Clawback plan glitch

Marija Vujcic says Fremantle council has been too generous to its debtors. Photo by Steve Grant

A FREMANTLE mayoral candidate’s call for the city to stop being so forgiving of its debtors has hit a glitch.

Marija Vujcic wants the council to rethink the waivers it offered dozens of firms which lease council-owned premises and sought rent relief due to the effects of Covid on their sales.

“I think we should be a compassionate city when people need help, and people wouldn’t quibble with that, but when you say you are the ‘city’, you run it as a business,” Cr Vujcic said.

She says the council should have checked whether the businesses seeking rent relief were really sustainable in the long-term, pointing to the $96,000 waiver given to Dome while rumours about its withdrawal from Fremantle have been swirling for months.

“You see where I would have let them close down? You have to see if that business is sustainable,” she said.

Bailed out

“We bailed out Myer for years, and they still left.”

But when she raised the issue at council’s last monthly meeting, CEO Glen Dougall pointed out the waivers were mandated under Covid legislation introduced by the McGowan government.

Cr Vujcic also had no luck with a plan for the city to sell off its list of fine defaulters to a debt collection agency.

The city has written off $62,191 after the Fines Enforcement Registry said it had given up chasing $258,000 worth of fines generated in Fremantle.

Cr Vujcic said at the meeting that while there were some genuine reasons for defaulting such as people dying, the number of repeat offenders was horrific, saying some individuals had a whole page to themselves.

“As a councillor my oversight is seeing whether my ratepayers are getting good value and you have to show you have done everything in your power to get it back,” she said.

But CEO Glen Dougall kyboshed the idea of giving the list to debt collectors, saying under state legislation, only the registry could legally chase defaulters.

It wasn’t a great meeting for Cr Vujcic when she was forced to read out an apology to former mayor Brad Pettitt, deputy mayor Andrew Sullivan and councillor Rachel Pemberton after being pinged for a minor breach by the Local Government Standards Panel.

The breach related to posts made during the Tent City debacle when she claimed the trio approved the homeless camp on Pioneer Park.

The panel found the claim was baseless and came from “a fundamental misunderstanding of a councillor’s obligation to represent her community”.

“Cr Vujcic was expressly told her understanding of the statement was incorrect and Cr Vujcic refused to remove the relevant parts of the incorrect post,” it said in its findings.

Despite reading the provided apology, Cr Vujcic was somewhat unrepentant when she spoke to the Chook.

“I disagree with the decision because I stood up for the ratepayers,” she said.

“We have on record from December that they did know; involvement is you do nothing.”

by STEVE GRANT

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