THREE councillors have boycotted a crucial budget preparation meeting, sparking renewed fury in the fractious Warrnambool City Council chamber.
Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh said the no-show proved that councillors Brian Kelson, Peter Hulin and Peter Sycopoulis were failing to represent the people who elected them.
The mayor said their constant sniping about infrastructure projects and other matters was “groundless” and if they could not participate in a key budget process to map out plans for the city then they were “merely grandstanding’’.
Four councillors did not attend the April 13 meeting — councillors Kylie Gaston, Hulin, Kelson and Sycopoulis. Cr Gaston, who was absent on leave interstate, followed protocol and provided a follow-up submission.
Cr Neoh said: “You have to be at the table, either physically at the discussion and, if that is impossible, then through a written submission.
“If you do not do that, you are failing in your duties as a councillor.
“What we are dealing with is a $90 million budget, the most important aspect of a councillor’s year. Councillors are elected by the community, paid by the community and should take part in the process that most impacts the community.”
Six city councillors each receive $22,965 allowance each year to compensate them for council duties while the mayor gets $71,058.
The allowances are at the top end of local government classifications for a city of Warrnambool’s size.
The budget meeting was first flagged with all seven councillors as early as January, leading Cr Neoh to suggest that other commitments should have been cancelled. Cr Neoh said councillors who did not attend the budget briefing had an obligation to provide a submission detailing their views.
He added councillors Hulin, Kelson and Sycopoulis did not bother to make submissions either before or following the meeting. Cr Hulin, who confirmed he was at the Victorian Liberal Party’s state council on April 13, said he needed to attend the conference, given the Coalition was in power both at a state and federal level.
“Neoh has been derelict in his duty as mayor when he knew only three out of seven councillors would be present at the briefing,” Cr Hulin said.
“That’s a minority and Neoh had the opportunity to reschedule. There’s no point in attending if the Neoh’s ‘coalition of the willing’ won’t even bother to discuss the important issues.”
Cr Kelson said he had made a request to alter the date with a senior council officer following a clash with an undisclosed family event.
“The reason why I couldn’t attend was to do with my family,” Cr Kelson said.
“I’m not going to go into details but if forced I will. If I have to do that, there’ll be some very embarrassed faces at council, let me tell you.”
Cr Kelson said he believed the written submission process referred to by Cr Neoh started on April 19 and concluded on April 21.
Cr Sycopoulis was at work at electrical store The Good Guys on the day of the briefing, a point he raised at Tuesday night’s general council meeting.
“Unlike others, I have to work weekends and have a commitment to my employer,” he said.
“When it comes to submissions, Cr Neoh is wrong because I’ve made several submissions on the budget. I don’t know what (Cr Neoh’s) getting at.”
The issue of non-attendance was discussed at the meeting when Cr Jacinta Ermacora said Cr Sycopoulis should have raised his call to re-open the diving pool at the council-run AquaZone at the budget meeting and it was no good doing so later.