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The following is my take on the meeting.  All mistakes are mine.  There are likely to be mistakes because the sound system has been deteriorating for weeks & is now on its last legs.  The microphones alternate between soft/loud & it is often difficult to hear the Councillors over the air conditioning system & a strange bubbling sound that makes one feel they are in a fish tank.  Nevertheless, the proceedings were blessed with plenty of incisive debate.

1. Sydney Fringe Festival – The Director of the Festival addressed Council asking for $40,000 ‘seed funding’ & free use of Petersham Town Hall & Enmore Park saying that if Council didn’t provide financial assistance, the festival would not go ahead.  He expected the festival to generate $54,000,000 in local business.  Clr Macri was concerned about the money donated to the events sector because of Council’s poor financial situation.  Clr Peters asked Council to organise green transport options to bring the expected 80,000 people to Newtown & Enmore.  Carried.

2. Street by Street – Residents of Wilga Avenue Dulwich Hill have created verge gardens along the street.  They requested $1,000 to ‘further enhance their sustainability efforts.’  Carried.

3. Support for the Peloponnesian Confederation – A representative asked that fees be waived for use of Henson Park for the October Festival.  Discussion centred as to whether Henson Park was an appropriate venue, with Tempe Reserve offered as an alternative.  The Confederation will need to put in a DA.  Carried.

Petersham Oval - Don Bradman played here

4. Maintenance & use of turf wickets – A speaker representing Inner West Cricket Group (Randwick Petersham Cricket Club, Crickets Club of NSW & South Sydney Cricket Club) wanted the retention of 3 cricket turfs at Petersham Park, Camperdown & Marrickville Parks for their use.  Council will continue to maintain turf at Marrickville & Camperdown Parks while the cricket clubs will cover the costs of maintaining the turf at Petersham Oval.  The cricket clubs will also sub-lease the grounds to other cricket clubs throughout the summer season 2010/11.  Council will sell 1 of its turf rollers valued at $5,000.

Clr Marci said Council spends millions on maintaining grounds so Council shouldn’t have to fiddle with the budget to find $5,000.  Clr Wright disagreed saying this was a small price to pay for the overall benefits.  Clr Peters was concerned that they were making a decision to outsource 3 of the LGA’s major ovals without having previously discussed this.  Said the cricket group had no legal status & for transparency, there should be a process regarding insurance, liability & legalities & while the cricket club can sub-let ovals to other groups, their process has no transparency.  She wanted the issue deferred until these issues are dealt with.  Clr Phillips was also concerned that the community loses its ovals to sporting groups & wanted transparency in the clubs’ charges.  The request was carried with Clr Peters & Kontellis against.

5. Marrickville Rotary ClubRequest for financial support– They asked for $1,350 to pay for a driver & bus hired to take 25 refugee children to Jambaroo Amusement Park in April 2010.  Carried.

6. Sister Cities (SC) leave for the General Manager (GM) Marrickville Council for overseas trip – long debate about the value of the SC with Clr Thanos saying he will not support it in future meetings because the benefit to the community

Planter boxes along Brighton Street Petersham. It would be good if planter boxes were a common thing around Marrickville LGA

is nil and the cost high.  He also said Marrickville Council cannot reciprocate on the levels of money that other cities had spent when our officials & would rather see the money spent on Child Care Centres.  Said nothing ever gets done with the SC except for a few photos.

Clr Kontellis disagreed, saying Council has a Strategic Plan as well as a process of review, but despite these she would not support special leave for the GM.  Clr Phillips also did not support special leave saying he could not see the value in SC & would rather see Council spend money that would go on the GM’s salary while he was away go towards Council’s Green House Gas Reduction Targets.

Clr Wright supported the special leave, as did Clr Byrne, but only for the visit to Bethlehem because it is a new SC.  Clr O’Sullivan spoke about the “connections kept & forged within our community” & “that credibility with faith organisations was an assertion of our values as a community.”  Clr Tsardoulias said the program was about exchanging knowledge, ideas & resources.

