|In a video posted on Facebook, Cr Rachel Power, front, said five|
people had caused an uproar in the public gallery at the council
AGM last week and 20-odd had encouraged them.
The official audio recording of the meeting was published on the council website on Monday, allowing a detailed review of the proceedings, which lasted about 45 minutes. Without explanation, the recording was replaced by a slightly shorter version on Tuesday. The recording is available here, or read on for a detailed report.
Mayor Ben Shaw opened the meeting at about 5.30pm on December 13, remarking that there appeared to be quite a bit of interest in the annual report. "It is interesting to note that the council AGM isn't an official meeting of council," Cr Shaw said. "So, it is for the purposes of noting the annual report and taking public questions regarding the annual report," he said.
Dealing firstly with the record of attendance and apologies, Cr Shaw said Cr Martyn Evans was an apology for the meeting but all other councillors were in attendance. General manager Greg Winton conducted a headcount of the public gallery and reported that there were 29 members of the public in attendance. Names of the public were not recorded for the minutes.
Cr Shaw said Item 2 in the agenda was brief overview of conduct at the annual general meeting. "If you've got an agenda there or if you've had a look at an agenda, it's reasonably self-explanatory," he said.
The mayor next called for someone to move the confirmation of the minutes of the 2017 annual general meeting. After a short delay, deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove moved that the minutes be confirmed as "fair and correct". Cr Julie Triffett seconded the motion. From the public gallery, Mr Alby Stephenson objected on the grounds that a councillor who was not at the last AGM could not say the minutes were fair and correct. Cr Shaw over-ruled the objection and said the minutes would be passed if the majority of the room, and the minutes would be passed if voted for by the majority of the room. Mr Stephenson asked if the members of the public could vote and the mayor responded in the affirmative. This was a departure from previous AGMs where the councillors alone voted on the minutes and annual report, as recently as last year.
Mr Stephenson then asked if the meeting was being recorded, as the mayor had not made the usual announcement. Cr Shaw said it was not a requirement for the meeting to be recorded and Mr Stephenson disagreed, pointing to a council decision on the matter last March. "Correct, but this isn't an official council meeting either," Cr Shaw said, "but we are recording it." Another voice in the gallery said "you can't have an AGM if it's not official" and another replied "it's so they can bulls..t." The digital recorder had been running since the start of the meeting.
|The scene at the council annual general meeting last week.|
The mayor counted 11 "No" votes, although a voice in the gallery said there were 13. Cr Shaw then counted the abstentions, asking those who had not voted "Yes" or "No" to raise their hands. He counted eight abstentions including Cr Paul Belcher, and declared the motion to have been carried. A number of voices in the gallery disputed the result, including Mr Wayne Shoobridge who asked the mayor to clarify the decision. The general manager advised the mayor: "I think you might find it was lost. Lost." The mayor apologised and after the rechecking the numbers he announced: "The motion is lost, 25 against."
Moving on to the fourth item of business, Cr Shaw called for someone to move that the annual report be noted. This was moved by Mr Russell Alphey from the public gallery and seconded by Cr Rachel Power. With no-one wishing to speak about the report, Cr Shaw thanked the staff who had produced it. "It is a required document that we need to put together every year [and] gives a bit of a snapshot about what's happened in the previous year in council," he said.
Putting the motion to the vote, Cr Shaw counted numbers rather than names on this occasion, announcing there were 12 votes in favour of noting the annual report. He then counted 11 votes against the motion, and next called for abstentions before changing his mind. "That's the rest, we've got the numbers so that's fine, so we'll finalise the numbers now". After conferring with the general manager, Cr Shaw declared the motion to have been lost. Cr Belcher had again abstained from voting, along with a number of people in the gallery.
The next item on the agenda dealt with written submissions received in response to the annual report. Although the agenda document stated none had been received, Cr Shaw said there was one submission and he asked the general manager to report. "Thanks Mr Mayor, councillors, ladies and gentlemen, we received one submission from Mr Alby Stephenson from Molesworth," Mr Winton said.
