During tonight’s extra-ordinary Albury Council meeting to
lynch (did I say Lynch? I meant censure, they were carrying ropes for another reason!) censure Paul Wareham, I took a few notes.
Here’s a run down of what the players said, as best I can remember and determine from notes. I should note these are far from verbatim, and apologise for any grievous errors or omissions.
Stuart Baker called upon the CEO to open the meeting with a prayer (that’s a rant for another day), it was noted that there were no apologies or conflict of interest declarations to be tabled. The motion was read, and Cr Baker spoke to the motion.
Stuart Baker argued that Paul Wareham had breached the code of conduct as it had stood. Councillors are elected to show dignity and judgement, attend meetings, and vote on difficult issues without copping out by missing the meeting, or abstaining by declaring a frivolous conflict of interest.
Baker noted that to date this complaint had been costly, had consumed enormous amounts of council time, and had created animosity between councillors, council employees and members of the community. Baker expressed a desire to pass this motion in order finally end this matter.
Baker argued that Wareham’s justification for these comments was shown to be incorrect, and thus the motion should be passed.
Paul Wareham was the first and only councillor to speak against the motion. Councillor Baker informed him that time limits of five minutes would be strictly enforced and that he should stick to the motion at hand. Initially Wareham’s mic did not work, after some wait he began.
Paul Wareham started by saying that the entire problem has been the presentation of the DA (development application), and that he wanted to ask James Jenkins (a council employee involved in the Fromholtz Park DA) a number of questions.
Councillor Baker cut Paul Wareham off, explaining that “we’re not going over old ground” as all the issues to do with the Fromholtz Park DA had already been discussed at length in Council.
Paul Wareham continued. He argued that the entire controversy over his investigation by the Conduct Committee could have been avoided if Council had appointed an independent Solicitor to conduct the investigation.
Mr Wareham also argued that the Council General Manager who had been on the Conduct Committee should have excused himself, because he had previously written “letter after letter” to the Department of Local Government about Mr Wareham.
Mr Wareham also claimed that the Code of Conduct Committee was constituted unlawfully.
At this point Stuart Baker intervened and explained that the Albury City Code of Conduct Manual that the committee includes the General Manager, and that the Committee was not constituted unlawfully.
Mr Wareham continued, arguing that the General Manager had in effect been investigating himself.
Mr Wareham then went on to state it was a fundamental right of a councillor to ask questions and get answers from council staff. Mr Wareham claimed that the fact he could not ask questions was a denial of the democratic process, and that this whole problem started because he was not allowed to ask questions.
Mr Wareham claimed that through out, he had simply been trying to establish what was going on, and claimed that he still was unable to ask the questions he wanted to ask.
Mr Wareham went on to state that the conduct of council staff that he had previously described as “deceitful” (not answering his questions about the DA) was not “deliberate, but it is unprofessional and resulted in this situation”.
Mr Wareham concluded by saying “I will continue to ask questions” despite this motions and even though “certain Councillors are after my blood for various reasons”.
There was restrained applause from the gallery.
Next to speak was Amanda Duncan-Strelec. Again there were technical difficulties with the mic, a portal mic was brought out.
Ms Duncan Strelec started by saying she agreed with Paul Wareham on one thing, the process had been politicised, by the conduct of Mr Wareham and a “vocal lobby group”.
Ms Duncan-Strelec agreed that it was the right to of councillor’s to ask questions, but noted that standing orders required them to put their questions in writing and lodge them before the meeting, and that to date Mr Wareham has not put any of his “vital questions” in writing before any number of possible Council meetings.
Ms Duncan-Strelec claimed that under the code of conduct as it stood they were not allowed to appoint an independent solicitor as Mr Wareham had requested, that they shouldn’t have done so just because Mr Wareham wanted it done.
Ms Duncan-Strelec claimed there had been clear breaches of the Code of Conduct, and that it was pointless asking her to be civil when people “refer to you as a dog and you are told to ‘piss off bitch'”.
Ms Duncan-Strelec claimed that Paul Wareham has lied and continues to lie, and that Wareham and a certain lobby group had mislead the community about the community centre being built in Fromholtz Park.
Next to speak was Councillor Kevan Portor. Mr Portor also had to use the portable mic.
Mr Portor said that if councillors mixed with the wider community rather than just a single issue group, they would see the wider community is fed up with councillors settling personal scores with staff and council members in the public arena.
At this point Councillor Baker noted there were no more requests to speak against the motion and as such he would call it to a vote. The measure was passed 7-1, with only Mr Wareham voting against.
At this point the meeting was closed. Mr Wareham and half a dozen supporters gathered outside the chamber to pose for photos and talk to the media. Other councillors retired to a small room beside the council chamber.
I spoke to Mr Wareham, he said:
“I feel like I’ve landed in some feudal time zone … where no one is allowed to ask questions”
After taking a few photos this blogger decided to call it a night.