Legal advice sparks fresh WRC dispute

Les Pearson reports:

WAKEFIELD Regional Council (WRC) claims legal advice received has cleared it of any wrongdoing after a motion was disputed by several community members.
However, WRC was not out of hot water at last Wednesday’s meeting,  with some councillors questioning why ratepayer-funded legal advice was sought in the first place.
The motion, passed on July 28 regarding the controversial Port Wakefield Community Wastewater Management Scheme (CWMS), was immediately attacked by new councillor John Kipling in his first speech.
“The motion was ‘Wallbridge and Gilbert (W&G) consult with every land owner accompanied with a licensed plumber to discuss practical connection points, as per the LGA guideline, and clarify any outstanding issues’,” Cr Kipling said.
“I don’t believe this has ever been carried out and I’m wondering why, if the motion was passed, it wasn’t done.”
Outgoing environmental services manager, Elca McCarthy, responded swiftly.
“The legal opinion is … the actions taken by council…in relation to the Port Wakefield CWMS are consistent in the spirit and intent of that resolution,” she said.
This sparked an ongoing and at times heated discussion between Cr Kipling and Ms McCarthy, who continued to repeat the legal statement.
“So you’re saying it (the motion) wasn’t carried out?” Cr Kipling said.
“No, I’m saying it was carried out,” Ms McCarthy again stated.
“The way we (WRC) dealt with it was within the intent of the motion, that’s what the legal opinion is.”
Mr Kipling kept probing.
“I’m just asking you, was there a licensed plumber, that went around with a (W&G) representative (to every land owner).”
“No, that’s not what you asked,” Ms McCarthy responded. “You stated you believed it was not acted upon as per the intent of the resolution.”
She then repeated the legal advice once more.
Fellow new Western ward councillor Darryl Pain joined Cr Kipling’s line of questioning.
“We’re saying, that was the motion, they bring a licensed plumber and consult the landowner?” he asked.
The question was lost amidst shouting from the small but vocal gallery.
Once the room was called to order by mayor James Maitland, the question was forgotten and went unanswered.
The legal advice issue was reintroduced by Cr Greg Stevens.
“I just wonder why council needed to seek legal advice,” he posed.
“Personally I don’t think it’s (the motion) been complied with.”
WRC CEO, Phil Barry, defended the decision.
“…Which is why legal advice can tell you it has been (complied with),” he said.
“Certainly, if there are issues, we seek legal advice.
“It was a hot issue that had been disputed. We received a letter from Mr Richard Pain last night that indicated a big issue over that, so we thought ‘let’s get legal advice’ to confirm, one way or the other, whether that resolution was adhered to or not.”
Mr Barry continued:
“What I suggest is; let the council members get the legal advice and then if you wish to raise it at the next council meeting, that’s the process to go through,” he said.
“Once you’ve read that, and dispute that, then by all means, bring it up at the next meeting.”
Cr Pain believed WRC staff should be referring to elected members to decide if passed motions have been upheld.
“Does the office staff decide to seek legal advice on something that council members have voted on in a motion?” he asked.
“Shouldn’t you (council staff) have come back and said ‘this is what we have done, do you believe as councillors that we have carried out your motion?”
Mr Barry said once a motion was passed, the responsibility of carrying it out fell on council staff.
“Implementing that resolution is an administration matter,” he said.
“That’s why there is a dispute and that’s why it is appropriate (we sought legal advice).
“It is not unusual legal advice was sought – to clarify one way or the other.”