By ERWIN CHLANDA
Former councillors Marli Banks and Matt Paterson are incensed about a move, foreshadowed for Monday’s meeting, they see as a plot to block their return to the town council.
Mayor Jamie de Brenni is moving a motion, and Cr Jacinta Price is seconding it, to “co-opt” two outsiders as new councillors while four seats are vacant because their elected members contested the NT election last week.
Mayor de Brenni and Cr Price are part of the conservative faction in the council, closely involved with the CLP, and the people they are seeking to co-opt are prominent CLP figures, Brendan Heenan and Jenny Mostran.
Both Ms Banks and Mr Paterson said they would apply to be re-admitted. The Alice Springs News could not speak with Ms Satour who is on her way to Darwin.
Ms Banks (pictured) says about the co-opting move: “Clearly it’s not the right thing to do.”
Mr Paterson says he will be seeking legal advice if a co-opted outsider is given preference over him.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Mr Paterson. “Wait until September 15, when the cut-off is, and then see who wants to apply.
“I find it pretty poor leadership from Jamie to rush into doing this when he can wait a week and see who will be there.
“And also there is a double-standard from Jamie when he did not co-opt someone when Jacinta ran for Federal Parliament.
“Also, why two CLP members, why not someone from the 2017 ballot who was unsuccessful or another previous councillor who is not a member of the CLP?”
Ironically nothing may come of the attempted coup on Monday because a key figure – Cr Glen Auricht (at top) – is far from having made up his mind.
He told the News this morning he would not divulge how he would be voting because “there need to be discussions.
“We’ve got the other elected members coming back shortly.
“The Mayor has called me and we’ve had some discussion on it. The idea sounds OK but there’s got to be discussion.
“I have some concern regarding co-opting people who have not been elected by the community even though the ones suggested are previous councillors.
“I would suspect there would be some community backlash.”
Should this co-opting be done before the members who vacated the seats to contest the NT election have had the opportunity of regaining their seats, before September 15?
AURICHT: That’s why we have to have this discussion with the other elected members and the CEO. I haven’t made up my mind yet. It seems like jumping the gun a little bit. The council doesn’t even have a policy on this. It’s never been done before. It’s just a motion at this stage and needs to be thrashed out in council.
Cr Auricht’s doubts could see the co-opting motion defeated if he votes with Deputy Mayor Jimmy Cocking and Cr Eli Melky in a council that now consists of only five members.
Says Mr Paterson (pictured): “I have been elected by the people. Of course I should have overarching rights. This is not a crack at Jenny and Brendan.”
Asked who he thinks would prevail, a co-opted member or one wanting to get his seat back, Mr Paterson said: “I don’t know. But if it’s not me I’ll be seeking legal advice.
“No councillor can get their job back before September 7. Are they going to fill the vacancies for one week?”
Ms Banks, Mr Paterson and Catherine Satour were unsuccessful in their bid for a Legislative Assembly seat while the fate of former Mayor Damien Ryan remains uncertain.
This morning he was 12 votes behind sitting Araluen MLA Robyn Lambley. Postal and other votes are yet to be counted.
Ms Banks says she has “not gone to great detail” obtaining advice but she understands that co-opting does not override the ability to re-instate councillors: “Jamie and the CLP are trying to cover all bases in the unlikely but possible event that Damien doesn’t come back to council.
“It looks like they are trying to stop people from coming back into council” to maintain the CLP leaning voting power for the remaining year of the four-year term.
Asked why she thinks the co-opting move is being staged now, Ms Banks said: “Jamie has the numbers, probably that’s why he’s doing it now.”
Is that a fair thing to do?
BANKS: Of course it is not. Is it an ethically, morally right thing to do? No. Is it fair under the rules? Yes. If it’s within the rules some people will say, fair game. Others will say it’s rubbish.
Ms Banks says she had a conversation with Cr Price two days ago who did not not mention this was “in the pipeline”.
Under the Local Government Act councillors who resign to contest Federal or NT elections and are unsuccessful have the right to apply to the council CEO for reinstatement to their seats.
If the vacancies occur in under 18 months before the next council election, seats can be filled by co-opting outsiders on a vote by the remaining councillors.
What is unclear is whether the newly co-opted members must prevail, or the former councillors seeking to get back their positions.
Neither the CEO, Robert Jennings, nor Mayor de Brenni responded to requests for comment from the News, and there has been no answer about the legal position we sought yesterday from the Local Government Department.
Catherine Satour has texted from her trip that she will be seeking to return to the council.
UPDATE August 30, 3am
Town Council CEO Robert Jennings says: “The co-opting report is nothing to do with stopping the existing vacant members from returning and expressly allows them to return as required by the Act.”