IT was tipped to be a mammoth session with a 900-page agenda, but Tuesday night’s Port Stephens Council meeting lasted a mere five minutes before councillors Geoff Dingle and Peter Kafer angrily stormed out – depriving the mayor of a quorum.
Cr Dingle, who announced earlier on Tuesday he would run for mayor in the September election, began by moving a notice of motion to deal only with essential business, delaying all other matters on the extensive agenda to the new council.
“The council papers are the largest I have seen in 13-and-a-half years on this council,” Cr Dingle said. “It contains many items that have financial, precedence and policy implications. It is entirely unfair that a new council will be charged with dealing with the consequences of these decisions.”
Cr Kafer said it was a “bloody joke” that councillors would be expected to wade through the items on the agenda, threatening to walk out of the meeting if Cr Dingle’s notice was not passed. He also took aim at mayor Bruce MacKenzie for remarks he made earlier on Tuesday.
“I heard you on ABC radio saying you read the papers in two hours,” Cr Kafer said. “Do you get a picture book to read? Because there is no way you could get through business papers this size in two hours.”
Cr Dingle’s motion was defeated five votes to two. Cr Kafer followed through with his threat and walked out at 5.35pm. Cr Dingle followed. With three councillors absent from the meeting, meant to be the last before September’s election, there was not enough for a quorum.
“Dingle and Kafer are grandstanding,” Cr MacKenzie said. “Dingle announced he’s running for mayor and he’s putting on a show. We’re here to run a council. This doesn’t concern me. We’ll just have a meeting next week. I can guarantee we’ll have a quorum.”
Referring to Cr Kafer’s comments about the time frame he takes to read the business papers, Cr MacKenzie said he had enough experience to understand the matters and could talk with “a fair amount of authority and knowledge on every item”.
Councillors Steve Tucker, Ken Jordan and Chris Doohan were absent from the meeting.
The 946-page agenda, on the last meeting before the council enters caretaker mode ahead of the September 9 election, has prompted calls for candidates to commit to restructuring future meetings.
The monster agenda, containing more than 30 items, frustrated the Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association (TRRA), which labelled it “ridiculous”.
The group was largely concerned that councillors could not adequately research and make binding decisions in such an acute time frame between the briefing of matters during committee meetings and voting during the ordinary meeting.
“[It’s] a very big agenda released on the Friday before Tuesday’s final meeting, many controversial items with far-reaching consequences set to be railroaded through with minimal community input, which if considered properly by councillors would have required long hours of research over the weekend,” the TRRA’s Dick Appleby said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Cr Dingle, one of Cr MacKenzie’s most determined critics, announced he would stand for election as mayor.
“After more than 13 years as a councillor I have chosen to run solely for the position of mayor,” he said in a statement shortly before Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s time for me to oversee the investiture of new faces that can breathe new life and deliver fresh ideas into the council.
“As mayor I will work tirelessly to restore trust and respect so Port Stephens Council can endure as a viable and independent council that is open and accountable, and not threatened with amalgamation or even the total demise we have seen occur with other non-transparent councils.”
He prioritised treating councillors and community with respect, supporting “responsible, sustainable development” and protecting the environment. “I want to end the current lack of transparency and encourage ratepayers and residents to contribute their ideas and opinions on infrastructure and services, and future-proof Port Stephens Council as an enduring and independent council led by open and responsible leadership.”
Cr Dingle will oppose Labor mayoral candidate Des Maslen. Cr MacKenzie is yet to announce if he is standing for re-election.