SENIOR Fremantle council staff worried that if an independent assessment of the Kings Square redevelopment fell into ratepayers’ hands it’d be used to spread “uncertainty” and “mistrust” about the project.
The Herald has obtained an email exchange between mayor Brad Pettitt and a ratepayer in which the mayor says staff are so worried about the information falling into the wrong hands they don’t even want it emailed within council.
“There is a sense (quite reasonably) that a small part of the community are seeking to use this project to create a beat-up in the community for the council election in October,” Dr Pettitt wrote in the April email to ratepayer Craig Ross, an accountant.
Dr Pettitt offers to negotiate supervised access to the document, a business case prepared by Leedwell Strategic, but the offer is declined.
“I wouldn’t want a private viewing as I believe the offer to review the document should also be made available equally to all ratepayers,” Mr Ross responds.
In a later email to CEO Graeme Mackenzie, Mr Ross mirrors previous concerns the council should be treating the sale of three properties to project partner Sirona Capital separately from the redevelopment itself.
“Based on public information these two separate and distinct transactions appear to have been incorrectly co-mingled in the NPV (net present value) calculation,” the accountant says. He says that throws out the council’s projections.
Dr Pettitt told the Herald on Thursday his comments shouldn’t be taken to mean there are uncomfortable figures in the business case for the council.
“The reality is that any figure can be taken out of context and manipulated, and you could end up going backward and forward endlessly defending every assumption,” he told the Herald.
He says it is up to the CEO, not him, to decide whether the document is released to the public, but backs Mr Mackenzie’s decision to keep it confidential.
Dr Pettitt says there are projections in the document related to tenanting a state government department that the council wouldn’t want competitors to know about.
Claudia Green, a city ward candidate in next month’s council elections, alerted the Herald to the email. If elected next month she’ll call for an investigation and audit of the Kings Square business case.
She says the investigation should also examine the council’s use of its investment funds and whether it is abiding by its own policies.
“Currently council is ignoring the guidelines set out in its own policy on financial investment, alcohol and often with regard to planning scheme regulations and codes, which creates great uncertainty and anxiety.”
Ms Green says the council’s support for Sunset Events’ pub at Arthur Head went against its own responsible alcohol policy, and would result in the historic A-class reserve being fenced off for a “mere $84,000 per year”.
“This proposal is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with this council, on so many levels,” she told the Herald.
An active member of the Fremantle Residents and Ratepayers Association, she says she won’t be a wrecker within council, but wants it to drop external sustainability projects like the $28,000 solar parklet it’s agreed to half-fund if the proponents can crowd-fund the rest.
She describes such projects as “populist” and says the council should concentrate on core business.
Dr Pettitt defends the crowd-funded projects, saying they are an exercise in direct democracy.
“The council will put up half the funds and then the ratepayers have to put up the other half—if they don’t think it’s a worthy project they won’t give it any money and it won’t go ahead,” he told the Herald.
by STEVE GRANT