The Chronicle

Mayor’s group slammed

- JESSICA PAUL

SOUTHERN Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi’s new mentoring group has been slammed by his fellow representa­tives as a threat to the council’s integrity and democratic processes.

The conflict was sparked by a recommenda­tion to repeal or amend the terms of reference for the Southern Downs Innovation and Developmen­t Committee at this week’s ordinary council meeting.

A draft policy for the group of six unidentifi­ed members that would report to and be sponsored by Mr Pennisi was approved in May, stating the committee would assist or provide the mayor with advice on potential challenges, opportunit­ies, or “other threats” in the region.

Councillor Cynthia McDonald blasted the original plans at the time, fearing the confidenti­al meetings and membership would undermine transparen­cy and democratic processes.

The group once again stoked heated debate when a proposal to rebrand the committee the Southern Downs Mayoral Innovation and Developmen­t Mentoring Program and replace the original policy with a new charter was tabled at this week’s meeting.

Mr Pennisi stated the proposed changes came after the group met for the first time on July 30.

Concerns were immediatel­y raised by councillor­s Jo McNally, Sheryl Windle and Ms McDonald that Mr Pennisi would not declare a conflict of interest given his executive position and role as the only representa­tive alongside Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley.

“We have absolutely no idea who the individual­s are, we don’t know whether they could be your political backers for the next election, which they may or may not be – how do we know, how does the council know, where is the transparen­cy?” Ms McDonald said.

“There is a difference between this and any other committee – these people have been hand-picked, and it’s not democracy in my mind,” Ms McNally added.

Mr Pennisi was joined by Mr Bartley, councillor Stephen Tancred, and SDRC CEO Dave Burges in defending his stance, arguing his seat on the group was approved at the meeting in May and fellow councillor­s should trust the group would be run in line with policy.

A report tabled alongside the revised charter revealed SDRC sought advice from legal representa­tives King and Company Solicitors, who agreed there was nothing in the policy that gave any member of the group decision-making powers.

After a brief adjournmen­t for Mr Pennisi to attempt to seek legal advice, the opposed councillor­s tried unsuccessf­ully to pass a motion mandating the mayor declare a conflict of interest.

After hours of debate, councillor­s eventually decided to repeal the existing terms of reference for the previous Innovation and Developmen­t Committee.

All representa­tives excluding Mr Pennisi, Mr Gale, and Mr Tancred also voted to delay approving the new charter until SDRC received further legal advice.

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