How have Tweed Shire councillors done so far?
FLOODS, court battles, rail trails and hospitals have dominated the debate in Tweed Shire Council for the past two years.
For a council made up of five newcomers and two experienced councillors, it took some time for the elected body to find their feet and start working on improving the Tweed Shire.
Battle lines were drawn quickly, with most decisions split four votes to three in favour of pro-environment issues.
Mayor Katie Milne quickly formed an alliance with Labor Deputy Mayor Reece Byrnes and independent councillors Ron Cooper and Chris Cherry - an allegiance that gained the quirky title the 'Rainbow Four' following their push for council to support the 'Yes' vote in the controversial same-sex marriage debate last year.
The remaining three councillors, Warren Polglase, Pryce Allsop and Liberal councillor James Owen, have banded together to push a pro-development agenda, despite continually butting heads with the 'Rainbow Four' on several development applications.
The council's propensity to on occasion go against staff recommendations or reject development applications has resulted in it being forced to spend more than $2million in legal fees defending its decisions, much to the annoyance of ratepayers who believe their money should be spent improving roads.
But it was the 2017 March flood that really put the council to the test, with much of the shire facing a deluge of destruction caused by ex-tropical cyclone Debbie.
As the community struggled to come to terms with the loss of six lives and damaged infrastructure, the council was left with a $46.65million repair bill.
The council, with the assistance of state and federal funding, set to work repairing the damage with some work still under way.
Tweed Daily News takes a look back at the last two years of council:
Mayor Katie Milne
TWEED'S biggest protector of the environment, Greens Mayor Katie Milne is determined to keep pushing for a more sustainable shire, much to the disappointment of some of her fellow councillors.
After winning the majority of the vote in 2016, the third-term councillor hit the ground running to push for greater climate change measures and environment protections.
"Council is on the path of becoming more sustainable with our Renewable Energy Action Plan and Zero Waste target but there is a lot more work that still needs to be done,” Cr Milne said.
Speaking at length on issues close to her heart in council meetings, her continuous resistance to larger developments, like Kings Forest and the new Tweed Valley Hospital has proven tiresome for many with opposing views, with critics accusing her of holding back the shire.
Others praise her for standing up for the community with more of a caring agenda.
While her integrity is not questioned, Cr Milne has come under fire from within council and the public for her lack of availability to the community, and even the media.
This was most noted in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 floods, when the mayor was criticised for not taking a more vocal role in the days after the disaster, leaving council's general manager Troy Green to fill the void. Her absence at significant community events not related to environmental concerns has also been noted.
But the strong working relationship Cr Milne has formed with her fellow councillors bodes well for the future, considering she is likely to continue to have the support of the 'Rainbow Four' for the remainder of the term.
Her stance on involving council in matters outside of its jurisdiction, like the the same-sex marriage debate and state government water licences, will continue.
Deputy Mayor Reece Byrnes
THE youngest deputy mayor in the Tweed's history, Councillor Reece Byrnes has hit the ground running as Labor's ticket for council.
During the 2016 council elections, Cr Byrnes promised he would work to improve Tweed's economy while also making sure the environment was protected.
In recent months he's added tackling the homeless crisis to his wish list, becoming a champion for small homes and Fred's Place.
"The role comes with its challenges but I'm very proud that I'm still pursing the action plan I took to the election to improve the local economy while protecting the environment and being in balance with the community,” Cr Byrnes said.
His Labor roots run deep, having worked in the office of Richmond MP Justine Elliot since his university days, and at times you can see him cosying up to the Greens for support on both council and federal issues.
Easily accessible and active on social media, CrByrnes rarely utters more than a few words at council meetings. He generally votes alongside Greens Mayor Katie Milne, including on matters that have at times gone against staff recommendations.
But there's been times where he's jumped the fence, particularly with the controversial Pottsville Men's Shed when CrByrnes reversed his original decision and lent support to the men.
"At the end of the day, we're put there by the people and often at times the staff recommendation doesn't line up with community views and what's in the best interest of the community,” he said.
