STANDOFF: Council in limbo over Cultural and Civic Space
COFFS Harbour City Council has been left in limbo after a Mexican stand-off between councillors over the Cultural and Civic Space controversy has seen the milestone decision held off for a fortnight.
On Thursday night, four councillors stormed out of the council chambers prior to voting when it was realised the rescission motion to put the plans on hold would be defeated, and the Gordon St plans would be given the green light.
Speculation was rife this morning over whether the four would return to vote - but they refused. The meeting has been adjourned until August 8.
10.50AM FRIDAY: Speculation over whether all councillors will attend today's meeting has been put to rest. All four councillors in favour of the rescission motion have turned up to the council chambers. The meeting is due to kick off at 11am.
11AM: The four councillors, Cr Swan, Cr Amos, Cr Arkan and Cr Rhoades have refused to take their seats. The meeting has been adjourned for half an hour.
11.30AM: The councillors have refused to return to the meeting. The meeting has been adjourned to August 8 at 5pm.
YESTERDAY: A MILESTONE Coffs Harbour City Council meeting has ended in controversy after four councillors stormed out of the council chambers.
The dramatic exit of councillors Keith Rhoades, Paul Amos, John Arkan and Tegan Swan ended a highly emotive night.
The four councillors, who were set to vote for the rescission motion to stall the $76.5 million Cultural and Civic Space, made the bold protest before the vote could be recorded.
They walked out with their cause all but defeated, with an expectation Mayor Denise Knight would use her casting vote if the count was locked at 4-all to rescind the rescission motion.
Left without a quorum, prior to that all-important vote, Cr Knight had not option, but to close the meeting saying the council would reconvene on Friday at 11am.
The other four councillors Cr Knight, Cr Michael Adendorff, Cr Sally Townley and Cr George Cecato - who originally voted for the project - did not waiver from their support for the Gordon St development.
The councillors opposed to sending the development to tender left the chambers after pleading with their colleagues to listen to the community.
Here is how the meeting unfolded:
- The Mayor asks if the councillors will re-join. They refuse. She announces the council will reconvene on Friday morning at 11am.
- All councillors in favour of the rescission motion have stood up and have abruptly left the council chambers following the Mayor's address.
- The meeting has been adjourned for 30 minutes.
COUNCIL'S POST MEETING STATEMENT:
At 6.29pm during the conduct of Council's meeting this evening four of the eight councillors present left the Council Chambers effectively leaving council without a quorum.
In accordance with clause 5.11 of Council's Code of Meeting Practice, the Mayor announced the lack of a quorum and adjourned the meeting for thirty minutes.
At 6.59pm the Mayor reconvened the meeting and at that stage four councillors were present in the Council Chambers.
The Mayor in announcing the reconvening of the meeting then made an announcement to ascertain whether any other councillors were in the vicinity of the Council Chambers and wished to re-join the meeting.
No other Councillors responded.
Given the continued lack of quorum for the meeting, the Mayor gave due regard to clause 5.12 of Council's Code of Meeting Practice which states:
5.12 In either case, the meeting must be adjourned to a time, date and place fixed:
(a) by the chairperson, or
(b) in the chairperson's absence, by the majority of the councillors present, or
(c) failing that, by the general manager.
Obviously, clause 5.12(a) of the Code of Meeting Practice provides for the Mayor to adjourn the meeting to a time, date and place of the Mayor's choosing.
In this regard, Council's Ordinary Meeting which commenced at 5pm 25 July 2019 has been formally adjourned to 11am on 26 July 2019 in the Coffs Harbour City Council Chambers.
- Cr Amos, for the rescission motion:
- Cr Amos asks the Mayor to let all councillors have a say.
- "Your community is outraged, they think they've been cheated. History will judge you very harshly if you don't support the rescission motion. It will finish this council".
- Cr Cecato, against rescission motion: Says plans started in 2014, with the first report before council to establish community consultation for the cultural facility. He says the $76 million plans have not been sprung on the community.
- "This is the time to take the city forward... I do not regret any single minute of the last five years I've spent learning about this... I am all for the building, I'm dead against the rescission motion."
- Cr Swan, for the rescission motion:
- Cr Swan says the community needs more time.
- "Overwhelming feedback is that people want to be involved, they want more time and they feel like we haven't given them enough time to discuss this". The audience applauds.
- Cr Knight, against rescission motion:
- "Can we communicate better? Of course we can. I'm fully supportive of this project," she says.
- Cr Knight says she believes she has sufficiently spoken to the public, and adds we need to "stop pausing" and move on with the project.
- Discussion has begun on the rescission motion.
- Cr Rhoades, for rescission motion: The building means "new council facilities". He asks what it is going to cost to refurbish the current council chambers. He said 90% of our community do support cultural facilities, but they do not support "council's new administration building".
- Cr Rhoades: "There will be no grants," he says, adding two attempts at obtaining Government grants for the building have so far failed because it contains a council chambers.
- Cr Rhoades said he had a long conversation with Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh who this week has walked around State Parliament House enquiring about State Government grants that could assist council. "The people he spoke with yesterday told him categorically there will be no government grants for cultural facilities, if they are located in a council administrative building."
