Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Council breaks rules playing favourites with funding

City of Sydney staff appear to have been abusing council funding resolutions -- disadvantaging the arts community in favour of the big business and development lobby -- to the point where it has become an issue of probity.

Last night Lord Mayor Clover Moore tried to shut me down as I summarised the following statement at council's City East Community Forum. Even the microphone was shut off about three paragraphs from the end. Fortunately my voice carries well.

[Michael Gormly speaking as acting president of 2011 residents association inc:]

"I applaud much of the language of the Local Area Plan and its apparent embracing of diversity and ‘growing the unique character of each area’.

Unfortunately Bob Brozman’s line: ‘if you want to know what’s going on, just follow the money,’ paints a very different story when it comes to Kings Cross.

Councillor Hoff did a lot of good work with community representativess writing the Business Support Program. Unfortunately, staff seem to have abused its intent and in fact broken the rules in allocating $70,000 to the Kings Cross Partnership for the coming year. I’ll give you a couple of specifics in a minute.

At the same time they de-funded the highly successful Kings Cross Arts Festival run for the past six years by the Kings Cross Arts Guild which I have observed to be a genuine community organisation run by hard-working volunteers and showcasing local culture and the roots of our heritage -- the very thing a true diversity policy should be encouraging. (While some individual events were later funded after a lot of extra lobbying, this is peanuts in the scheme of things).

This is not just sour grapes. It’s the culmination of a long list of bureaucratic roadblocks and unfair treatment handed out to this organisation over the past two festivals. I won’t bore you with the list here.

And it’s not just the spirit of the law that was broken, it was the letter of the law. On 14 November 2003 the previous Council resolved to fund AN arts festival to the tune of $30,000 pa. However when some of the inevitable local politics occurred and a small group splintered from the Guild and put in a rival bid for funding, council staff disobeyed this resolution and decided to fund TWO Kings Cross arts festivals per year for half the money each.

They had the dilemma of Solomon so they decided to break the baby in half. In a depressed local economic environment where it is difficult to get private sponsporship -- not one dollar came from the wealthy Kings Cross Partnership (KXP) for instance -- $15,000 is hardly enough even for effective publicity. It was a successful divide and conquer ploy.

The point is, council broke its own specific ruling and their behaviour needs to be brought to account.

But it gets worse. This year the grants under the Business Support Program (BSP) broke more than one rule. While all other business groups got less than they had asked for, the KXP got $70,000. The limit in the council resolution of 1 August 2005 is $50,000. That’s a $20,000 transgression of the regulations in my book.

Further, the BSP requires that the business group applying MUST show that it has consulted with the community and community groups. As the longest running residents association in the Cross, and despite having attempted several times to work with the KXP, they said nothing to us.

Further, the BSP stipulates that the business group demonstrate it represents both large and small businesses like a true chamber of commerce. Small businesses in the Cross were specifically not even invited to the three-day symposium KXP held over the weekend. The KXP does NOT represent small business in the Cross. Another stipulation broken.

Further, Council's resolution of 1st August 2005 stipulated that the CEO should design a parallel Community Support Program mirroring the BSP and with a similar budget. A year later that is not even being alluded to. That’s another serious failing, and evidence of serious favouritism, and misuse of council funds. All these matters fell to the Cultural and Community section of council under the watch of our new CEO, Monica Barone, and were voted on by Council -- with Clover Moore’s team blocking amendments about the Arts Guild Funding.

Unfortunately in the Cross it’s all gentrification and big business, and the community can go to hell. This is not democracy. Nor does it foster ‘diversity’, nor is it in keeping with the ‘City of Villages’ slogan, and it belies the emphasis on local arts given lip-service in the Local Area Plan for City East.

Unless council has an immediate and genuine rethink of its attitude, we feel we should take these serious matters further and lodge formal complaints with the relevant authorities."


Anonymous said...

Just wondering, belatedly perhaps, if the entire speech made it into the minutes for the meeting? Has there been any reaction at all, any answers?
Keep the tirade up, keep the bastards honest!

The Editor said...

No, not a word from council despite Clover's promise to take the accusations on notice and respond. But she was 'sure' that proper accountability had been practised.

I'm just getting a bit of legal advice before proceeding.