Local, Opinion/Comment

“Were CHCC Councillors given all the information they needed to make a sound judgement?”

A report on the Coffs Harbour City Council meeting of 22 August by Dr Janne Lindrum

At this meeting, Councillor Sally Townley (below) brought forward the following motion:

Councillor Townley

That Council:

1.       Authorise the engagement of suitably qualified    consultants to:

a.    Independently peer review Council’s LTFP based on known commitments, including projections as they relate to the current and projected loan portfolio;

b.      Independently peer review Council’s ability to service the debt portfolio, inclusive of a proposed borrowing of $45M for the Cultural and Civic space project on Council’s overall borrowing capacity;

c.       Independently peer review the compliance and governance on the architectural design tendering process to date.

2.       Receive a comprehensive report detailing expected long-term costs and outgoings for the proposed Cultural and Civic space.

3.       Continue to receive regular and comprehensive financial updates on the project.

4.       The funding source be taken from the current proposal to review the long term financial planned and the compliance and governance check on tendering process to be funded from the civic management budget.

A CHCC meeting

I am not a lawyer, but make the following observations:

1.       It is patent, from this motion that the Councillors were not provided with sufficient information prior to their vote to enable them to make a sound judgment in relation to the Gordon Street proposals;

2.       Councillor Amos has expressed concerns about the Gordon Street proposals since the matter was first raised and voted against the original Motion and in favour of the Rescission Motion;

3.       Councillors Rhoades, Swan, Amos and Arkan brought forward a rescission motion because they realised the overwhelming majority of the community were patently against this project proceeding and harboured their concerns on a multiplicity of fronts and, subsequent to learning that the cultural centre included a new council chambers;

4.       The original Motion is potentially defective in that it did not contain financial information to enable the Councillors to make a sound judgment. (Our emphasis).

In relation to point four of Councillor Townley’s Motion, there was no reference as to the source of funds for this investigation/peer review. Councillor Rhoades posed a question to the General Manager:

 “Should the source of funds be noted in a Motion which requires Council funds to be expended?”The General Manager answered, “Yes”.

Councillor Rhoades

  Why then, was the source, quantum of borrowings, term of loan etc. omitted from the original Motion?

The answer is the detail could not be provided to the Councillors as there was no way of knowing the answer to these questions as the proposed Gordon Street proposals are UN-COSTED.

What the Councillors did come to know, when the Rescission Motion was brought forward, is that NO GOVERNMENT GRANTS would be available to Council for the Gordon Street proposals (Reference: Councillor Rhoades/Gurmesh Singh MP).

 A further concern, the terms of the original Motion may not have been properly explained to some of the Councillors. Councillor Arkan, for example, was unaware that the terms of the original Motion had passed decision making on the sale of existing publicly-owned assets to the Executive.

Councillor Arkan argued that Councillor Townley’s Motion should be amended to reference sale of the publicly-owned assets so that Councillors were provided with a complete picture  The Mayor, after a quick chat with the General Manager, referenced section 17.7 of the model Code of Conduct introduced 2018, stating that matters raised in a Rescission Motion (referring, of course, to the Rescission Motion brought by Councillors Rhoades, Swan, Amos and Arkan requesting a pause which was defeated by the Mayor using her casting vote contrary to core principals of the Westminster system), could not be revisited.

Dr Janne Lindrum

17.7   “If a motion to alter or rescind a resolution has been lost, or if a motion which has the same effect as a previously lost motion is lost, no similar motion may be brought forward within three (3) months of the meeting at which it was lost. This clause may not be evaded by substitution a motion differently worded, but in principle the same.”

Whilst the Mayor appears to have a valid argument for the exclusion of the reference to the sale of the publicly-owned assets, given the homework now being requested should it have been supplied to Councillors prior to their voting on the Gordon Street proposals.

It seems peculiar to me that it is okay to request this critical data after ‘the horse has bolted’ and $2M of public money expended and a decision taken to press on in the absence of CRITICAL INFORMATION, that the Mayor should be able to rely on this section to exclude reference to the publicly-owned assets.

