By KIERAN FINNANE
It won’t be for want of trying if Councillor Eli Melky fails to bring more meaningful discussion of council’s finances into the open.
At last night’s meeting the same old farce was repeated, with the ‘minutes’ of the ‘open’ section of last month’s Finance Committee being taken as a true and correct record. Yet there were no minutes, as there was no open section.
But Council’s Director of Finance Paul Della had made an effort to have something in open for this month’s committee meeting to consider, two reports in fact. One advised councillors about a new online index that tracks the competitiveness of local government regions. No action required. The other reflected the previously and confidentially majority-endorsed policy to purchase, rather than lease, plant and equipment. This was put as a recommendation for councillors to vote on at the end of the month.
But Cr Melky was not to be bought off so easily. He wanted to know why matters listed for the confidential section of last night’s meeting could not be considered in open. We know nothing of these matters other than they were “financial reports”, number 156/13f.
CEO Rex Mooney was firm that these matters needed to be first considered in confidential before councillors could decide on bringing them into open.
Cr Melky felt Mr Della had not responded to his request from the July 29 meeting, which was to decide generally on categories of financial matters that could be regularly considered in open, in the interests of greater transparency.
Cr Brendan Heenan, chair of the Finance Committee, suggested that Cr Melky sit down in private with Mr Della to discuss the issue. But this was precisely what Cr Melky did not want to do. Councillors are “bound” by the Local Government Act to engage in open discussion on behalf of the people, he said. That would not be achieved if he had a private discussion with Mr Della.
If Mr Della’s advice to councillors was that nothing could be considered in open, then that would be an answer, added Cr Melky.
Cr Booth was the only councillor to support him, if not quite whole-heartedly: “I tend to agree with Cr Melky,” he said.
Mayor Damien Ryan sat looking at Cr Melky with a bemused smile, as he tends to whenever Cr Melky takes to the microphone – which he does a little too often. Some of his interventions are more helpful than others, such as his request for an update on where council is at with its review of open space assets, a subject of keen community interest. (Councillors will be given a draft report at the September forum, was the reply. Forum meetings are not open to the public.)
On other occasions it’s overload. For instance, last night traffic management recommendations that had been decided on in the July forum, were brought into open for formal endorsement. The 27 recommendations, some of which councillors have approved and some not, came out of a Traffic Study by consultants Murray F Young and Associates. Instead of focussing on the matter to hand, Cr Melky wanted to discuss other traffic matters which have come to his personal notice, both of them concerning NT Government roads. You could see tempers visibly fraying!
By KIERAN FINNANE