Mr Stephenson raised two issues, one being that matters from the 2017 annual general meeting had not been resolved. Firstly, he reported that he had received a letter from the general manager after the previous AGM, advising that a vote of no-confidence in the council on matters relating to Collins Cap Rd was not upheld because some members of the public abstained from voting. "The chairperson did not ask the members of the public if they were abstaining," Mr Stephenson said. "The meeting closed with a vote of 2-0 on the no-confidence vote. Your letter therefore did not constitute part of the AGM but was in fact an afterthought. I believe I have a right of clarification on this issue."
In response, Mr Winton said there had been some confusion at the last AGM as to whether councillors could participate in the vote on public motions and he had attempted to clarify this by saying councillors were also electors of the municipal area and were entitled to vote and so was everyone else in the room at that point in time. "The question I suppose is really about whether there was a show of hands or not a show of hands. By being in the room and not voting, you are abstaining from voting."
Mr Stephenson interjected while Mr Winton attempted to move on to the second part of the submission. "I'm sorry, before you go on to that, the AGM [last year] was ... almost like an episode of Yes Minister. When you asked if anybody opposed the motion [of no-confidence], five of the councillors put up their hands. I believe you were corrected by one of the councillors who said that councillors couldn't vote". Cr Shaw interrupted here to say he believed the general manager had just explained that situation. "The councillors are electors so they actually can vote and the general manager explained that on the night and he's just explained that now."
Mr Stephenson tried to continue to pursue the matter of councillors voting on motions from the floor [which they had not done in previous years] but this was not being entertained: "Thank you Mr Stephenson, you have got your answer," Cr Shaw said.
[Despite the advice that all electors attending council AGMs are entitled to vote on all matters, this did not occur last year. While the record of voting on Mr Stephenson's 2017 motion of no-confidence remains in dispute, the minutes clearly indicate that only councillors were able to vote on the annual report that year, and there is no mention of the voting on the previous year's minutes at all.]
The general manager then went on with the remainder of Mr Stephenson's submission. "So the ... second matter of concern is the correspondence from Mayor Evans to residents in Collins Cap Rd written in the new year," Mr Winton said. Mr Stephenson said he believed it had been established during the 2017 AGM that $200,000 in the 2015 budget was designated for the sealing of Collins Cap Road between Wyre Forest Rd and Tubbs Rd. "This money did not exist and I believe we concluded that it was Monopoly money. Why did Mayor Evans then write to residents saying the money did exist but not necessarily for Collins Cap Rd?"
Mr Winton said he was not able to answer for former mayor Evans, but a question had been asked about the same matter at the January 2018 council meeting and another letter had been sent to Mr Stephenson. Mayor Shaw said the practice was that questions from the AGM went to the next monthly meeting, which could have been the reason for the former mayor's letter. Mr Stephenson said he was aware Code of Conduct complaints had to be lodged within six months but he felt there was a breach of the councillor code of conduct involved in the matter and Cr Shaw said there were avenues for pursuing that.
The mayor then introduced the fifth item on the agenda, general business, and called for any questions from the floor.
Mr Wayne Shoobridge drew attention to the poor acoustics in the old courtroom used as the council chamber, as well as the difficulty in hearing some parts of the audio recordings made of each meeting. "For a small amount of money you could have a microphone placed in front of everybody," he said. The mayor said the question had been noted and he had already asked the general manager to obtain quotes for an improved system, as members of the public gallery had previously complained about not being able to hear some councillors when they spoke.
|Len Butterworth asking a question at the council AGM.|
This was not a satisfactory response for Mr Butterworth, who said he had written to the council and deserved a response. "Have you got any response to that? Are you operating as a private company?" he asked. The mayor thanked Mr Butterworth for the question, and Mr Butterworth said: "No thank you," followed by inaudible remarks and then: "Benny, don't tell me to sit down, you're the bloody chair of this meeting, it's not to the general meeting as yet, it's the ... AGM."
Cr Shaw said he would take the question on notice and would answer in writing, which led another voice in the gallery to ask: "What about the rest of us that want to know the answer?" The mayor responded: "It'll be provided... the response will be provided after its considered at the next meeting." Cr Shaw said all questions and motions from the AGM would be considered a council meeting. Mr Butterworth said he was taking legal action and had already had a response from Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein. He had also been offered free court time to take on the council.
Cr Shaw: "There's a there's a process and procedure that you can follow and you're quite within your right to do that. Thank you."
