If we accept Dr Pettitt’s leadership was second to none, and the King’s Square Plan (KSP) is the saviour of the city, then why would he leave now? Until a few weeks ago, if we believe the repetitive public relations spin, all was rosy and going according to plan, then now is not a good time for Brad Pettitt to leave. He could easily have basked in the glory of a successful plan.
The other side of the story is that recent financial reports show the city has been performing extremely badly. Not only that but Council had no protection in place to prevent fraud and corruption. The Covid19 virus has placed council under pressure and is already being used as a convenient scapegoat for the failure of the KSP.
The mayor has, for the duration of his role, had Brian Smith as a campaign manager and adviser. They are close friends to the extent Smith lends the Mayor his luxury camper van for weekend excursions. It is apparent that Smith takes a lot of interest in the work of individual councillors.
Smith is also close to both former WA Inc Premier, Peter Dowding and Deputy Mayor Sullivan. The government of WA Inc was described in international media as ‘The most corrupt Australia had experienced since Federation’.
Dowding has privately expressed, ‘The Greens are fairies at the bottom of the garden’.
Is it reasonable to assume that Smith and Co may have advised the mayor to jump ship ‘while the going is good’? Will Sullivan now be supported to become mayor?
There may be a number of credible contenders, notably Councillor Hannah Fitzhardinge. It remains to be seen how Marija Vujic is accepted beyond her South Ward precinct. She has not indicated an intention to run for the role of mayor however Peter Dowding indicated that he did not want her in the role of councillor, expressing veiled threats that he will muster his ‘many friends in South Fremantle’ against her. Presumably he means the G4F group.
Vujic is an intelligent lateral thinker, as well as being independent. She could be an excellent mayor given time to muster support. Thus removing Brad Pettitt now gives Smith’s team time to promote their preferred candidate, presumably Sullivan, into place and make his mark on the community before a mayoral election.
THE STORY BELOW WAS PUBLISHED BY FREMANTLE BACKCHAT EXACTLY SEVEN YEARS AGO. IT IS REPUBLISHED HERE IN ITS ORIGINAL FORM.
Fremantle is in the grip of a commercial and social decline. Is there a case for a ratepayers’ association to be formed to help retain the lifestyle cherished by residents and visitors alike?
Thirty years ago the advent of the America’s Cup accelerated a process which had been simmering, serving the needs of citizens adequately. The term ‘Fremantle lifestyle’ was coined and contrary to popular opinion the city was thriving well before the America’s Cup arrived. When it was lost the city was left with little more than fading posters behind the counter in Gino’s to remind us of the event.
Radical Plans or Panic Stations?
In recent years Fremantle, like many societies throughout the world, has experienced a decline in retail trading which has led to the current council planning reforms to guide Fremantle into the future. Some critics say this is unplanned panic, others point to opportunism led by developers who have formed a tunnel vision of the future. The slogan is ‘sustainability’, the vehicle is ‘high rise, high density’.
For good reason citizens cherish the lifestyle offered by the city. Fremantle still embraces a reputation of being a working man’s community; artisans and academics rub shoulders with wharfies, fishers and, we hope for a long time into the future, doctors and nurses based in an excellent (though ugly) hospital. We have also become a bona fide university locale which, in many respects, has elevated the city’s profile. Notre Dame have nurtured many historic properties but have also been criticised for isolating the community from the west end of the city.
During a recent discussion hosted by Notre Dame University a panel of students was invited to outline their vision for the future of Fremantle. Most of them would not have been born by 1983 before the America’s Cup placed Fremantle front and centre on the world map, but interestingly all of the student panelists outlined a vision of the city which actually existed from the mid 1970s (and possibly before then) through to the late 80s.
The scholars painted a perfect picture of a variety of shops, better parking facilities, cleaner streets, less anti-social behaviour. Only one student suggested high density living and none espoused high rise.
Should we look over the bridges for answers?
