Place for space: Chairs were placed 1.5 meters apart in the public gallery for Tuesday’s council meeting. Photo: ALISTAIR FINLAY

COVID-19 council coup kyboshed

March 25, 2020 BY

SOCIAL distancing was in action at the Golden Plains Shire council meeting on Tuesday.

Held at the Cultural Centre in Bannockburn, the meeting was moved from Linton to take advantage of the larger space in the main hall due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Cr David Evans. Photo: FILE

Before the meeting even hit the main agenda, Cr David Evans sought to move a motion of no confidence in mayor Owen Sharkey.

Cr Sharkey denied the move under powers as chair of the meeting. Cr Evans then sought to move a motion of descent, demanding that Cr Sharkey vacate his role as chair of the meeting, but Cr Evans was again denied.

After the meeting Shire CEO Eric Braslis said that Cr Sharkey’s actions in denying Cr Evans’ attempts was lawful under the Local Government Act.

Originally only four councillors planned to attend the meeting, Crs Sharkey, Evans, Helena Kirby and Nathan Hansford.

The three latter councillors voted against Cr Sharkey at November’s mayoral election.

However, despite being ill, Crs Des Phalen and Les Rowe, the latter in personal protection equipment, attended the meeting to give at least a three/ three split on any move against the mayor meaning that even if Cr Evans was able to get his motion presented for decision, the status quo would have remained.

After the meeting Cr Evans defended his actions, confirming that he was seeking to unseat the mayor though reduced numbers of support.

“There was an element of that and that’s politics,” he said. “The fundamentals are I have a great deal of concern with how the mayor is running his job.”

However, Cr Sharkey was highly critical of Cr Evans’s attempted coup d’état.

“Under the circumstances with corona and COVID-19 it’s disappointing that Cr Evans tried to stall the whole meeting by playing politics,” he said. “This wasn’t the meeting for that.

“The cost to the ratepayers is something this I’ve raised before. These items come up and we have to go an seek legal advice. It adds to the burden of ratepayers, which is always disappointing. It’s fair to say that Cr Evans has racked up a fair bill in his time here.”

Piggery call put off

A decision on a planned expansion to a piggery located on the Midland Highway north of Lethbridge was deferred so councillors could get more information on elements of the application.

The expanded high-intensity farming operation is set to increase from 200 to 400 animals and include an artificial insemination laboratory, house and sheds.

Originally concerns were raised by 52 objectors about plan to take waste from the pigs and spread them on nearby fields, so the applicant subsequently withdrew that element of the application.

However, it seemed it still wasn’t clear where the waste product was to go, with one objector who spoke at the meeting, Cameron Steel, saying that the best he could work out it was to be removed from the site and taken to another location nearby.

When the original plans before the piggery came before VCAT in 2003 over 150 people objected to them.

Cr Evans said that ultimately there was a “contract” between those objectors 17 years ago and the current farmers and all 150 should be contacted for their opinion on the plans for expansion.

Old Shire office up for grabs

The future of the Bannockburn Shire office on High Street will go out for expression of interest.

With work nearly complete on the expanded Golden Plains Shire buildings in Pope Street, future council meetings will be held there, leaving the old Shire office surplus.

It is expected that the EOI will be close mid-May with a decision made shortly afterwards and new tenants possibly occupying the space by October.

“It’s a very important building in our town and once we as council no longer meet there, I’d hate to see this building to go rack and ruin,” said Cr Hansford in supporting the motion.

Cr Evans was less sympathetic to the historic buildings fate.

“Personally, I’d like to bulldoze these things, but we’re stuck with it,” he said.

Bridge not to be closed

A petition signed by 93 people calling on council not to close the wooden Golden Lake Road bridge at Piggoreet was formally discussed.

The move was slightly odd as council never had any plans to close the bridge in the first place.

What had occurred was back in August 2019 was council decided to not pursue a joint funding arrangement with the Federal government to replace the wooden bridge with a concrete one because the quotes received for the work were hundreds of thousands of dollars over what the municipality could afford.

At the time Cr Evans keenly supported the move not to go ahead with the bridge replacement, however on Tuesday he argued that consultation with the community should have been undertaken.

Cr Phelan savaged Cr Evans for his flipflopping.

“At the time when this motion was moved… Cr Evans said, ‘yep, it’s a really good thing, we cannot continue to maintain our assets under present circumstances,” Cr Phelan said.

“As far as what Cr Evans is saying about public consultation, that’s all good, but we’re elected to make decisions. If we’re going to let the public make every decision… we might as well give up the council and have a public meeting every month.”