Challenger for mayoral contest?

By KIERAN FINNANE
Alderman Samih Habib Bitar, the Town Council’s longest-serving member, has not ruled out running for Mayor against incumbent Damien Ryan. Nor has council’s newest member, Alderman Eli Melky. Ald Habib Bitar will, however, definitely run again as alderman, while Ald Melky may not.
Ald Habib Bitar would not say what will influence his decision on the mayoral contest, but Ald Melky, returned in a by-election in March last year, was quite clear: whether he runs for mayor or simply as an alderman, he wants to see who else is going to put their hands up.
“I don’t want to spend the next four years being shut down by the numbers,” he says.
This is what he sees as having happened to him in his 12 months on council. He says it would be misleading to tell voters that he could change things if that were again to be the situation.
This is potentially more likely with the new council, given the change in the way votes will be counted in the up-coming elections. The new counting system favours greater diversity, so unless there is a strong cohort of  like-minded candidates with high profiles, the town could end up with a very mixed group of aldermen – representing “small interest groups”, says Ald Melky.
“This opens up a whole can of worms and could be very tough on the town. There’ll be no team work, no direction, everyone will be fighting for their one-off agendas.”
Ald Melky says the only reason he wants to be on council is to be “productive”.
“As the town is in such dire straits, if I can’t be part of the solution on the inside, I’d rather be part of the battle on the outside.”
He is appalled that council refused to discuss the local law and order situation on Monday (see separate report), preferring to focus on roller derby “when businesses are shutting down one after the other!”
He says he dodged a brick being thrown at his car on Tuesday night and was harassed by a group of drunks when he was running on Head Street oval at about 8.30pm. He was also appalled to see large numbers of young Aboriginal people, many of them drunk, on the street at 11.30pm as aldermen left Monday night’s meeting. He believes any tourist walking by would have felt highly intimidated.
“People says I shouldn’t refer to them as being Aboriginal, but that’s who they were – they weren’t white, they weren’t African, they weren’t Indian.”
He was disgusted on the same occasion with the amount of rubbish on the ground around the council chambers.
He says the role of mayor has great potential to be productive, a potential he sees as having been “hardly tapped” by Mayor Ryan.
He gives Mayor Ryan “an A+” for his exercise of the ceremonial role and for “talking up the town”, for example in his role as vice-president of the Finke Desert Race committee, but on the “hard issues, a D-“.
What are the hard issues, in his view?
Ald Melky doesn’t hesitate:
• “transparency” – too much council business is discussed in confidential;
• “engagement” – not enough is done to unify the council and the community; and,
• “standing up against opposing views” – of “minority groups”, the Police Commissioner, the Chief Minister.
“Why is so much done in confidential?” he asks. “Why is there so much disunity? Why don’t we get our fair share of attention from the police, the NT Government, and the Federal Government?”
He zeroes in particularly on the NT Government: “They have the resources to ensure law and order, land release, to stimulate business and tourism.
“If I was the mayor, and the NT Parliament sat here, I wouldn’t go inside during the protests outside and have a cup of tea with the Chief Minister and take him a gift, I’d stay outside and expect the Chief Minister to come out and meet with me and the rest of the people.
“I’d be asking him, why do we have 10, 15, 20 businesses closing in Alice Springs? Why is land release so limited? Why is there no growth here? Why are we talking about housing infill? Why is there so much red tape in the way of new projects? Why is the start price for a piece of dirt $300,000? Why in a tourist town do we have liquor restrictions?”
He hastens to add that he does not drink at all, a personal choice.
“These are the questions that the local government principal has to highlight,” says Ald Melky.
Sounds like he’s ready to campaign, but Ald Melky says his hesitation is genuine. “It would be a very expensive exercise. I estimate you’d need a $50,000 purse to campaign against Damien, taking into account loss of income from the time you’d have to take off work and the money spent on advertising.
“To get your brand up in the six to eight weeks we’ve got left, door-knocking wouldn’t do it. And if you think it could be done with $5000 worth of advertising, you’d be dreaming!
“I’m in the fortunate position where I’ve got the resources but I would be doing the wrong thing by the town if I went back into the environment that I have had to face in this council.”

