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Secrecy surrounds would-be faction to control the next Adelaide City Council

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EXCLUSIVE | A candidate for the upcoming local government elections says a councillor tried to recruit her to a secretive “Team Adelaide” group, aimed at forming a majority faction to control the next Adelaide City Council.

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For more than a month, rumours have been circulating within Town Hall about a group known as “Team Adelaide” – a supposed gathering of candidates recruited to influence the makeup of the next Adelaide City Council.

Several people have spoken to InDaily about the group, but few have been willing to speak publicly – until now.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese last month denied the existence of “Team Adelaide” in an interview with InDaily, but argued a “unified” group of elected members on the council would be of benefit to the city.

Central ward councillor Houssam Abiad also denied knowledge of “Team Adelaide” last month, but was vocal on the advantages of a more collaborative future council.

Yesterday, south ward councillor Priscilla Corbell-Moore offered several “no comment” responses to questions about what she knew about the group and whether she was involved.

Only one candidate for the coming election, approached by InDaily, has agreed to speak on the record about it.

Dr Helen Donovan, a psychologist, says she met with Abiad last month to discuss her candidacy for south ward.

She says he used the meeting to invite her to join “Team Adelaide”.

Recounting the mid-July meeting, Donovan told InDaily Abiad gave her a presentation on the group, assembled for the purpose of ensuring a more “collaborative” Adelaide City Council: one dominated by members of the group.

He told her, she said, that with enough candidates swapping preferences – 19 is apparently the magic number – the outcome was relatively “assured”.

“In our meeting, he advised (that) the team required 19 candidates to ensure a majority voting bloc is elected,” Donovan told InDaily.

“I wasn’t comfortable with that approach.”

She said Abiad presented her with a spreadsheet outlining the likely costs of the joint campaign and said that she would be asked to contribute $1750 to support it, if she agreed to join.

Part of the costs, she said, would go towards commissioning a public relations agency to take professional photographs of all the candidates and write profiles on them.

She said Abiad told her the group was undecided about whether to go public before or after the close of nominations on September 18, reasoning that announcing later would minimise the amount of time the media would have to interpret the group of candidates as a “faction”.

Ultimately she decided against joining the group.

“I have elected to stand independently to represent my community and collaborate with others elected through the democratic process,” she told InDaily.

Abiad is currently overseas visiting family and did not respond to a request for comment.

He told InDaily last month that he was unaware of such a “team” – but that it would be beneficial for the council to work together.

Asked whether he was aware of, or behind the website www.teamadelaide.com.au – which had featured images of the councillor, but had been cleared of content and later deleted altogether – Abiad said his website was www.betteradelaide.com.au.

He said at the time that he was speaking to prospective candidates and encouraging them to put their hands up but that he was not aware of any “team”.

He said at the time that he had spoken to about 10 prospective candidates.

Haese told InDaily last month: “There is no ‘Team Adelaide’.”

“There are benefits of having a unified group of individuals for a capital city council – however, there is no formal team.”

Haese was in meetings and unavailable for comment this morning.

Asked what she knew about the “team” yesterday, incumbent south ward councillor Priscilla Corbell-Moore told InDaily she was “aware of rumours of an Abiad-led group” but that she was not a member of it.

Asked whether she had been approached to be part of an “Abiad-led group”, she said: “I’m not saying.”

Asked whether she had attended the weekly meetings of the group, she responded: “I can’t comment on that, I’m sorry.”

Asked why there was so much secrecy surrounding “Team Adelaide”, she said: “I can’t comment on that – I really can’t say.”

She did say, however, that she was “running with the Lord Mayor” at the upcoming election and that it wasn’t “unusual to have an element of suspense to do with … campaign linkups”.

Deputy Lord Mayor and area councillor Sandy Verschoor told InDaily yesterday she hadn’t decided whether to run for re-election, but that “I am and have always been independent”.

She did not respond subsequently, when asked whether she had had any discussion with Abiad about the group or whether he had asked her to join it.

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