for Local Government Paul Toole, telling them he was considering interim arrangements for councils until elections are held after September. He said he was looking at options of a single person acting as administrator of a new merged council, or the continuation in office of some or all of the councillors in the new larger council area.
Councillors have been ordered to submit an expression of interest by April 15 explaining why they would be suitable for the interim council or why they are qualified to act as an administrator.
General managers and mayors are also required to apply for the jobs in the new larger councils
This is despite the Boundaries Commission still having to report on the merger proposals, most of which are being resisted by existing councils. Most public inquiries have finished and the delegates for each council area are preparing their reports. They will then go to the minister and to the boundaries commission. The minister then makes a decision to accept or reject the finding on the merger. But given this is the minister's blueprint, most councils expect him to forge ahead with mergers, possibly as soon at the end of April.
But two contentious mergers - that of Mosman, Willoughby and North Sydney and the plan to cut Warringah in half and amalgamate it with Pittwater to the north and Manly to the south - are still to hold a public inquiries stage and submissions are still open until April 8.
Mr Toole denied he had already made a decision on any merger proposal, but said the government was committed to ensuring effective implementation of any merger that goes ahead.
"That is why the government wants to hear from currently serving councillors who are committed to the success of any new council," he said.
The letter has drawn an angry reaction from councils opposed to amalgamation. Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) branded the letter " toxic" and anti-democratic. The group is urging councillors not to respond.
"This action by the minister and the NSW Government is highly divisive and is pre-judging the outcome of the deeply flawed proposed mergers process," the group said.
The letter raises questions about whether any councillor who has been involved in campaigning against a merger in their local area will be considered for the interim council, or as an administrator.
The minister said he was looking for councillors who have a "commitment to making the new council a success" and "a commitment to promote the new council to the community."
The letter was also silent on when administrators would be appointed, versus when the minister would consider a council comprised of some or all of the councillors. There was no guidance on the principles that the minister would use -- for example whether he would appoint councillors in proportion to the representation of the political parties on existing councils or whether there would be a geographic spread across the councils .
"This is not about the Right or Left of politics but the erosion of the democratic voices of local government by the bullies of the NSW state government. Under this 'job application' who gets to decide who remains as a councillor until the next council election and who has the right to do so? Councillors are elected by the people," said Miriam Gutman-Jones, an independent on Waverley Council.
Timeline to merged councils
December 18 2015: Premier Mike Baird announces 43 councils in Sydney will be merged into 25.
January 6 2016: Boundaries Commission re-constituted, delegates appointed and public inquiries announced.
February: Public submissions received.
March: Public hearings held.
April 8: Deadline for last submissions to inquiries into Mosman, North Sydney, Willoughby merger and Northern Beaches mergers.
April 15: Councillors must submit expressions of interest to continue on interim councils.
Late April: Recommendations from delegates expected to go to minister.
April/ May : Announcement from minister ordering mergers, dismissing councils and appointing interim staff.
September: Local government elections for new larger councils.