UPDATE 03:15pm Monday:
Karen Avery, of the Department of Business, says the application by the group including Cr Booth for an escort agency licence has now been withdrawn.
UPDATE 12:15pm Monday:
Cr Booth, who was expected to be attending tonight’s council meeting by telephone hook-up, has this morning notified the council that he will not be attending in any form.
UPDATE 10:20am Monday:
Karen Avery, of the Department of Business, said this morning: “There has been some indication that the licence application may be withdrawn. However, the Department of Business or the NT Licensing Commission have not received any formal withdrawal yet.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Town Council CEO Rex Mooney was told by Councillor Geoff Booth that he had “terminated” his application for an escort agency operator’s licence.
But in a written report to tomorrow’s council meeting Mr Mooney says: “Cr Booth’s withdrawal of this application does not in any real way satisfy or even deal with the concerns raised” by council solicitor Chris Turner, whom he instructed to provide legal advice following “media attention” focusing on Cr Booth’s place of residence and escort agency plans.
The “media attention” prompting the CEO’s move was of course the report on September 25 by the Alice Springs News Online which broke this story.
Mr Mooney says he and his wife own the house next door to 11 The Fairway which the agency, Candy Land Escorts NT Pty Ltd, has nominated as its principal place of business. Mr Turner has advised that “in terms of the issues before council and canvassed in his advice” Mr Mooney does not have a conflict of interest as CEO participating in tomorrow’s meeting when the issues are being discussed.
Mr Mooney foreshadows a proposal to establish a Register of Members’ property and business interests “similar to those in force in other states. This would also include senior staff.”
Mr Turner says in his report to council that the question of Cr Booth’s place of residence – and consequently, his continued eligibility to be a councillor – should be investigated not by the council, but by the Department of Local Government.
Cr Booth has told ASIC he lives in Fremantle, WA.
It seems the second issue for tomorrow’s meeting – whether Cr Booth has brought the council into disrepute – is less straight-forward.
Mr Turner quotes the council’s Code of Conduct (council is obliged to have such a code under the Local Government Act): “Members should … at all times conduct themselves in a manner which maintains and strengthens the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the Alice Springs Town Council and must never undertake any action which will bring the Alice Springs Town Council, Members or Employees into disrepute.”
He says it “may be open to but problematic” for council to determine that Cr Booth has breached this section of the code, as the operation of an escort agency is “after all a legal activity when all the necessary licences are in place”.
However, he continues, “Council is best placed to gauge the prevailing views and mores of its community and despite the activity being lawful so determine as owner of its code that the member has indeed failed to maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence.”
He says sanctions available to council are passing a censure motion; publicly disclosing the member’s conduct; requesting an apology; reprimanding the member or having him counseled. The council may also ask him to resign but the council “has no power to enforce that request if refused”.
Coming to a consensus on the “prevailing views and mores of its community” will be thorny task, judging by the comments on the issue in this newspaper.
For example, Cr Eli Melky reacted with great indignation to a comment on this site by a correspondent who gave his name as “Kevin” and who asked whether Cr Booth’s family would be involved in the business. This seems to us a legitimate question to ask of a councillor who says he stands for “family values”.
Cr Melky said in a post on Friday: “To make such a terrible comment about Geoff’s wife and children is unforgivable. I ask the question to the ED: why allow these kind of terrible posts without the real name and address advertised, not just provided to you? In fact why allow them at all.”
We asked Cr Melky, what is it about Cr Booth’s proposed escort agency that makes a question about his family’s involvement the subject of his (Cr Melky’s) outrage?
Is it all right for other women to do that kind work – prostitution – for Cr Booth? Is it the type of industry that should be recommended to young people in Alice Springs?
Cr Melky declined to answer these questions and said he may respond at the meeting tomorrow, but berated the Alice Springs News Online for allowing “Kevin” to ask his question, referring to it as insulting, insolent, rude, disgusting and low-life trash. We pointed out to Cr Melky our rules for comment and Letter to the Editor posts, respectively.
He would not express a view about Cr Booth’s application for an escort agency licence until he had first-hand confirmation from Cr Booth that he had made such an application. He said it is possible he will make a comment at the Town Council meeting tomorrow evening.