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Lord Mayor blames media for city council "dysfunction"


Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor says journalists have used “inflammatory” headlines and have ignored unanimous council decisions to create an impression that the Adelaide City Council is dysfunctional.

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Speaking on ABC Radio Adelaide on Wednesday night, Verschoor accused the media of inaccurately reporting on an alleged corridor confrontation between rival councillors Mary Couros and Anne Moran in May.

At the time, InDaily reported Moran and fellow councillor Phil Martin accusing Couros of physically intimidating and insulting Moran during a break in a council meeting.

The story quoted Couros denying that she stood very close to Moran, or was on the verge of physical contact, but she said fellow councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh eventually “pulled” her away from the confrontation.

The Advertiser and ABC News also reported on the incident.

When asked to comment on councillors being “physically restrained from attacking other councillors” on ABC Radio Adelaide on Wednesday night, Verschoor laughed.

“That’s not funny Lord Mayor,” presenter Peter Goers said.

Verschoor responded: “Well it is if you say it that way because, no, nobody was being physically restrained from attacking anyone.

“That was how it was reported.”

Later in the interview, Goers asked if Verschoor was denying the accuracy of media reports that claimed the city council was dysfunctional.

“I’m just saying that, you know, there are headlines to be had and sometimes it’s interpreted in an inflammatory way,” she said.

“So it’s the media’s fault?,” Goers questioned.

“Sometimes. Sometimes it’s the way it’s reported,” Verschoor replied.

The alleged confrontation between Moran and Couros came after months of infighting between councillors over the emergence of the Team Adelaide majority faction, of which Couros is a member.

Verschoor, who endorsed all councillors aligned with Team Adelaide prior to the November local government elections, previously described InDaily’s reporting on the group as a “beat-up”.

She has consistently denied the existence of the faction, despite councillors aligned with the group speaking publicly about it.

“I am not a member of Team Adelaide. I am the Lord Mayor, Peter, and my job is to work with all of my councillors fairly and be the presiding member of that chamber, and that’s what I do,” Verschoor said on Wednesday night.

When asked why her Lord Mayoral candidacy was supported by councillors aligned with Team Adelaide, Verschoor said the group “worked with me”.

“Well, they supported me, but that’s sort of a weird thing. It’s like, you know, that was a (former Lord Mayor) Martin (Haese) thing and I wasn’t sure if I was going to run or not, but, you know, I met with a lot of them… just as some of the members supported other people that were running. It was the same thing,” she said.

“I think there’s a group of them that are aligned in the way they think and if we call them Team Adelaide what do we call the other team? Team (Phil) Martin?”

Goers said he didn’t think the minority faction had a name.

“I think it does – it’s either Team Martin or Team Moran. I’m not quite sure, but, you know, it’s the same,” Verschoor said.

Verschoor chastised the media for not reporting on unanimous decisions in the council chamber.

“What they do is, the media is always in the room and that’s perfectly fine but the reporting is about when we don’t get along, but they don’t talk about the meetings when we go for four, five hours and we do (get along),” she said.

“This council is highly functional and we’ve done more in the first six months of this year than I think we did at the last entire year of council and it has been extraordinary.”

Verschoor also expressed disappointment that the media did not report on “fantastic reform” made in the council’s recent update to its standing orders.

Coverage on the issue was dominated by what was coined the “gag order” – a clause that barred elected members from speaking to the media about motions before the publication of meeting agendas.

Following prolonged community criticism and backlash from councillors on the minority faction, the council voted to revoke the clause.

InDaily also reported on standing order changes to the role of the Deputy Lord Mayor – a position currently held by Team Adelaide leader Houssam Abiad – granting him default chair of the council’s committee.

“I have to say Peter, there were 292 sections in the standing orders and there was some fantastic reform in there and the only thing that got picked up was the two things that, you know, we collectively didn’t agree on,” Verschoor said on Wednesday night.

“I actually did talk to some of the members and I said ‘Look… it’s (the gag order) too much of a distraction for what it’s worth let’s close it down’.”

But Verschoor admitted she still thought the media restriction would be a good idea.

“I still think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also I wanted that gone so we could get on with the business of council,” she said.

Councillor Phil Martin told InDaily this morning “it’s always a sign of a politician in trouble when they start bagging journalists and the media”.

“If the media is saying the council is dysfunctional it’s because they had the opportunity to watch it every week and subsequently report on it,” he said.

“In my view there has been no personal, negative publicity about Sandy and her Team Adelaide members.”

Martin also denied the existence of a “Team Martin”.

“This so-called faction would have to meet before council meetings and I don’t have meetings with anyone,” he said.

“Can you imagine having meetings with (non-Team Adelaide members) Rob Simms and Anne Moran and telling them how to vote?

“Good luck with that.”

Goers’ interview with Verschoor preceded an email exchange between Abiad and Moran yesterday morning, in which Moran flagged she would nominate herself to become the next Deputy Lord Mayor.

In the exchange – seen by InDaily – Abiad accused Moran of being “historically” wrong, with Moran retorting that the Deputy Lord Mayor was “very condescending”.

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