 

Vote-counting systems:

For an explanation of the way the former “exhaustive preferential” system favours blocks and works against more isolated or independent candidates, see Alex Nelson’s comment, published in the lead-up to the last local government election. The system that will be used this time in all NT local government elections is known as “single transferable vote proportional representation”. Its benefits for multi-member electorates where there is social diversity have been argued for by Dr Will Sanders of the Australian National University. See our past coverage of his views here.
The new system, says Dr Sanders, will mean “that any candidate who can get  more than 1/9th of the vote across Alice Springs ( 11.1%) will now get  elected as one of the eight alderman, as opposed to the old system under which all eight had to attract over 50% of voters. I suspect this will mean a broader-based council, possibly including someone with strong links to town camp interests”.
In the coming weeks the Alice Springs News Online will bring you interviews with aspiring aldermen – they won’t include 8HA talkback host Adrian Renzi, who has decided against running –  and any mayoral candidates that may emerge.

 

Ald Melky is pictured above, addressing the rally outside Parliamentary sittings in Alice Springs in March last year.

 

Mayor Damien Ryan responds to Alderman Melky’s comments:
I am at a loss to find any input that Alderman Melky can claim as his achievement since joining ASTC in March 2011, although he has always been quick to provide media headlines while others in council have got on with real actions.
Alderman Melky continues to show his lack of understanding of the Local Government Act: The CEO determines what business is placed in the confidential section of council and at all times the elected members have the power to bring this discussion into the open section. After due diligence the elected members vote to have these decisions moved to the open section of Council.
ASTC has very clear legislative responsibilities and these do not include NT Police, Law & Order or Alcohol Restrictions: the Alice Springs Town Council works with all sections of the community and all NTG Departments.
An example of this was the introduction of CCTV developed by ASTC and now managed by the NT Police. The CCTV has become a useful tool in curbing anti social behaviour in the CBD.
During August 2011 the ASTC resolved a motion to request the Chief Minister of the NT and the NT Police Commissioner ensure that Alice Springs receive the same level of police resources and focus as experienced in our town during March 2011 be in place for this summer to ensure we did not experience the same crime and anti social behaviour as last summer.  The outcome from this resolution was the creation of the  Alice Springs Community Action Plan which provided a summer holiday program to engage the youth of our town and also provided the successful Police Operation Thresher.
Sadly Alderman Melky likes to Talk the Talk but goes missing when its time to action the Talk as shown in his decision to oppose this.
Alderman Melky should explain to the community why he voted AGAINST the motion.
As Mayor of Alice Springs I have worked tirelessly and with success to obtain many Federal and NT Governments grants for our community.

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11 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Janet brown
    Posted February 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Paul. We have a CEO. Rex Mooney. Council already operates in a corporate manner. The role of Mayor and Aldermen are there to ensure council operates in the best interest of the residents and to lobby for NT and Federal Government for money and anything else relevant to the growth and prosperity of our town. And, yes, that does require someone with leadership qualities. Four years is in my view long enough to show the strength of a good leader. Our current elected members did not represent the residents and ensure financial accountability. With relation to the Subloo issue that cost was over $500,000 from rate payer’s purse. A small hum from a few to protect the town from the violence but loud and clear from the majority of elected members that the violence is being over stated by a small group who want to talk the town down.
    That group was made up of over 40 small business owners in our town. People who are concerned about what is really happening to our town. A fee at the tip now cost the ratepayers more due to illegal dumping and cost to ratepayers to pay for clean up. A real leadership in elected members would have allowed free dumping – a cheaper cost to rate payers. And a cleaner environment. And now want to fine property owners if they leave graffiti on walls. Again elected members feel that attacking the victim has a low risk than dealing with the graffiti criminal.Great leadership. Real thought behind some real basic understanding. Sorry, common sense on extended leave due to bullying by no sense.