An observation of some other communities suggests that the current council may have got their visionary solution in the form of Scheme Amendment 49 wrong.
It would not take an hour or two to travel to the center of, say, Swanbourne and observe the variety of shops, the free parking, the trees, the proximity of a railway station, the congenial atmosphere. Nor would it take long to study Napoleon Street in Cottesloe and its adjoining thoroughfares. Angove Street’s charm seems to have been achieved with little more than a coat of paint and the imagination of local traders. Highgate and Oxford Street in Leederville also come to mind as areas which offer a Fremantle style of life.
All of these centers have several common features: Low rise buildings, a variety of retailers, readily available free parking, attractive street furniture and low density to medium density housing.
What they do not have is a plethora of booze barns or the nightmare of nightclubs and hotels which nurture excessive drinking and drug use and appear to stimulate street violence and vandalism.
Antisocial behaviour has encouraged traders in Fremantle’s High Street Mall to employ private security guards. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it has been an effective move but for a society which already employs one of the largest per capita and highest paid police forces in Australia, indeed the world, it is not a good sign. A well managed police force is an essential core element in any community and indicative of a well managed democracy but if rumours are to be believed the Fremantle council is frustrated with the lack of action promised by the police. This frustration is shared by residents.
Ratepayers have no time for low quality or high rise development
Broadly speakingFremantle’s population appears to have little desire for high rise, low quality development. The vast majority wish to maintain and nurture the Fremantle lifestyle. They appreciate development is essential but the proposition of high rise in the city has not been widely accepted and will most likely, given council intransigence, see a few seats changed at the next council election.
A Mantra of Dissatisfaction
There is solidarity in the council chamber but that has not translated into trust among the public. There is broad discontent among traders and ratepayers of Fremantle and a mantra of anger from the public which struggles to be heard.
Antisocial behaviour, parking issues, inefficient policing, booze barns, night clubs, high rise office plans as well as the rebirthing of King’s Square are not seen as beneficial to the lifestyle of the community.
What was effectively presented as a fait accompli in relation to the King’s Square redevelopment is now being opened to international competition which may produce innovative plans rather than CODA’s computer generated offering. Such a competition should have a positive outcome but will depend upon the design parameters set by council.
The current generation of artisans who gave Fremantle a cultural boost are being forced from town by high rents and, in the case of Arthur Head’s J shed, a lack of secure tenure. High rents and rates have impacted on the ability of a variety of traders to survive. In many cases rents have doubled, tenants have walked away from leases and commercial premises have remained empty for years. Streets are deemed dirty, Fremantle is seen as scruffy, rates have increased, council staff have increased – and services have decreased.
Vibrant Lifestyle Must Be Protected
But within this decline the city still nurses a vibrant lifestyle. We have several beautiful beaches, a crystal clear ocean and a lifestyle Californians and Europeans dream about. A warm evening spent on the fabled Coffee Strip – a boulevarde of baristas – watching a parade of prized cars, a stimulating procession of high heeled fashion and listening to the rhythm of buskers, is pure magic. Fremantle is not known as the City of Festivals without good reason. Almost every weekend has something fresh on offer. This effervescent lifestyle must be protected.
Perfect Storm of a Disaster
Is the city is rolling, towards a financial and structural abyss from which it may not recover for decades?
The mayor protested that he was misinterpreted in a newspaper article related to cooperation between the council chamber and administration but one councillor has broken ranks and said the situation is not good, that it is difficult to initiate the wishes of the elected councillors.
If the administration is not achieving the council chamber’s edicts and if the council members are turning a deaf ear to public opinion Fremantle could face the perfect storm of a social, economic and structural disaster.
Action groups have become growth industries in Fremantle. There are several established and embryonic groups spawned from the public and traders’ concerns for the city’s future direction.