"The Hastings Point water slide decision went against us (in the Land and Environment Court) but I'm very proud that I stood up for the community who were dead against it.”
Most recently he's come under fire for supporting a DA to allow water extraction at a Uki property owned by former Labor statesman Jack Hallam.
Cr Pryce Allsop
HE WAS the dark horse nobody saw coming, but after claiming third spot on the ballot in the 2016 election, Councillor Pryce Allsop has breathed fresh air into the council.
Predominantly pro-development, the Murwillumbah businessman and keen footy fan was elected on a platform of building a stronger economy and supporting local jobs, but he admits the task is harder than he imagined.
"I've been sympathetic to people's business needs but that doesn't always work with the environmental challenges,” Cr Allsop said.
"There's been a few occasions where I have gone against the recommendations, but I guess I try not to.”
Always with a smile on his face, Cr Allsop is willing to listen to the community about their concerns but says the requirements of local government can be a bit tedious.
During the 2016 campaign Cr Allsop promised he would "cut the red tape” but admits he may have been naive in thinking he could change things quickly.
"It's really outside of our realm. NSW Planning is what we have to work with,” he said.
"While I was requested by so many people in the community to simplify things, the council staff are guided by those rulings.
"It's like currently with Jack Hallam's water extraction application, the matrix of NSW Water allowed that one to go through while the community doesn't want it.”
In chambers, he can be seen getting frustrated when agenda items are delayed time and time again, usually by a block vote of the 'Rainbow Four'.
With his own hardware business severely impacted, CrAllsop has championed the recovery of Murwillumbah businesses impacted by last year's floods.
The proud family man - who recently became a first-time grandfather - is frequently seen at community events, often kicking up his boots on the dance floor.
He's keen to push for more tourism and is planning to propose an upgrade of his beloved Stan Sercombe Oval in Murwillumbah, home of the Mustangs, to create a more community-friendly space that could host concerts and bigger events.
Cr Ron Cooper
HE MIGHT be the oldest councillor in the chamber but councillor Ron Cooper is no wallflower.
Having served on council in the mid-1990s, Cr Cooper has admitted things are more intense this time around but one thing that hasn't changed is the level of community consultation.
His belief there's been a poor relationship between the council and community motivated him to get back in the game in 2016 and shake things up.
"It's taken two years to get to the sort of consultation that I would want and like,” CrCooper said about recent roundtable discussions in Kingscliff during the draft Locality Plan consultation.
"It has a lot of hope for council being a much more respected body by allowing people to take ownership of their decisions.”
Elected on a platform of 'No High Rise' for Kingscliff, CrCooper is at risk of being sidelined as a one-issue councillor who is particularly focussed on his home town of Kingscliff.
But he has spread his interests of late to his new pet project of affordable housing for the Tweed.
"It's been a learning experience for me to see how we can develop options in bettering the homeless crisis,” he said.
"The model at which I'm looking at is something that won't just suit people who are about to go homeless, but also young people who won't get to afford their own home but will have a fair life if they live in a tiny home.”
Despite a preoccupation with his petition to limit Kingscliff's height limits - which he finally recently handed to the State Government sporting 16,000 signatures - Cr Cooper tends to support other pro- environment issues like the anti-water extraction debate and koala protection as part of the 'Rainbow Four' group of councillors.
Between swigging back energy drinks to stay alert during late-night council meetings, to trying to sneak in his unauthorised 'No High Rise' paraphernalia into the council chambers, nothing can top CrCooper's out-of-left-field suggestion of calling on visionary billionaire Elon Musk to help with the Northern Rivers Rail Trail.
Cr Warren Polglase
COUNCIL stalwart Councillor Warren Polglase has never faltered from his platform of promoting small business and development in the region.
First elected to the council in 1991, the former mayor - who was at the helm when the council was placed in administration in 2005 - continually fires back during council meetings when he disagrees with a point, putting his foot down particularly when Mayor Katie Milne tries to push her Greens agenda.