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  2. Paul Lelliott
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    “More power for the Mayor or Mayoress”:
    The expectations we have of our Mayor are high indeed. I’m sure we all realise by now that the role of the Mayor in Alice Springs is a fixed role determined by Territory government legislation.
    Reading various comments by aspiring councilors and concerned residents it occurs to me that we are all screaming out for leadership. If Alice Springs was
    a commercial business it would require a CEO to administer that business and deliver satisfactory outcomes for its stakeholders.
    Currently we, the stakeholders [the residents] do not have a CEO to go to. If we have concerns about law and order who do we go to?
    If we have concerns about tourism who do we go to?
    If we have concerns about childcare costs who do we go to?
    During my research for this commentary I was reminded that we have government departments who are able to take our inquiries. And that is precisely the problem. These departments are headed up by very capable staff but I fear that bureaucracy gets in the way of good leadership.
    We want someone on the ground. The Go To.
    Here is the challenge: Appoint the Mayor as CEO of Alice Springs Inc. with a salary commensurate to the position funded and run through Council.
    This can be done without compromising the day to day role of the Mayor.
    If you want leadership this is how to get it.
    Paul Lelliott

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  3. Janice
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Two dwellings on one block of land.

    It could, and well may, work very well for the general public, who wish to have a small dwelling attached to their existing home.

    Another thought:

    How about 2 dwellings, totally crammed with families, including several dogs per dwelling? How about rubbish? Remember only one bin per household allowed, there could be many people. How about sewage and other household necessities?

    There could well become many ghettos in Alice Springs.

    How would we like that?

    Janice

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  4. Liz Martin
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:02 am

    I write in response to your article “Challenger for mayoral contest” and in support of Alderman Taylor and some of the other related comments. I would be a fool to say that there are not things this council could have done better but Council Bashing is not the way to get them done. That takes an amazing amount of energy that could be put to better use.
    For the most part I have enjoyed the past four years serving as an Alderman on the Alice Springs Town Council including the diversity of the elected members and their differences of opinions. Sure, there have been some ups and downs – that is the reality of any group dynamic, but there has also been some major achievements along the way that should not be discounted – and nor should Mayor Damien Ryan’s role in securing them for our town.
    If your resolve to serve this community was strong enough being shut down by the numbers wouldn’t be an issue? Isn’t that called, umm, what is it again … that’s right – democracy! Is the fight not worth it? So much valuable time has been wasted this past twelve months in the Council Chamber rehashing and arguing over the vote after the fact. I’m all for the debate before hand, even a bit of a blue clears the air sometimes but once it’s lost or won, it’s lost or won. I have watched the losing voters walk out of the council meeting because they could not get their way halting business and decisions that could have (should have) been resolved that night. I have listened to irrational outbreaks, loud profanities and four letter words, constant interruptions and even some fair-dinkum racist and sexist comments during meetings – but these blokes are usually smart enough to reserve those for the confidential part of the meeting. Is it little wonder nobody wants to debate with them in the public part of the meeting.
    One of the potential Mayoral candidates not once, not twice, not even three times, but for FOUR continual years, readily admits he had not even bothered to read his papers prior to the council meetings and then the rest of us have to sit there and listen while the facts of the matter are painstakingly explained to him.
    I can think of far more productive ways to spend our meeting time. It’s not as if there are not a million issues out there. Oh, and as for not discussing Law and Order (again and again and again) it would be good if a few new solutions were offered up occasionally. It is just more of the same and you are right, NO I don’t want to hear it again. I want to see their actions. And I certainly did not want to hear that because I didn’t support him that he hopes it is my car “that gets trashed next time”. Too late – I’ve had a few cars trashed over the years – that bit didn’t concern me but we certainly don’t want that attitude emanating from a potential mayor; a person who is supposed to be a community leader working towards genuine inclusion, not only within the council, but also the community at large. I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary, Mayor Damien Ryan has worked single-mindedly towards this, fairly, professionally and way over and above the call of duty often in trying and unpredictable circumstances.
    Yep, I have been told I am a “Damien puppet” before and I’ll get told again for saying this but anyone who knows me knows I do have a strong will and a mind of my own and if I didn’t believe it I wouldn’t say it! And no, I don’t see the need to grab a headline for what I do or don’t do in the community. I have even been told that I am anti-tourism because I wouldn’t support a particular alderman on a particular issue – again, I see no need to justify my stance here – surely running what is arguably the most successful self funded community based museum in the country, one that brings millions of dollars into our local economy annually, contradicts that.
    I have also been told (constantly) that “people” like the Mayor, myself and Aldermen Clarke, Rawnsley, Taylor and Heenan have been in town “too long” so we don’t see the issues for what they are and should make room for “new blood”. At the end of the day the election (aka the people) will make that decision. Some elected members have declared their hand and others haven’t so this is far from a campaign blurb on their behalf. What I personally witnessed in this group, despite their different political alliances and varying platforms, has been extensive business experience, a diverse set of skills, selfless contribution to community in many and varied ways, drive, dedication and determination and perhaps most importantly, a genuine love for our special part of Australia and its many peoples collectively. It is a sad state of affairs when some have to make themselves look bigger and better by denigrating the efforts of others – especially when these same people have as much to offer if they could just look forward instead of back.
    Who knows what will happen with the abandoning of the exhaustive preferential voting system. Nevertheless I wish all candidates well in their campaigns and in the coming election and I especially want to thank ALL my fellow elected members, the CEO Mr. Rex Mooney (whose knowledge and patience astounds me) and the Directors and staff of the Alice Springs Town Council for the past four years. It has for me, been more of a learning circle than a learning curve and yes, I will be putting my hand up for Alderman again; there are a few things this council started that I would like to see come to fruition.

