This is Part 2 of an article by Chris Bramley arguing that in his opinion the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) may have breached the Local Government Act 1993 in it’s actions in relation to the proposed new council Chambers and Cultural Centre in Gordon Street. Part 1 was published yesterday.
Conflict of Interest – Ethical Comparison & Dramatic Impact on Result
In 2013 the Mayor and former Cr Palmer (pictured below) both recused themselves from voting on proposed works at Brelsford Park quoting property or business interests in the CBD. See: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/mayor-declared-pecuniary-interest-in-cbd-unit-in-2013-2/
Forward to 2019, where Council hangs in a balance and the withdrawal of one supporting Councillor would leave only three in favour and four opposed to the Civic Project.
That fourth Councillor not only has interest in four CBD properties, one is within 300m of the Civic project.
Whilst voting with what to many seems to be a clear conflict of interest would ordinarily be shameful enough, couple that with two public denials and the failure of both the Mayor and Council’s General Manager to address the conflict.
This disregard for good governance calls the Council administration to be viewed as unethical at best.
However, consider the dire consequential effect the withdrawal of the fourth Councillor would have had on the final decision. Had that Councillor withdrawn the result would have been completely opposite and the project would not have proceeded.
Add to that the Mayor (below) using her casting vote in a highly contentious matter, where common convention is to stay with the status quo until a proper majority decision can be achieved. See: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/casting-votes-pecuniary-interests-and-the-thoughts-of-a-former-coffs-councillor/
The failure of the Mayor and the General Manager to exercise good governance and for the Mayor to exacerbate the situation by using her casting vote raises serious questions about intentional maladministration, coercion and complicity in my opinion.
Finally recall Council’s and the Mayor’s often used mantra of “revitalising” the CBD as reasoning for the project. The “revitalising” of the CBD since the “Special Rates” were introduced in 2000 has seen considerable growth in CBD property values and high rentals.
Surely a modern, contemporary, statement piece building within the CBD would have a significant impact on the further improvement of property values?
Under section 8A (1) there are nine guidelines of which in my opinion Council has gravely and/or intentionally breached four.
Pertinent sections referred to only.
(a) Council should recognise diverse local community needs and interests.
The Civic project is blatantly focused on the CBD and bears no recognition of diverse local community needs or interest, as demonstrated by the considerable public backlash.
Were the residents and ratepayers of Sawtell, Woolgoolga, Coramba, Moonee, Lowanna or any other area ever seriously consulted on new buildings or infrastructure in their locality?
(c) Councils should consider the long term and cumulative effects of actions on future generations.
The Civic building has insufficient space to house a proper museum, a major regional art gallery akin to say, Murwillumbah’s, a future proof library or indeed even enough space for current Council staff.
The effect of Council staff working from home has consequential inefficiencies and difficulty in dealing with individual staff members.
Obviously, there is no scope within the proposed building for increasing services or facilities or accommodating a growing Council for a thriving City.
We can be confident Council failed to consider either the effects on future generations, beyond those with self-interests and the CBD property owners.
Bearing in mind that the Civic building will deliver zero income, the entire project is a debt burden on the community.
On the General Manager’s advice to Councillors, the
admitted loan amount of $46 million (questionable as it is) over 30 years at
2.6%, encumbers the ratepayers of the future to $66.3 million in repayments, a
44% increase of the principal debt.
However add to that $66 million debt the following:
a. the loss of four public buildings and their potential value increase,
b. rental income from those buildings (a) above,
c. alternate use of the supposed $10 million in accumulated savings the General Manager states as existing,
d. no income from the Civic building,
e. maintenance costs of the Civic building,
f. inability of Council to fund other community-based initiatives and facilities,
g. lost opportunity cost.
The result is alarmingly well over $100 million in lost opportunity for future generations assuming the project experiences no blow outs, which is highly doubtful based on past experience.
Worse still, most of our future generations are arguably unlikely to ever visit or use the few services included in the Civic building.
(e) Council decision-making should be transparent, and decision-makers are to be accountable for decisions and omissions.
Despite the standard quotes of consultation, there is little if any evidence of Council being transparent. The information fed to the public through Council’s website and newspaper articles is embellished with advertising type language being largely hype and short on fact or substance.
On analysis, the entire project process seems to me to have been manipulated to deliver Council’s pre-determined objective, under the charade of ‘public inclusion’. Consultation sessions appeared to involve participants with vested interests. See: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/put-an-administrator-in-place-letter-to-minister-1/
The Library Gallery Advisory Group who recommended the inclusion of Councils offices within the then promoted Cultural building seems to be one such ‘ruse’.
This group apparently had the ear of Council in 2016 (two years after the Cultural project was first mooted) and evidently it had the “expertise” to determine Council’s current buildings were, to quote the Mayor, “at the end of their useful life “.
Ironically, that would be the very same buildings the CHCC expects to sell for potentially 18 million, negating the Rose Avenue and Museum sites.
Also almost every Council promotional publication or Mayor’s Column refers to “and car parking”, which is consistently misleading.
There appear to be zero parking spaces provided, with Council relying on public parking spaces within a 400m radius of the project.
It appears Council will not even provide parking for its own staff!
In March 2018, the Urban Developer publication quotes Council as shortlisting three architectural firms for the development. Next we note Council appears to have selected an entirely different firm, not included in the shortlisted group.
I don’t for a second question the capabilities of the selected firm, but I do question Council’s probity.
I trust the decision makers will be held personally responsible for their decisions and more particularly their omissions.
The above is the second of a number of opinion articles by Chris Bramley on this issue. The remainder will be published throughout the week here at Coffs Coast Outlook.
Chris is GM and owner of BH Group who battled the CHCC’s in the Land and Environment Court over a proposed Pacific Highway Motel in 2014.
The Land and Environment Court ruled in favour of BH Group. See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-24/coffs-harbour-hotel-rejection-overturned-in-land-and-environmen/5767160
Part 1 of this story can be found here: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/are-gordon-street-actions-breaches-of-the-local-government-act-part-1/