'New broom', Hyatt drinkies and more legal costs
THAT IT was time for change was clearly demonstrated by the resounding defeat of former shire president David Dow in last month’s Toodyay Shire Council elections.
His wife, Cr Judy Dow, continues to hold the other Central Ward seat at least until her four-year term ends in October 2019.
Mr Dow’s departure ended the unedifying spectacle of two council votes – and the president’s third casting vote – being controlled by one household.
Di Granger, a first-time candidate and relative newcomer to Toodyay trounced Mr Dow and was the only candidate in any seat to win an overall majority of votes cast.
The other winners were East Ward Crs Therese Chitty (re-elected) and newcomer Ben Bell, and Cr Paula Greenway, who was re-elected in West Ward.
Cr Brian Rayner was returned unopposed as a North Ward councillor after much speculation that he might face a challenge which – luckily for him – didn’t occur, thus depriving 800 voters in Julimar, Coondle, Dewars Pool, Wattening and Culham a chance to pick a candidate of their choice.
The October 21 election was followed two days later by a special council meeting to swear in the winning councillors and elect new council positions by secret ballot.
Dow’s pick: Cr Rayner was elected president 5-4 to defeat Cr Therese Chitty, who told voters before the election that she would run for president even if Mr Dow was re-elected.
Cr Judy Dow seemed unable to contain her glee when CEO Stan Scott announced the result, grinning broadly across the chamber before turning sideways to smirk at the public gallery where a 5-4 Chitty win had been loudly whispered during the ballot.
Clearly, Cr Rayner was the anointed one, and Cr Chitty had to settle to return unopposed as deputy president after beating Crs Rayner and Greenway in a three-way secret ballot for the same role two years ago.
Ironically, councillors gave leave for President Rayner to be absent from the next council meeting so Cr Chitty will still get to sit in the big chair so soon after the election.
Courtroom plea: The agenda was limited to elections and appointments but enabled the Toodyay Progress Association to submit a proposal to alter seating arrangements in the town’s former courthouse.
Councillors were urged to scrap the chamber’s courtroom appearance in which the shire president and deputy look down on proceedings from a high bench once occupied by a judge, while some councillors sit like lawyers in court with their backs to the public gallery.
It was proposed that the U-shaped table occupied by seven of the nine councillors be turned to face the public gallery and that the shire president and deputy relocate to run the meeting from the centre of the table with everyone on the same level.
President Rayner said he would take the question on notice to answer at the November council meeting.
‘Not too clean’
IF OUR new president wants to make good on his announced promise to “be a new broom” in council, this could be a historic way to start, although he added a curious disclaimer that he would “try not to sweep too clean”.
Audit victory: The broom was already out when nominations were called for four seats on the shire’s powerful audit committee.
Mr Scott recommended that no more than four councillors sit on any committee to avoid the “optics” that majority decisions were being made behind closed doors.
However, Cr Sally Craddock said all councillors should sit on this committee so they could see important financial information that didn’t always get to council.
The meeting agreed 9-0 to expand audit committee membership to six councillors, which enabled new Crs Bell and Granger to join President Rayner and Crs Craddock, Welburn and Judy Dow on this key committee, with Cr Chitty a deputy member.
Councillors also agreed to advertise for a community member to join the audit committee, which meets four times a year.
Steady hand: President Rayner chaired his first regular council meeting next day, again looked comfortable and handled it well.
In particular, the new president dealt graciously, politely but firmly with an aggrieved ratepayer who had broken heritage precinct planning laws by erecting an unauthorised one-metre-high steel fence at the front of his Central Ward property.
He was allowed to illustrate his submission by using a shire computer to display photos of other nearby non-conforming fences on the chamber’s rear projection screen.
“I’m asking that the same standards apply to me,” the ratepayer said.
While a shire vote to disallow the fence was being passed 6-3 (Crs Greenway, Welburn and Twine against), the ratepayer began interjecting from the public gallery.
THE NEW president explained it was out of order before he finally told the ratepayer politely and firmly that he would be removed from the chamber if he continued to interrupt.
If President Rayner continues to show such qualities of restraint, we will be well served in the conduct of future shire meetings.
Five-star drinks: Councillors are now paying closer attention to shire spending.
Cr Craddock asked why CEO Stan Scott’s shire credit card was used in August to pay $239.01 for accommodation at Perth’s five-star Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Mr Scott said he had attended a Targa West Gala Presentation which included drinks and thought it better to stay overnight at the venue than drive afterwards to another hotel.
Nobody thought to ask why he couldn’t have stayed for half the cost at another city hotel and caught a bus, taxi or walked there after the Targa West do.
Councillors could also ask why, after only four months, Mr Scott has announced a November review of the shire’s near-deficit 2017-18 budget and – if they already know the answer – why aren’t ratepayers being told?
Costs escalate: Earlier, Mr Scott answered a public question about a September payment of $8770 to Perth law firm Civic Legal by saying it was for an “ongoing legal dispute” with Warragenny – former shire president Charlie Wroth’s private company – which the council voted 8-1 last June to settle for a loss at that time of at least $8000 to ratepayers.
This year’s legal budget is $25,000 which, after more payments since July 1, suggests the shire is already overdrawn by another $8000 in lawyers’ fees, which cuts the shire’s 2017-18 budget surplus to just $12,000.
Why after losing more than $500,000 in suing Mr Wroth and former shire CEO Graham Merrick over an earlier ill-fated dispute are we still paying thousands more dollars to Civic Legal for a case that was supposed to have ended five months ago?
Will President Rayner’s “new broom” tell ratepayers what the hell is going on?
The meeting ended on a positive note when Cr Craddock gave notice she will move at the next council meeting to plant more lemon-scented gums in Fiennes Street to fill a gap in a line of these tall trees that encircle Toodyay’s historic Anzac Memorial Park.
The council has yet to rescind last year’s controversial decision to axe two other Anzac Memorial Park trees at the nearby corner of Clinton Street and Anzac Parade.
Former president David Dow and Crs Rayner and Greenway argued last year that the trees were a safety risk on the town’s temporary heavy-haulage route but failed to get them cut down after a police stand-off with local protesters.
Another one for the new broom?