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City councillor accused of using public resources for election recruiting

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The SA president of the Local Government Association says she will be formally reporting allegations that a fellow Adelaide city councillor used council staff and public resources to gather candidates for the upcoming election.

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City councillor Sue Clearihan, who succeeded Lorraine Rosenberg as LGA SA president earlier this year, told an Adelaide City Council meeting on Tuesday night that she had been “informed” of the alleged conduct and that she would be reporting it to council CEO Mark Goldstone.

Last week, North Ward councillor Phil Martin lodged a series of questions to council staff, asking whether any elected member had used Town Hall meeting rooms or requested payments while recruiting candidates for “Team Adelaide”.

The secretive group was supposedly being gathered in an attempt to form a majority on the next council using a comprehensive preference deal.

Responding in writing at last night’s council meeting, staff had reported they were “not aware of council resources being used by elected members for non-council business”.

Clearihan asked for clarification on the response.

“I’m still not clear about the former question on notice from councillor Martin. I’ve been informed that a particular councillor has used council offices and council staff to organise meetings of potential candidates, to meet in these council rooms,” she said.

Under the Local Government Act, a councillor must not use a facility or a service provided by the council unrelated to the performance of official duties.

Goldstone reiterated that the administration was not aware of any councillor misusing council resources – to which Clearihan responded: “So what does it require, for me to knock on your door and tell you, does it? That this has happened.”

Haese told Clearihan she could refer any concerns to the CEO after the meeting.

She added: “I’m clear now on the response, because I couldn’t understand it (before) – so now I know that I will need to go and visit the CEO.”

Martin’s question on notice had included whether or not there was any request for money, for election spending during alleged recruiting activity for the “Team Adelaide” group, and whether such a request could be considered an improper use of a council position to gain personal advantage under the Local Government Act.

The Act prohibits elected members from making “improper use” of their position for personal gain.

But area councillor Natasha Malani told last night’s meeting that councillor Martin had, himself, shared printing costs with her and with other candidates at the last council election, and argued that sharing costs was normal election campaign practice.

Earlier this month, InDaily revealed claims by south ward candidate Dr Helen Donovan that she had been invited her to join “Team Adelaide” – and was told that joining would require a campaign donation of $1750.

Donovan said it had been explained to her, during the meeting last month, that if the group attracted 19 candidates, it could be “assured” of controlling the next council – by its members forming a majority.

Later in yesterday’s council meeting, Martin tried to move a motion asking Goldstone to investigate whether council resources had been misused and whether a councillor had misused her or his position in a way that breaches the Local Government Act, in the process of recruiting candidates to “Team Adelaide”.

But Lord Mayor Martin Hease – who has denied knowledge of, and the existence of “Team Adelaide” – described the north ward councillor’s motion as “shameless grandstanding”.

“This is just shameless, shameless political grandstanding by a faction leader – this is extraordinary,” said Haese.

Goldstone told the meeting the council chamber was an inappropriate forum to raise concerns about alleged misconduct by other councillors.

“Should any council member have any concerns regarding this matter, bringing it to the chamber is not the correct mechanism,” said the CEO.

“It is quite feasible for any council member to come and see myself, you can go and see the Ombudsman or you can refer the matter to another authority – and that is the correct process.

“I encourage anyone, if they have any concerns … to come and see me if you wish to arrange it, or take it to another authority.”

Challenged to produce a seconder for his motion, councillor Martin said that area councillor Sandy Wilkinson had given an assurance he would be that seconder in order to facilitate the debate.

But Wilkinson sat silent.

Central Ward councillor Houssam Abiad joked that he would second it.

But Haese said Martin’s motion was ultra vires: beyond the power of the council to determine.

“That’s the answer; my answer is final. We move on.”

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