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City councillor tensions boil over in corridor confrontation

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UPDATED: Town Hall tensions have erupted at last night’s Adelaide City Council meeting, with claims of physical intimidation and verbal abuse being hurled between councillors on opposing sides of the “Team Adelaide” faction.

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The meeting was described by councillors as “a horror show” and “a bit like The Exorcist” after a heated debate that led to the meeting being adjourned half-way through by Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor, due to what she described as “personal attacks” being repeatedly thrown across the chamber.

During the five-minute break, veteran councillor Anne Moran alleges she was involved in an “altercation” involving physical intimidation and verbal abuse with fellow councillor Mary Couros.

She told InDaily this morning the incident occurred while she was walking towards the members’ room at Town Hall with fellow councillor Phil Martin.

“Mary just ran down the passage just screaming at me (saying) ‘Why are you attacking me?’,” Moran said.

“She was just screaming in my face, saying ‘You’ve disrespected my relationship by calling my de-facto husband my boyfriend’.

“I said something like, ‘oh stop it Mary just calm down’ and then she really went for me.

“(Fellow councillor) Arman (Abrahimzadeh) grabbed her by the arms and said, ‘Stop it Mary, you’re better than this’ and hauled her off.”

“I got a bit of a fright I must say,” Moran said.

“She didn’t punch me or slap me or anything like that but her face was about an inch from my face and Arman was pinning her arms down.

“Fortunately Arman was there.”

Moran said the incident lasted about two to three minutes and was not witnessed by anyone on the council’s administration.

She said she felt the incident occurred due to simmering tensions in the council chamber over the so-called “Team Adelaide” majority faction – of which Couros is a member – and concerns whether members of the faction were voting en bloc this council term.

Moran has on several occasions criticised Couros during council meetings for being an “inexperienced councillor” and for not living in the ward she represents.

Moran said she believed last night’s incident was sparked by those criticisms.

“She was saying, ‘Why are you being so horrible to me, why are being so mean, why are you attacking me?’ and I said, ‘it’s nothing personal Mary but you know you’re killing us (members not on Team Adelaide) here,” Moran said.

“I don’t think I have had much of a go at her before… I’m not very nice to her and I don’t blame her for being a bit sniffy.”

Martin supported Moran’s version of events, telling InDaily this morning that the incident “escalated quickly”.

“The screaming became almost deafening and Anne responded in some way, although I honestly can’t remember what was said,” he said.

“I kept pleading with Mary to stop shouting and at some point Arman also began pleading with Mary to stop shouting and said to her, ‘Come on Mary you’re a better person than this.’

“That had no effect, so he leaned into this conflict and took her by the shoulders and physically removed her from the area and pulled her away towards the end of the corridor.”

Martin said he was “forever grateful” to Arman Abrahimzadeh for having intervened.

Couros didn’t deny that an incident took place, describing it as a “discussion between two elected members”.

But she denied that she stood very close to Moran, or was on the verge of physical contact.

“We were heading towards the members’ lounge and I said to her (Moran), ‘This needs to stop’ and she accused me of voting en bloc,” Couros said.

“I did yell, I did raise my voice and I said, ‘I’m entitled to my own opinion’ and she goes, ‘no you’re not’.

“I said, ‘Anne, we need to work collaboratively’ and then Arman just pulled me away and said, ‘It’s not worth it’.”

Couros said she was driven to speak to Anne over what she described as repeated name-calling and derogatory comments in the council chamber.

“We are in chamber, we should respect the chamber, it has to stop,” she said.

“As an elected member, besides the code of conduct, there is nothing else that you can be held accountable in regards to someone else’s actions when they’re being derogatory or rude or name calling.

“I don’t want to sound mean but I just think she (Moran) hasn’t evolved in her tact in chamber and I think there is a whole, young group of people that are saying, ‘No, that’s bullying’.”

Abrahimzadeh initially declined to comment on the incident, however he later refuted Moran’s claim that Couros ran down the corridor and was on the verge of a physical confrontation.

“When Anne said something about voting en bloc, I can’t remember what Mary’s response to that was but essentially I started walking towards Anne and Mary, and Phil was in close proximity,” he said.

“I don’t think Anne was doing or saying any of the stuff that’s in (this story).

“Essentially, what I did was I tried to talk to both Anne and Mary and try and calm the situation down.

“I said to Mary, ‘Don’t waste your time, you’re better than this’ and I ushered Mary away from Anne.

“I didn’t pull her away, there was no pulling (and) Mary was not a threat.

“If anything, I was trying to get Mary away from Anne because I felt that with Anne pointing her finger at her constantly… it would be better for Mary to be in a different place.”

Abrahimzadeh said he was in the vicinity of Moran and Couros throughout the duration of the alleged incident.

He said there was a need for councillors to be active bystanders and react when they witnessed certain types of behaviour.

“The majority of us are trying to get things done and get things through but there’s a minority on there (the council) that obviously have their own agendas and that is what creates this sort of behaviour, this perceived dysfunction,” he said.

“The minute you walk past an incident or an issue and you don’t do anything you’re standardising that sort of behaviour.”

Adelaide City Council CEO Mark Goldstone told InDaily he had not received a complaint following last night’s meeting.

InDaily contacted Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor for comment, but she did not respond before deadline.

Moran said she would seek to view security camera footage of last night’s incident and speak to Goldstone about the incident.

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