Clr Peters asked that the GM visit Christmas Island to see what we can do about the refugees there, as some will live in Marrickville LGA.  Clr Hanna said that on previous tours, the GM phoned Council daily & worked on his computer at night, thus his work for Marrickville Council didn’t stop. As examples of the benefit of the programme he said Cyprus liked the Magic Yellow Bus & was going to do one of their own. He said perhaps the trip would give the GM ideas on how to reduce the rates.

Clr Macri supported the special leave.  He agreed we haven’t brought anything much back, but the SCs are poor & benefit from knowledge from us.  Mayor Iskandar who is a strong supporter of SC spoke about the benefits in depth saying the GM will educate people about our systems & advanced programmes.  Carried with Clrs Phillips, Peters, Kontellis & Olive against.

7. Draft Management Plan & Budget 2010-2014 – Clr Phillips reminded that Council put up an amendment regarding climate change in 1997 to lower our emissions by 2010, but we are not going to meet our target.  He said

Ashfield Council buries slotted ag-pipe at the time they plant trees. The pipes help to get air & water down to the soil surrounding the rootball of the tree, especially in cases where the tree is completely surrounded by paving. This is a great thing.

Marrickville LGA’s biggest user of energy is street lighting & Council should move to powering by green power instead of coal power.  Recent price costing was reasonable & he wanted this to be included in the budget saying “it was the moral issue of our time.”

Clr Peters questioned whether graffiti & rubbish removal were major projects. The GM said these are significant issues for the community.  Clr Peters noted  that tree planting & landscaping were not included as key issues. Clr Hanna said residents care about graffiti & clean streets & they do not speak about tree planting.  Clr Thanos said he would like to see sidewalks be other than concrete & wanted to see something done about our energy consumption.  Said again we spend too much money on SC & $500,000 per year on ‘Events’ was “ludicrous.”  He supported the plan.

Clr Kontellis wanted affordable housing included.  Clr Olive did not agree that NFP local organisations should pay for hall hire, saying they should continue to get it for free.  Passed to community consultation before coming back to Council.

8. Draft Core Asset Management Plan – Clr Phillips noted there were limitations to what Council could do because of rate pegging & said he thought the community would support an increase in rates.  Clr Wright said the report provided a framework to allow us to make assessments & go to the community with facts & options.  Carried.

9. 10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW – The NSW Business Council Discussion Paper proposed the formation of 10 ‘Super Councils’ in Sydney to replace the current

spectacular tree at the start of the Newcastle expressway

41 councils.  Clr Olive thought it was a “preposterous idea.”  Clr Thanos said City of Sydney Council has a surplus of half a billion dollars & can’t get that below $200,000,000/year.  Said we should be leaders & not wait until the state government forces amalgamation upon us.  Saying if it benefits our residents, we should say this to the State Government.  The vote was to oppose the idea.

10. 2010 Year of Women in Local Government – Clrs O’Sullivan & Byrne nominated to attend.  The program allocates $17,000 to collect stories from women working in child care, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or multicultural communities working in positions where they don’t usually have a voice, opportunity to move ahead or have formal qualifications recognised or obtain formal qualifications.

11. Audit Committee Charter – The Mayor & Deputy Mayor are on it, with the third member as chair and not a councillor.  Clr Phillips put up a motion  saying he was concerned  that as the holders of these offices change, may have both representatives coming from the same party & he wanted the committee to have one more member. Mayor Iskandar said it could be discussed if it happens. Clr Wright said this committee is “an oversighting committee at the highest level & above politics.”  The committee does not have decision-making powers. Motion lost with the Mayor using casting vote.

12. National assembly of Local Government – this is a conference in Canberra in June 2010.  Marrickville Council will attend.  Carried.

