GEORGE GEAR has lived in Melville for 33 years and is a retired federal MP who was assistant treasurer in the Keating Labor government. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED, he lambasts Melville council for not listening to its ratepayers in deciding to shift a well-loved bowling club.
IT did not surprise me at all at last week’s Melville council meeting to see compliant councillors, with their now slender majority, ignore ratepayers’ concerns and bow once again to CEO Shayne Silcox and his unelected director team.
The council voted 7-6 to consign to the bin yet another motion from an 800 strong electors’ meeting—in this case calling sensibly for a spending hold on the wave park and the Tompkins Park redevelopment till important legal and governance issues are resolved.
Once again, these seven ‘old reliables’ obeyed the officers’ recommendation that they ‘note the intent’ of the ratepayers’ motion.
Talk about the tail wagging the dog. The bureaucrats are clearly running the Melville council.
This whole sorry saga plaguing the City of Melville has its genesis in a flawed staff report entitled Lawn Bowls Strategy, presented in mid-2016, which influenced councillors to agree to shift the Melville Bowling Club onto playing fields 300 metres away. The report was designed to get the club off its land.
It is worth recalling the sequence of events.
Two weeks after being briefed on the Lawn Bowls Strategy, the council agreed to give CEO Silcox authority to find an alternative use for the 1.4 hectare bowling club site.
Barely 10 days later, lo and behold, a detailed ‘unsolicited’ proposal hit Dr Silcox’s desk for an artificial surf park taking up not just the bowling club site but a further three hectares of Tompkins Park sports fields and river foreshore as well, which the CEO had no authority to include.
Without seeking any other expressions of interest, Dr Silcox recommended to council that the wave park proposal be endorsed, and again he got his way.
It came as no comfort to troubled ratepayers to learn later that the pair who prepared the Lawn Bowls Strategy—the council’s health and recreation manager Todd Cahoon and his external consultant Darren Monument—had business interests together and owned of shares in the wave park venture. [Ed’s note: the Corruption and Crime Commission investigated this link, determining Mr Cahoon declared his interest at the appropriate time and clearing him of any misconduct.]
The lawn bowls report should never have been released.
It was a biased document which only considered bowls at the pennant competition level and awarded no importance to the growing non-pennant bowling and social member side of the club.
Pennants bowlers make up about one-fifth of Melville’s total membership and account for 22 per cent of all bowls played. Focusing only on the pennants bowlers, the council’s Lawn Bowls Strategy gave the impression the club was in decline and warranted being merged with the Mt Pleasant Bowling Club where events have taken a similar course.
It compared the ratio of pennant bowlers to the number of greens to suggest the Melville Club was not sustainable.
It is worth noting that only the ‘full members’ at Melville Bowling Club—mainly the pennants players—have voting rights, so the non-pennants bowlers and social members have had no say in the club’s decision to go along with the council.
The truth is that the club is fully sustainable and its financial reports prove it.
It pays all its bills on time, has no debt and has an operating surplus of around $35,000 a year, which adds to its assets of $500,000, half of which is in cash.
It is an extremely well-run club and is fully sustainable from its own resources, and its social bowler and social member base is increasing.
But it has been bullied into agreeing to move, fearful of not getting its council lease renewed and having nowhere to go.
There may well be a case for a merger with Mt Pleasant but the larger Melville club should be left right where it is and $9 million of ratepayers’ money saved.
I know from speaking to the WA Bowls Association that the council’s claims regarding the Melville club and bowls generally are strongly disputed at state level.
The poor standard of debate at Melville council meetings is also of great concern.
The discussion at last week’s meeting should have been about whether or not the council can go on ignoring motions from residents and ratepayers brought down at consistently large electors’ meetings.
The question they needed to debate, which was never even touched on, was that of whose wishes should prevail—those of the salaried council bureaucrats or the electors who live there and pay rates.
But, once again the vote went the way of the officers’ recommendation, implying a mentality pervades the narrow council majority that it is only Dr Silcox and his advisers who know what is best for us all.