Ashamed councillors, a Techno Park decision, and who pays for Paisley Street?


    Wyndham – June 2024

    By Jack Sutton RMIT

    What seemed at first like a relatively uneventful meeting turned into quite the show with subtle jabs, unhappy viewers, and serious questions about money.

    The commotion started once the annual plan and budget became the talking point. To no one’s surprise, there was disagreement throughout the chamber, including some from the 40-plus community members in

    Cr Jasmine Hill voiced her concerns about Council’s failure to adjust the budget to reflect community feedback, which she says the “Council continues to ignore”.

    One person in the public gallery exclaimed “Residents are not happy!” which garnered support from others in the gallery, but did not seem to faze the councillors one bit.

    Cr Peter Maynard also disagreed with the budget, specifically the allocation of funds to continue work on the Point Cook Football Club, because he says he’s not sure if the council “knew where the money was
    coming from”.

    Crs Mia Shaw and Heather Marcus also expressed concerns about the budget however Cr Shaw said it was still a “terrific budget”.

    Cr Marcel Mahfoud was in favour of the budget expressing great enthusiasm for more building projects. “We need to build more, we need to build more, we need to build more,” he said.

    With Point Cook being the talking point for a good chunk of the meeting, Cr Gilligan took a stand to make clear that suburbs like Tarneit are getting neglected.

    Feeding off that comment Cr Marcus piped in and said there was “no equality” between the newer and older suburbs, which drew some applause from the gallery.

    Drawing courage from the applause Cr Marcus made it abundantly clear this was only the second time in her career as a council member that she would “vote down” against the annual budget plan.

    Despite the robust debate amongst the councillors, the annual plan and budget was eventually carried.

    Brimbank – June 2024

    By Dr. Josie Vine

    It was a somewhat humble group of councillors who gathered for the Brimbank meeting last month, as the Mayor’s letter responding to the scathing Municipal Monitor interim report was tabled.

    The letter was addressed to Local Government Minister, Melissa Horne, who had written to Mayor Ranka Rasic in May outlining the report’s findings.

    ‘The update confirmed that in a short period of time, the municipal monitors have observed evidence of poor governance practices, poor decision-making, and behaviour that is negatively impacting the wellbeing of councillors and senior staff,’ Ms Horne wrote in May.

    The report listed a ‘lack of trust, respect and goodwill’ among councillors which was ‘hindering’ overarching governance principles.

    ‘Councillors are expected to adhere to conduct principles, such as treating others with dignity, fairness, objectivity, courtesy, and respect,’ the Minister wrote.

    Other report findings included ‘a lack of understanding’ of councillor roles, poor attendance at briefings and other meetings and involvement in responsibilities of the CEO. 

    ‘There are concerns that Council meetings are viewed as a platform for self-promotion rather than a decision making body,’ the Minister wrote.

    In her written response, Mayor Rasic said councillors would commit to a 10-point plan that includes revisiting and ‘adhering to’ previous training and workshops, being prepared for meetings and building ‘better relationships’ with the CEO and Directors.

    Municipal Monitors, Janet Dore and Penelope Holloway sat impassively at the Council table as Cr Victoria Borg told the meeting she “thought” council “owed” the Brimbank community an apology after the unruly October meeting when Cr Maria Kerr walked out over a proposal to hold regular informal meetings where the public could talk freely with elected representatives.

    “You, the people of the Brimbank community trusted us with the responsibility to abide by the Code of Conduct and other relevant policies,” Cr Borg said. “As a council it is imperative to honour that responsibility with great dignity and respect.”

    There was an awkward silence when Mayor Rasic asked whether any other councillor would like to speak.

    All councillors will be signing the written response to the Minister, the endorsement of which was carried unanimously. 

    In the same meeting, two Internal Arbitration findings were tabled; one in which Crs Rasic, Jae Papalia, Jasmine Nguyen, Sam David and Sarah Branton accused Cr Maria Kerr of ‘misconduct’ and another in which the same councillors accused Cr Virginia Tachos of the same charge. Both allegations were over the October and November meetings.

    Arbitrator Meredith Gibbs made a finding of misconduct against Cr Kerr. Arbitrator Sarah Fowler made a finding of misconduct against Cr Tachos and “directed” her to make a formal apology to Council and attend training on the appropriate use of social media…

    Maribyrnong – June 2024

    By Dr. Josie Vine with Ruby Fox, RMIT Journalism

    The freezing weather kept most of us tucked up in bed, but about 10 of us turned up to the June Maribyrnong meeting including excited Vietnamese community representatives, eager to hear how much budget would be provided for next year’s Quang Minh Tet festival.