13. Financial Assistance for Marrickville Greek Orthodox Church – Clr Phillips put up a motion to reverse the previous decision to give $5,000 to quieten the church’s bells.  Said it was totally inappropriate to financially support a DA & sets a bad precedent & other churches or community groups could feel entitled to $5,000 lots as well.  Clr Thanos, who set the first motion to grant the money, said it was a good will gesture.  Its significance is in that it is for a permanent fixture & not a once-off event.  Clr Olive said that he was bothered because it was a permanent structure & thought it was a bad decision heritage-wise.  Clr Peters said she didn’t think we should be funding a DA. Clrs Peters & Macri were out of the room when the vote took place.  Recision motion unsuccessful. See – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/report-from-the-gallery-–-16th-february-2010/

14. Saving Marrickville from Financial Disaster – See Clr-Thanos-Notice-of-motion-Saving-MC-financial-disaster-2010 Clr Hanna said, if in 2011 there is

a friend's garden

a special rate for the environment, he would not support it & will vote for amalgamation to a Super Council.  Clr Kontellis asked that staff could prepare a study brief that determines the cost/benefit of amalgamation.  Clr Wright opposed the motion saying it “was a wild goose chase that won’t happen unless the state government make us.”  Clr O’Sullivan agreed & mentioned that Glebe Books is coming to Dulwich Hill (yay!) because City of Sydney’s improvements works to Glebe Point Road negatively impacted on businesses. Clr Phillips said amalgamation was a way out from having to vote for a special rate variation (rate increase) as Council’s costs are far greater than the rates coming in.  Clr Thanos spoke about the history of City of Sydney Council amalgamating with South Sydney Council saying it was “a secret agenda of the government for years & he wanted to know the facts & be ready for it.”  Clr Hanna, Byrne, Olive, Kontellis against with Mayor Iskandar using his casting vote.  Motion defeated.

And here ends Report from the Gallery for this week.

New grass planting at Cooks River Marrickville

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The following is my understanding of last Tuesday’s Council Meeting.  Note that the rest of the Council Meeting has been posted as ‘part 1.’  All mistakes are mine.

Audio-streaming of Council meetings:  Greens Clr Phillips moved a motion for Council to implement audio-streaming & put money aside to do this.  He said audio-streaming Council meetings would increase transparency, allow for better accountability & may improve behaviour of councillors in the chamber.  He said it would also allow residents to know what is happening in Council & that many NSW Councils are already doing it.

Clr Thanos became lively saying, “0000.1% of the population will want to listen in.  I don’t want to spend 1% of 000000.1% for them to listen in when they are not interested.”  He went on to say Council will have to take funds away from Tom Foster & other community services to do this & Council has a lot better to spend their money on.  Then with much laughter & mirth, “It’s not going to make me better behaved.  I’ll be the same person I’ve been over the last 12 years & I have a long history of misbehaving in these chambers.  It’s worked well for me so far.  I’m not going to be better behaved.”

a gorgeous Morten Bay Fig in Sydney's Domain

You can see how a transcript obtained under FOI would exclude any nuances in tone of voice, laughter etc & the minutes would not include statements like the above.

Clr Kontellis said people want to be engaged about how they are governed, saying it was not about the minutes. “They want to be actively involved in the debate,” to which Clr Thanos interjected asking, “How could they be engaged when they are listening.” He received 5 “Order!” from the Chair because he would not stop interjecting.

Clr Kontellis continued saying that mums, the elderly, people with no transport & people from a NESB would be interested.  Implementing audio-streaming would allow Council to tick off a number of targets in their plan.  Clr Thanos interjected all the way through & was warned by the Chair that he would be removed from the Chamber if he did not stop.  I guess this is his idea of misbehaving & I have seen him do this a lot when the Greens are speaking.  I cannot recall him doing this to any of the other Councillors in the few meetings I have attended.

Clr Wright spoke against the proposal saying she didn’t have a problem with Council’s transparency now, citing all the places where the public can access papers, including being able to access tapes for 3 months after a meeting under FOI (which you have to pay for).  She was concerned about legal & privacy in regards to what people (not councillors) say about others when they address Council & the risk of defamation.  She also thought there wasn’t a demand for this from the community.

Clr O’Sullivan said she was concerned that neither the Councillors nor members of the community were protected by parliamentary privilege & warned that the virtual environment can be viral & toxic in many ways.  She preferred the Greek mode of democracy, which is face to face.