The Fremantle Society, once a powerful voice in the city; the Save Our Beaches Campaign worked miracles (and is being called upon to do so again); the Fremantle Inner City Residents’ Association (FICRA); the West End Traders’ Association, formed to deal with the obvious problems traders face; BID, financed by ratepayers and recently G4F (Group for Fremantle) became the new kid on the block. These groups together with the precincts could concentrate their common interests and form an effective umbrella organisation designed to keep the council in line with residents’ aspirations.
Ratepayers Association – A Strong Body of Opinion
Simply put the city may need a ratepayers association, an organisation to make the council chamber and the administration accountable to the public and city traders. It would not be difficult to form such a body. Existing and embryonic groups could jointly create a team from their membership and become the most compelling public voice the city has heard.
None of the organisations need lose individual identities but could effectively promote mutual interests as well as their own. They could become a strong body of opinion – a focused action group to ensure the Fremantle way of life grows from strength to strength for all stakeholders.
AUDITOR’S REPORT STATES CITY HAS NO ANTI-CORRUPTION FRAMEWORK: SECRET MEETINGS ARE CAUSE FOR CONCERN
In an extensive report delivered to Fremantle Council the City’s auditors have revealed:
‘The City has no Fraud and Corruption Framework, there is no Fraud and Corruption Prevention Policy nor Procedures’.
The auditors, Paxon Group Pty Ltd, describe themselves as specialists in aspects of urban renewal, development feasibility and the structuring of joint ventures between public and private entities.
Paxon Group also reported that the City has no Fraud Prevention Officer.
The audit reveals:
‘Purchase orders have been raised after expenditure’ and ‘Invoices have not been approved by authorised personnel’.
Paxon’s note that issues related to the delegation of authority have “been actioned”.
WARNINGS GIVEN IN 2015 : REQUIRED TRAINING NOT IMPLEMENTED
Paxon’s findings reveal the lack of Risk Management Analysis dates prior to 2015. They say that under a previous Regulation 17 report of 2015:
“ . . . risk analysis was new to the City and required further refinement and training scheduled for 2015. This did not take place”.
(Links to the auditor’s information published in Council’s agenda and minutes are at the end of this article)
COUNCILLORS MUST HAVE ACCESS TO CONTRACTS : MAY HAVE NO LEGAL PROTECTION.
Fremantle is increasingly favoured by developers and at least one, Sirona Capital, has been described in court documents as having questionable professional ethics.
If councillors did not receive advice related to aspects of fraud and corruption they may have a defense against future legal action associated with the financial failure of projects, especially if councillors have not been given full details of projects’ contracts.
Fremantle Backchat understands councillors have not had access to contracts. Therefore they cannot understand the implications.
Not requesting access to contracts may indicate a lack of due diligence which could expose individuals to legal action in the event of financial or other failures of projects.
By understanding contracts fully, if necessary consulting independent legal advice, councillors would be in a position to question the administration and clarify any doubts they may have. Due diligence may help protect elected members from legal actions and advise the administration to refrain from imprudent management practices. They may also protect ratepayers from costly misinterpretations.
REQUEST FOR CONTRACT IGNORED : COUNCIL SECRECY IS CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Lack of transparency within the Council’s administration is palpable. The administrator’s findings cast doubt on past and current administrations and their procedures. The findings should prompt councillors to ensure legal protection which may be assisted by having a full understanding. of contracts
Fremantle Backchat has written to the City’s CEO, Philip St John, requesting a copy of the contract between the City and Sirona Capital so that it may be independently examined in the interests of Fremantle ratepayers who are repeatedly described as partners with Sirona Capital in the redevelopment of King’s Square. He has not replied.
SECRET DISCUSSION OF CASH FLOW BY AUDIT AND RISK MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE
Underlining the Council’s lack of transparency a meeting of the Audit and Risk Management Committee was held in camera to discuss the Kings Square Civic Building Cash Flow Summary. The meeting was on 14th May 2019. In some circumstances Government legislation does allow council business to be closed to the public.
The council has recently contracted Pindan and concerns have been raised that the contract may not have a fixed price. That is not uncommon but ratepayers have been given details of costs which appear to be fixed.
