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Onkaparinga councillor sought ministerial intervention in 'no-confidence' vote

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The Onkaparinga councillor who led a successful no-confidence motion in mayor Lorraine Rosenberg wrote to Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll asking him to waive any prospective conflict of interest, InDaily can reveal.

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The embattled mayor resigned late yesterday from her role as president of the Local Government Association, after a crisis meeting of the association’s board saw the executive ask her to step down.

“I went out of the room and left them to come back to me, and they did come back and encourage me to consider stepping down,” Rosenberg told FIVEaa this morning.

Her position as LGA president had become all but untenable after high-profile mayors had lined up to call for her resignation, after months of turmoil at Onkaparinga amid ratepayer outrage over executive perks and the widespread use of corporate credit cards.

The scandal culminated in a majority of councillors declaring they had lost confidence in Rosenberg at an extraordinary meeting this week. The vote was not binding, and Rosenberg has declared she will stay on as mayor, and recontest the role at this year’s council elections, which conclude in November.

In a statement after the vote, Rosenberg said she “was not present for the debate that occurred at the meeting as I declared a conflict of interest — in accordance with legislation”.

She also noted the councillor who moved the motion, Robyn Holtham, was a “mayoral candidate” and her seconder, Jonathan Deakin, a “declared candidate for councillor”.

In an interview with FIVEaa this morning, Rosenberg said it was “for the councillors to judge” whether the no-confidence motion was fair, adding that there was “certainly some political maneuvering connected to that”.

“I have now had an opportunity to read carefully the statements that were made by the mover and the seconder [and] I will be considering my options as to how I deal with those in the very near future,” she said.

Asked by InDaily to clarify whether this implied legal action, she said in a statement that she would assess the comments made “against what is fact [and] make a decision on how to move forward”.

Holtham told InDaily today she had received “independent legal advice about this” and had “had a letter from the minister”.

“He would not grant me permission to stay in the meeting if I had an actual conflict of interest – but I don’t,” she said.

“I’ve not officially declared candidacy, and I may well not do it.”

Holtham said she announced her intention to run for mayor “in the chamber last year”.

“But I haven’t officially declared a candidacy… as far as I’m concerned this doesn’t serve to benefit me any more than anyone else,” she said.

“I don’t think the situation advantages me at all… and it could do the reverse.”

She said she wrote to Knoll asking “if he would grant me permission to stay in the meeting”.

“The response was he couldn’t provide legal advice but if I considered I had no actual conflict of interest [I could stay]… the inference was if I had a perceived conflict then I could stay.”

The Local Government Act states that if a member has “a material conflict of interest in a matter to be discussed at a meeting of the council” they must absent themselves, but that the Minister may grant an approval for them to remain.

Knoll confirmed to InDaily Holtham had written to him.

“What she wanted was to have me waive what she saw as a conflict of interest [and] we told her what the act said,” he said.

“She wanted me to determine whether she had a conflict of interest [but] it’s up to her, rather than up to us.

“I gave her options as to how she could seek legal advice… very much the tone of the letter was ‘This is a decision for you, not a decision for me’.”

Knoll added the request was “not what I would consider an appropriate use of the waiving of conflict”.

Holtham said she moved the motion because the issue had been “bubbling along” for several months and “really has put the whole of council in a very bad light in terms of community confidence”.

Rosenberg told FIVEaa she had tried to keep her mayoral and LGA roles separate but conceded it was “inevitable that the behaviours of the City of Onkaparinga had spilled over to the LGA role”.

“Unfortunately the community and media can’t separate them, that’s the way it is,” she said.

She conceded the organisation’s brand had been “tarnished” by the ongoing controversies surrounding her Onkaparinga council, conceding she was no longer able to “sell local government’s reform agenda to the minister of the day”.

Knoll thanked Rosenberg “for her service”, saying: “I look forward to working constructively with her replacement on developing and implementing the Marshall Government’s rate-capping policy to lower costs for SA households and businesses.”

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