Clr Tsardoulias said he couldn’t support the motion “until the infrastructure is fixed up,” then said, “Even the clairvoyant who donated to the Greens wouldn’t want to watch it.  A clairvoyant wouldn’t want to watch this.”

a 'ring of Figs' planted at Tempe Reserve

Clr Byrne agreed in part with Clr Tsardoulias in regards to infrastructure needing to be fixed, but said that footpaths, night-time safety, public transport & accessibility are important & a social justice issue.  Said, “We make the community jump through hoops with FOI which makes us less responsible,” & that the legal requirements are exactly the same.  Clr Thanos spoke all the way through her speech.

Clr Peters said the audio recording didn’t have to be live & could be edited if there were any defamatory statements as is common in radio.  Said the technical term was ‘moderating the stream.’  She also said this is not an expensive technology.  It only requires a small file put onto the net.

Clr Macri said it didn’t bother him if it was done, but he was worried about the budget & “about the people who would want to sit at home & listen to this.” Also expressed concern about children listening.  I’m sure he was joking.  He went on to say there were lifts & ramps for accessibility.

Clr Hanna said, “The money will add up & the Greens will want to put the rates up.”

Clr Phillips tried to finish the debate by saying Councillors are responsible for they say.  While he was speaking the room was alive with expressions of doubt & laughter as to whether anyone would even want to listen to Council meetings.  Clr Phillps went on to say that $8,490 was not a lot of money to offer this service citing the recent $5,000 given to the Greek Orthodox Church for to quieten their bells.  He also said spending this money would increase Councils transparency & accountability & was therefore worth it.

Clr Thanos interjected saying he, “resented that his concern for fiscal concerns about things which are useless” & it was a political stunt of the Greens. “I don’t want to waste people’s money to satisfy your political concerns.” The motion was lost with the Independents & Labor voting against it.

Clr Thanos then put up a motion to reschedule Council meetings to 12noon on Sunday’s. Clr Byrne said this would incur great costs for staff time & opening up the building.  The motion was lost with all voting against it except Clrs Thanos & Hanna.

a bit of brilliant light relief from Art Express 2010 at the NSW Art Gallery showing a dog painted on a soccer ball - I love it!

Here ends my take on this month’s Business Meeting at Marrickville Council.

I find this issue of audio-streaming very interesting.  Some NSW Councils do not bother with audio-streaming which offers listening only. Instead they offer live webcasts allowing you to watch the Council meeting on your computer like you would TV.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article in 2003 saying 14 Councils were expected to have webcasting of their meetings up & running within the year.  Greater Dandenong Council in Victoria regularly had 1,000 people tuning in &  Botany Bay Council said “some meetings attract hundreds.”  The article is very interesting & covers the topic in detail from many angles.  I think it is still relevant to the issue despite being written 7 years ago. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/24/1069522526626.html

A quick & by no means exhaustive google search showed the following:

The Councils who webcast Council Meetings deal with the issues of defamatory comments & privacy by informing all speakers & attendees both verbally & with signs that they must refrain from this type of comment & the Council’s also do not take legal responsibility for the same.  Here ends this long post.  I hope you found it interesting. J

Tuesday night was the Business Meeting of Marrickville Council.  I’m just starting to become familiar with each meeting & I think this the most interesting meeting of the month.  The following is my understanding of the meeting & all mistakes are mine.

Lease of Council land in Tempe Reserve The Cooks River Motor Boat Club have been situated on this site for the past 110 years.  In brief, this area of land had 2 components: (a) the Clubhouse, which is on privately owned land (b) the boatyard next door, which is on Crown Land & managed by Marrickville Council.

The Cooks River Motor Boat Club owned the land where the Clubhouse stands & they leased the Crown land next door.  However, the club has gone into liquidation & the private land will be auctioned next Wednesday.  Three parties petitioned Council for the use of the Crown Land where the boatyard currently stands.

View of the wooden boats moored opposite the boatyard from the Promenade at Tempe Reserve

The Cooks River Motor Boat Club petitioned Council to allow them to stay on & have time to get their financial affairs in order.  Ex Mayor Barry Cotter, a member of the club spoke & said, “History comes in many forms & floating heritage is being repaired in this boatyard.”  He went on to say that many of the boats are over 50 years old.