If contracts are not fixed price there may be concerns that substantial increases in construction and fit-out costs can be expected.
Fremantle’s ratepayers who are financial partners in the development of Kings Square should have considerable cause for concern that contracts and related financial matters which are shrouded in secrecy are not available for inspection.
NOTE: For detailed information related to the auditor’s report refer to these links:
•Brad Pettitt Top of the Financial League of Mayors
•Government Advise Ratepayers: ‘question council performances
Statistics, published in The West Australian (17th April 2018), show Dr Brad Pettitt has become the highest paid mayor in Western Australia.. These figures are confirmed by Fremantle Council’s accounts and exclude various allowances.
Additional statistics, published in WA Government’s Financial Health Index (FHI), show that during Dr Pettitt’s tenure the City of Fremantle has fallen to the lowest position in the State with a Financial Health Index figure of 44
In two of the immediate past three financial years the city had a low score of 42 and 44. In the Financial year of 2016-17 the score was also very low but the city changed its accounting methodology and elevated the FHI to 87. At that time Treasury issued a statement saying: ‘We stand by our original figures’.
Top Mayoral Salaries are:
The Financial Health Index of those Councils show:
The higher the score, the better the financial health of a council. These scores are an indication of financial management and of services offered to ratepayers. They show ratepayers’ their value for money.
It is interesting to note the second lowest performance is Nedlands with an FHI of 50. Fremantle based consultancy LewiCorp Pty Ltd, owned by Chris Lewis who spearheaded the failed ‘Keep the Dockers in Fremantle’ campaign, is shown as being paid as a council adviser in the accounts of both Fremantle and Nedlands. Lewis was also instrumental in a fundraising campaign for Dr Pettit’s first mayoral campaign.
GOVERNMENT ADVISES COMMUNITIES TO QUESTION COUNCIL PERFORMANCES
The WA Government website <https://mycouncil.wa.gov.au/Council/CompareAllCouncil> advise to ratepayers states: “A very high or low FHI may be a prompt for questions to be asked by the community about a local government’s revenue, expenses, and service delivery. The FHI is best viewed as a trend over time”
ACADEMIC THEORY- ARE THE CHOOKS COMING HOME TO ROOST ?
When Dr Pettitt was first elected mayor he stated: ‘. . . I’m delighted to be able to put my academic theories into practice in Fremantle . . . ’. but has never detailed his academic theories. After nearly ten years in the top job, and based on the performance of council under his leadership, the theories must be questioned.
A ratepayer-funded, multimillion dollar, public relations campaign has failed to halt the slide in the city’s fortunes. The campaign includes websites, newspaper advertising and a magazine which has ceased publication after council admitted it has failed.
There is a growing impatience among ratepayers and businesses, a very high proportion of whom have closed shop and left or are struggling to pay higher rents and increasing rates in the face of falling customer numbers.
The city’s east end now has approximately 80 vacant retail premises with no sign of the resurgence of business promised as a result of the development of a Woolworth’s shopping centre (now prematurely closed). The increase of trade from residents expected from new developments have not materialised. Anectodal evidence indicates the LIV apartments are about 50% occupied following an increase in service personnel taking up residence..
In the instance of the re-development of Atwell Arcade the mayor promised that 300 people would be employed in the new offices. That was three years ago. So far there are about 40.
Without knowing Dr Pettitt’s academic theories it is difficult to comment but there is scant evidence of their success. There is no questioning Brad Pettitt’s youthful enthusiasm but after ten years it is reasonable to question the efficacy of his theories.
Over the next few weeks Fremantle Backchat will examine issues related to the current failure of the city to improve its financial position.
Part Two: Next Week. Council’s Lack of Transparency
PUNITIVE TAX WILL FURTHER DAMAGE FREMANTLE’S ECONOMY
The Fremantle Herald recently published a story related to AirBnB (7th July ’18) which suggested Fremantle Council may have been pressured by hotel industry lobbyists to levy a rates surcharge on small accommodation rentals.
