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Airport budget variation ‘rubber stamped’

Geoff Helisma

At last week’s Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, Cr Karen Toms quizzed executive staff on a request to “provide a budget variation in the sum of $70,440 for [Grafton] airport management in the period 17 October 2017 – 19 January 2018”.

“Are we rubber stamping this?” she asked on four occasions during questions and debate on the matter.

“According to the letter in the confidential attachment, and I need to be careful, it has the same date as this council meeting,” she said.

Councillor Toms was referring to the sudden resignation or the airport’s manager, who was a CVC employee; and the subsequent temporary employment of a contract airport manager, Aviation Projects, until January 19, 2018.

“The engagement of the contractor requires Council to amend its budget associated with the airport,” the report to council stated.

Under questioning from Cr Toms, CVC’s general manager Ashley Lindsay confirmed the temporary contract had commenced on the day of last week’s council meeting, however, he said it was an operational matter.

“What you are doing is providing the budget,” he said.

Councillor Toms: “Do we normally provide the budget after the fact; even if it is operational?”

Mr Lindsay: “In this case it was critical that council had in place an airport manager so the airport can operate.

“This was the earliest we could get the report to council without calling an extraordinary meeting.”

Mr Lindsay said he didn’t “believe that we had [the necessary] information” at the previous week’s committee meeting (October 10) – to which Cr Toms pointed out that a confidential letter was dated September 27.

Mr Lindsay: “I still think we were negotiating with him.”

Mr Lindsay confirmed Cr Jason Kingsley’s assumption that CVC didn’t “have anyone on the staff [with] specialised training or skills to fulfil that position”, following the employee’s resignation.

When asked by Cr Kingsley how CVC would fill the position after January 19, Mr Lindsay said: “The idea is for us to … go out to tender for the service and hopefully we will have that in place.”

Councillor Peter Ellem said he recollected the matter coming up at a workshop on Tuesday October 3 – councillors cannot make decisions at workshops – to which Cr Toms retorted: “Why couldn’t we have an extraordinary meeting last week instead of rubber stamping a $70,000 bill?”

The council’s works & civil director Troy Anderson: “We were still negotiating with the proposal to move through.”

Councillor Andrew Baker wondered what would happen if the budget variation was not approved.

Mr Lindsay said the airport could continue functioning until the budget for the former employee ($27,000) was exhausted.

The budget variation was approved unanimously.

As a part of its management contract, Aviation Projects will also: review all of the airport’s safety, risk and operational documentation, prepare “a suitable scope of works and tender specification” to assist CVC to let a tender for airport’s management after January 19, and assist CVC to evaluate applicants to that tender, “if required”.