A representative speaking for a different boating group said they wanted to use the land to continue the tradition of repairing boats.  The third speaker was the President of the Newtown Jets Club who said they were attending the upcoming auction with view to purchasing the Clubhouse land & if successful, they would retain the Clubhouse.  They petitioned Council to lease the Crown land where the boatyard is, saying they would convert this to small synthetic-turf sporting fields for the players of the Junior Jets.

There was much discussion about the petitions, with members of Marrickville Greens concerned that Councillors only received some papers regarding this issue 1 hour prior to the meeting & the petitioners, only one day before.  They also had concerns about allowing a group that is in liquidation to receive what they interpreted as priority over the 2 other petitioners for a significant piece of Crown land.  The Labor & Independent Councillors voted to give a 12-month lease to the current local group who has a continued history for 110 years.

Shared open space at Dulwich Hill Primary School: The bottom playground of this school has been used by the community as green space for decades.  Recently the Department of Education & Training (DET) erected a high fence preventing access.  The decision was to liaise with DET to allow access to the community & pay a Caretaker to open & shut the gate paying $28,000 p.a.  This would be a great job to have.

Sister Cities visit: Mayor Iskandar has accepted an invitation from the Mayor of Bethlehem to visit in May 2010.  While Mayor Iskandar is overseas he will also visit 5 other Sister Cities, Funchal Portugal; Keelung Taiwan; Kos Greece; Larnaca Cyprus; Safita Syria;  & later in October, another Sister City in Egypt.  All up Mayor Iskandar will visit 7 Sister Cities overseas this year.  Carried unanimously.

Mackey Park Refurbishment funding: A budget adjustment of $835,000 bringing the total to $3.1 million was carried unanimously.

Council loans: Another reason why these meetings are so interesting.  I had no idea Council took out bank loans for infrastructure works.  Council intends to borrow $2,077,440 over 10 years before the end of this financial year to pay for

Red-flowering Gum - I've seen it used as a street tree in Rockdale

infrastructure works.  It was explained by a staff member that money is only borrowed for long-term assets that benefit the rate-payers in the future.  Clr Phillips expressed concern over the interest burden that would be carried by all & the motion was carried unanimously.

Audio-streaming of Council meetings:  Much was said during this debate. I think it is too much to read in one post so I will post this section of the meeting as ‘Part 2’ tomorrow.

Motion to rescind earlier motion: The meeting ended with a rescind motion by Clr Phillips regarding this evening’s earlier decision to give a 12 month lease to the Cooks River Motor Boat Club & change it to a 3 month lease for the following reasons: the land is up for auction next Wednesday, Council is preferring one group over others which prejudices these groups, supplementary information only arrived one hour before the Council meeting & the issue wasn’t urgent.  Procedural fairness by Council was questioned.  The Independents & Labor voted against the motion, which was lost.

The Business Meeting ended so that Councillors could attend a Budget Meeting.  Two items I was looking forward to were deferred to a future agenda. One was a rescission motion – Financial assistance to the Greek Orthodox Church, which was decided on 16th February 2010.  The other, Saving Marrickville Council from Financial Disaster (Investigating alternative options to special rate levies) where Clr Thanos is asking Council to conduct a study investigating the potential positive & negative impacts to Council’s budget of an amalgamation with the City of Sydney Council.  This business paper makes an interesting read.  Click on the link if you want to read it.  Clr-Thanos-Notice-of-motion-Saving-MC-financial-disaster-2010 I think both these agenda items are going to be very interesting, especially in light of Council’s current dire financial predicament.

Tuesday’s Council meeting was perhaps one of the most important meetings of the year as the Asset Management Strategy Policy was on the agenda.  This report was recommending to increase rates, always a hot issue when it hits the public purse.

Money was central to most of the issues on the agenda from a donation to Haiti, whether to spend money on Addison Road or on Marrickville Railway Station, to giving the Greek Orthodox Church in Marrickville financial assistance of $5,000 to quieten down their new digital bells & to the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Council staff.  There may have been more, but we did not stay until the end.