A muttering voice in the gallery: "Dipstick."
The mayor called for any further questions and Mr Darren Graham said he would like to move a motion of no-confidence. Cr Shaw said he was still dealing with questions, and motions would be next.
Mr Alby Stephenson was next, harking back to his own motion of no-confidence in the council at last year's annual general meeting, and allegations at the time of the disappearance of $200,000 intended for works on Collins Cap Rd at Molesworth. "I later discovered that it wasn't $200,000, it was something like a million and $400,000. Now, has the ever been an inquiry into how it happened?"
Cr Shaw said he was not sure of the exact figure and he would ask the general manager if he had any response. "I think there's been some responses given regarding the fact that it was a non-cash backed reserve for quite some time. So there was a reserve there that showed that it was there it was non-cash backed, so a reserve actually existed for that road, we found out there was non-cash backed. So that was the issue but I couldn't comment on the exact figure right now."
Mr Stephenson: "It's a case of creative accounting."
Cr Shaw: "Yep."
Mr Stephenson continued: "While I'm here, how many accountants are we paying at the moment?"
The mayor and general manager responded: "One."
Mr Stephenson: "So the original accountant who was stood down ... is still being paid?"
A voice: "No, go easy..."
Cr Shaw: "No, we won't go there, that's um..."
Mr Stephenson: "We won't go there... OK. So we're paying for two accountants."
Cr Shaw: "No, one."
A voice: "The other one's free is he?"
Mr Chris Lester took up the subject of non-cash-backed reserves. "If there is money set aside in the budget and it is not spent on something else, well where is the money?"
Cr Shaw: "Absolutely."
Mr Lester: "So it is cash-backed."
Cr Shaw: "It was not cash-backed."
Mr Lester: "With all due respect, if is set aside in the budget and it isn't spent on anything else, it should still be there [and] spent on that damn road."
Another voice: "That's correct."
Cr Shaw: "Exactly."
After a few moments of silence in the room, Mr Winton offered: "I can't explain something that while I wasn't at, at that point in time, about how certain practises of accounting were undertaken. What I can say though is that there's been much discussion within the council around cash-backed reserves and what these reserves are. If you took the time to have a look at the financial statements for this year on pages 24 and 25, there is a listing of the community reserves and the asset replacement reserves and they add up to approximately $2 million. They are all now cash-backed. So, questions around ... in the past in terms of how did this happen, [it is] quite difficult for me to actually explain. However what I can say to you is that council over the last period of time has made a concentrated effort to ensure that the reserves that is has been recording are now all cash-backed."
The Mr Haydn Pearce, expressed surprise that there were not more people wearing yellow shirts, as per the recent protests in France. "I thought everybody was gonna have yellow shirts and we would have rebelled against the council," he said. There was laughter in the gallery as the mayor said he was not able to answer that question.
Mr Pearce continued: "Seeing how I pay close to $30,000 each year in rates, to you lovely people - and hello to the new people as well because I don't think I have really met anybody - how come I still have dirt all around my property down there as footpaths? It's the new centre of town and the council never seems to do me any favors. So all I see is council doing other people favours. I don't know - how does this work?" Turning to journalist Damian Bester in the press box, Mr Pearce said: "You're a reporter. Report."
Mr Pearce continued: "The thing is, I don't know how your council work. I become very disillusioned. I'm sorry about the new people here and you know maybe this is something that you guys can think about and maybe change and maybe help ... or ... maybe help me see the light."
A voice: "Just stop paying your rates."
Another voice: "You're lucky you've got a road."
Mr Pearce: "I do pay my rates because I appreciate that rates need to be paid for the greater community to ... have a better place. But I don't see it happening guys and I just had to come and say so."
Cr Shaw thanked Mr Pearce and said there was a process, and a hierarchy of footpaths. Mr Pearce said he had to keep going, and left the meeting.
The next speaker was Mr Alby Stephenson, who said he did not agree with the council's new credit card policy and was not in favour of the senior management having $10,000 credit cards. He went on to acknowledge the good service received from Karen Post at the council's front counter. "Every time I have been in to the council chambers she has been smiling, very attentive, knows exactly what I want and gives me all the instructions. So, if anyone should get a Christmas present I say it should be Karen." The gallery applauded Mr Stephenson's remarks while Cr Shaw responded that all of the front office staff were very good.
