Venue: Hastings Hub. Briefings as the entrée, followed by a meal, then the council meeting. A good crowd, that dwindled noticeably after dinner time. Apologies: councillors Graham Pittock and Bev Colomb. Cr Martin had resigned the previous Tuesday so only eight councillors present.
IT WAS a meeting of two distinct parts, but with an air of tension over Part One, possibly emanating from councillors, who knew Part Two could well be lively.
And so it was. Allow Council Watch to set the scene.
The prologue: shire meetings are recorded via wi-fi microphones. These have been troublesome for months. They failed completely at Hastings. New governance officer Tony Beynon found a portable mike and galloped with it from speaker to speaker so the gallery could hear the proceedings … up to a point.
The action: Cr Hugh Fraser had lodged a Notice of Motion related to the councillor walkout at the previous week’s Special Purposes Committee meeting. Cr Fraser, Cr Tim Rodgers and Cr Bev Colomb had left that meeting, which then had no quorum – unprecedented in recent shire history – and had to be abandoned.
The “walkout” item could therefore not be dealt with. And here was Cr Fraser’s follow-up, ticking like a bomb, in a public forum, seeking that the secret business be made public.
First, Cr Fraser’s notice of motion argued that the confidential item was not confidential under the Local Government Act.
Second, it argued that, not being confidential, it should be heard at an open council meeting. He named 10 June as the date.
Third, he argued that the item should not have been on the agenda of a meeting outside Rosebud since councillors had resolved that all meetings dealing with the Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre be held in Rosebud.
So SPA had been the confidential item that sparked the walkout. The cat was out of the bag.
A very large and formidable cat-out-of-bag is SPA, a veritable Bengal tiger of a cat, snarling, eyes flashing, claws menacing. No wonder the three councillors had walked out. The hugely contested, massively expensive, largely unfunded proposed Rosebud foreshore pool complex has cleaved the council with the force of a racing axe.
Council Watch had sought in vain for details of that confidential item, to no avail. But one can speculate, as follows…
SPA is about to be subject of a design competition. At present a few things are known about what the the project will include, but much detail is vague. That was made clear last December in a presentation to councillors, when its cost was quoted at $28 million and the public was told much of the detail was still up in the air. The cost, incidentally, has now climbed mysteriously to $34 million.
Of course the prospective design contest folk need to know what the SPA will include. There will be a pool – 25 metres, 10 lanes. Will there be a hydrotherapy pool or just a warm water pool?
We know there will be a restaurant – Cr David Gibb, the project’s chief apostle, told us that last year, out of the blue. It will be upstairs, to take in the bay view. We know there could be a gym. But is it a certainty?
Pools these days are far more than pools. Look at Frankston’s nearly completed complex, or the one at Waurn Ponds, near Geelong, or the one at Casey. These days children’s aquatic play areas are essential. And water slides … there must be slides. And that means a separate pool, that sliders slide into. A diving pool, like Ringwood?
This writer speculated some time ago that the SPA would include at least one water slide. And is prepared to speculate again that at least one water slide will be included in the design brief. Extra cost? Probably $5-6 million, maybe more. This will push the total cost up to around $40 million, and climbing. And will require a bigger footprint for the project.
No wonder tension was high at the Hastings Hub meeting last Monday night. Cr Gibb and his supporters had failed to get this item debated at the closed meeting. And here was Cr Fraser asking that the proposal be decided in full public glare, where the gallery could listen to councillors’ arguments and see how they voted.
Responding to Cr Fraser’s questions, CEO Michael Kennedy confirmed he had stated in an email that not all of a confidential item might be confidential. But a mess ensued if part of an item could be heard in public, then the public had to leave for a confidential bit, then be called back in … asked to leave … called back in … more practical and logical to designate the entire matter confidential. “It has ever been thus,” he declared.
Similarly, infrastructure boss Alex Atkins had indicated in answer to Cr Gibb that on complex matters the shire had over the years judged it best to discuss some issues in camera then decide what, if anything, to make public – effectively the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” argument.
But Mr Atkins gave the gallery a big hint when he used the phrase “design brief” in relation to the confidential item.
Explaining why the SPA item had been included in the agenda of a meeting held away from Rosebud despite the councillors’ resolution, acting chief financial officer Alison Leighton said that because the item was confidential it was not felt necessary to wait for a Rosebud meeting.
The denouement: Then came the fireworks. Cr Fraser turned his attention to mayor Antonella Celi with a semi-technical question. She was nonplussed. “I beg your pardon?” she said. He repeated the question. She glowered.
“Cr Fraser,” she said, “I do not appreciate questions that are interrogative in nature.” And asked him to rephrase it. “I thought questions were interrogative,” someone whispered.
From there to the end was but a few minutes of raised voices, shouting, shouting down, warnings about penalties in bylaws and then suspension of the matter.
“Mr Beynon, can you please take the microphone to Cr Gibb,” Cr Celi instructed the man with the mike.
Cr Gibb moved that the motion be put. It was. Then Cr Fraser’s matter was decided by Cr Celi’s casting vote.
Now to wait for the design brief to reveal precisely what exciting new features the SPA will include. And possibly how much they will add to the soaring bill.