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.
•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.”
HAVE FREMANTLE RATEPAYERS SETTLED SIRONA CAPITAL’S DEBT TO BUILDERS COOPER & OXLEY?
In February this year the administrators for Perth builders Cooper and Oxley implemented legal action to recover a debt of $6.12m allegedly owed by Sirona Capital, the developers of Fremantle’s King’s Square.
Last month (May 2018) Sirona Capital’s Managing Director Mathew MacNeilly quietly announced the case was settled. Presumably the debt had been paid.
It’s reasonable conjecture to ask whether Fremantle’s councillors may have fallen for a well orchestrated smoke and mirrors trick.
Over a year ago Sirona Capital requested a twelve month extension to pay for one of several properties purchased from Fremantle ratepayers’ assets.
The 12 month deferred payment of $6.65m was due on May 9th 2018. It is for Sirona Capital’s acquisition of the Spicer site, one of a number of assets sold to the developer by council but not yet paid for.
On February 8th this year journalists Kim MacDonald and Grant Taylor reported in Perth Now that a Supreme Court writ had been issued against Sirona Capital.
MacDonald and Taylor outlined the writ claimed Sirona Capital’s directors and other executives had acted “fraudulently”, “negligently” and made “misrepresentations” related to the conversion of a $5m loan into equity.
Cooper and Oxley’s administrators were seeking $5 million plus 15% interest on that sum since late 2011, about $1.2 million, plus unspecified damages.
WERE, OR ARE, SIRONA SOLVENT?
If Sirona Capital did pay Cooper and Oxley Councillors must now ask why did they not pay the $6.65m debt to ratepayers first?
If they did not pay money to Cooper and Oxley, nor to Fremantle the question is: “Were, or are, Sirona Capital solvent?”
If on May 9th, 2018, Sirona could not pay their debt to Fremantle City Council and/or to Cooper and Oxley, they may have been insolvent, had a legal obligation to stop trading immediately, or seek settlement with creditors. It appears they did the latter when asking for extended time to pay Fremantle Council.
IS THIS A TIMELINE OF INTRIGUE WORTHY OF WA INC?
SIRONA CAPITAL : PAYMENT TO COUNCIL FOR $6.65M DEFERRED
The new due date for payment of the Spicer Site was 9th May 2018.
BUILDERS COOPER AND OXLEY CALL IN ADMINISTRATORS
7th FEBRUARY 2018
WRIT ISSUED AGAINST SIRONA CAPITAL FOR $6.12m
It was reported the administrator of Cooper & Oxley , Cameron Shaw of accountants Hall Chadwick, issued writs against Sirona Capital for $6.12m.
11th APRIL 2018
SIRONA CAPITAL SEEK ADDITIONAL EXTENSION FOR PAYMENT OF THE SPICER SITE : GRANTED BY COUNCIL
Council members unanimously approved a proposal by Mayor Pettitt and seconded by Cr Hume that Sirona Capital be granted an additional 6 months to pay for the Spicer site.
Council minutes record:
“That Council authorise the Chief Executive Officer authority to approve extension of the settlement date for the former Spicer property for a period up to 30 September, 2018 and amend the Project Development Deed in accordance with this extension.”
This was probably the earliest possible date the application for an extension could have been put before full council since the writ was issued.
19th APRIL 2018
ACTION DROPPED : WRIT ‘SETTLED’
Immediately after gaining the extension Matthew McNeilly, Sirona Capital’s Managing Director, announced action by the Cooper and Oxley administrators has been withdrawn. Had $6.12m claim has been paid? McNeill described it as ‘settled’.
It is reasonable supposition that the $6.65m for the May 9th payment for the Spicer site may have been used to settle the debt claimed by Cooper and Oxley’s administrators.
17th MAY 2018
SIRONA CAPITAL ANNOUNCE $190m FINANCIAL PACKAGE FOR KINGS SQUARE PROJECT
Only four weeks after the Cooper and Oxley case was settled McNeilly announced $190m funding for the KSP. The company had secured the funding from First State Super (FSS) and Altis Property partners. FSS manage the superannuation funds of 800,000 public service employees. McNeill claimed banks had ‘lost out’ on the chance to fund the King’s Square project.
A $190m financial package is not achieved overnight. Sirona Capital must have been aware they had finance arranged, or were sure of getting it, before they asked for additional time to pay for the Spicer site.
Fremantle’s Councillors may have fallen for a well planned financial manoeuvre.
SIRONA CAPITAL ARE ‘CASHED UP’ BUT FREMANTLE’S ECONOMY HAS COLLAPSED
Observers are aware that Sirona had difficulty gaining financial backing from investors for the King’s Square redevelopment.
There are close to 130 empty or demolished retail premises in Fremantle. That includes shops demolished to make way for the shelved Hilton Hotel development; the Woolworth’s centre next to St Patrick’s Basilica; shops empty in arcades including the Coles Woolstore centre; shops under redevelopment by Sirona Capital and about 85 visually empty premises in the CBD.
Faced with that scenario it is not surprising investors display caution before funding the construction of retail premises which form a substantial part of the King’s Square Plan.
Fremantle cannot survive on the smell of coffee beans, hop extracts and festivals. The city is now ranked among the least financially secure shires in Western Australia. In short, the city’s economy has collapsed.