Mr Chris Lester was next with a question, asking whether the council now had a policy about giving council and ratepayers' funds to private businesses. Cr Shaw said he did not believe there was such a policy and Mr Winton said he could not answer the question without more information.
Mr Lester continued: "Well, the market," which prompted deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove to turn around and stare in Mr Lester's direction. Mr Lester was seated behind Cr Cosgrove, who recently had a licence granted by the council to run the weekly High St market.
Mr Winton asked Cr Shaw for leeway to answer the question, which was granted. "So Mr Lester can you just clarify what the question is?
Mr Lester: "The question is, does the council have a policy around giving ratepayers' money to a private enterprise to run a business.
Mr Winton: "And you're referring to the market specifically?
Mr Lester: "I am referring to the market."
Mr Winton: "Right. I'm not aware of the council having a policy around that particular matter."
Mr Lester: "I understand that the council set aside $30,000 in their budget."
Mr Winton: "OK, thanks for clarifying what the question is about. There is a figure of $30,000 in this current year's budget in the capital works budget which gets reported each month to the council meetings. So it's listed in this month's council meeting. It's a figure of $30,000. I have heard suggestions that it's being paid directly to the market operator. That is incorrect. That money that was allocated in the budget was actually designed for a consideration as to whether a council installed some form of bollards in the main street at some stage. That's what the allocation was, there's been no decision taken about whether we actually do that or not. Council entertained that during the budget deliberation process which was back in March to May, March to June, and decided to allocate $30,000. But in terms of a payment or something like that to the operator, that's not correct."
Cr Shaw said the wording of the budget line item relating to the allocation may have caused some confusion. Mr Lester said this may have been part of the problem. "But the other part of the problem is that regardless of whether it was actually cash money, council did provide, in-kind, workers etc, to set up some of this stuff, so regardless of what accounting procedure you may use, there is ratepayers' money being spent on a private business," Mr Lester said.
The mayor responded that the council had an events management policy which had a budget allocation to assist events with in-kind support and set-up costs, and this was not restricted to community-run events. He referred to assistance given to a sculpture trail on private property at Mt Field which had brought people into the community.
A voice in the gallery said he would obtain an Australian Business Number (ABN) and claim a share of the funding. "Create an event and ask council," the mayor replied.
Following up on the same matter, Mr Wayne Shoobridge said the minutes of the meeting that approved the licence for the market had said part of the $30,000 could be used to train the market operator in traffic management. The mayor and general manager said this was not the case, and invited regional development officer Jess Dallas to comment. "The licence for the market operator, which was also in the minutes, clearly stipulate that the cost of training to gain traffic management qualifications must be borne by the market operator," Ms Dallas said. Mr Shoobridge said he would stand corrected until had a chance to review the minutes. "Read the licence as well, because it is in the licence," Ms Dallas said. [The market licence agreement does not form part of the minutes of the meeting where the licence was granted but can be found in the minutes of the July council meeting].
With no further questions, the mayor called for motions from the floor, and asked Mr Darren Graham to speak. "I move a motion that we have got no confidence in this council," Mr Graham responded. The motion was seconded by Mr Lester. Mr Graham said he had nothing further to add.
Mr Shoobridge asked to speak, and said it had become apparent over the last six months that certain councillors had an agenda of not opening-up the council to the public, but closing it. "You have now got an agenda item in the general meeting tonight to move your meetings to 5 o'clock, or 5.30, no public forum [and] and the only public forums you are going to have are going to be those out in the bush - that's according to your motion that's on the table. That being the case, you are now forcing people from New Norfolk, if they want to go to a public forum, to go out to these country areas and overtake and maybe disrupt the meetings out in the bush.
Cr Shaw interrupted Mr Shoobridge's remarks. "No. So, at the end of the day there's, sorry..."
Mr Shoobridge continued: "This council should be opening up, not closing."
Cr Shaw: "I agree."
Mr Graham: "You're one that's trying to do it."