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  5. Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Parliamentary sittings were held at the Convention Centre last year … where was that photo taken again? Doesn’t look like the CC to me.
    ED – The photo was taken in the Convention Centre carpark looking north-east, with Lasseters’ Casino in the background. The visible placard was being brandished by Graham Tjilpi Buckley, wearing the distinctive striped t-shirt on the day.

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  6. Janet Brown
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Oh my, this really will be a s*** f****. A few points to raise here. Elected members are elected to represent the views of the electorate. They do not cross the line into the operations of council.
    We have a CEO to keep council operations functioning efficiently. My view of the operation of council has been flawed and its operational procedures are questionable. I don’t want to go into individual points as this will prohibit the real overall operations of council and their inability to achieve good and real outcomes.
    Elected members and their ability to represent the electorate is not questionable. It is none existent. Damien in his own words clearly tells us his success in grants. Wow. I am pretty sure we have a member of staff to do that. We have heard the Mayor tell us that those people who really want to turn this town around so that we all enjoy safety and progress to assist our town grow and prosper are talking down the town.
    We only focus on what is wrong. Sorry the Mayor told the press we do have a safe town. It is the Mayor’s actions and deliberate mistruths to media and others that has lead to the decline of business and tourism in our town along with the world’s financial situation. Our Mayor has been silent on the issues and why. Because he supports the NT Government in its deliberate neglect of the town.
    During Christmas we had the task force and the NT Government sent the problem kids on a holiday during that time – smart move, Hendo. But they are back, the task force gone, and the problems start again. Bad behavior is rewarded with a holiday and our Mayor supported it. Where is the Mayor’s voice at the Moving Alice Forward. He was chairing a meeting on friends and family AA meeting. No ideas on moving our town forward and now the main speaker at that meeting, Brad Bellette, is letting us know he will put up his hand for the next council elections.
    Brad and Damien are going to solve the problems of this town by removing all alcohol purchase. A dry town. That is their goal for our town. And there are three tiers of Government. Local should attend to local issues. Territory and state to deal with state and territory issues and federal to maintain – you guessed it – federal issues.
    The trouble with local government in the territory is that they have no idea what their role is. They just take their lead from Hendo. Big news guys and gals. Your job is to fight for our town. Your job is to demand from NT and Feds what you need to progress your town, not let the electorate know you all have no backbone to fight for us. You have all failed. Now it is time for real change and my message to the Mayor is: You know you are compromised. You know you have sat on your hands. And you have played a large part in our decline.
    Oh, before I hear that rubbish about some businesses closing due to retirement, you had businesses for sale for a very long time and could not sell. That is because of high rents and non caring elected members in local government.

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  7. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:35 am

    After years of seeing our political leaders tinkering around the edges of the “grog problem”, and with confidence in our town sinking to new lows, I too believe the time has come for the community to get serious about the alcohol abuse that is the basis for many of The Alice’s social, cultural, economic and environmental ills.
    Russell, David and Hal are all correct in identifying that the problem lies not with the controlled environments of licensed premises, but in the uncontrolled area of take-aways.
    I myself could live with take-away hours being limited to 6 to 10pm, Thursday to Saturdays only, if it resulted in a safer and cleaner town, but I do not believe that even such an extreme measure as this would work on its own. It would need to be augmented by other measures, such as changes to social security payments, the provision of rehabilitation centres, support shelters and safety net provisions for neglected children and youth: an integrated solution to an multifaceted problem.
    I have lost faith in many of our political leaders and now feel that a workable multi-pronged solution will only come from the community taking charge and developing a course of action for the politicians to follow.

