Rift spills over into no confidence vote against mayor

EMBATTLED: Incumbent Grant District Mayor Richard Sage has officially lost the confidence of his council after a dramatic vote in the chamber this week. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

GRANT District Council has been thrown into turmoil following a number of councillors pushing through an unprecedented no confidence motion in the incumbent mayor Richard Sage.

In an extraordinary development on the eve of the formal local government election process, four councillors passed the motion against the embattled mayor.

Mayoral challenger Alan Hill was among the councillors who voted for the motion of no confidence against the mayor.

Councillors Shirley Little, Bruce Bain and Graham Slarks also voted in favour of the controversial motion.

While the move is a personal blow for the incumbent, it is understood it has no legal implications for the running of the council or the local government elections.

During startling scenes in the makeshift chamber at the Tarpeena Football Club on Monday night, frustrated Port MacDonnell elected member Gillian Clayfield walked out of the meeting in anger and refused to vote.

“I think this puts everybody in a really difficult situation – we are doomed if we vote one way and we are doomed if we vote the other way,” Cr Clayfield declared.

“I’m concerned it has been an ongoing issue.”

She questioned whether mediation was required due to issues between the mayor and a series of chief executive officers.

“As I said, I prefer not to vote because I think no one wins,” Cr Clayfield said.

While being cautioned she could not refrain from voting, the visibly frustrated elected member quickly headed to the door.

Councillors Barry Kuhl and Julie Reis voted against the no confidence motion in what was a dramatic four-two split vote.

Cr Reis told the meeting if there were issues between the mayor and chief executive, then they should be given time to sort them out.

She asked if there was any evidence to back Cr Hill’s claims and questioned whether there had been a formal period to assess the situation.

This follows Cr Hill’s sustained attack on the sitting mayor in recent council meetings and council officially being placed into caretaker mode yesterday in the
lead-up to the Local Government elections.

Cr Hill sparked the mayoral dissent this week by accusing the mayor of speaking negatively about newly appointed chief executive officer David Singe in the public arena.

“No council can operate if there is dysfunction between the CEO and the mayor,” Cr Hill said at the meeting.

“If there is dysfunction, then I am very, very concerned.”

Cr Hill directly questioned Mr Sage on whether he had full confidence in Mr Singe and his “ability to do the job” he was appointed to do just eight weeks ago.

This prompted Tarpeena elected member Shirley Little to move a “vote of confidence” in the long-serving council leader.

She claimed a number of concerning developments had been “happening”, including Mr Sage changing a submission to the Remuneration Council of SA and a media debacle with Regional Express.

Interjecting, Cr Slarks warned a no confidence motion had potential ramifications given council was heading into caretaker mode for the election.

Mr Singe revealed he had held a number of “discussions” with Mr Sage over the issues and he wanted the recruitment panel to meet to explain the situation.

In response, Mr Sage said the council had a six-month probationary period to consider Mr Singe’s performance.

He said this would be a matter for the incoming council following the elections.

“To ask me of my personal opinion of the CEO, I reserve the right to keep that to myself,” Mr Sage said.

Cr Hill claimed the issue between the two parties had now reached members of the public, which concerned him.

“I am very concerned about it – it should never happen, full stop.”

Mr Sage said Cr Hill’s concern was “duly noted”.

Adding to the discussion, Mr Singe said he was aware of negative comments allegedly made by the mayor in the community.

“… this is not a situation that I appreciate at all,” he said.

Mr Singe said he planned to “stick” with his commitment to the job.

Councillors Greg Saunders and Brian Collins were not in attendance at the meeting.

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