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Call for Ombudsman inquiry into city council "faction"

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An Adelaide City Councillor has called on the Ombudsman to immediately investigate whether there is bloc voting at Town Hall, as tensions once again flare in the chamber over factional ties.

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North ward councillor Phil Martin told InDaily this morning he had “serious suspicions” that there was a majority faction at Town Hall.

It comes after Martin alleged at a council committee meeting last night that councillors aligned with the faction were holding “prior discussions” in “backrooms” and decisions had “already been made in the minds of people sitting opposite”.

Councillors aligned with Team Adelaide have consistently denied they hold meetings in private to discuss council matters, or determine votes prior to council meetings.

When asked to substantiate his claim with proof, the north ward councillor responded by claiming it was “an allegation”.

He told InDaily this morning SA Ombudsman Wayne Lines should conduct an immediate investigation of any “bloc voting patterns of this controlling faction” to ensure the council’s decision-making was conducted in a proper manner.

“I accept the Deputy Lord Mayor is anxious about continuing criticism of Team Adelaide, but the very foundation of that criticism is my personal suspicion there’s factional bloc voting going on,” he said.

Martin said the Ombudsman would be ideally suited to investigating the matter as his office can “require people to answer questions” and review details of electronic communication between elected members.

“I think we can clear this up once and for all with an investigation,” he said.

“If the Ombudsman is reading this, I appeal to you to task your office to investigate.

“I am prepared to provide any and all information that could help to dispel or to confirm these very serious suspicions.”

The Ombudsman can decide to launch an investigation if it deems a complaint referencing a specific breach of the Local Government Act to be of “serious concern” and in the public’s interest.

According to the Ombudsman’s website, an investigation is only deemed worthy if its outcome is likely to “benefit the public rather than simply an individual’s interest” and lead to “meaningful outcomes”.

Martin’s call follows the release of statistics from the Ombudsman earlier this year showing almost half of local government code of conduct complaints are prompted by councillor disputes.

Lines earlier this year also criticised his office’s lack of resources to deal with what he described as an increasing number of “frivolous” local government complaints.

Martin said the council’s administration could also conduct an inquiry.

InDaily asked the council’s administration to confirm if it had the power to launch an inquiry, but it did not provide a response.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said if Martin thought there had been a breach of the Local Government Act, “there is a clear process to follow”.

In a statement, Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad accused Martin of being part of a separate faction.

“Councillor Martin and his faction needs to get over the fact they couldn’t get their mates elected at the last election and accept the outcome of the democratic process,” he said.

“Adelaide isn’t a place for dictatorships.

“He needs to respect the will of the ratepayers of the City of Adelaide that decided to elect a new face for our wonderful city.”

Abiad said Team Adelaide had achieved “incredible outcomes in just one year” including abolishing “lavish dinners for councillors at Town Hall”, removing outdoor dining fees, freezing the rate in the dollar and initiating a Hindley Street master plan.

Fellow Team Adelaide affiliate Alexander Hyde also accused Martin of being part of a faction with councillors Anne Moran, Robert Simms and Helen Donovan.

“My faction probably votes less together than Phil Martin’s does,” he said, later clarifying that the faction he was referring to “is the faction InDaily coins as Team Adelaide”.

Hyde described Martin’s call for an Ombudsman investigation as a “bullshit move to attract media attention”.

“It will be a waste of money and it will divert resources from the Ombudsman whose real job is to look at misconduct and corruption,” he said.

But Martin said there was no faction at the council other than Team Adelaide.

“Can anyone seriously believe that Phil Martin has the capacity to tell Anne Moran to do anything?” he said.

“Does anyone seriously believe that Anne Moran would accept direction from me?”

Moran said it was “irrelevant” for members of Team Adelaide to classify her and Martin as being part of a faction as they did not form the majority on council.

 

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