    The gallery celebrated with applause when Cr Anthony Tran said council would provide the festival with $40,000. The money was allocated after the proposed budget was put out for community comment earlier this year.

    “We hope that this shows Council’s support for the Vietnamese community and for the other multicultural communities in our municipality,” Cr Tran said. 

    Other budget inclusions suggested by the community consultation process were $30,000 for the youth support service, Western Chances, and $10,000 to help the Maribyrnong Rivers and Waterways Association employ a river officer.

    “The river needs a lot of love to get it back to the great river it once was,” Cr Simon Crawford said, “and $10,000 is a good way to start.”

    In other news, council will be appealing to the State Government to pitch in for funding for Footscray CBD upgrades.

    CEO Celia Haddock said council had already “undertaken several public realm improvements” in the CBD including new lighting and seating in Byron Plaza, road reconstruction in Dalmahoy street, playspace in Nicholson street and new lighting between Paisley and Irving streets.

    “Footscray remains a major focus for the council’s attention,” she said. 

    Ms Haddock said council was “really pulling its weight” in cleaning up the CBD through “everyday rubbish removal”, upgrading tram and bus routes to allow space for “new drainage, extended footpaths and more greenery” and “liaising very closely with police in terms of safety issues that have arisen in the area”. 

    She said Council could not comment on vagrancy issues, but acknowledged the cost of living pressures “many in the community are under and the subsequent impact this has on commercial vacancy rates and homelessness”.

    “These are issues currently being experienced all across Melbourne,” she said.

    Hobsons Bay – June 2024

    By Dr. Josie Vine

    It’s bloody cold at 7pm in Altona in the middle of June! Yet almost 20 people turned up to the Hobsons Bay council meeting. And among them were the ever-tenacious Techno Park residents.

    The now-familiar faces clustered in a small five-person group near the centre of the public gallery, waiting to hear the fate of their homes.

    Techno Park homes had been given a reprieve in February, when the state government announced a change in policy to allow residents to claim ‘existing use’ rights to remain in their homes marked for eviction because they were built on industrial-zoned land up to 30 years ago.

    There were more than a few raised eyebrows in the public gallery – and not just among the Techno Park cohort – when Sustainable Communities Director, Rachel Lunn told council the assessors of ‘existing use’ claims would be senior council officers, such as Planning and Building manager, Matthew Irving, or herself. 

    “The decision-maker will assess the application and make a recommendation either way, it might not be an approval, it might be a refusal, that’s not to say it will be, but it’s not automatically granted,” she said. 

    Existing use rights can be applied for when residents can provide evidence of 15 years residential use of properties.

    Cr Daria Kellander said council had previously recognised that some of the 88 Techno Park houses had been in residential use for more than 15 years in its November 2022 Operation Pegasus presentation, which ABC journalists had accessed under Freedom of Information legislation.

    “Council appears to have confirmed that a number of those properties have been in residential use for over 15 years, so my question is specifically related to how it will treat those cases when it appears that it has already made that statement,” she said.

    “Please explain how council will approach establishing the existing use right in cases where council has already assessed that houses have been in residential use for more than 15 years.”

    Council was told existing use rights was a “particularly complicated” planning law matter, and officers would seek further clarification.

    Council had resolved to support a Techno Park Housing Solutions Group, to include Techno Park stakeholder representatives, at its October 2023 meeting. But Cr Kellander said Techno Park residents had not yet been invited. 

    “So I am concerned that a resolution of council appears to have been ignored,” she said.

    Cr Kellander said she had submitted an inquiry about the Group to the CEO and executive team, but had not yet received an answer. 

    Cr Kellander said Techno Park buildings, some built as part of a post WWII migrant centre, were of architectural and historical significance and suitable for heritage overlay protections.

    Council wrote to Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny in June, asking for ‘clarification’ on ‘existing use’ rights, ‘particularly related to Techno Park and other properties’ situated near major hazard facilities.

    The claims process is currently open for residents to apply to council for existing use rights.

    A Council is only as good as the people who get involved!

    Hobsons Bay City Council
    7pm Tuesday 9 July

    at the Hobsons Bay Civic Centre. The meeting will also be live streamed.

    Maribyrnong City Council
    6.30pm Tuesday 23 July
    at Council Chamber, Braybrook Community Hub, 107–139 Churchill Avenue.

    Brimbank City Council
    7pm Tuesday 16 July
    at Council Chamber, 301 Hampshire Rd, Sunshine.

    Wyndham City Council
    6pm Tuesday 23 July

    at Council Chamber, Wyndham Civic Centre, 45 Princes Highway.

    Josie Vine
    Josie Vine
    A column by Josie Vine, RMIT senior journalism lecturer.

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