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City Council vetoes bid to disclose contact with developers

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A push for Adelaide City councillors to publicly disclose any contact they have with developers has been knocked back, after the councillor who put forward the idea was accused of exploiting council time for his own political gain.

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At a heated meeting last night, area councillor Robert Simms failed to convince his colleagues to support establishing an online register declaring any contact councillors have with developers.

Simms had pitched the idea as a “sensible solution” to restoring the community’s trust in politics, arguing doing so provided the council with the opportunity to “enter a new era of transparency and accountability”.

The register, he said, would be based on a similar model used by the City of Vincent in Western Australia, which requires council members to record developers’ names, the date and time of contact and the nature of the issues discussed.

Simms garnered support from half the council chamber, but he failed to convince acting Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad, who used his casting vote to defeat the motion.

“As elected members we have an obligation to declare conflicts, to do the right thing,” Abiad said.

“I believe there are enough systems in place for that occur and I think the extreme of that will actually deter and cause division in our community.”

Councillors affiliated with the “Team Adelaide” faction– including Arman Abrahimzadeh, Mary Couros, Simon Hou, Alexander Hyde and Franz Knoll – supported Abiad’s ruling.

“Another day, another motion that will achieve absolutely nothing,” Hyde told the chamber.

“Unlike some other states, South Australian councils work under a Council Assessment Panel.

“Decision making is completely and utterly removed from this council chamber.”

Hyde accused Simms of using the motion to further his political interests to the detriment of the community.

“You don’t restore faith in politics by taking a misconception in the community that this body actually influences the development that happens in the city,” he said.

“You don’t increase the faith in democracy by taking misconception, that misunderstanding, and exploiting it for your own political gain.”

Central ward councillor Simon Hou also levelled criticism on Simms, calling him out for “treating people with double standards” and promoting a “very wrong” message.

“I would like to know his political purpose behind this motion,” he said.

“Why would we put up any barriers for ratepayers to approach elected members?”

The criticism drew scorn from veteran councillor Anne Moran, who said last night that she felt like resigning from council due to the unprecedented “nastiness” that she said was present in the council chamber.

“I’m disappointed that such personal attacks would be made against a councillor who has put a completely fair and reasonable motion forward,” she said.

“It’s disrespectful and I have not seen anything like it, even with a very factionalised council like this.

“It’s the lowest time I have ever seen.”

Moran said it was “wrong and disingenuous” to suggest that development decisions were not made in the council chamber.

According to the Adelaide City Council website, over 90 per cent of development applications are delegated to the council’s administration for decisions, with the remaining applications judged by the Council’s Assessment Panel, on which Moran sits.

Any developments valued above $10 million are referred to the State Commission Assessment Panel.

Moran said an online register was needed to protect councillors from being accused of swaying development decisions when they are spied meeting with developers.

She told the chamber a former council member – later revealed as now deceased Bruno Ventura – was seen meeting with developer and former 88 O’Connell Street owner Con Makris before the council first attempted to buy the site in the early 2000s.

“One of our councillors went to speak to the buyer and the bid was up the next day just over what we’d bidded,” she said.

Moran told InDaily this morning that Ventura’s name was “blackened” because he was unable to prove the meeting with Makris was not related to the sale of 88 O’Connell Street.

“If that was an innocent conversation between Mr Ventura and Mr Makris then (with the register) we would have known,” she said.

In March, north ward councillor Phil Martin claimed under parliamentary privilege that a developer had contacted Adelaide City Councillors about the troubled Hutt Street Centre, which came under fire last year for allegedly provoking anti-social behaviour along the street.

“I believe that person was the architect of what became a war on the Hutt St Centre,” Martin said in March.

“Photographs and videos – most of which, I believe, can be traced back to the developer – and emails and SMS messages were sent at times daily and even twice daily to community members, to the media and to elected members.

“This developer arranged and then cancelled a meeting with me, and then sent me a series of SMS messages over a couple of weeks in February and March last year—copies of which I have kept—emphasising his claims of criminal behaviour on Hutt Street and asking me to comment on outrageous claims.”

Moran told InDaily this morning that she would move a motion later this month calling on the council to support a voluntary register of councillor contact with developers.

“I do think this is important and I’m happy to put it forward because it does serve to protect us if something does happen,” she said.

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