By KIERAN FINNANE
Ratepayers will be asked, by means yet undecided, whether they want to be reimbursed for the money collected to make the 2017-18 payments on the Civic Centre loan: a total of $528,000 for the principal and interest.
Right: Cr Melky and Mayor Ryan, photo from our archive.
This money is now unallocated in the Town Council budget because the loan was paid off in its entirety by the previous council, drawing on its capital infrastructure reserve and delivering a saving of $100,000+. (This followed persistent lobbying from Councillor Eli Melky.)
The alternative to reimbursement will be to leave it up to councillors to decide how to spend the presently unallocated funds.
When Cr Melky put this to the Finance Committee a fortnight ago he could not even get a seconder for the motion. He was unfazed: a lot can happen in two weeks, he said.
It obviously did and the result suggests a shift in the balance of power on council.
First of all, a seconder raised his hand – Cr Glen Auricht.
Cr Melky then expounded on the reasons for the motion: in brief, for him it came down to “a question of right and wrong”; the money was collected “by default”, circumstances have changed; now it’s time to say to “the persons we took it from we don’t need it any more”.
Mayor Damien Ryan asked if anyone wanted to speak against the motion. Nobody did. It was put to the vote and, one by one, five hands went up: supporting Crs Melky and Auricht were Crs Marli Banks, Jimmy Cocking and Catherine Satour.
I think it would be fair to describe the Mayor and CEO Rex Mooney as stunned.
The Mayor called for a division, which means that the names of those opposing the motion will be noted in the meeting minutes: apart from him, they were Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni and Crs Jacinta Price and Matt Paterson.
Mayor Ryan then asked Mr Mooney for his advice on how the public should be consulted. Mr Mooney, still absorbing the implications of the vote, suggested that council needed to discuss it further, but Mayor Ryan pointed out to him that council had just made a formal decision: to go to the public.
Mr Mooney said council would need to put some form of guidance to the public, a list of suggestions and that this should be discussed at the November forum (a meeting of councillors and directors behind closed doors).
However, this is not what the successful motion says. It simply says council has to ask the ratepayers whether they want the money credited back to them or are they happy to have councillors decide how to spend or manage the funds.
The next step is how to consult, not what to consult about.
A relatively minor matter in last night’s meeting also suggests a shift in dynamics on the new council. Mayor Ryan had last month revealed that his election campaign cost $4208.40, which he had paid for personally. He had invited all councillors to also reveal the details of their campaign costs.
Left: from left, Crs Marli Banks, Jacinta Price, Glen Auricht, Jamie de Brenni.
Deputy Mayor de Brenni obliged: after detailing his activities for the month, he revealed he had spent $2350 on his campaign, fully funded though his family.
Cr Auricht made no mention of his campaign costs.
Cr Price said her campaign was supported by former councillor Brendan Heenan to the tune of $681; a private individual, whose name would be given to the CEO, had donated $500; and a further $600 came from her own funds.
Next in line was Cr Banks, but she questioned the relevance of what the Mayor was asking for.
He explained that it was because there had been “some discussion around parties and so forth” – presumably meaning that it had been suggested that political parties had backed certain candidates (officially only the case with Greens candidate Jodi Lennox).
Cr Banks said that without scrutiny applying to all candidates in an election she could not see the point. She would support such scrutiny for future elections, in the interests of transparency, upholding best practice and obtaining accurate electioneering data. She imagined such scrutiny would involve a change to the Local Government Act and the involvement of the Electoral Commission.
It was an assertive stance by the new councillor. She gave no information about her costs. Neither did Crs Melky or Cocking.
Cr Paterson said he had spent $726 of his own funds; for Cr Satour, it was just $200, out of her own pocket.
By KIERAN FINNANE