Koala rights protesters out the front and a packed public gallery added some excitement to Wednesday’s meeting of the Redland City Council.
Did the community attention influence Council into voting against a significant cut in infrastructure charges for property developer Villa World? This recommended discount deal was discussed before the meeting in a report by Redlands2030.
Council was all set to do the deal. The matter had been “workshopped” by councillors. An officer’s report was finalised. It was then checked by the Responsible Officer David Jeanes (Group Manager City Planning and Assessment) and authorised by Louise Rusan (General Manager Community and Customer Services).
The recommendation was to reduce the infrastructure charges for Villa World’s ERA estate in Capalaba by about $1.6 million or 44%, from $3,724,000 to $2,058,547.
Cr Julie Talty, Chair of Portfolio 3 City Planning and Assessment, introduced the report. Everything was on track for another deal that would show Redland City is “open for business”.
So what happened?
When the officer’s report was discussed, Cr Craig Ogilvie pointed out that there was no legal obligation on Council to reduce the infrastructure charges. Cr Murray Elliot strongly agreed. When the matter was voted on, all councillors voted against the officer’s recommendation except Cr Julie Talty. She brought the matter to the Council Meeting and was hung out to dry. After the vote was taken Cr Talty said plaintively “Councillors, this is what you said you wanted”.
What a good thing that, in this instance, most councillors voted on the day to look after the interests of the City’s ratepayers.
For Villa Wood, “discount” looking good one day, rejected the next. The developer will be required to pay the maximum rate of $28,000 per block that Council is allowed to charge.
What can we learn?
What can we learn from this example of how Council makes decisions?
The City’s ratepayers came very close to wasting $1.6 million on a matter which many councillors appear to have not fully understood. In occupational health and safety language this might be classified as a “near miss”.
Councillors are not expected to be experts on every subject and issue brought before them, but the community should expect that:
- Councillors ask the right questions
- Council staff provides elected representatives with properly researched reports
The Villa World discount deal should have been the subject of thorough commercial and legal review using a risk based framework of analysis.
Council officers should have obtained some preliminary legal advice on Council’s rights and obligations. The officer speaking at the Council meeting confirmed that no legal advice was obtained. Perhaps Council’s Legal Counsel was too busy dealing with some of Council’s other problems.
Cr Julie Talty is Portfolio chief for City Planning and Assessment. Is she the best person for this job? And why didn’t other councillors question this “discount” when it was discussed in a “workshop”.
What was CEO Bill Lyon doing all this time? Surely he reads all reports carefully before they are submitted to Council meetings. Surely?
So many people in the loop and yet the City nearly threw $1.6 million away. This amount could reduce the cost of ratepayers’ investments in future infrastructure. Or buy three blocks of land from Fiteni Homes to let 29 koala trees to remain standing.
A great place to do business?
Redland City appears to be a great place to do business, if you are doing business with the Redland City Council.
The proposed (but rejected) Villa World discount deal was not a huge transaction. The real worry is that Council is about to get ratepayers involved in some much larger and undoubtedly more complex (risky?) deals. Like arrangements with Walker Corporation for the PDAs at Toondah Harbour and Weinam Creek.
What a scary thought. Its a bit like putting the Keystone Cops in charge of security for G20.
Redlands2030, 11 December 2014