By Shane Scanlan
As we enter the final year of the current council’s term, the perception of councillor team harmony is beginning to disintegrate.
Stage-managed unity has been one of the hallmarks of both of the Robert Doyle-led councils but recent events threaten to undermine that.
The trouble came to a head early last month after comments by Cr Richard Foster led to a front page beat-up in the Herald Sun which gave readers the incorrect impression that the council was considering banning cars from the CBD.
Incensed by the long-time-missing “Clown Hall” public response, nine other councillors took the dramatic step of demanding contrition from Cr Foster via a formal motion passed at a confidential session of the Future Melbourne Committee on November 10.
Cr Foster and fellow ALP-aligned councillor Jackie Watts did not attend the November 10 meeting, a move which Team Doyle councillors felt led to an embarrassing loss of quorum which prevented the council debating the hot topic of the day about a major CBD development completed without two-levels of car parking.
Asked at the end of the public part of the meeting about the now regular loss of quorum due to the five Team Doyle councillors declaring election campaign donations from developers, Cr Arron Wood said: “The reason we lost quorum tonight is because there were two councillors who were here all day today – all day – and left at the last minute with no good reason for not being here. So perhaps ask that question of them.”
Cr Watts said she was attending her daughter’s doctorate graduation and Cr Foster said he was missing for personal reasons.
At the time of printing, it was unclear whether or not the disciplinary motion against Cr Foster was going to be raised in a confidential session of the full council on November 24.
He is accused of bringing the council into disrepute, of leaking sensitive information and of insulting the Lord Mayor.
It is understood that threats have been made to remove Cr Foster’s portfolio chairmanship unless he tows the line.
Cr Watts said she couldn’t see the problem with councillors having different views.
“There is always room for informed debate,” she said.
Veteran councillor Ken Ong agrees that there has been a deterioration in team harmony.
“There’s a bit of jostling going on,” Cr Ong said. “It’s going to get rougher from here on in.”
So far, only Cr Doyle has declared his candidacy for next December’s election.
Cr Ong said was thinking about running again, but it was too early to say in which team or for which position.
Cr Watts said it was “way too early” to be declaring candidacy. She said it would be interesting to see how the council’s administration monitored the advantage Cr Doyle enjoyed as the incumbent candidate.