Despite his ties to the Nationals, the independent councillor has long held the belief that party politics shouldn't play a role in council, but his major bugbear, which seems to mirror public sentiment on social media, is the increasing amount of money the council spends on defending its decisions in the Land and Environment Court, most recently in cases over a water park at Hastings Point and water extraction in the Tweed.
"When a council of the last two years has spent an excess of $2million in legal fees, we have to look at ourselves and ask what's going on,” Cr Polglase said.
"Council in my opinion has to become more active in negotiating outcomes.”
Always challenging the status quo, Cr Polglase has pushed back at times when he felt the council was heading in the wrong direction, for example when it voted in favour of supporting the same-sex marriage debate in 2017, arguing it was a federal matter and not the council's concern.
His pro-business stance is a clear indicator that CrPolglase will keep pushing for more development in the Tweed and continue to help flood affected businesses get back on their feet, with his focus for the next two years leaning towards getting started on the Cobaki and Kings Forest estates.
Other key targets for the next two years are the Clarrie Hall Dam project and the Northern Rivers Rail Trail.
Cr James Owen
LIBERAL Party newcomer James Owen is determined to push a pro-business agenda during his first term as councillor.
Frustrated by the lack of development and investment in the Tweed so often stumped by the 'Rainbow Four' vote, CrOwen is pushing for greater opportunities for businesses in the shire.
Recently, he has become vocal at the continuous rejection of development applications, believing the only way to improve the economy is a change in local government and as such has put up his hand to be mayor.
"Until we have another election where the balance of power changes from the current undemocratic process I don't think we're going to fully be able to capitalise on the opportunities to work with the state, federal and private sector because we're just hindering our economic prosperity at the moment,” CrOwen said.
He relocated from Sydney with his young family a few years ago and critics have accused him of being naive to the Tweed's complex political matrix, but the relatively young councillor has worked hard to prove he's committed to the region and brings a fresh approach to the chamber.
Never one to miss an opportunity to attend an event, CrOwen is proactive in his role and favours development to boost the economy.
A great self-promoter on social media, including participating in the Cancer Council's Dance with the Stars event last year, he uses his platform to help young people find jobs.
"The environment is front and centre at everything we do but people want food on their table and jobs and opportunity,” he said.
Working alongside his Liberal colleagues in Sydney and locally, most recently helping Currumbin MP Jann Stuckey before taking up a consulting role with Seagulls Club, CrOwen is pushing for building connections with investors in the Tweed.
"We have to be more open to working with businesses and investors to try to generate more into the economy.” he said.
His future agenda includes helping Dunloe Park Estate get up and running, increasing tourism and ensuring water security for the Tweed.
Cr Chris Cherry
AS THE former Pottsville Community Association president, Chris Cherry put her hand up to run for Tweed Shire Council in 2016 in the hope of bringing greater community representation to the elected body.
The first-term councillor was selected by her peers to become deputy mayor for 2016-17, making history as Tweed Shire's first all-female leadership team alongside Mayor Katie Milne.
While she tends to vote in support of more pro-environment issues as part of the so-called 'Rainbow Four', the independent councillor has found the role challenging at times.
"I naively thought I would just get on council and vote how the community wants, but there's community on both sides of decisions,” CrCherry said.
"I've had a lot of personal attacks while I've been on council and that can weigh you down. I spend a lot of time reading all of the reports to make sure I make the most informed decision I can - that's the best I can do.”
Cr Cherry is very approachable and always willing to listen to alternative views on matters that tend to stir up emotion in the community, like water extraction.
"The whole water extraction issue is one that's really important for the community and if we as councillors can't listen to them, then what's the point of us doing our jobs,” she said.
While there was some criticism from the Pottsville community Cr Cherry wasn't acting in their best interests during the Pottsville Men's Shed debate in 2017, when she voted to oppose the temporary structure at Blackrock Sports Oval, her commitment to ensuring a high school is built in the future has never wavered.
She recently petitioned the council to stop any bid by developers to rezone land earmarked for a high school at the Seabreeze Estate in Pottsville.