A say for rate payers shoved into ‘confidential’

Paterson, Melky OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The Alice Springs Town Council is heading into stormy waters over secrecy as it sets sails into 2018, according to Cr Eli Melky: he says he is probing the legality of the move in December to cut the public out of having a say on spending half a million dollars a year.

 

The money has come to hand as a result of Cr Melky’s initiative earlier in 2017 to pay off the remainder of the civic centre loan.

 

The council decided on October 23 to “seek direction from the Alice Springs rate paying community about how to spend, through a public consultation process” the total amount of $528,000.00.

 

But at its last 2017 meeting, on December 11, the council rescinded the October motion in circumstances that Cr Melky describes as grossly improper: He says the issues had been discussed behind closed doors, and information was taken into account that is being kept secret under the council’s controversial “in confidential” policy. That information is not available to the public.

 

Mover of the motion to rescind, Cr Matthew Paterson, who had Cr Jamie de Brenni as seconder, argued that “following advice provided to the Council on November 30, 2017 by the Local Government and Community Development Division, Department of Housing and Community Development and council solicitor, I believe that council has no option but to rescind the previous motion in question”.

 

Cr Melky says all three documents were discussed at a councillors’ forum, off limits to the public, were immediately moved into “confidential” and cannot be referred to in a public council meeting – at risk of imprisonment. These documents “are locked in confidential,” Cr Melky said.

 

“The mover should provide that information so that all of us are well informed” and able to have a meaningful debate in open council, before people in the public gallery and the media, says Cr Melky. The December 11 meeting could have resolved to move the documents out of “confidential” but did not do so.

 

CEO Rex Mooney defended the process at the December 11 meeting, saying the information Cr Paterson was using from the Department of Local Government which “said quite clearly that council should not proceed down this course of action,” the council solicitor and an external auditor had “red flashing lights”.

 

Cr Melky also claimed the council had contravened the Local Government Act by failing to include in the municipal plan a purpose for the $528,000 which had been collected from the rate payers but no longer has any purpose.

 

“On the same night we paid out the loan … on that night we should have amended the budget,” said Cr Melky.

 

Mr Mooney acknowledged the municipal plan has to be amended but “it doesn’t require a motion. This happens as a matter of course, and the money can be used for a variety of purposes.

 

“In terms of process, councillors, we are on track,” Mr Mooney said.

 

The full October 23 motion moved by Cr Melky and seconded by Cr Glen Auricht said the council should “seek direction from the Alice Springs rate paying community, through a public consultation process, regarding the $460,000 loan principal repayment and the $68,200 loan interest repayment no longer required and collected in budget financial years 2017/18 – total amount $528,000.00.

 

“Option A: Community to have the full amount credited back on their rates.

 

“Option B: Alice Springs Town Council Elected Members to decide how to invest or spend the funds.”

 

This was amended by Cr Jimmy Cocking, seconded by Councillor Melky, that the council “seek direction from the rate paying community [on] option A or option B through a public consultation”.

 

The amended motion was carried narrowly after Mayor Damien Ryan called for a division.
Voting in favour were councillors Marli Banks, Auricht, Catherine Satour, Cocking and Melky.

 

Against were Mayor Ryan as well as councillors de Brenni, Paterson and Jacinta Price.

 

A division was requested by Cr Melky for the rescinding vote at the December 11 meeting: This time Cr Auricht changed sides.

 

At that meeting Cr Paterson referred to an “error of judgment” by the council, asking council officer to do something “which cannot be achieved.”

 

We need to “rectify this mistake. I apologise to the public for misleading them”.

 

Cr Melky commented at the meeting that it was not clear what Cr Paterson was talking about.

 

PHOTO: Cr Paterson (left) and Cr Melky.

 

 

 

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17 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Fred the Philistine
    Posted January 29, 2018 at 11:59 am

    @ Dr Who: I’ll be there, with my best boots on.

