Trio of administrators tapped for Coober Pedy fix

Three senior local government officials have been appointed administrators of the debt-ridden Coober Pedy council amid hopes they can restore it back to an elected body by 2025.

Mar 10, 2023, updated Mar 10, 2023
Three in one: Erika Vickery OAM, Geoff Sheridan and John Moyle  have been appointed administrators of Coober Pedy council - a role previously held by one person.

Three in one: Erika Vickery OAM, Geoff Sheridan and John Moyle have been appointed administrators of Coober Pedy council - a role previously held by one person.

District Council of Elliston CEO Geoff Sheridan will take over as principal administrator of the District Council of Coober Pedy on March 29, Local Government Minister Geoff Brock announced today.

Sheridan will be joined by two “supporting” administrators: former Naracoorte Lucindale mayor Erika Vickery and former City of Tea Tree Gully CEO John Moyle.

The trio, to be supported by $150,000 in additional state government funding, are the permanent replacement for former Coober Pedy council administrator Tim Jackson, who held the role since the council was put into administration in January 2019.

Jackson, who left the role last month, has previously described his attempts to fix the outback town’s finances as “extremely difficult and quite traumatic”.

Interim Coober Pedy administrator Colin Davies’ role will end on March 29.

The council’s 2021/22 annual report published this week shows the council’s debt continues to grow.

Its current debt liabilities reached $11.6m last financial year, up from $11.3m in 2020/21, while long-term liabilities reached $86.1m, up from $84.7m.

The annual report, the first published by the council since 2014/15, stated that financial liabilities now represent 645 per cent of total operating income. The council’s target range is between 90 and 110 per cent.

The council also ran an operating deficit of $1.47m in 2021/22.

But today the state government said the appointment of three administrators is “expected to fast track the road back to an elected member body”.

Brock said the issues in Coober Pedy “are far too complex and significant to rely on a single administrator to resolve”.

“The appointment of three administrators is designed to enable the Council to be returned to an elected member body well before the 2026 council elections, ideally in two years’ time,” he said in a statement.

“I made a commitment to the Coober Pedy community that the appointment process would be one that was thorough and public.

“I am happy to have found three outstanding appointments in Mr Sheridan, Ms Vickery and Mr Moyle as we look to find permanent fixes to the issues that placed the Council into administration in the first place.”

The state government last year extended Coober Pedy council’s suspension as an elected body until November 2026 via legislation passed through the parliament.

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It also established a multi-agency “Coober Pedy Taskforce” headed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet to explore financial solutions for the town.

The council now faces a series of immediate-term problems, according to its CEO David Kelly, who wrote in the annual report that it now has 19 unfunded “high priority” projects, primarily across its water and electricity assets, worth $3.7m.

The council is preparing a tender to sell off its water assets and operations. Jackson has previously called for the state government to buy up both the electricity and water assets, estimated to be worth $15m, so the council can clear its immediate debts.

Coober Pedy residents have also raised concerns about anti-social behaviour in the town, prompting the state government to consider tougher alcohol restrictions and a broader health response.

Meanwhile, the town’s only bank shut its doors last month, meaning locals have to travel to Port Augusta if they wish to deposit more than $7000 in cash or withdraw more than $2000.

South Australia’s Upper House passed a motion on Wednesday condemning the closure of the Westpac branch and calling on the bank to reconsider its decision. The motion, introduced by Greens MLC Robert Simms, was supported by all parties.

Brock said he would be visiting Coober Pedy later this month with the three new administrators, “so we can hit the ground running with a new administration to shape a thriving outback community”.

“It is important to me that the Council remains in administration for not a minute longer than it needs to,” he said.

“The Coober Pedy community deserves a locally elected body that makes good and responsible decisions for its community – but the Council must be stable and financially sustainable before this can occur.”

Sheridan, the new lead administrator, has worked in local government for more than 50 years.

According to his LinkedIn, he has been CEO at numerous councils, including Port Elliott and Goolwa, Henley and Grange, Kapunda and Light, Renmark Paringa, Copper Coast, Wakefield Regional, and Victor Harbor.

Vickery was mayor of Naracoorte Lucindale Council from 2010 until she was defeated at the 2022 election. She also sits on the South Australian Local Government Grants Commission.

Moyle was CEO of the City of Tea Tree Gully from 2013 until his retirement in September 2022. He has also spent time with Adelaide Hills Council and its predecessor, the District Council of East Torrens.

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