Above, from left: Crs Catherine Satour, Jimmy Cocking, Matt Paterson and Eli Melky at last night’s meeting.
By KIERAN FINNANE
UPDATE, 11.26am 1 August 2018: CEO provides further comment, see at bottom.
In a prepared statement read onto the record at last night’s Town Council meeting Councillor Eli Melky confirmed that there have been Code of Conduct actions taken within council, as previously reported by the Alice Springs News Online.
In a separate statement Cr Melky also said that “disturbing and harmful claims” from within council had been made about him that he had “a matter settle out of court in relation to sexual harassment”.
He said he had never been a respondent or defendant in any such matter.
He said that the persons making those allegations were in breach of Section 253 of the Local Government Act, which is about making “misleading representations”.
On the Code of Conduct matter, he informed the chamber that all complaints against him had either been rejected or dismissed.
The complaints had had some initial success “in their objectives to shut me up”, he said, but they have “totally failed in their overall goal which in my opinion was to disrupt my ability in standing up for this community”.
Cr Melky said that he had felt constrained in his role since 29 March 2018. This had coincided with a critical time on council – dealing with budget issues, Anzac Oval issues and “so much anti-social behaviour” in town.
The period since had been “the darkest” of his seven and a half years on council.
The News has previously reported Cr Melky’s unusual silence in meetings of late. For example, he declined to list his activities for the month, something the Mayor invites all councillors to do at the end of the month meetings. This has occurred more than once.
Other councillors – Catherine Satour and Marli Banks – have also declined to do this, both previously and last night.
Above, from left: Director of Finance Dinesh Pillay, CEO Rex Mooney, Mayor Damien Ryan, Director of Technical Services Scott Allen, Acting Director of Corporate and Community Services Bigi Gosling.
It seems that the News’ report of an improved atmosphere within council two weeks ago was premature. Last night you could have cut the air in the chamber with a knife as Cr Melky read his statements, four in all. After each he said that he did not require any action by elected members but he was willing to discuss and answer any questions.
Only when Cr Melky had finished and business was moving on did Cr Cocking comment that it was “pretty appalling to hear that coming out of this chamber”, that it was “pretty serious”. However, he said nothing of more substance.
Cr Satour also said that she was “completely appalled” that council had moved on so quickly from Cr Melky’s statements, but she stopped at that.
In his prepared statement on the Code of Conduct matter Cr Melky expressed “surprise” that “the CEO and the Mayor are quoted in the Code of Conduct application within the statutory declaration as ‘fully supporting’ the view of the applicant”.
This complaint was rejected under Section 81 of the Local Government Act, he said.
The News has previously quoted Mayor Damien Ryan as “knowing nothing” about any Codes of Conduct actions. To a question from News editor Erwin Chlanda on 21 June 2018 he said: “Don’t make a story about nothing. I am saying I don’t know anything about codes of conduct. You asked me who has lodged a code of conduct and I am saying I don’t know.”
After last night’s meeting the News attempted to ask the Mayor about Cr Melky’s statement regarding him. He interrupted the question to say: “I have to read his statement again. I haven’t been offered that. I’ll have a read of it.”
Walking away, he told the News that Cr Melky was the person we should be talking to.
The News also asked CEO Rex Mooney to comment. Mr Mooney said he was not in a position to comment at this stage because he couldn’t confirm whether that complaint has been finalised.
The News put to Mr Mooney that this situation is damaging to the perceptions of council in the community, that the air should be cleared and a statement come from himself and potentially the Mayor: when could we expect that?
Mr Mooney wanted to talk first to the person concerned.
Cr Melky’s first statement was about the way council has dealt with his allegations of budget irregularities. This relates to the way the repayment of the Civic Centre loan has been accounted for.
In its response to the matter, he suggested that council has been more concerned to address “adverse comments in the media” than the substance of his allegations. He said that the Department’s review of the issue, by its own information, “was not a formal investigation or compliance review under the Act”.
Cr Melky stands by his view that council is collecting revenue from ratepayers for repaying the loan, which is now fully repaid, and that therefore ratepayers should be reimbursed, to the tune of $1,062,000. He said this money had been collected in 17/18 and will be collected again in 18/19.
Responding, Council’s Director of Finance Dinesh Pillay reminded councillors that they had been through the budget with him line by line and there is no provision for repayment of the loan “in any form”.
Cr Melky said he agreed with the Director “100% per cent”. Confused? On this one, join the club (see below for links to past reports).
Cr Melky’s fourth statement signalled his intention to write to the Minister for Local Government (responsibility for local government lies with the Minister for Housing Gerry McCarthy) to establish a commission of enquiry into the affairs of council under Section 215 of the Local Government Act .
This would be to look at “an abuse of process” in relation to issuing Code of Conduct complaints. In his opinion the complaints were aimed “to discredit and harm a member’s reputation”.
He said the strategy of issuing Code of Conduct complaints “may not have been done in isolation”, however, he could not confirm or deny that actions had been taken involving other councillors .
Once again he said no action was required by elected members in response to his statement, but glaring angrily across the chamber, he said “I’ll be doing the action.”
Cr Jacinta Price was an apology at last night’s meeting. In a new move, required by the Department, councillors had to vote on accepting the apology. They did.
UPDATE, 11.26am, 1 August 2018.
CEO Rex Mooney has provided the following comments:
At Council’s Ordinary Meeting on Monday evening Cr Melky read a prepared statement in relation to a number of issues. I am in a position to comment as follows:
Code of Conduct Complaint
Cr Melky referred to a code of conduct complaint which stated that the applicant’s complaint being “fully supporting of the CEO and the Mayor.” [ED – This is what Cr Melky said: “The CEO and the Mayor are quoted in the code of conduct application within the statutory declaration as ‘fully supporting’ the view of the applicant.”]
This was a complaint submitted by a Council officer whose professional integrity had been questioned, and as CEO, supporting a staff member in a challenging situation, I did give it my support.
This issue has been resolved and previously reported to Council.
Commission of Enquiry
Cr Melky’s comments are noted.
These are matters between Elected Members and about which I cannot comment.
While some ‘differences’ within Council are evident (which I am confident will be resolved), the Mayor and each and every Councillor remains united in their civic service to the community of Alice Springs.
RELATED READING – some of our key reports in relation to the repayment of the Civic Centre loan:-
Cr Melky saves ratepayers $100,000+
Cr Melky alleges budget irregularity
Council: department confirms no budget irregularity
Banks and Melky vote against council’s budget