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Reveal city council "oysters and champagne" bill: councillor


An Adelaide City councillor has called on the council to reveal what it spends on dinners and civic receptions, claiming the bill for “oysters and champagne” could be costing ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

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InDaily reported last month that the council spends an average $750 every week on dinner for elected members and senior staff – not including wine – totalling in excess of $30,000 during last year’s sitting term.

Calls to cut the multiple-course dinners, held after every council and committee meeting, have been circling around Town Hall for some time in line with growing pressure on the council’s administration to rein in spending.

The proposal will gather steam on Tuesday night, with north ward councillor Phil Martin telling InDaily he will move that the council “report, by October, the separate and total cost under the terms of the contract between the City of Adelaide and (catering company) Epicure of catering for post council and committee meetings”.

Martin’s motion also asks the council’s administration to report on the cost of hosting civic receptions and other events where food and beverages are served, and to highlight whether “cheaper alternative options” are possible.

“The cost of catering at Town Hall is one of the last great mysteries of life that needs to be better understood and managed,” Martin said.

“If a reception is necessary, what’s wrong with a cup of tea or coffee and a good quality cream biscuit?”

Martin said he was undecided as to whether he supported axing dinners or civic receptions entirely, preferring information to be made public before the council reached a decision.

“My guess is spending on catering for guests and visitors at Town Hall runs into the hundreds of thousands every year,” he said.

“It’s appropriate for council to ask is it an appropriate expenditure of ratepayer money for us to be spending money on oysters and champagne for guests and equally is it appropriate for council to be spending money on a curried chicken for councillors after a council meeting?”

Martin proposed the council could cut back on spending by serving councillors smaller meals – such as pizza or sandwiches – before meetings instead of the multiple-course meal held after the meeting.

Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad also holds that view, saying: “I’m all for having dinner at a reasonable hour that works better for the organisation”.

“We could get something small like sandwiches which could be obtained through micro-tender with a business in the city, so supporting the local economy,” he said.

“I don’t want to sit down and wine and dine on the pocket of ratepayers and that’s what’s been happening for a very long time and it’s time for a shake-up.”

But central ward councillor Jessy Khera said the dinners in their current form provided efficiencies to the council.

“There is a lot of communication that takes between councillors and the administration during these dinners,” he said.

“The dinners take place immediately after meetings so we have discussions that happen that are relevant.”

Khera also warned it could be a “big mistake” to cut civic receptions, which he described as “important functions that are held by the council”, but he welcomed the release of costings.

He is supported by area councillor Anne Moran, who said she wanted the council to keep dinners and civic receptions, but to “slash the costs and make them frugal”.

South ward councillor Alexander Hyde claimed the dinners were “by no means extravagant”, but said he would wait until the costings were revealed before deciding whether he supported axing them.

Other recent cuts to council spending have come from changes to the bureaucracy, with CEO Mark Goldstone reducing the number of director positions from four to three.

The council is also saving $30,000 each year by making the Deputy Lord Mayor default chair of its committee, with councillors previously paid an additional wage for the role.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said she was “always mindful of expenditure and how best we can use our resources for better community outcomes”.

“Like councillor Martin I look forward to receiving the information to inform our decision making,” she said.

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