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HomeIssue 6Council: who's in charge?

Council: who’s in charge?


There are signs of pushback against the growing relegation of the Town Council’s Elected Members to policy-making decisions only.

The business papers for last night’s meeting showed the officers had prepared a submission of objection to the relicensing of the previous license-holders for Bojangles Saloon.

Mayor Damien Ryan couldn’t recall the matter coming to council at any stage. His understanding was that liquor licensing requests always came to full council (for advice).

Director Corporate Services Sabine Taylor suggested that they normally go to the Rangers Unit; she was not aware of any having come to council.

Mayor Ryan wasn’t having that: “Every one has always come to council,” he insisted, “so could we revert back to that?”

Cr Eli Melky asked for council’s liquor licensing policy to come before council at its next meeting “to make sure that all’s clear”.

Cr Jamie de Brenni objected to the papers noting that the Hartley Street lighting upgrade (photo at top) noted was “completed”.

He said he is still getting complaints about the “visual pollution” that the lights create – “really a disgrace”.

He wanted the term “completed” replaced by “ongoing”. (The lights cost $192,000 cost of which $30,000 was for their installation; in May last year council officers were reported to be investigating their removal to another “council area”.)

He didn’t say, but these lights are a perfect illustration of the dangers of councillors considering policy only (more solar lighting – tick) as opposed to implementation.

Mayor Ryan also noted the absence of any mention of Elected Members in the development of council’s multicultural plan, reported as “as endorsed by Directors” with initial meetings held.

His concern was “noted” by CEO Robert Jennings who will do a review, provide Elected Members with an update, and include them in the process.

Under the heading of “Conserve and protect the Alice Springs environment” there was no mention of the “largest environmental asset “ that council is responsible for, Lhere Mparntwe ? Todd River, as Cr Jimmy Cocking noted.

And what had happened to the two positions council had previously committed to picking up rubbish in the river? he asked.

Where to next with Alice Plaza consortium?

The Alice Springs Property Syndicate – the consortium behind proposed redevelopment of the Alice Plaza  – has not given up on involving council in its plans.

Its front man John Huigen had conversations with individual councillors last week as well as a meeting with the CEO, looking to progress a possible collaboration on a “socially inclusive” community facility that would draw “foot traffic” into the area, according to Cr Banks’s account.

Council scotched the consortium’s proposal for relocating the public library to the site, for reasons that the public remains completely in the dark about.

The proposal has divided council, along the usual lines. Cr Melky’s motion to rescind that decision – taken by a quorum of five in a confidential meeting with only himself opposed – was supported at council’s last open meeting by Crs Banks, Cocking, and Satour.

The Mayor’s representation of that rescinsion motion on ABC radio – apparently using words like “it totally confused me” – was the subject of a stoush between him and Cr Melky last night, with Cr Melky complaining of “gaslighting” and Mayor Ryan suggesting Cr Melky was just courting headlines.

Council has now resolved to workshop other proposals with the consortium.

Meanwhile the town library languishes in a drawn-out “strategic planning” exercise – after decapitation of its leadership team last year. The business papers showed most of its “deliverables” as “under review”.

What counts as a local event?

Of all the business before council to pull out for discussion, Cr Matt Paterson was concerned with one $2250 item.

That was the grant amount that the Tourism Events Promotions Committee recommended going to Wide Open Spaces (WOS), down from the $4500 they had asked for.

WOS, for those who may not know, is a ten-year-old homegrown music, art and performance festival held over three days in May at the Ross River Resort. 

In its first iteration it attracted around 500 people. By 2018 it had grown to 2500.

Jimmy Cocking was one of its founders – well before his time on council – and is still centrally involved. He absented himself for last night’s discussion.

Cr Paterson’s objection was seemingly simple – the event is held out of town. Council’s in kind support was certainly enough – “generous and sufficient”.

Cr Catherine Satour, who chairs the Tourism Events Promotions Committee, responded that it might be a good idea to review guidelines for the grants, to consider not only location but what events bring to the town. She had certainly been on committees that had awarded financial support to events out of town.

Such a review was supported by Cr Marli Banks, who also pertinently pointed out that WOS has just been the subject of a feature article in Rolling Stone magazine (February 12, 2021).

That’s the kind of publicity that money can’t buy and the location the article associates with the festival, geographically and culturally, is Alice Springs, with the event described as “Australia’s most unique festival”.

Said Cr Banks: “On back of Covid I don’t think we can downplay the type of advertising and marketing they [WOS] receive.”

Mayor Damien Ryan agreed more work could be done on applications by officers before they are presented to council.

Cr Jamie de Brenni wanted to know what council’s in kind support to WOS involved, and was concerned about transport costs.

In the final vote, only Cr Paterson was opposed to the grant and, strangely standing on his digs, called for a division so that his opposition will be recorded in the minutes.

To “aid officers” in their review of guidelines, Cr Banks named three out-of-town events supported by council under the tourism promotions rubric: West Macs Monster (running the Larapinta Trail), the TV series Maverix (which will be filmed across several locations, not only in the municipal area), and the Finke Desert Race.

Other events that council supported last night were a night market to be held during NAIDOC week ($5000 as requested); the NT Writers Festival ($7500, half the amount requested); AusCycling’s Easter in Alice mountain bike event ($1500, when they asked for $5000); Music NT for the Bush Bands Bash ($5000, again half the amount requested).

The Tourism Events Promotions Committee minutes show that Cr Paterson requested that his support be noted for the full amount requested by AusCycling.


Last updated 10 March 2021, 12.23pm.


  1. Perhaps a better angle is this: Instead of who’s in charge? how about who’s accountable?
    For example, the ugly solar lights are clearly a monumental stuff up.
    One assumes the manager of Infrastructure is accountable.
    If correct, CEO Jennings should hold him accountable.
    The storming of Cassia Ct to remove a tree is clearly another mistake.
    Presumably the manager of the Rangers is responsible.
    If that’s right and he authorised it, has CEO Jennings held him to account?
    Of course CEO Jennings has not.
    When a mistake is made everyone acts like a chapter of the Hells Angels and they cover each other and hide behind their “operational confidentiality”.
    Bottom line is, if the strong elements of the Council insist on doing things their way and see the elected members as mere advisors or worse, the heat should be on the CEO to make them accountable.
    Operational must not mean unaccountable.

  2. Back in May last year there was universal community outrage over the hideous solar lights in Hartley Street.
    CEO Jennings soothed us by saying they could easily be moved and council would look into this option.
    He assured us he was looking for a win win situation.
    But without any feedback at all from Jennings on the option to move the lights, council was informed that the lighting upgrade is complete.
    This was a win for Council management and a loss for our community and in particular, our struggling tourist industry.
    Then we have what looks like a move to bypass advice from the elected members to the Ranger Unit so they can deal exclusively with the relicensing of the liquor license-holders.
    There is some resistance to this shift in power within the Council but it is obvious that Council management call the shots.
    How did it come to this?


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