Right of reply on questions of council finances

In our canvassing of candidates for the upcoming local government election in the Bega Valley, Tony Allen made reference to poor financial outcomes he claimed were due to previous councillors and mayors.

We had requested candidates be positive in their responses to our questions, but allowed them to share with readers what they felt was most pertinent.

We have since received a right of reply from Michael Britten, one of those former mayors referred to and a fellow candidate in this election.

In the interests of balance, Australian Community Media is also publishing this response so the community and voters can make up their own mind:

"Firstly in relation to borrowings by that council, they were mainly for the Bega Civic Centre and Littleton Gardens and I believe both Councillor Allen and Councillor Fitzpatrick moved the motion to borrow and the vote was unanimous.

"In relation to the airport - the borrowings were funded by a Special Rate Variation approved while Allen was Mayor.

"He is correct there was a rescission motion by me and others to halt that expenditure and here is why;-

"The council was proceeding with haste to rebuild and strengthen the runway as the Mayor and GM believed the sole flight path operation by Rex was up for review and the council would be able to obtain approval for more than one operator.

"In July/ August the council voted to spend $6.5m to carry out the works.

"As the council term was ending, I discovered that we had been misled, as Rex had been granted a further 5-year exclusive licence and we in fact had received a tender from one of Australia's premier airport contractors to reseal the runway for $1.5million; with a guarantee for maintenance for 8 years. They gave a reason for their quote 'As council is yet to work out its future airport plan it would be prudent to reseal until a future direction was ascertained'.

"I interviewed the director, who explained he had submitted two tenders, one of which met the specifications, and one didn't. And he confirmed that after council had refused all tenders and were to negotiate with a Canberra tenderer, while his second tender didn't conform to the specifications, he had asked to meet with council staff and had been refused.

"I met with Allen and raised these issues as a matter of urgency.

"I then lodged a complaint at council and organised a rescission motion.

"After the council election the motion was successful.

"The GM arranged legal advice to council, whereby I was advised that having taken part in a meeting with a tenderer I could no longer vote.

"The legal advice also said that where council abandons all tenders and wishes to deal with one unsuccessful tenderer it must table all non-conforming tenders

"The $1.5m tender was never disclosed and I was effectively gagged and the council proceeded to spend $6.5m.

"I therefore thank Councillor Allen for affording me this opportunity to clarify, what to me was clearly a commitment to spend ratepayers money without disclosing the options available.

"I might add that during the term of council that both Bill Taylor and I chaired as Mayor, this council was found to be '"fit for the future" which it, unfortunately, is not today.

"I have kept all written documentation to verify this information should it be necessary at any point in time."

- Michael Britten

This story Right of reply on questions of council finances first appeared on Bega District News.