ANYONE expecting a fiery debate at last night’s Warrnambool City Council meeting over the “Wilma-gate” affair would have been sorely disappointed.
The first item on last night’s agenda was the simple matter of noting that the council had received a letter from the local government inspectorate which cleared the council’s chief executive Bruce Anson of wrong-doing in the Wilma Wright letter scandal.
Three councillors — Peter Hulin, Peter Sycopoulis and Brian Kelson — came prepared. They were ready to use the simple matter of noting the letter as a launching point for a motion that would have asked the council to write to the inspectorate and ask how the investigation into Mr Anson took place.
They may have been ready, but so was mayor Michael Neoh.
As it would have been inappropriate for Mr Anson to read aloud the motion to note the letter, Cr Neoh did the job. The mayor didn’t look up as he read and as soon as he finished moved the motion to note the letter. Cr Jacinta Ermacora seconded it.
Cr Sycopoulis had his hand up, indicating he wanted to move his own motion. But by not raising his head as he read and moved the motion, Cr Neoh did not see Cr Sycopoulis’ gesture, thereby avoiding having to accept his motion and effectively stifling the potential for debate.
Everyone in the gallery saw Cr Sycopoulis had his hand up. They also observed the quick moves by Cr Neoh to get the matter dealt with.
Cr Rob Askew swiftly moved that the motion “be put” — meaning that it be voted on without further ado or debate.
And then it was done, with four votes for and three against ending a blatant game of municipal manoeuvring by both sides.
Councillors Hulin, Sycopoulis and Kelson had come ready to play and they were outmanoeuvred.
Councillors Hulin and Sycopoulis were outraged.
“We haven’t been given an opportunity to say anything on the matter,” Cr Hulin fumed.
“Cr Sycopoulis clearly had his hand up before the motion was raised.”
Cr Neoh said he hadn’t seen it.
Cr Sycopoulis said he had “no other option but to take the matter further”.
And then it was on to item two — the amount of money councillors and the mayor receive to be on council, which Cr Hulin used to have a dig at what had just taken place.
“I don’t think any of us should be paid an allowance after what I’ve just seen in council,” he said.
After the meeting, councillors Hulin and Sycopoulis said they were worried the investigation into Mr Anson was not thorough and vowed to take the matter up with the Baillieu government’s anti-corruption committee.
“The people of Warrnambool don’t know how the investigation was held. I hope for Mr Anson’s sake nothing comes out of it,” Cr Hulin said.
Cr Neoh said the proper course of action, seeing as the initial complaints against Mr Anson were made by individuals and not the council, was to take up the matter with the inspectorate.
“If an individual wants to challenge it, then it’s up to them to challenge it as individuals,” he said.