Cr Shaw: "I agree. So, you've still got public question time as well, and it is a motion on notice tonight for consideration so we can't speak too much but there's also another motion tonight for our communication strategy which actually allows for more community engagement outside of this room. So we're actually opening up further. So if you read the communications strategy...
Mr Graham: "You can't communicate in here, you've got all the bloody doors locked."
Cr Shaw: "That's not what we're talking about, we're going outside outside to different events."
Various voices interjecting.
Cr Shaw: "Well there's a new communications strategy that hasn't been in place before, to actually try and communicate better with the Derwent Valley ratepayers and the community. So, have a look at it, it's in the agenda tonight. It's still a work in progress as such but it will be the starting point and there hasn't been one for a long time.
Mr Dave Curtis then called for the re-opening of the areas in the council offices that were now behind locked doors. "I mean what happens for somebody like me that's been done over, over the last three and a half years? I can't talk to anybody. I did talk to councillors, many of them, but not one of them brought it to a meeting. We need the place opened up. We own you. We need to be able to get to you. If we can't get to you we don't want you."
Mr Lester was next to speak. "I support the motion. The council is spending a huge amount of money on staff - extra staff - and I don't see any return or benefit to the ratepayers, so that's why I will be supporting the motion. I just think we spend far too much on staff."
At this point, 33 minutes into the meeting, the mayor put the no-confidence motion to the vote. Resolving the outcome would occupy the next 10 minutes. Calling for a show of hands from those in favour of the motion, he counted 13. A voice from the gallery said "15" and Mr Winton said he had also counted 15. Cr Shaw recounted the vote and arrived at 14 after excluding one person, saying: "I believe you mentioned before you are not an elector in the area."
Cr Shaw then called for those voting against the motion to raise their hands. He counted 12 votes but several in the gallery said it was 11. The vote was counted again and arrived at 12. "And the rest abstained," Mr Winton said. "The rest abstained," Cr Shaw said. Mr Winton said to the mayor: "I'll do the numbers afterwards [and] work that out." There was then a question about how the "Yes" and "No" votes had totalled 26. Cr Shaw said there were 27 people in the room and three had indicated they couldn't vote." He added there were seven councillors voting also.
The mayor announced that the motion was lost, and called for any further motions. A general hubbub broke out, with multiple voices speaking at the same time.
Mr Shoobridge: "Hey?"
Various voices: "No."
Mr Winton (quietly): "The motion is carried."
Cr Shaw: "Oh, sorry, carried."
Mr Winton (laughing quietly): "The motion is carried."
Mr Butterworth: "How can it be lost?"
Mr Winton (laughing quietly): ""The motion is carried."
Cr Shaw: "Sorry."
Mr Graham: "Seriously you need to go back to school."
Cr Shaw: "Carried."
A voice: "One and one is two."
Mr Lester: "Fourteen and eleven."
Mr Winton (quietly): "Fourteen were For..."
Cr Shaw (quietly) : "It's against, it's lost."
Mr Winton (quietly): "...Twelve and there's abstentions, so just clarify for them."
Cr Shaw (quietly): "So the abstentions are a No."
Mr Winton (quietly): "Go for another vote, and say just to clarify people that abstain are voting against the motion."
Cr Shaw: "So just to clarify, everybody in the room, the people that are abstaining from voting, it's a 'No' vote, so it's a vote for 'No'.
Multiple voices: "No it's not."
A voice: "Abstaining is no vote."
Multiple voices challenged the mayor's explanation of the definition of abstaining from voting, with several voices raised briefly.
A voice: "That's bulls..t."
Another voice: "You're making this up."
Cr Shaw: "An abstention is a 'No'.
Mr Graham: "Seriously Ben, you need to wake up."
Cr Shaw: "It's the principles of local government meeting procedures, that's what it is. It's local government meeting procedures, not me making it up."
Mr Graham: "If they go and vote and don't put nothing in the bin, they haven't voted."
Mr Butterworth: "Absolute bulls..t."
Cr Shaw: "It's not."
|General manager Greg Winton, left, and Mayor Ben Shaw|
discussing the voting on the no-confidence motion at the AGM.
The mayor then counted the total number of eligible voters in the room and reached 29, plus seven councillors. Council staff and media were not included as voters and did not vote. "So now that everybody understands, and everybody understands the numbers, I will put the motion again so we can actually find out everybody's feelings. The general manager will just clarify," he said.
