MELVILLE Bowling Club finally got the green light for its 50-year lease at Melville council this week, but only after mayor George Gear and his councillors copped an “unprecedented” warning from WA’s local government minister.
Just hours before the council’s monthly meeting went into it third instalment on Tuesday evening, minister David Templeman wrote to Mr Gear and councillors to say the debate would be “closely observed”.
“Any significant variations between the way the bowling club is treated (particularly in regard to future terms of lease), compared with other such community organisations could provide the impression of bias and a lack of impartiality on the part of the council and/or councillors,” Mr Templeman wrote.
“Given the use of the land associated with the bowling club has been the subject of ongoing contention for many years, it is all the more important that objectivity and integrity in the council’s decision making is maintained and be seen to do so.”
The Herald understands CEO Marten Tieleman told councillors at a briefing before the full meeting it was the first such letter he’d seen in his career, sparking an angry response from Mr Gear’s faction.
The mayor initially blocked Cr Karen Wheatland’s attempts to have the minister’s letter tabled during the meeting, although he later relented.
Following extended debate over a raft of amendments suggested by Cr Matthew Woodall – but mostly dismissed – the vote went through just before 11pm.
Cr Woodall later put forward a rescission motion to be considered at the next council meeting, supported by Crs Wheatland, Nicole Robins, Duncan Macphail and Clive Robartson.
Former mayor Russell Aubrey also reacted angrily to the lease approval, releasing an open letter to Mr Templeman saying the mayor and his faction were not acknowledging the thousands of dollars they’d received from groups associated with the bowling club during the last election.
Noting the minister’s recent comments about drawing a “line in the sand” about governance standards following the damning inquiry in the City of Perth, Mr Aubrey appealed to Mr Templeman to step in.
“I therefore call upon you as the minister for local government to take immediate, strident and unbiased action in dealing with the apparent inappropriate conduct of the nine elected members of the City of Melville or to openly show cause not to,” he wrote.
During the election campaign, Mr Gear received $5,726 in donations from the Swan Foreshore Protection Association, while Crs Glynis Barber, Nick Pazolli, Margaret Sanford, Tomas Fitzgerald each received smaller amounts between $1090 and $2,572 – all of which was declared on the council’s online electoral gift register.
SFPA founder and former chairman Clive Ross was part of a delegation with bowls club president Tim Smith at the start of the council’s meeting three weeks ago, but Mr Gear says that doesn’t mean he should have declared a financial interest and stayed out of the lease debate.
“It’s a pretty thin argument, I would have thought,” Mr Gear told the Herald.
Saying he’d scoured the local government act to ensure he was abiding by the rules, Mr Gear said there was an important factor supporting his interpretation: “I didn’t ask them for a donation … there was never a request … they did it by themselves, same as any of the groups,” Mr Gear said.
According to the register, the SFPA didn’t make a cash donation to the mayor or councillors, instead paying
for posters, placards, flyers and advertising which urged Melville residents to support those candidates.