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  2. Jerry Fitzsimmons
    Posted January 29, 2018 at 9:21 am

    As an avid reader of the Alice Springs News Online I am respectful of the enlightening remarks sent in by the many great minded and enthusiastic fellow readers.
    I too will make a comment which I am obliged to do in what I see as a frenzy of varying opinions.
    Much is written, and may I say, well written about the decisions and indecisions of our local council.
    May I further go on to say that as a rate payer in this iconic great town I am greatful to be gainfully employed.
    When I read the comments it would appear that harmony and democracy seem poles apart.
    I can be and have been outspoken on numerous local, state and federal government decisions. I have been pro-active on those matters and have challenged them but the one thing I admire is the citizens who have have put themselves in the front line to represent us all, whether or not we voted them in to do so or not.
    Recognize we live in a vibrant part of Australia and for a moment put yourself in the frontline as a representative.
    In a democracy let us accept that those voted in had the democratic right of way and those who proudly attempted to get voted in are just as honourable, in my belief.
    Yes, continue to scrutinize and seek accountability but do so in the knowledge that there will be other elections and further opportunities to convince the citizens of Alice Springs why your opinions and actions will truly represent what the voters need to assist them in this wonderful multi-cultural / indigenous landscape we all share.
    Let’s accept that the role of governance is a representative one and by all means challenge what needs changing for the betterment of us all.
    But I ask is it necessary to malign anyone if what they are representing is legal, transparent and above all, honest.
    Ghandi once said, and I take heed from leaders such as he, that “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it”.
    Let’s live in peace and harmony to secure a worthwhile existence while we are able to.

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  3. Dr Who
    Posted January 28, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    Council meeting on today, 29th. Be interesting to see who is there from this list.

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  4. Fred the Philistine
    Posted January 28, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    @ Evelyn and John. I don’t have any dislike to any councilors. I am just concerned in having a functional council. If I wanted to keep these coucilors honest, I would be reading the minutes of the meeting and even attending all of the meetings.
    John, I can see why people get dillusioned with democracy. If the people can’t get their own way they spit the dummy.
    We have just seen what happened in America when Trump won the election, Hillary and Obama still cannot accept the fact that he won.
    In Australia, when Abbot defeated Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party still can’t accept they lost.
    It would have been very interesting if the vote on same sex marriage turned out to be no.

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  5. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted January 28, 2018 at 9:54 am

    @ Fred the Philistine: You appear to have a strong dislike of Eli and Jimmy: This is your privilege;a privilege that you use in the comfort of your pseudo. Don’t you have proud in your convictions?
    If they were talking to you in the street, would you say Hi I am Fred the Philistine?
    Try to remember that they were elected, that Jimmy had more votes than Jamie and that they represent a good majority of the rates payers (do you pay rates?). Try to not negate everything they say or do, judge actions not looks or personal dislike.

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  6. Posted January 27, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    @ Fred the Philistine. Fred you walk a fine line when you say democracy is mob rule. This generation 52% of our young people in ABS stats no longer believe democracy is a preferred system of government. Communism is making a comeback.
    The way we are going with zillions of causes busting out into full bloom, we are definitely heading towards all indians and no chiefs.
    It is called populism and leads to loss of confidence in our parliament. The end product is anarchy. And into the vacuum will step dictators, with authoritarian rule.
    The best way to keep the bastards honest in council is simple: Just keeping asking relevant questions. Like Ms Roullet, and stick to your guns, stay on point. Good councillors will respond.

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  7. Fred the Philistine
    Posted January 27, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    @ Evelyne Roullet. Democracy is mob rule. It does not always achieve the best outcome.
    The problem in Alice Springs and the council is that they have too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
    All these councillors recently have been elected in a democratic society. It us time the councillors went and walked down the street and talk to the people to see what they want for the town and then bring it back to council. We elected these people to represent us and be our voice. If they want a closed meeting that’s acceptable.

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  8. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted January 27, 2018 at 8:20 am

    Chris, Posted January 26, 2018 at 8:32 pm: Give it back to the rate payers!
    Or tell them what you are doing with their money.
    Did you allocate it to set up the recycling? Are you going to fix some streetlights and/or footpaths?
    This money was not part of the rates but an imposed contribution no longer needed. What’s the big secret?

    View Comment
  9. Chris
    Posted January 26, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    Give it back to the rate payers!

