THE best drama last night wasn’t on television — it was at Warrnambool City Council where a normally sedate meeting again descended into a farce with three councillors walking out, leaving the proceedings without a quorum.
Members of the public gallery began yelling and the much anticipated debate on whether $4000 of council money should go towards the travel expenses of mayor Michael Neoh and chief executive Bruce Anson for a trip to Japan for next week’s 20th anniversary sister city celebrations with Miura didn’t eventuate.
Then, when the meeting closed, a Vietnam War veteran in the public gallery walked up to the mayor and called the trio’s stunt childish and an insult to soldiers like him who had fought for democracy.
Stand-in chairwoman Jacinta Ermacora did not get past first base with her notice of motion to rescind the controversial September 9 decision, which stopped the budgeted $4000 payment.
Instead, Cr Neoh and Mr Anson will make their own financial arrangement for the Japan trip.
Last night’s drama unfolded quickly when Cr Neoh stepped out of the room after declaring an interest and Cr Rob Askew nominated Cr Ermacora to temporarily chair the debate.
No sooner had she sat down when Cr Peter Sycopoulis announced he had a statement to read, but Cr Ermacora responded she was authorised to handle only the notice of motion issue.
“Do you have a question on the issue?” she asked.
Cr Sycopoulis replied: “I’ve got a statement that could take me out of the room.”
To which Mr Anson advised “you either have a conflict of interest or not, but you can’t discuss in public what the conflict is”.
But Cr Sycopoulis said section 90 of the Local Government Act and clauses in the Department of Planning and Community Development good governance guidelines gave him the right to vacate the council chamber.
Mr Anson again reminded him “if you have a conflict in the matter you can’t stay while the matter is discussed”.
Cr Sycopoulis retorted “the act says it needs to be read out”.
Cr Ermacora again reminded him “that’s not appropriate” and Cr Kylie Gaston chipped in “it’s either a conflict or it’s not”.
Cr Sycopoulis declared he was going to read the statement regardless, to which Cr Ermacora responded, “that’s not legal”.
On the other side of the room Cr Brian Kelson stood up and announced there was dissent in the chamber and he was removing himself from it.
Cr Peter Hulin also declared dissent and followed Cr Kelson in leaving the room, followed a few seconds later by Cr Sycopoulis after he had distributed copies of his statement to other councillors and the press.
It left Cr Ermacora powerless to continue, forcing her to announce “we don’t have a quorum to continue”, while Mr Anson declared: “We can’t proceed with this issue, this motion lapses.”
Cr Ermacora left the chamber to retrieve Cr Neoh, who was waiting in an adjacent room, and the meeting resumed with four councillors who continued with public question time and general business items.
Vietnam War veteran Gavan Nevill had the last words on the proceedings, which will go down in local history as one of the most unusual endings ever to a city council meeting.
“They carried on like little kids and walked out,” he told Cr Neoh. “It’s a childish attitude.”
Cr Sycopoulis’ written statement said he was answerable to the citizens of Warrnambool and although he supported the sister-city relationship, was “steadfastly” opposed to “the ratepayer-funded ceremonial trip to Japan”.
“I reserve my right to vacate the chambers and take no further part in this agenda item.”