- Cr Townley, against motion:
- "It's not about just the money, it allows urban renewal to take place on this site," she says about selling the four council assets to fund the new building.
- Cr Townley: She admits it's a "boatload" of money, but she refers to projects like the Hogbin Dr extension costing $90 million, and sewerage infrastructure costing $120 million.
- "Even something like the stadium... no one batted an eye lid if its about all sports. What about artistic pursuits - we do need to be bold."
- Cr Rhoades: The maintenance cost is going to be $1.8 million per year, the councillor reveals.
- Ratepayers have heard the council would seek $46 million over 30 years from TCorp - the financial markets partner of the NSW public sector.
- TCorp could offer the council a 20-year loan at an interest rate of 2.6% that could be renegotiated at the end of 20 years or alternatively an approach could be made now by council to lock in a 30-year loan.
- Councillors were told council's finance department can't sign up for a loan until it makes a decision to support the development.
- Cr Rhoades sought clarification that interest repayments would amount to $20.3 million over the course of the loan.
- Cr Arkan: "Let's not get washed away with the figures, let's look at the gallery," he says.
- Cr Arkan adds the State MP has said there is no funding if there are council chambers involved, and that there are no "real facts" about how much the council's four assets would be worth if they sold them.
- Cheryl Ward, a local arts teacher, begins her public address against the rescission motion. She says there is "misinformation everywhere". She says it will blow-out costs to include a performance space in the plans, and adds it has been ignored that John Rafferty CEO of the C.ex Group intends to pursue establishing a performing arts facility. She states it's a win-win for the city's cultural future.
- Cr Adendorff has asked if Ms Ward thinks there is an indisputable link between library services and kids who go on to continue further education or employment. She responds yes, the centre needs to be in the heart of the city (Gordon St) where kids can easily access it.
- Cr Arkan says Australia is in grip of alcohol and drug abuse "big time", and asks Ms Ward as an educator what she thinks of this combination of alcohol and gambling in reference to her comment on C.ex plans to establish a performance venue.
- She said she believes the clubs of the city including C.ex are some of the "back bones of our city", and says drugs and alcohol can be found everywhere. She says Jetty Theatre serves alcohol, but no one is complaining about it.
- Former councillor Jan Strom has begun her public address against the rescission motion. She recently stepped down from her position due to illness.
- "This project is not the result of a thought bubble", she says, "Its result of multi-faceted process that councillors have supported in this chamber. This project has been developed with strong community and professional engagement."
- She says councillors need "no further reports" and asks councillors not to falter or it will be "another decade of stagnation." She states council can tap into State Government borrowings, "the longer we delay the longer we will pay."
- Ms Strom has broken down in tears. She tells a heckler who has yelled an insult that they should be "ashamed of themselves" and should "show some respect for God's sake."
- The Mayor has scolded the audience, asking for respect.
- Ann Leonard, who ran as an Independent candidate for Cowper in the 2019 Federal Election, has kicked off the meeting with a public address in favour of the rescission motion. She says she has 25 years involvement in cultural infrastructure.
- She says several issues have gone unaddressed, adding revitalisation attempts of the CBD have been many and "few have" succeeded. She states there are "too many loose ends" and the community's assets are at stake, criticising the three levels of council chambers that have been included in the plans.
- The room has erupted in applause at the cessation of her address.
- Cr Cecato has questioned an Advocate poll, Ms Leonard referred to in her address, showing public opposition to the plans. The crowd has booed in response, prompting the Mayor to call for silence.
Do you support the $76.5 million Cultural and Civic Space development?
This poll ended on 25 July 2019.
Yes Coffs needs improved cultural and arts facilities, but not at that cost
Yes this development will revolutionise Coffs Harbour in arts and culture build it now
No other alternatives must be sought for this facility
No this is unnecessary use of ratepayers funds
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
- Janne Lindrum is now making a public address in favour of the rescission motion. She said the building has not been costed "only guessed at". She questions whether there is evidence of any funding grants that will be put towards the project and adds the Gordon St location will see the CBD clogged, with lack of parking. This was met with applause from the crowd.
- "A delay of 3 months is better than crippling costs for decades to come," Ms Lindrum concludes to a round of applause. Cr Rhoades has commended Ms Lindrum for her speech.
- Cr Adendorff has asked Ms Lindrum whether she knows the interest rate to be charged on the debt. She repeats the question to him. Cr Adendorff says it is 2.6 per cent and would "not be crippling".
- "Not bad for cripples" an audience member has shouted after Ms Lindrum wraps up.
4.30PM: RESIDENTS are gathering at the council chambers this afternoon in anticipation for what will be a crucial decision in the Cultural and Civic Space saga that has left councillors divided.
In their previous meeting two weeks ago, Coffs Harbour City Councillors debated for over three hours before finally putting the original recommendation to the vote - to progress the plans to the tender stage.
It was a go ahead, but a recession motion to put the project on hold was lodged at the end of the meeting by from Cr Keith Rhoades, Cr Paul Amos and Cr John Arkan.
The Advocate understands that tonight Mayor Cr Denise Knight, Cr Sally Townley, Cr Michael Adendorff and Cr George Cecato will vote against the recession motion, while Cr Tegan Swan will vote in favour alongside Cr Rhoades, Cr Amos and Cr Arkan.