On the Gold Coast City Council, name calling is entering a dangerous new phase.
There is now the very real possibility that two warring Gold Coast City councillors’ might end up in court on opposite sides of the fence in what could also amount to something of a test case for Local Government.
Crikey has been told there is a looming legal dog fight on the way between Cr David Power, a leader of the so-called ‘bloc’ (pro-development) faction on the GCCC and Cr Peter Young, a vocal critic of both Cr Power and the much publicised ‘bloc’ that has aroused the ire of local ratepayer or citizen groups, but particularly the Gold Coast Bulletin.
In fact Cr Young in his other major running battle with the Mayor Ron Clarke, has been a dedicated Crikey letter writer as he has on several occasions lambasted Cr. Clarke, along with Cr. Power, while also alleging both within council and via various public forums including Crikey, that the council is making highly questionable decisions that benefit special interests who have also contributed to the personal campaign funds of the likes of Cr Power.
Yet under the Local Government Act, Crikey has already been assured by the Mayor and his chief executive that no council business has been conducted in breach of any guidelines as to the voting records of any councillor with regard to their possible receipt of any campaign contributions from any party, including coast property developers.
But such has been the volatile mix of local politics and personal attacks being waged in and out of council, that it seemed almost inevitable that within this highly charged atmosphere, someone at some point was going to take more drastic action in returning the latest fire.
In yesterday’s Crikey we reported that as a result of a great deal of negative comments and personal attacks being made very publicly, the possibility of a disgruntled property developer possibly ramping up to sue a Gold Coast City councillor was now being mooted.
Part of the report said:
“Crikey has been contacted in recent days by one Gold Coast subscriber asking if I might know whether one councillor was about to be sued by a property developer unhappy about linkage implying a 2004 election campaign donation was tied to a subsequent council resolution that might have allegedly benefited the developer.”
So given Crikey has been busily hosting and reporting some classic Gold Coast City Council in-fighting in recent months, there is no question that there’s been a lot of mud flying around the council chambers at Bundall Road.
Principally to do with the running sore of multiple council resolutions being seen in some quarters as tainted or even implied as potentially corrupt. These serious allegations have dogged the GCCC for months and at times been tenuously linked to donations made to the 2004 election campaign of some councillors including Cr. Power.
The net affect of continuing agitation by some council members that sees them in fierce opposition to what they and the Gold CoastBulletin refers to as a pro-development ‘bloc’, has been the cause of major reverberations within the council and the subsequent reporting by media of the way the council conducts its business. It has also enveloped the Bulletin in some deep rooted animosity between various parties, and the forging of some unlikely alliances each arguing their self-interest.
Now overnight following our latest report that was primarily concerned with a move by Mayor Clarke to introduce a resolution that could help fund the launching of legal action by council employees against potential defamation in the execution of their council duties, we received the following “tip”.
“Actually Cr David Power (Div 2) is suing Cr Peter Young (Div 5) on four separate matters revolving around Cr Young’s assertion that Cr Power has been voting according to influence from developer contributions to his re-election campaign. This being quite difficult to prove makes Cr Power confident of success.
This is all happening within the next two weeks when it is expected that the Gold Coast Bulletin will be taking the side of Cr Peter Young against Cr David Power. Power may well win the court case but public opinion will be swayed over to Cr Young. The developer involved is still considering his options and at this time is not going forward however he is madder than hell and is willing to shell out a few dollars just for the sport of it.”
One councillor suing another and a developer also weighing up his sporting options clearly is escalating the war of a council at loggerheads with itself, but such an event would also bring added urgency to consideration of Local Government mechanisms by which legitimate campaign contributions can and are made by individuals or companies.
It may be that if there was a court case where Cr Power is seeking to not only clear his name of any allegations made or implied against him, but also wave a very big legal stick in front of those who continue to assault the integrity of his council, what chance the root problem of campaign donations as currently perceived in Local Government legislation being reformed to provide greater transparency for all concerned?
Given as one source remarked to Crikey today that any change to the Local Government Act would almost certainly require a similar change to the same law governing Queensland MP’s – not bleeding likely?
But in so far as we can tell, the mail from the Crikey snitch regarding Cr Power taking legal action against Cr Young is happening, and the 64 dollar question then is whether it will actually make its way to court which would then see the Local Government Act on campaign contributions come under closer scrutiny.
For his part Mayor Clarke is firmly opposed to the idea of one councillor suing another. He also makes it very clear that his proposal to protect council employees from defamation doesn’t include his own council colleagues who are ordinarily covered by insurance on such matters. While the Mayor confirms he has heard rumours of possible legal action being undertaken by a colleague, he believed it was his private business.
“It is not an example of what I am looking for Council to support in my proposed resolution – this help is restricted to Council officers,” he told Crikey.
Upon further inquiries Crikey has learnt that while ordinarily a councillor in pursuit of his council duties would be generally covered by the city’s defamation insurance in defence of his actions, if Cr Power is taking action it would only be as a private individual.
Further Cr Young in return would be likely to find it very difficult to call on the council insurer to meet his legal costs, as it would be likely to be strenuously argued that the views he has expressed which might be confronted by Cr Power’s litigation, were those expressed privately and were neither on behalf of the council or with their approval. A point he himself is very quick to distinguish when Mayor Clarke makes his own comments on council matters in his weekly Bulletin column.
As for our informant’s mail speculating as to the possible reaction of the Gold Coast Bulletin should this matter proceed, is our well informed snitch also implying advance knowledge of this pending action by the Bulletin, and if so why hasn’t the paper already reported on it given its enormous local news value? Or did I miss that one too!