By Paul Paech
“Well aren’t you smart, then.”
That was how Waverley’s colourful Councillor Sally Betts responded recently when Mayor John Wakefield told her that he’d resolved a dispute from Betts’ time as mayor that could have cost Waverley Council millions of dollars.
City Hub understands that the legal dispute relates to the Eastgate Shopping Centre carpark and was discussed in two confidential sessions of Council during December and February.
It is believed that the dispute involved a threatened claim for the recovery of money from Council by ISPT which along with Waverly is the joint owner of the carpark and owner of the adjacent Eastgate shopping centre.
Mayor Wakefield was contacted for comment and confirmed that Eastgate had been the subject of confidential meetings but he would not detail the nature of those discussions.
When former Mayor Cr Betts was asked about the Eastgate matter, she denied the multi-million dollar claim.
“At no time during my Mayoralty was a legal claim made against Council and my understanding is that a claim has never been made to this day,” Ms Betts said
But City Hub has identified a long-running dispute over revenue from the Eastgate carpark in Bondi Junction.
Under Mayor Betts, Council abolished free short-term parking in Eastgate by introducing a minimum $1 fee, a move which was unpopular both with shoppers and shopkeepers. Crucially, it was also opposed by ISPT who argued that it would discourage shoppers from visiting the centre.
“This agreement expired in August 2013 and while the parties have been continuing discussions about the on-going management of the carpark, Council has continued to maintain and operate the carpark.” Peter Monks, Acting General Manager, Waverley Council said.
Mayor Betts still argues that Council had to introduce the $1 charge in order to maintain Council’s income after the expiry of the previous contract with ISPT.
Cr Wakefield and several other councillors had opposed the introduction of the fee at the time, characterising the original $1 parking fee as a cash grab.
It is understood that on becoming Mayor last September, Wakefield was alerted to the fact that Waverley had failed to conclude any deal with ISPT on the revenue from the carpark.
Because Council was only part-owner of the building, it was required by law to enter into a new financial contract with ISPT.
Under the current Council led by Mayor Wakefield, Betts acknowledges that a new agreement, including a free first hour parking, has now successfully been negotiated with ISPT.
At the September election, Betts had argued that Waverley Liberals were superior financial managers, but Wakefield argues that although Mayor Betts was aware of the financial issues around the carpark revenue, she chose to ignore them.
“Hard financial negotiating is a central part of a mayor’s job,” he says. “Problems don’t just go away because you don’t like having to deal with them.”
Wakefield dismisses Betts’ claims of the Liberals’ support financial responsibility by pointing to his record at Council.
When Waverley sold its depot in Alexandria in 2011, Wakefield claims he managed to negotiate an extra $15 million on top of the price which Betts’ Liberals were prepared to sell it for.
“It is vital that Council maximises every valuable public asset,” says Wakefield, “but the social consequences must part of every equation.”
The key issue, he argues, is always how we can use Council’s considerable resources to make life better for the people who are lucky enough to call Waverley home.
Abolition of the $1 Eastgate charge is part of a wider plan by Wakefield to adjust parking prices throughout Waverley to better meet the changing needs of local residents and businesses.
By increasing and simplifying the cost of longer-term parking in Eastgate, Council is making it cheaper for short-stay shoppers. Wakefield also argues that it helps keep parked cars out of nearby residential areas.”
Cars are a major issue for everyone in Waverley, Council has an obligation to do what we can to alleviate the stress for locals, he says.
“Council makes money from parking, but if that’s all we’re doing, we’re asleep at the wheel,” he says taking aim at his predecessor.
He points out that during her time as mayor, Sally Betts got through three different general managers, and argues that her support of amalgamation inevitably resulted in considerable instability and bad decision-making.
Waverley Council is consulting with the public to remove the one dollar fee which is expected to be implemented within two months.
Wakefield expects that the appointment last week of a new general manager will provide Waverley Council with solid professional guidance over the coming years.