Ratepayers footing Mayor’s legal bill latest election row

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By OSCAR PERRI

New Mayor Matt Paterson says he is “entitled” to having his legal bills covered by council in the case being brought against him by election runner-up Cr Jimmy Cocking.

And he takes shots at Cr Cocking about vote counts and the absence of scrutineers.

Meanwhile Cr Cocking is taking the matter to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) in order to have a full recount, rather than a “partial recheck”, that has resulted in Mr Paterson sworn in as Mayor of the 14th Council, and has the support of NTEC commissioner Ian Loganathan in his decision.

When asked whether he approached council, or was approached by them in regards to paying his legal costs, Mayor Paterson says he does not know of any examples of this happening in the past or elsewhere and “can’t recall the correct details.

“I’m just a bystander in all this really.”

“Jimmy is contesting it as an unsuccessful mayoral candidate.

“He’s not contesting it as a councillor, he’s contesting because he didn’t win the election,” Mayor Paterson says.

“What NTCAT are hearing is Jimmy contesting the end result of the election, and that end result is that I’m the Mayor.

“That’s why my name is on there, it’s not Matt Paterson the citizen, it’s Mayor Matt Paterson who’s having legal action against him.”

The reason Mayor Paterson is being financially supported by council falls under section 57 of the NT Local Government Act 2019, which, in its entirety, reads:

Protection from liability:

1. A person is not civilly or criminally liable for an act done or omitted to be done by the person in good faith in the exercise of a power or performance of a function as a member of a council.

  1. Any civil liability that would, but for this section, attach to a member of a council, attaches instead to the council.

  2. In this section: Exercise of a power includes the purported exercise of the power. Performance of  a  function  includes  the  purported  performance  of  the function.

Support of Mayor Paterson did not need to be approved by elected members, but rather CEO Robert Jennings.

The other newly elected Councillors only found out after being told by Cr Cocking, who saw on the legal documents that the council’s law firm was representing the Mayor.

This morning Cr Cocking told ABC radio that he is “concerned” by council footing the bill for Mayor Paterson.

“I’m feeling pretty mixed about it, between frustrated and upset.”

Cr Cocking has launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for legal fees and flights which has already reached over $7,600 of his $10,000 goal, and will be reimbursing donors if he wins and is awarded costs.

He said that it is “not a great way to start” the new council.

Mayor Paterson says he does not expect it to have a negative impact on the relationships between elected members, including Cr Cocking.

He says more information will become apparent once the case NTCAT begins on October 20.

“Hear the real story about how many times it has been counted and what’s getting put forward by other candidates about what hasn’t happened,” says the Mayor.

“I think that’s an important part that’s not getting reported on from any media about what the scrutineers did and didn’t do and who attended when they should have been.

“My scrutineers didn’t have any issue with the way the process went, because my scrutineers were there.”

PHOTO scrutineering room in Alice Springs.

19 COMMENTS

  1. So Mr “I won’t contest the results” is mounting yet another legal challenge. It’s just a bit pathetic. Perhaps when he loses this one will he take his bat and ball home, crying that you’re all cheaters?

  2. The scrutineers of Jimmy should be held responsible, it was their jobs.
    Matt did not do anything wrong. But this saga is not a good start for our new elected council.
    Painful and unfair things happen to everyone. Losers brood on it. Winners use it to learn and grow.

  3. Whatever is the outcome, this will remain in the background having divided the councilors, and the ratepayers who were hoping for more unity.

  4. Also pathetic is that Jimmy Cocking is keeping us in the dark.
    His legal appeal puts a cloud over the council and the least he could do is keep us in the loop.
    What is the NTCAT timeline Jimmy?
    Jimmy appears to have adopted the appalling transparency standards of the council.

  5. Exactly what is the act done or omitted to be done by Mayor Paterson?
    I can’t see that there is one.
    The NTLGA does not appear to cover the present circumstances i.e. an election.
    Therefore, CEO Jennings had no authority to authorise payment of legal costs.

  6. Just suppose, for argument’s sake, that Jimmy Cocking wins his appeal to the NTCAT and that in the subsequent full recount of votes he defeats Matt Paterson to become Mayor of Alice Springs.
    This would mean Cocking should have won in the first place and that Matt Paterson wasn’t a member of the new town council.
    Which then begs the questions – would Matt Paterson be entitled to have his legal fees paid by the Council and / or would the same apply to Jimmy Cocking?
    And if Jimmy Cocking becomes Mayor, what are the implications for the make-up of the new town council? Would this force a recount for the positions of councillor, too?

  7. Hi everyone, just to be clear, there is no new legal challenge.
    The NTCAT hearing is scheduled for October 20. The appeal is part of the electoral process and the NT Electoral Commission (NTEC) Commissioner publicly supported the NTCAT to review it.
    The NTEC has a recount policy that states: If the margin of votes on the initial count is 100 or less, a recount will be undertaken at the commission’s initiative as stated in section 130 (2)(b) of the Electoral Act or on the authorised officer’s own initiative as stated in section 55 (2)(b) of the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations.
    The Commissioner decided to recount only a portion of the votes (~4500 preference flows and informal votes) while the remaining primary votes (~5500 for Matt and I) were not subject to the same rigour.
    The partial recount demonstrated errors that were not previously picked up and saw the margin reduce from 17 to 2 votes only.
    I am seeking that the remaining ~5500 primary votes for Matt and I are recounted as the others were (remembering that the preference votes are primary votes for all the other candidates). This will give certainty to everyone as we all deserve.
    I was previously looking to represent myself with the support of pro bono assistance, but when I realised that other respondents were represented by a nationally leading legal firm, I needed to get my own legal representation, which I am crowdfunding thanks to my supporters.
    I have since learned that the costs for legal representation for Matt is being covered by ratepayers. I did not know this when I initiated the action.
    I am disappointed that this information was provided only when I asked questions about it after finding out by chance through reading material provided to the NTCAT. I am concerned that Elected Members were not consulted or provided an opportunity to input into this decision.
    The NTCAT hearing will consider evidence from all sides and will make a decision based on this and their powers under the Act. The NTEC has determined that Patrick Bedford would be added to Council if the Mayoral votes are found to be in my favour.
    In the meantime, I am committed to working as part of the Council team as an elected Councillor and continue to work for the community.