Mr Winton: "Mr Mayor, councillors, ladies and gentlemen, just to be clear, the motion that was moved by Mr Graham, seconded by Mr Lester, that there is a no-confidence motion in this council.
So that's what you're voting on. So if you put your hand up for that motion, you're expressing a motion of no-confidence in this council. So that's the 'Fors'. The people who put up [their hand] and say 'No', they're not supporting the motion of no-confidence. Those people that don't vote - apart from those three that aren't electors - those people that don't put their hand up at all, under the Local Government Meeting Procedures, which is what...
A voice: "Absolute bulls..t."
Various voices muttering.
Another voice in the gallery: "Just listen!"
Mr Winton continued: "...which is what was referred to at the front of the agenda where there's a spiel on how to run this AGM, we follow the Local Government Meeting Procedures. And those Local Government Meeting Procedures essentially say when someone's in the room and they don't vote on a matter and they abstain, it means that it's recorded as a 'No' vote. Essentially it's what ends up happening. So just to be clear, if you can go 'For', you are voting for a no-confidence motion. If you vote "No, I'm against it" that's against that no-confidence motion. If you don't put your hand up at all, it will be recorded as abstaining and in effect that's a 'No' vote."
|Six councillors voted against the motion of no-confidence|
in the council.
Cr Shaw: "That's what the Local Government regulations actually say in meeting procedures."
Mr Curtis said this was meddling with the English language.
Cr Shaw said he was going to put the motion, but was interrupted by Mr Butterworth who said he would make a legal challenge if the mayor went ahead. "OK, you can do that," Cr Shaw said.
Mr Buterworth: "If you abstain you are not included in the vote."
Cr Shaw: "Well you can take that through the right process but we've been instructed to run this meeting under the guidelines of the Local Government Meeting Procedures. So, I put the motion of no-confidence in the council. All those for the motion? Fifteen. All those against? Thirteen. Therefore there's..."
Cr Shaw (quietly): "How many abstentions?"
Mr Winton (quietly): "We've got 33 people who can vote, we've got 28 [votes], which means we had five people abstain."
Cr Shaw (quietly): "So it's five people abstaining, so it's lost? The motion is lost.
Mr Winton (quietly): "Correct."
Cr Shaw (quietly): "Which is what I said in the first place. So five people abstaining."
Cr Shaw (addressing the room): "So the motion has been put."
Mr Winton (addressing the room): "So there was 15 people in favour of the motion of no-confidence. There was 13 people that voted against the motion of no-confidence and, as a consequence of that, that's 28 people, that's 33 people that are able to vote, so that means five people abstained. So, 15 were For, 13 were Against and 5 Abstained, so 13 plus 5 is 18 so that means that the motion is lost."
Cr Shaw: "Which is the call I made on it. Correct. Thank you."
Mr Butterworth: "I'll take that to the Local Government tomorrow."
Cr Shaw: "Thank you. Any further motions? No? OK. Item 6: Close. There being no further business, I will close the meeting at 6.14."
Cr Julie Triffett: "Thanks Ben."
A woman stormed out of the courtroom, saying "karma is a c...t" on her way.
At this point the general manager quietly asked the mayor if he wanted to start the public forum which had been scheduled to be held between the AGM and the monthly meeting. The mayor emphatically rejected the idea, and invited those in the room to have a cup of tea or coffee in the 15 minutes until the monthly meeting was due to start. Mr Shoobridge objected, saying the council had advertised that the forum would be held. The mayor said he was happy to take any questions and the forum went ahead as planned, lasting about 16 minutes until the monthly meeting started at 6.33pm. At 6.28pm deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove published a post on Facebook stating: "FINALLY!!! The rumour circulating that the council gave me as the operator of the New Norfolk market $30,000 cash (and to train me) has been publicly shut down!! Also a motion of no confidence in this council was NOT carried!! Now let’s get on to focusing on the positives and what we were elected to do!!"
It is hoped that this article will allow readers to decide for themselves whether or not councillors were bullied and/or intimidated during the annual general meeting. The audio recording is available here. This article is more than 5500 words in length. If you find any errors of fact, spelling or transcription, please get in touch.