COUNCIL LOSING MINIMUM OF $1,000,000 BANK INTEREST
Councillors must demand Sirona Capital settle for their purchase of ratepayers’ assets. They owe $6.65m for the Spicer site alone. They could be earning considerable interest on money which is lost to the city and could be in excess of $1,000,000.
To cover Sirona’s Capital’s non payment for a number of assets the City’s financial managers have removed $12.65m from the reserve fund, thus losing interest on that deposit. Over 3-4 years that could amount to interest of $3,000,000. The council have described to cost as insignificant.
Fremantle’s ratepayers – the real financial lifeblood of the city – must ask for an independent inquiry into the Kings Square Plan which has been shrouded by secrecy and spin.
FREO COUNCILLOR ENDORSES ‘FREE BOOB AND F*CK ME’ DRESS CODE FOR FALLS FESTIVAL GIRLS
Fremantle City Ward Councillor Rachel Pemberton endorsed a sexually explicit dress code for girls attending the Falls Festival in Fremantle last weekend (6th & 7th December). Following a series of alleged sexual assaults at the Falls Festival in Tasmania Pemberton wrote on her blog:
“Women’s fashion tips from Falls – pants are optional, a transparent bra is a visible alternative to a top or you can simply ‘free boob’, and ‘f*ck me’ boots are back in fashion”.
The statement was revealed by Freo Streetwise, magazine edited and published by journalist Carmelo Amalifi. Streetwise is rapidly gaining a reputation for tackling the hard news in Fremantle and calling the City Council to account.
TACIT SUPPORT FOR PEMBERTON FROM MAYOR AND COUNCIL
The story, published on the Streetwise magazines Facebook page, has resulted in condemnation from the community but gained tacit support from Mayor Brad Pettitt, a former partner of Pemberton, and North Fremantle Councillor Doug Thompson. Instead of offering a reasonable explanation for her statement Pemberton, in the face of concerned critics, simply accused them of cyber bullying.
Pemberton, a high profile councillor, had the opportunity to condemn the dress code she publicly endorsed. She had an outstanding chance to support the right of women to wear whatever they wish, wherever they wish, without making themselves targets of sexual predators. She promoted the opposite position, giving credence to predatory sexual behaviour. Thompson, the city’s longest service councillor, made the observation that comments condemning Rachel Pemberton demonstrated the worst aspects of social media.
Thompson’s comment, endorsed by Pettitt, ignored the issue of the City Ward Councillor’s sexually explicit post, thus offering tacit support. Nor, (at the time of writing), has any councillor criticised Pemberton. The comments on the Facebook page of Freo Streetwise presented an opportunity for Pemberton to explain in detail her post, maybe to apologise for it. Her only defense was to accuse critics of bullying. They didn’t. They were shocked, wanted an explanation and called for her dismissal, resignation and an inquiry into council’s code of ethics.The problems faced at Falls in Tasmania were published nationally over a number of days.
PEMBERTON: A QUESTIONABLE ROLE MODEL
Recent Mayoral challenger Ra Stewart said:
“Rachel Pemberton as the mother of two young women attending this event I am appalled at your comments. There was no suggestion about female empowerment in your statement, you provided commentary on a dress code and the inference was most definitely derogative. I would hate to think how your comments are interpreted by young men, let alone my daughters.”
Stewart questioned Pemberton’s position as a role model in the city.
“You’re kidding right… Rachel Pemberton, as a leader in our city, Councillor, and role model (?) for our young women”.
APPALLING & IRRESPONSIBLE:
Claudia Green, an expert in governance – the manner in which all branches of government should operate – and recent City Ward candidate, commented:
“ …Councillor Pemberton is in breach of her role and responsibility as an elected representative and public servant paid from the public purse, apart from the appalling message she is sending.
“She has claimed a conflict of interest to abrogate her duties to represent her electorate in the Sunset development planning application by accepting freebies from Sunset. Now this awful abrogation of responsibility of her duties as an elected representative of public service.
“The CEO and the Mayor need to bring her into line and reprimand her and be brought to the appropriate Committee for discipline. She should be sacked. Once verified, a complaint will be laid. She is bringing the Council into disrepute.”
Green is correct in calling on the Mayor and CEO to refer the matter to a disciplinary committee. Together with other posted comments she asks for Pemberton to be sacked. However the early signs from council indicate that all councillors will offer tacit support to Pemberton’s unconscionable, amoral, advice.
Rachel Pemberton could demonstrate a moral and ethical backbone by admitting her vacuous judgement, apologise and resign immediately. If any councillors have any morality or understanding of professional ethics they will condemn Pemberton, call for her resignation and get on with the job of running a city in crisis.
By not condemning Pemberton’s blog post the mayor and his councillor’s are endorsing an increasing public opinion that they are out of touch with the wishes of the community for higher standards of professional ethics and morality to be demonstrated. At the very least Councillor Pemberton, who receives substantial payments from ratepayers, should be stood down and an independent inquiry, with representation by ratepayers, held. A closed door cover-up will not be acceptable.
NOTE: It appears that Pemberton has recently removed her blog post but no explanation or apology is offered.