  8. I can’t see that Mayor Paterson has a claim on council funding for his legal fees.
    The legal protection afforded a council member applies only to the activities of the council. For example, if a council resurfaces a road in a dangerous manner and a road user is injured, the council is protected from litigation, though less clearly so if it was aware of the hazard.
    If a member of the council engages in an activity that is not council business and someone is injured, there is no protection.
    Legal protection hinges on whether or not a council election is an activity of the council?
    I would think not, because it is conducted by the NTEC.
    Nor are elections listed as council activities.
    Legal expenses can be huge, Cocking could take the matter beyond the NTCAT with ratepayers funding very large legal bills for Paterson in the court system.
    Even if he doesn’t it may happen in the future, and this is a bad precedent that encourages legal disputation over election results.
    Ratepayers funding the legal costs is an incentive to go to court.
    Hopefully, CEO Jennings sought a legal opinion before agreeing to this expenditure and ratepayers should be informed of it.

  9. What a joke and who authorised this and what do the ratepayers get out of this?
    Zilch?
    I don’t pay rates for this or can we get a refund?

  10. @ Jimmy Cocking: You have presented a clear and cogent case for a recount.
    I share your concern about the use of ratepayer funds and also have concerns about the legitimacy of using them to bankroll Mayor Paterson’s legal representation.
    This is indeed a potentially costly precedent for our fractious council.
    At the very least, CEO Jennings should have met with councillors to provide them with a rationale for the expenditure.
    He is now obliged to explain himself.

  11. @ Ralph Folds: We will never find out if a legal opinion was sought unless it was, in which case Jennings will tell us. Guaranteed!

  12. @ Surprised: CEO Jennings will use the confidentially provisions of the Act to hush this up.
    Even if our representatives are given a briefing they would face severe penalties by telling us ratepayers.

  13. It appears from the NTCAT hearing that the only remedy to Jimmy Cocking’s complaint is another election.
    No one wants another election.
    Jimmy should be hoping his complaint is dismissed because his electoral popularity in a repeat election will be zero.

  14. Jon, thanks for demonstrating your inconsistency and hypocrisy for all to see.
    How is pushing for good process and clear checks and balances in the NT democratic election process unreasonable?
    You are so vocal about oversight and accountability as it relates to council affairs and other matters, but seem unable to concede that when it comes to one of the most important foundational aspects of our local democracy, you just say “nothing to see there” or the cop-out “no-one wants another election”.
    I’d like to see another election in light of what we’ve all learnt thus far about this election process.

  15. @ Garfield. An electoral process where we vote and swear in a mayor and then have a series of challenges culminating in an appeal to the NTCAT creates division and chaos.
    It cripples our elected council at a time when unity is needed to oversee a dysfunctional council bureaucracy.
    As was pointed out at the NTCAT hearing Jimmy’s appeal is purely speculative.
    He’s not citing any irregularities.
    I do not think another election is reasonable and urge Jimmy to take his loss on the chin and refocus on ratepayers rather than his personal ambitions.

  16. @ Garfield: Fewer than 60% of eligible voters actually voted in the last election.
    How many will vote in a repeat?
    Less than half is my estimate.
    Another election is not good for local democracy.
    I voted for Jimmy last time but won’t do so again if he forces another election.

  17. @ Corinne Milich: Corinne, I am unsure where you obtained your stats. If they are correct at less than 60% though, the ASTC has a huge amount of work to do on their image. Clearly a good portion of the voters are apathetic and this is sad for the town.
    The council should take it on notice, that the people who employ them aren’t interested in them and rather than be proud that the council can run “autonomously”, they should be ashamed by the fact that the people have either lost interest, lost faith or just given up.

  18. @ Surprised: There is nothing new about low voter turnouts for town council elections or by-elections (or for some electorates in the NT Legislative Assembly, for that matter).
    Recently I emailed a couple of front page reports on council matters published in the Centralian Advocate 40 years ago to some members of the new Alice Springs Town Council.
    One story reported the election of three new aldermen elected in a triple by-election (they were Dave Tuzewski, John Reeves and Ray Hanrahan).
    The story concluded: “Just under 60% of the 3000 enrolled voters cast a vote” (Centralian Advocate, 15/04/81).
    The topic of the other story was about a proposal to move monthly council meetings from evenings to daytime (10am) – as is about to be trialed now (the original idea was defeated).
    Incidentally, it’s worth noting the circumstances of John Reeves election onto the town council.
    A prominent local lawyer, the president of the Alice Springs ALP branch and of rugby league, he had been at the forefront of a vigorous campaign opposed to the Alice Springs Town Council’s scheme to convert Anzac Oval into a “village green” public space.
    The council was forced to abandon its plans for Anzac Oval, and it was on the strength of this campaign that Reeves was elected as an alderman.
    In turn this became a step towards his successful campaign in early 1983 to be elected as the Labor Member for the Northern Territory – he is now a judge of the Federal Court of Australia.

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