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Lord Mayor looks to can council developer register move

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A push for Adelaide City councillors to publicly disclose any contact they have with developers is set to be knocked back a third time, with Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor labelling the proposal as “disappointing” ahead of her potential casting vote.

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The vote, scheduled for Tuesday’s council meeting, comes after two failed attempts by councillors Robert Simms and Anne Moran earlier this year to introduce mandatory and voluntary developer contact registers for elected members.

On both occasions, councillors aligned with the Team Adelaide majority faction – including Houssam Abiad, Arman Abrahimzadeh, Franz Knoll, Alexander Hyde, Simon Hou and Mary Couros – defeated the motions.

With Couros flagging she will be absent from Tuesday’s meeting, it is likely the latest motion – lodged by Simms – will be evenly split between factional lines, granting Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor the final say.

Simms’ motion calls on councillors to regularly record when they meet with developers on an online public register, similar to a model currently used by the City of Vincent in Western Australia.

That register requires elected members to record developers’ names, the date and time of contact, and the nature of the issues discussed.

According to the council, 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 one elected member – currently Anne Moran – sits.

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

Verschoor told InDaily this morning that it was “disappointing” that Simms had lodged the motion, but she would not be drawn into confirming how she would use her casting vote.

“It’s disappointing when members continue to bring in motions which have already been considered by council,” she said.

“I’d much prefer new ideas coming into the chamber about how we can better provide services to our community, strengthen the city economy and create a dynamic city culture.

“I will wait to hear the debate to see if any new information of relevance is shared and make my decision accordingly.”

Verschoor said she thought a public register was not required as the development approval processes used by the council limited councillor influence.

“Other than (councillor) Moran no other councillor has a role in approvals of development in the city and therefore (there is) no need for a register,” she said.

“In addition to this, we have very clear and robust conflict of interest protocols.

“Further, commercial property owners are among our biggest ratepayers and therefore part of our role is to ensure that their interests are represented like any other ratepayer (or) stakeholder and to work with them to support further investment in the city.”

But Simms said he was hoping to leverage the potential split in the council chamber to pass what he described as a “sensible solution” to restoring the community’s faith in politics.

“At a time when faith in politics is really taking a battering, anything that we can do to build community trust and transparency, I think, we should look at,” he said.

“I think the numbers have changed (and) I think there’s a better chance of getting it through this time.”

Councillors who opposed Simms’ original motion in May argued that there were already systems in place – including the council’s register of interests and state legislation – that ensured transparency.

“As elected members we have an obligation to declare conflicts, to do the right thing,” said Abiad, who was then Acting Lord Mayor.

“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.”

Simms was also accused of “treating people with double standards” and promoting a “very wrong” message by councillor Hou.

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

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

Simms told InDaily this morning that while he was not suggesting any elected members had acted inappropriately, there “could sometimes be gaps” in the updating of the council’s register of interests.

He also levelled criticism at prominent Liberals on the city council – including councillors Abiad, Abrahimzadeh, Hyde and Knoll – for telling InDaily yesterday that they opposed the Marshall Government’s contentious land tax reforms.

“Given the campaign against land tax reform is being run by vested interests, in my opinion, to then have councillors saying, ‘Well, we’re not going to support more transparency and we’re not willing to disclose contact with developers’, I think, could be a bad look for the council,” Simms said.

“It certainly reveals some warped priorities.”

In March, 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 causing anti-social behaviour along the street.

“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,” Martin said.

If Simms’ motion passes, the council’s administration would be required to present a set of draft guidelines by December outlining how the disclosure register could operate.

If it is knocked back, Simms avowed to continue to push for what he described as “transparency measures”, and would not rule out lodging the developer register motion again in the near future.

“I’ll keep pushing it because I think there is public support for this,” he said.

“If it goes down on Tuesday, well, I’ll pick myself up and keep campaigning.”

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