Many residents are aware  that Marrickville Council doesn’t have the money to fix things as most requests from the community take a long while before they reach the top of the list of the actions council is taking.  Staff & councillors have openly said to me on a number of occasions that Council just doesn’t have the money to do certain projects.  For me, it was obvious when reading through last week’s Tree Management Issues Paper that Parks & Gardens have been functioning under-resourced & under-financed for many years.  After what I heard discussed last night, I would not be surprised if many departments in Council are experiencing the same restrictions.  Put simply, Marrickville Council finances are in trouble.

In brief, the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Marrickville Council staff said:

  • Marrickville Council cannot afford to look after its infrastructure & assets & was listed as an ‘unsustainable council’ in 2009
  • Council’s financial unsustainability was not going to improve unless they improved their financial position significantly with one option being to increase rates.

A staff member said that the reason the report was before Council was because:

  • the serious condition of our assets with significant issues facing Marrickville Council 2010-2011
  • Size & scale of financial deficit is substantial.  The draft budget first cut figure is $2 million deficit having carried through Phase 1 & 2 reductions to the budget
  • There are a lot of unknowns if the issue is deferred for another year

Marrickville Council does not have enough money to repair its assets or maintain its infrastructure.  A recent & public example is the old & beautiful Coptic Church in Sydenham Green, which featured in Council in 2009 & again last week.

It will be a significant loss to our history if we lose this building

A staff member of Council explained to me that a community organisation can apply to use the church, though they would need to sign a lease for a number of years & renovate the building themselves at an estimated cost of $2.3 million, as well as look after its upkeep for the duration of the lease before it comes back into Council’s hands again.  The problem is that the community organisations or groups that council would see as suitable to use the church building are unlikely to be able to pay for the repair of this particular building which is deteriorating at a rapid rate.  The Inner West Courier published an article about this church this week – page 9 –http://digitaledition-innercity.innerwestcourier.com.au/

The Asset Management Strategy Policy was recommending that the councillors decide whether or not to apply to the minister for a rates increase (special levy).

The debate between councillors covered the history of some projects & of previous applications for rates increases, how much public works actually cost (eg $350,000 for paving in Dulwich Hill shopping strip, $15,000 for a speed hump, $35,000 for a round-about) & about the financial burden of servicing 1 billion dollars worth of infrastructure before you even build anything new.

Despite the importance of the issue & the strong views held by councillors, the meeting was polite. There was negligible need for the chair to intervene.

The flow of the discussion allowed the councillors to ask many questions to the staff & I was impressed by the extensive & considered strategic advice they offered.  They explained how these processes work, what is the financial situation of council, what could be done with any additional funds in the kitty & what might be done if council did not apply for the special levy.

Councillors expressed concern about the financial status of council.  As expected, there was divergent opinion as to the best way to manage this situation.  I am deliberately lumping comments & strategies together to keep this brief.  Apologies for any mistakes.

The Greens expressed concern that Council was in dire financial straits & if left until next year, the situation would only worsen reminding that this issue has been deferred for many years.  They believed if the community was asked whether they would pay about $1.60 per week per household or 96 cents per week for lower income households for better roads, better footpaths & better infrastructure, the majority of rate-payers would say yes.  They were also worried about Council’s ability to pay staff & ability to maintain the substantial assets we have.  They wanted the money raised to be used for priority infrastructure renewal works.  They also reminded everyone that it has been 5 years since the last rate increase. They also argued that if left until next year, councillors will be afraid to pass a rate increase because of fearing community backlash with the upcoming election.

The remaining councillors wanted to defer the decision for another year saying that while they were concerned about Council’s financial situation, they wanted to know whether there were other cost saving measures & revenue accruing avenues that could be explored before going the route of raising rates.  Some suggestions were closing some of the libraries, advertising on billboards facing the airport road at Tempe, life-cycle planning, community consultation with residents, continuing to educate council staff on safe work practices to reduce worker’s compensation payouts, looking at verge mowing & paid parking, increasing fees to use sports ovals & child-care facilities, getting rid of unnecessary programs & operations & selling off the Marrickville Hospital site (council has not made a decision about its future for some while).

The vote by Councillors Iskandar, O’Sullivan, Wright, Thanos, Hanna, Macri was to defer for 12 months.

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