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  8. S Taylor
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Big words Eli. “Send a strong message, clean up our town.” After all this time Eli, (and don’t forget, you also stood for the seat of Braitling) you haven’t achieved a single thing. You might ask the question why? Probably best Eli, if you read each of the fifty or more self generated media articles. Pathetic. Sadly, you have not learnt a single thing either about how the three tiers of Government operate in this great town, this state or this nation.
    This is not about one man Eli: it is about a team of people who have all stood for all the same reasons of helping our community, our state, our great nation. Sadly, you continue to rubbish all tiers of government, the police, our town, the Mayor, the youth of our town and anyone else who tries to do good.
    As a great man once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
    Boy, I really have to wonder at what could be achieved with you at the helm Eli? I guess the gloves are back on? Now you should put your money where your mouth is Eli, and don’t quibble about how much you need to stand for Mayor, otherwise I sense you are chickening out! If it is any indication, Damien spent only half of what Murray did.
    Happily, I believe that we have far more intelligent people living in our town who are not so foolish as to elect you as their Mayor! If they do, then they get what they deserve.

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  9. Hal Duell
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, take-away free days are a must in Alice if we are to see an improvement in the unacceptable level of public and private drunkenness. It’s on the same principal as time outs for children. Sometimes kids need a little bit of space and time to think about what they are doing. Habitual drinkers need the same to dry out.
    My nominations remain Sundays, Tuesdays and (not or) Thursdays.
    It’s demeaning to our intelligence to think we cannot shop ahead, and as for tourists, they mostly drink in clubs and pubs. Those driving through can wait, that is if they haven’t gotten the word and stocked up.
    It true that this is ultimately a matter for the NT Government and the Liquor Licensing Commission, but they are influenced by Council, the Chamber of Commerce and other bodies in Alice. We could get on top of this. We just lack the will.
    I too worry about the vacant shops. Sometimes lately I worry that Wilcannia is not that far away!
    And Eli, believe me you do not have to wait until 11:30 to be intimidated by drunks in front of Council Chambers. When I leave as you disappear into Confidential, I keep my eyes down and walk straight to my car. By 9:30 it is often well on.

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  10. Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    There can be no progress until the grog is stopped – it undermines everything except the profitability of a few.

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  11. Russell Guy
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Alderman Melky refers to “large numbers of Aboriginal people, many of them drunk, on the street at 11:30pm” and then asks “why in a tourist town do we have liquor restrictions?”
    I can’t see the logic in this. Ald Melky, three questions, please?
    Why do we as a town fail to impose “takeaway alcohol free” days when it appears to me and many others that the best way to confront public alcohol abuse in the first instance, is to reduce supply?
    This argument has been made so many times over the past twelve months in the press, meanwhile, many die and families are ruined. I see it and work with it every day while all you seem to care about is the fact that business are shutting down. This too, is a vanity. It seem logical to me that alcoholics need a truce to dry out. I don’t think I’m stretching it in making a comparison to that period when the American Civil War concluded. Tourists visit the sites of those battlefields. Perhaps, this is the kind of thing you have in mind. If you were to come down from your ivory tower, you would see that this is exactly what’s going on around here in the grog war.
    Are you going to wave the white flag or what?
    One day a week is not enough. Tennant Creek’s “Thirsty Thursday” helped in the bigger picture of loophole fixing and the ongoing expensive policing of grog running, but Alice has a bigger problem. Medical evidence and comment backs this advice.
    Today’s pathology of alcoholism among Aboriginal people has, at least, some of its roots in historical and cultural oppression. We do not have a level playing field, viz. the current proposed Constitutional Reform Report to the PM.
    If we are to survive and prosper as a “tourist town,” do you think further liquor restrictions should be imposed in the name of bringing the town together, or do you believe that everyone is entitled to drink what and when at the peril of those less able to make that choice?
    As a real estate agent, it’s refreshing to read your criticism of how a block of dirt got to be $300,000 in this town. I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

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