    View Comment
  10. John Bell
    Posted January 25, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    @ Fred the Philistine. Agreed. Transparency can be a double-edged sword. It is good to think that all council matters for discussion should be completely open to the public, transparency for the sake of transparency so to speak.
    However, getting things decided and done effectively in real life is not always conducive to always flicking it to Us Great Unwashed before acting.
    If Cr Melky and Cr Cocking have specific reasons to believe that Mayor Damo has anything to hide or is acting dishonestly, well, that would be a different matter altogether.
    So far, neither councillor appears to me from Erwin’s reporting to have advanced any solid argument. I think Mayor Damo is doing his best in difficult circumstances.

    View Comment
  11. John Bell
    Posted January 25, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    @ Evelyne Roullet: Ms Roullet, you hit the nail on the head when you highlight a lack of transparency. It is systemic throughout all the arms of Australian government, from local government right through to the Federal Parliament.
    Despite a Commonwealth policy of transparency within government Departments under the Freedom of Information Act, Departments deviously resist release of information, especially when it threatens to expose their flawed procedures that deal with dubious expenditure of public funds. Try getting anything from a government Department under FOI when they don’t want it released.
    Within my own recent experience: a 30 day window for the department to reply to your FOI request; then a further 30 days option to examine “other circumstances”. Then a refusal decision. Then an appeal for “internal review of the refusal” with 30 days to reply. Then a second refusal decision.
    Then a formal approach to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. A lengthy review by the OAIC which has no power to order the department to release. Then a formal application to the AAT, with an application cost.
    Then a hearing by an AAT commissioner, at which the department brings out its big guns in the legal unit.
    Local government and the FOI Act may be worth exploring.

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  12. Fred the Philistine
    Posted January 25, 2018 at 11:18 am

    @ Michael Dean. Well said. Every time these councilors don’t get their own way, they run to the paper for moral support.

    View Comment
  13. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted January 25, 2018 at 9:37 am

    @ Fred the Philistine: Like Steve Brown said in another post we have a democratic government. What is Democracy?
    Government authority flows from the people and is based upon their consent.
    The people can criticize and replace their elected leaders and representatives if they do not perform well.
    The people are sovereign — they are the highest authority — and government is based on the will of the people.
    Elected representatives at the national and local levels must listen to the people and be responsive to their needs.
    Democracy is not dictatorship. However, citizens have an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others. This is what we doing here.

    View Comment
  14. Michael Dean
    Posted January 25, 2018 at 7:37 am

    I think some of the elected members need reminding of what their job is and whose money they are playing around with.
    Stop all this ego enhancing behind closed doors rubbish and get on with your job.
    The town is rife with crime and alcohol related problems while this council appears to sit on its hands and close the doors behind itself.

    View Comment
  15. Fred the Philistine
    Posted January 25, 2018 at 6:19 am

    I cannot see what all the fuss is all about.
    This is why we have council, to make the decisions on behalf of the people.
    If you want to open this up to the rate payers, what are you going to acheive? Some will want this some will want that.
    In the end it will be chaos and the council will then need to make the final decision anyways.
    All we are arguing over is $528k. You could not even build a new amenities block, or a roundabout.
    If Cr Melky and Cr Cocking aren’t satisfied, leave the council.
    All I can say even though I do not like the Mayor and Mr Mooney, they are trying their best.

    View Comment
  16. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted January 24, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Every decision to close a council meeting to protect a specific interest comes, to some degree, at the expense of the broader public interest in being able to hold elected representatives to account.
    Meeting closures can therefore decrease public trust in council decisions – particularly those which are already controversial.
    A very interesting paper that our Councillors should read:
    December 2016 Ordered to be published
    Victorian government printer
    Session 2014-16
    P.P. No. 244
    Investigation into the transparency of local government decision.
    https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/getattachment/195a77c8-ed15-4a1d-9967-404474e1b4a6//publications/parliamentary-reports/investigation-into-the-transparency-of-local-gover.aspx

    View Comment
  17. Chris2
    Posted January 24, 2018 at 6:59 pm

    Melky for Mayor, out Ryan and take Mooney with him. Time for change.

    View Comment

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