Not only does this seem “unreasonable” as the original Motion calls for liquidation of the publicly-owned assets to assist in the funding of the Gordon Street proposals, exclusion of data relating to the liquidation of the publicly-owned assets  will provide Council with a “qualified” /“incomplete” report which does not make a great deal of sense.

 I agree with Councillor Arkan, the assets sales should have been included within the ambit of the ‘independent audit’.

Councillor Arkan argued that “whilst [he] welcomed the intent of the Notice of Motion (NOM), he felt the NOM really needed to have referenced the proposed sale of the four assets. If indeed the NOM was about keeping an eye on proposed expenditure of the project, why exclude this information?”

Councillor Arkan

Why, indeed!

But, the more important point to make relates to the original Motion.

Ask yourselves the question:

“How can  a Councillor vote, in best interests of the people, on a CRITICAL MATTER like the Gordon Street proposals in the absence of the information now requested by Councillor Townley?”

“Why did the General Manager not provide this information to the Councillors prior to bringing forward a Motion to press ahead with an UN-COSTED development; a Motion passing power to the Executive to sell publicly-owned assets for up to 10% below their value?”

Councillor Townley’s Motion passes power to the Executive to select the Independent assessor! I am not sure why you would pass that power to an Executive who has failed to provide you with the data needed to make a CRITICAL DECISION, thus leaving Councillors potentially culpable under the Act. In my view, the only acceptable method would be to have an audit “of all Council expenditure” under the Local Government Act.

These are my interpretations, opinions and views.

I urge everyone to listen to the Minutes of this Meeting and to particularly take note of the long lapses in responses from the Director of Planning and also what appear to be the General Manager’s refusal to answer questions put to him by Councillors.

The minutes of the 22 August meting can be found here: https://infocouncil.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au/Open/2019/08/CO_20190822_AGN_2202_AT.PDF

Audio recordings of CHCC meetings, including the 22 August meeting, can be found here: http://mixlr.com/coffsharbourcitycouncil/showreel/

3 Comments

  1. I am not surprised by this article. Council executive has been treating the residents with contempt since the appointment of the current General Manager. There has been a litany of situations where the councillors have been misinformed or given only sufficient information to obtain their favourable vote. It is a well worn tactic essentially relying on their lack of experience or knowledge to question the advice.

    In those instances, where questions are asked, as we have seen recently, Councillors are bounced between the General Manager and Directors, with either curt, insufficient detail or alternatively baffling. They have become experts in doublespeak.

    There is little doubt the Councillors were not given the full story. The evidence harks back to being misled in 2014 that the project was for performing arts, library and art gallery. No mention of the Council highjacking the building until 2016, according to the recommendations of the Mayor’s favoured experts, the Library Gallery Advisory Committee.

    By any fair assessment, it has been a Council concocted process and outcome from the start.

  2. Dick McDermott

    If it can be proved that councillors were not given all the information needed to advance or not any project surely this must put a stop to that project. Surely if there is evidence that councillors were not given all the information this corrupts the council process and as such must be investigated by ICAC. If there is no evidence that councillors were not given all the information why the rumours so those starting the rumours must also be exposed? How could any person continue to sit on council if they have a suspicion that they are not being given all the information necessary to make decisions and how could any councillor continue to participate in decision making if they don’t care whether there are being given all the information or not as they are using our money. If information was withheld from councillors by council staff those responsible must be exposed. Only a full ICAC investigation can determine the case and only after that should any project approaching a hundred million dollar cost go ahead. There seem to have been a lot of assumptions made about this project by both staff and the elected representatives on the basis of very little information and how can the General Manager decide who will do an independent assessment when he himself has been part of the problem.

  3. George Partos

    The latest motion is a red herring, the simple facts are that we need 10k signatures to take to state parliament as nothing other than that or a legal injunction will now stop the council. So spread the word!

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