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City Council accused of "rolling over" on changes to Park Lands Authority

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Adelaide City Council’s backing for a State Government move to cut the number of councillors on the Adelaide Park Lands Authority has prompted one elected member to accuse it of “rolling over like a puppy excitedly looking for a pat on the belly”.

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The vote came after councillors were informed at a meeting on Saturday that the State Government wanted to establish “an independent board which collectively possess a range of expertise” to the Adelaide Park Lands Authority.

Under the Adelaide Park Lands Act, the APLA must be comprised of 10 members, half of which are appointed by the State Government and the other half appointed by the city council.

In the past, the city council has filled its quota on the APLA board with four elected members, with the fifth position designated to the Lord Mayor as the presiding member.

The current board is due for renewal at the end of this month, with councillors on Tuesday night voting to elect their five new representatives.

Councillors told InDaily earlier this week that they were told on Saturday that the State Government was seeking to restructure the APLA board to ensure the council representatives consisted of one Kaurna person, two council members (including the Lord Mayor) and two “skills based representatives”.

That request was adhered to on Tuesday night, with the majority of councillors voting to nominate Kaurna representative Jessica Davies-Huynh, architect and urban designer Matt Davis, recreation planner Alison Bretones and south ward councillor Alexander Hyde to the board.

The nominees will replace the council’s interim representatives Anne Moran, Robert Simms, Phil Martin and Helen Donovan – all of whom are elected members.

The vote drew backlash from the interim representatives at Tuesday’s meeting, with area council Robert Simms describing the decision as a “really, really curious state of affairs”.

“This is probably the first time in history that this council is actually willingly giving up council representation on a body such as this,” he said.

“I cannot understand why this council would willingly give away the influence that we have had through that body.”

Simms likened the move to passing control of the park lands to the State Government.

“My concern with the park lands is that giving the Government control of the park lands is like giving Count Dracula the keys to the blood bank,” he said.

“Once they sink their teeth in we can’t control what they do.”

But fellow area councillor Franz Knoll said the new nominations were “certainly a step forward”.

Knoll praised both the council and State Government’s selected nominees, describing the new board as comprising “a cross-section of people that are specialists in this area”.

“I think the attempt to depoliticise the advice is certainly a wonderful change to the previous arrangements,” he said.

“At the end of the day we want good, balanced outcomes and that means getting advice that is not in a political nature.”

But north ward councillor Phil Martin accused the council of “rolling over like a puppy excitedly looking for a pat on the belly from the Minister”.

“I understand why Councillor Knoll would feel the way he does – it is the decision of his son (Planning Minister Stephan Knoll),” he said.

“In most of these matters it is the council members as representatives of the rate payers, as landlords, who will exercise decisions on these matters.

“This will be regretted in decades to come.”

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said all decisions relating to the park lands would still come through council.

“This was a conversation, we have not been demanded, we have not been directed; we have been given an opportunity to put in an expert membership in terms of the advice we get from APLA,” she said.

Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad agreed, saying the council still had opportunities to make recommendations or change proposals in the council chamber.

“This is a wise move from council,” he said.

“It gets us to think outside the square.”

The State Government’s nominations to the APLA board include architect Kirsteen Mackay, botanist Stephen Forbes, urban planners Stephanie Johnston and Ben Willsmore and conservationist Craig Wilkins.

The new board will sit from April 1 to December 2020.

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