By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Town Council deferred dealing with a motion by councillors Jamie de Brenni and Jacinta Price that would have “co-opted” fellow CLP luminaries Jenny Mostran and Brendan Heenan as councillors.
The change came in part because there are currently only five members available and next week at least three more will be back, to have their say on the proposition, after their unsuccessful foray into Territory politics.
But that didn’t stop last night’s meeting to pass another motion on just three votes to two.
A major row broke out when the Alice Springs News exclusively reported the co-opting bid on Friday last week, with several updates.
Cr Jamie de Brenni, currently variously addressed as Mayor or Acting Mayor, last night said as the mover of the motion he now wished to “dismiss” it.
Cr Eli Melky (at right) and Cr Jimmy Cocking made it clear that in their views the matter wasn’t as easy as that.
Cr Melky said the bylaws require a majority vote to withdraw a motion.
The motion has much that requires discussion, said Cr Melky: “I’m not afraid of having this discussion in public.
“An enormous amount of council resources have been put into this to date.”
That clearly includes nine pages in the business paper for the meeting about the co-opting.
There has been “so much confusion” said Cr Melky, and to withdraw the motion would be interpreted that “we have withdrawn something we recognise is wrong.
“This has challenged the integrity of this council.”
“It wasn’t the council’s integrity that has been challenged here, it was my personal one that was brought to the table,” countered Cr de Brenni, from the chair.
Deputy Mayor Jimmy Cocking (at left) pointed out the council does not have a policy for co-opting members of the public as members of the council and he wants the issue to be deferred to a future meeting rather than dismissed.
Cr Melky said in one statement Cr de Brenni wanted to dismiss the motion and in another to defer it.
But Cr de Brenni cut him short, saying he’s taking the lead from the meeting for a deferral and “don’t put words into my mouth”.
This prompted Cr Melky to say: “You are putting words into my mouth. You are confusing me with words.”
Cr de Brenni explained deferral had been his original intent all along.
He said the issues should be discussed “when everybody is in the room,” referring to the three councillors who took leave to stand in the NT election.
Marli Banks, Catherine Satour and Matt Paterson are now claiming back their council seats, as well as possibly the ex-Mayor Damien Ryan, the outcome of his bid for the NT seat of Araluen still uncertain.
The issue was raised again several times during the part of the meeting that was open to the public.
Finally it was decided, unanimously, that part A of the motion, to formulate a co-opting policy, would be deferred. Parts B and C were dismissed, both dealing with the co-opting of Ms Mostran and Mr Heenan.
An escalating discussion of – broadly speaking – what’s operational (which is the responsibility of the staff) and what’s policy (for the councillors to decide) reached a new climax.
In a report tabled last night council CEO Robert Jennings proposed to cease alternating standing committee meetings with full council meetings.
He wants to instead adopt full “ordinary” meetings with a 5.30pm start and no later than 8.30pm finish, on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.
That means there would be two instead of one meeting a month capable of making decisions.
He is proposing a twelve-week cycle of directorate reports, major projects and strategy updates, with the exception of finance reports, which will be presented at the later meeting of each month.
Council forums would be conducted immediately after these meetings, starting on September 29, with two improvement reviews in six month intervals as a result of consultation between council and senior officers.
Cr Price wanted to accept this during last night’s meeting.
She said the council should show the public that it can make decisions even with only five members in the room.
Cr Jimmy Cocking, while endorsing the need for reform, disagreed with rushing the process, calling for further public consultation.
“There needs to be a lot more workshopping,” he said.
“I’m up for the total overhaul of the committee structure [but] I want engagement with the community, I want people to feel that they are meaningfully contributing.
“I want to see the full picture of where we are.”
Cr Glen Auricht (at right) described the proposals as a “great move” and the group of five should continue with council business, “rolling on with the programs” and supporting the CEO and officers.
Cr Melky argued the council is “contradicting ourselves” given the earlier co-opting discussion.
The CEO report touches on “important structures” involving the future of some 30 committees and business to be discussed in the two monthly meetings: “But what business,” Cr Melky asked.
He raised the option of any decision last night being rescinded when the three – or possibly four – members return.
“It is a matter of respect, really. We owe it to those [absent] elected members.”
Time for another bluster from Acting Mayor de Brenni: “No-one has ever stated any lack of respect for elected members coming back. No-one has ever said that.”
“We have got new staff here, we brought on a CEO for his knowledge. We have two new directors, we’ve got a new director coming in, we’ve got an existing director who’s been here for a number of years.
“We employed the CEO to employ people to change the structure and move us forward,” said Cr de Brenni.
“I hope the other elected members have enough confidence in us to make decisions today to give operations a starting point.”
The motion was carried by councillors de Brenni, Price and Auricht, with Melky and Cocking voting against it.
Photo at top (from left): Sabine Taylor, Robert Jennings, Jamie de Brenni, Scott Allen and Kim Sutton at last night’s council meeting conducted by Zoom.