An extraordinary Council meeting held yesterday (Tuesday, 12 January) descended into acrimony and walk outs that resulted in the suspension of the meeting.
Three of the fifteen Councillors were unable to attend — Kylie Ferguson, Alex McTaggart and Natalie Warren were recorded as apologies.
At the commencement of the meeting Cr Stuart Sprott declared a pecuniary interest in one of the motions because his partner runs a café. In a surprise move, he was excluded from the entire meeting when a procedural motion moved by Cr Sue Heins combined all seven motions into a single motion, preventing him from further participation.
“I am disappointed that I was forced out of the meeting due to conflict of interest over outdoor dining, but when the separate motions were merged into a single motion I had no choice but to leave the chamber and not participate further in the meeting,” said Cr Sprott after the meeting.
A colourful debate ensued, led by Cr Vincent De Luca OAM who raised multiple objections to the consolidation of the motions.
“This motion is a sheer motion to shut down and gag debate, it is political and unnecessary and should be condemned. The CEO supporting such is a deep concern and I ask that urgent advice be gained in the future to address this matter, otherwise the voice of Councillors to move motions will be obstructed by such political tactics,” said Cr De Luca.
Challenged on the legitimacy of the approach to consolidate the motions, Council CEO Ray Brownlee told the meeting, “Councillors, in my view this is a lawful procedural motion.”
A number of tense exchanges followed when Cr De Luca pursued the matter with the CEO and Council’s legal counsel, insisting the matters could not be combined without the consent of the original mover (Cr Rory Amon).
As Cr De Luca continued to pursue the ruling of the CEO through a procedural motion, Cr Sarah Grattan raised a point of order, alleging an act of disorder by Cr De Luca. The point of order was not upheld.
Following the meeting, Cr Grattan said that one and a half hours was wasted on procedural arguments about whether the measures could be considered together, as they all related to COVID-19 relief.
“Cr De Luca didn’t agree with this approach and proceeded to make this fact very clear to the chamber with a series of points of order and procedural motions. My point of order was to stop an unfounded attack on the CEO which personally I considered disgraceful,” said Cr Grattan.
In dealing with the now combined motions brought to the extraordinary meeting, Cr Rory Amon as the mover made a number of changes including removing the controversial proposal to halve Councillor salaries.
Cr Sue Heins and Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham moved a number of amendments, including thanking residents and council staff for their efforts and patience during the lockdown.
Another amendment was a change to the original proposal asking Transport for NSW to halve ferry fares, into enlisting Council in the campaign to save all four Freshwater class Manly ferries. This move outraged the Liberal Councillors and Independent Cr De Luca who claimed it was directed towards supporting Cr Bingham’s political party, Good For Manly.
Cr Bingham denied the assertion that the petition to save the ferries was political, as the petition had no reference to her political party. Following the meeting, Cr Bingham said she was disappointed in the response to her amendment.
“Instead of a short term discount on ferry fares, our efforts are better invested in saving four Freshwater class ferries for the long term tourism benefits. It was disappointing that the Liberal Councillors felt it was necessary to make the issue of saving the ferries political rather than supporting a community based campaign,” said Cr Bingham.
Cr Pat Daley OAM addressed the meeting, praising the Mayor for his efforts during the lockdown period but saying he could no longer support the agenda of the meeting.
“I was on board with the Manly ferry concept but this has gone too far. Politicising that whole campaign by using Council resources to promote a political cause, which it has turned into. It’s gone far beyond the original intent of the motion some weeks ago when it came before the Council previously. This has now turned into a total political exercise.
“This is getting out of control and gone far beyond what this meeting was called for and its intent. It’s a crying shame so I really can’t stay in the chamber any longer, I must leave. I ask other Councillors to consider their position,” said Cr Daley as he stood and left the chamber.
During Cr Daley’s statement, Cr Roslyn Harrison left the chamber and did not return. Mayor Michael Regan later said Cr Harrison had to leave for an appointment, which she has subsequently confirmed.
Echoing Cr Daley’s concern, Cr David Walton also announced his strong reservations and departure from the chamber.
“I can’t support this amendment either. We had this debate in the review of the amalgamation. The review suggested it was a perfect amalgamation. Everything went swimmingly, there were no mistakes. And yet, you go out and talk to the community and they just don’t agree. Some parts of the community strongly don’t agree.
“Now we’re being served up this amendment that which is again the good news story, we are fantastic. It is purely political. Now we want to fund Cr Bingham’s campaign to promote herself leading up to the next election. This is ridiculous. I’m with Cr Daley, I’m not staying in this chamber,” said Cr Walton as he excused himself.
Following the meeting, Cr Walton said he was extremely concerned at what had happened during the Council meeting.
“In my entire working life I have never walked out of a meeting until today. I could not participate any further in a meeting that was focused on the people in the room rather than the people in the community who we are supposed to represent. Today was a failure of governance,” said Cr Walton.
At this point, Council had eight Councillors present which is the minimum number required for the meeting to legally proceed. Cr Rory Amon proceeded to defend the intention of his original motions and opposed the amendments.
“My concern with the amended motions is they don’t do anything to help our community. They don’t put one more dollar back in the pocket of anyone. It’s all politics. It’s all grandstanding. There is nothing practical here whatsoever. I’m actually deeply concerned there is so much in here that’s ambushed on us at the last minute that this is not a coherent motion where I can be expected to vote for every item on it or against every item on it.
“For that reason I’m going to find it very difficult to remain in this chamber to debate this matter through to the end because I cannot see myself voting for it or against it. Because there are bits of it I like and there are bits of it I think are completely outrageous, to spend money on a Councillors political campaign. That’s what we are proposing to do. I cannot in good conscience spend ratepayers money to do that. So I’m really going to struggle in good conscience and under my duties under the act to remain in this meeting. I will find it very hard,” said Cr Amon, remaining in his seat.
Cr Grattan asked that the motion be put to a vote. At this point Cr De Luca, who had been attempting to speak, stood up and left the chamber. With seven Councillors in the chamber, the meeting did not have quorum. The Mayor deferred the meeting for 10 minutes to allow quorum to be re-established, after which the meeting was adjourned to the next ordinary Council meeting, which is scheduled for 23 February.
After the meeting, Cr Grattan said the motions put forward were a waste of time and resources.
“The local businesses are hurting and require real action and support that Staff, Mayor and Cr Heins (in particular) already have underway. The NOMs [motions] were largely a tokenistic list of measures, some overtly political (such as asking the mayoral and councillors fees to be halved) and others ill founded such as reductions in parking and public transport fares that were not even supported by the local chambers of commerce. Others were already in place (vouchers) or agreed at December council meeting such as outdoor dining support and extension of business fee relief.
“In the end, a number of the Liberal Councillors walked out to avoid voting on the motion and to deny a quorum, primarily as they did not want to save the Manly ferry, despite a unanimous motion at the December meeting. So the meeting was adjourned,” said Cr Grattan.
An item now deferred is an urgency motion by Cr Amon that Council declare a natural disaster area as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. The motion requests Council write to State and Federal governments asking them to declare the Northern Beaches a disaster zone to enable local businesses to be eligible for disaster assistance. The urgency of that motion was accepted but it was not debated further due to the adjournment of the meeting.