That punitive tax, which raises only $35,000, will inflict further damage to the city’s battered economy. Another levy on small business will not help the city or its retailers out of their financial crises and it’s doubtful it will help the ailing hotel market.
Visitors who choose to stay in AirBnB establishments may do so because they prefer not to stay in hotels. The offering of comfortable home accommodation to visitors is not necessarily a great deal cheaper than a hotel. Some travellers, often couples or family groups, may have been attracted to visit the city for something other than another festival but simply to enjoy the sights, the variety of restaurants and cafes and also the remaining retailers. Any saving in relation to accommodation costs frees up expenditure for enjoyment in other city attractions.
Hoteliers have a vested interest in encouraging guests to patronise hotel facilities which frequently include restaurants, cafes, spas, bars and small retail outlets. Visitors’ money spent in a hotel’s in-house attractions is detrimental to local businesses.
Retailers in Fremantle’s West End who offer a variety of particularly funky shops are already paying elevated rates, ostensibly to be used by council to promote their businesses. That differential rate levy , originally established to support the BID scheme, has been diverted to a hand picked Destination Marketing committee by the cash strapped council.
One AirBnB operator, Alison Roberts, told The Herald: “All Airbnb and Homeaway owners already use their websites to promote Fremantle as a destination, recommending local eateries, tourism operators, retail outlets and artists”.
TAX CONCERTS INSTEAD
It would have been expedient and a greater revenue raiser for council to levy music festivals and other large scale ‘visiting businesses’ such as Winter World. Minutes from a SW council indicate Sunset Events festivals in their region were levied $20 a ticket. That’s not done here presumably because it was never considered or, as the Mayor publicly demonstrated, one of the Sunset company directors, David Chitty is a ‘mate’ of his. Also a Chitty family member placed considerable funds into the mayor’s election campaign.
A $20 per ticket levy to a music festival which attracts 10,000 patrons would raise $200,000 for council. Even a smaller festival of 2,000 patrons would raise $40,000, considerably more than the Council’s punitive impost on the AirBnB businesses.
Most companies who operate festivals and other events are not based in Fremantle. They arrive, utilise the city’s amenities, make truck loads of money, and leave. Festival patrons add little to the city’s retail businesses other than to booze barns, cafes (and possibly drug dealers). They also leave expensive clean up liabilities.
AirBnB hosts offer friendly alternative accommodation services to the city. They attract people who may have responded to the council’s revised Destination Marketing program which, by coincidence, has hoteliers on its advisory board in addition to Chris Lewis. Lewis is the spin doctor who was instrumental with a few members of the G4F group, including Councillor Sullivan, in organising fundraisers for Brad Pettitt’s mayoral campaign.
ELECTED COUNCILLORS SHOULD ASK “DO THESE CONNECTIONS INDICATE CRONY CAPITALISM?”
Lewis’s company, LewiCorp PLC, was paid $22,000 by Fremantle Council for ‘Strategic Services’ rumoured to have been connected to the Keep Dockers in Fremantle campaign spearheaded by Lewis and his confrère, former WA Inc Premier Peter Dowding.
Lewis, Dowding and Pettitt appeared unworried that to retain the team in the city would cost city ratepayers in excess of $100,000,000. The campaign failed as did Lewis’s attempt to gain a position on the Dockers’ board.
Fremantle has a Council, many of whose elected members appear to be unwilling or incapable of thinking outside The Square but apparent respond to pressure from ‘mates’ in business or those who facilitate and lobby on behalf of businesses, including developers. It could be Crony Capitalism at its worst, a reflection of the corruption endemic during the governments of WA Inc. It is becoming clear that councillors should investigate who is behind the scenes, driving the city and advising the Mayor and some colleagues.
Crony Capitalism is defined as: “An economic system characterised by close, mutually advantageous relationships, between business leaders and government officials.”