Frustration, accusations, effective politicking


Mornington Peninsula Shire community council meeting, Rosebud Memorial Hall, 25 May 2015. No personal account can be given of the meal, but it was up to the usual high standard, according to usually reliable sources.

THIS is a Council Listen rather than a Council Watch, as your correspondent was absent from the meeting. But there’s always the shire’s recording, which is posted on its website a few days later. So let’s soak up the drama and atmosphere without actually having been there.

Unsealed car parks appeared a straightforward agenda item until it was pointed out the shire had more than 250 across the peninsula.

It is anticipated that one or two will be sealed each year. This means the task might be finished in 125 years (by 2140) and, at worst, it might take until the Year of Our Lord 2265 – 250 years hence – before the last one is sealed. Of course by then there may be no need for car parks, as the End of the World may have intervened.

Is this a realistic report to bring forward, officers were asked. To which the reply was that two car park categories, A and B, will be (so to speak) first cabs off the rank and, yes, they will be dealt with over a mere 20 years or so. It might be possible to “leverage” funds to speed the process.

After a number of items that covered topics such as Anzac Centenary books, CEO Carl Cowie’s monthly report, and third quarter budget review, it was Notice of Motion time, where the excitement can often start, especially if the NoM is authored by Cr Hugh Fraser. Indeed this one was.

The first motion was to restrict community (meet your councillors) meetings to one annually for each of the six wards, a drop of four. Cr Tim Wood argued this was plenty. Cr Antonella Celi, speaking against the motion, said it was unfortunate that the issue was being discussed “on the fly-by”. There should first have been a respectful, collegiate discussion with colleagues.

The fewer “meet, greet and eat meetings” view prevailed 7-3 and the road show moved on.

The value of the agenda committee was put on the block. Cr Celi opposed its axing. She confessed to “experiencing some severe confusion” with the intent of the motion. But axed it was.

We must now take flight above the fray to the denouement of the meeting – Cr Fraser’s move to abolish the development assessment committee (DAC) altogether and deal with planning requests at ordinary council meetings.

The calm was over: now the storm. It started with a query on whether the amended motion could be heard. It got the OK. A fierce cold front, in the formidable form of Cr Celi, then swept through the chamber. Followed by Cr Anne Shaw, with a rhetorical question followed by her answer replete with expressions such as “undermining”, “shame on you” “disrespect, contempt for the community”, “a joke, and so is anyone who supports it”. But little logic.

Cr Andrew Dixon started with a deep sigh, and then came a crescendo. He was lost for words. “It’s blowing my mind,” he said. “It’s just phenomenally ridiculous – it’s stupid.”

There would be too little time to assess a development at a council meeting, he said. “We’ll give you 13 seconds each to put across your point of view … we’ll take it on board; mmm, yeah, no, yeah, no, eeny-meeny-miney-mo, yeh, nuh, nuh, nuh, not going through…”

Then, addressing those favouring abolition: “That’s transparency for you, guys. We take our job seriously; I hope you guys still do as well.”

After this, a pause and a thumping noise, as if the councillor’s mic was somehow malfunctioning, or possibly had fallen off the desk. CW could only imagine the scene in the chamber. [Editor: It was Cr Dixon headbutting his microphone with frustration.]

After him, Cr David Garnock, calmly: “This motion is in my opinion just another example of a kneejerk, poorly thought-out, ill-judged, personal crusade by one particular councillor who believes he has a mandate to make changes to this council’s operations without first discussing the implications or the justifications for proposed changes with his fellow councillors and shire officers.”

The motion was brought when the mover knew the numbers would be in his favour. “I found this to be disgraceful in the past and I find the strategy disgraceful tonight,” he said.

The vote was tied. Cr Graham Pittock used his casting vote to allow the matter to be debated. There ensued more debate about the actual motion with its five parts, much of it directed at Cr Fraser, but it was inevitable the abolition of DAC was in the tumbrel en route to the guillotine. But there was a powerful, underlying message in all this, expressed most robustly by Crs Shaw, Celi, Garnock and David Gibb – a huge collective frustration that they no longer exercise the almost untrammelled power they possessed before Cr Wood’s election last August.

It was a spectacular upswelling, best expressed by Cr Garnock’s accusation that Cr Fraser brought the matter to council when he knew he would be able to get it passed. Disgraceful!

Nothing of the sort. CW doubts this was part of Cr Fraser’s thought process. If it was, it was good politics, an exercise of the art of the possible.

(The gallery emptied at about 10.30pm and councillors discussed in private a couple of tenders – $305,787 (plus GST) to replace fire-damaged Warringine Park boardwalk between Hastings and Bittern, and $1,234,264 (plus GST) for a major drainage project at Mornington.)

First published in the Mornington News – 2 June 2015


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