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Ratepayers billed $20,000 for council investigation into media sources

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The Adelaide City Council has spent nearly $50,000 on investigations into its own conduct in recent months, including $20,000 on a hunt for InDaily’s sources within Town Hall.

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In February this year, InDaily exclusively revealed that the council had bought the old Le Cornu site, using ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money, at a price several million dollars higher than independent valuations said it was worth.

The council later unanimously voted to order an investigation to try to identify InDaily’s sources for the story and to determine whether the leaks breached a legally binding confidentiality order.

Budget papers released ahead of tomorrow night’s council meeting show the council spent $20,000 commissioning KPMG to conduct a “special audit” on the “breach of confidentiality”.

The audit firm has conducted interviews with some inside Town Hall but has not contacted InDaily.

Any member of the council or its staff who breaches a confidentiality order can be fined up to $10,000 – or even imprisoned, for up to two years – under the Local Government Act.

A council spokesperson said today the investigation was ongoing.

The budget papers also reveal a $25,000 bill for the external investigation into the council’s handling of the parklands helipad proposal.

The proposal, eventually narrowed down to a site on Bonython Park, had been worked on using significant council staff time since 2015.

But the years of work were fruitless.

The proposal, spearheaded by outspoken Adelaide entrepreneur Shane Yeend, was abruptly abandoned early this year after an independent report found that Bonython Park could only be used safely for helicopter operations if “extensive works” were undertaken to remove trees, limit building plans, restrict public access and fix communications issues.

A helicopter owned by Yeend’s company HeliStar had also taken off from the site of the planned helipad without clearance from air traffic controllers, forcing a passenger plane to abort a landing at Adelaide Airport in September.

Yeend, who has described himself as “only an investor” in the company, had been campaigning for a parklands helipad for about a decade.

Council CEO Mark Goldstone announced he had ordered the investigation at the January meeting to address his concerns about how the proposal had been handled, procedurally.

The investigation found the helipad project was outside the usual expertise of the council’s administration – which had suffered confusion over legislative and process requirements – but that there were no substantive issues with the process.

Also revealed in the budget papers:

People are getting fewer parking fines in the city

The council expects to receive $1.3 million less revenue from parking expiations this year than originally forecast.

According to the budget papers, parking inspectors have been issuing more warnings, rather than fines, and adopted an “educative process”, saving wayward motorists a total of $290,000 in expiations between January and March this year.

A council spokesperson said there had been an increase in compliance among motorists and a reduction in some on-street parking spaces because of the various works in the city.

The loss of revenue to council coffers was offset by a $113,000 reduction in “associated costs” during the same period.

Big projects have been delayed

The Adelaide City Council is forecasting to spend $19.1 million less than it expected to in 2017-18, in part because of delays to several projects but also because of unexpected savings on other projects.

InDaily reported last week, cyclists have a long time to wait before they see a continuous north-south bikeway through the city.

The city bikeways project has been delayed because of, among other things, construction of the 36-storey Adeladian hotel complex development on Frome Street.

Delays have also been caused by tools down during Adelaide’s festival period in February and March this year, and waiting for the release of State Government plans concerning the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site as well as the opening of the new Adelaide high school on Frome Road – Botanic High – early next year.

The Gawler Place redevelopment has also been delayed, with construction due to start this month. The “retiming” pushes $3.65 million in spending forward.

Final aesthetic touches on the re-introduction of a right hand turn on Grote Street into the Adelaide Central Market – and the retiling of its entrances – have been delayed, but the turn is operational.

Market management believes returning the right-hand turn could yield millions of dollars for traders every year.

The installation of smart parking sensors for the council’s parking technology rollout has also been delayed, leaving an extra $1.3 million in the kitty.

Streetscape upgrades for North Terrace have been delayed by several months because the State Government’s tram extension project has run several months overdue.

The upgrades would have been delayed anyway, however, because of the decision to use Mintaro Slate pavers, which take extra time to supply.

The delay means $1.2 million is left unspent.

Planned public realm upgrades Jeffcott Street, Hutt Street, O’Connell Street, Gouger Street, and Pirie Street have also been pushed back, and are now due for completion in 2018-19.

Unexpected savings

The council has saved $55,000 by not having to do design work on the now-abandoned AdeLINK tram network expansion.

Several projects are also complete or forecast to be finished at below the expected cost, including:

Unexpected costs

But several other projects are now forecast to come in over budget, including:

More than $200,000 on Hutt Street security measures

Installing five CCTV cameras in the Hutt Street precinct – the result of complaints about antisocial behaviour – cost $204,000.

Ratepayers spent $104,000 on the security cameras and the State Government chipped in a $100,000 grant from taxpayers for the project.

The council also spent $10,000 on the security guard posted outside Bici Café.

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