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Much still remains unknown around the Council purchase of the BBay Bowling Club

With most Eurobodalla Councillors now voting to move forward with the $70 million Mackay Park Pool and Hall project on the existing 50m pool and mini-golf site (both to be demolished) questions still remain about the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site that was specifically purchased in 2016 at a cost of $2.7 million to provide the community a location for community focused exhibition space, a heated therapy pool and a range of community focused opportunities that council had sought out via public submissions. Within just months of purchase the building was condemned and the councillors instructed that they MUST classify the land (recommended Operational so it could be on-sold or leased) rather than MAY that would have seen it classified Community by default. There is much secrecy around the purchase of the site that still remains. What we do know however is the following as recently advised: Clubs NSW initially advised all member clubs that the Batemans Bay Bowling Club (BBBC) was seeking an Amalgamation partner. The proposal was taken to the Board of the Catalina Country Club (CCC) to determine if they wished to express interest. After the BBBC accepted an Amalgamation the proposal was taken to the CCC members on behalf of the Board explaining that it was the CCC’s intention to broaden the appeal of the BBBC and to encourage an increase in social membership and daily/tourist visits. The CCC was clearly aware that the falling bowling member support alone could not sustain the heavy costs of maintaining the greens and the clubhouse asset. An independent business analysis at the time offered three scenarios, all of which confirmed a positive Amalgamation outcome. BBBC members were informed of the need to encourage social membership and casual visits. It is understood that they were not, at any stage, promised that greens would be built at Catalina should the Amalgamation fail. CCC members were informed that the Board had every confidence that the Amalgamation would be a success but that any risk would be offset by the capital value of buildings and land, and of the value of the 61 poker machines and their licences. On that basis members of both clubs formally agreed to proceed. New social membership proved difficult to secure as many BBBC members discouraged intrusion into their daily clubhouse activities. BBBC membership numbers continued to decline, made worse by falling in-club spending by existing members. Despite the CCC investment in poker machine upgrades, club refurbishment and press advertising, revenue began to fall to the point where the CCC was eventually financially supporting BBBC operations. It was then proposed by the CCC Board that the BBBC cease trading. The Board reluctantly, but unanimously, agreed.

The CCC’s motivation had been to refresh the BBBC and to partner the club in its successful revival. While the CCC eventually benefited from the exercise it is understood that it was not its motivation. The CCC’s Amalgamation financial input was to cover the $1.1million bank loan as well as a smaller trade debt and a private loan. A figure of under $1.5million. Renovation costs that followed was funded by BBBC trading revenue. Direct management costs were also funded by BBBC trading revenue. The CCC carried the cost of servicing the bank loan for the entire Amalgamation period and up to the point of sale. Following closure, all 61 pokie licenses were passed to the CCC contributing almost 40% of the current $5.5million annual pokie machine turnover – approximately $2million each and every year. There is much that still remains unknown up to the time of Council's purchase of the site It is widely believed that once the CCC decided to ‘close’ one of its non-performing profit centres they went looking to the market and were approached by a major Sydney based sporting club. To consider such an approach from a competitor could well introduce a risk to their own viability. It is understood however that this prospective buyer dropped off when the limitations and the restrictions that burden the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site became evident. Council had already indicated at an earlier time they would be approachable so when the time came the CCC approached Council to consider purchasing the Club land and buildings (not condemned at the time) for the community. They entered negotiations. At the time Councillors Pollock and Leslight believed the property was worth $1.2 to $1.5 (a NSW valuation later that year indicated UV of $1.5)  The property was however purchased for $2.7m. Clr Pollock has made comment of the time saying "we had no choice" even though he did not vote to buy it (he was absent). The vote to buy the property was done in secret during a Council meeting on the 26th of April 2016. It is understood (though no minutes exist) that Clrs Brown, Innes, Swartz, Burnside voted for the purchase and voting against were Clrs Harding, Brice and Leslight. Mayor Brown used his casting vote.  ******************************************************

In March 2018 a Code of Conduct was lodged with the Office of Local Government. The basis of the Code of Conduct was: - The General Manager and the then Mayor, Lindsay Brown, did knowingly on April 26th, 2016, set out to secretly deal with, in confidential, the purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club under the guise of a “Mayoral Report” so that the Council’s determination could be formally minuted yet deny the public any opportunity to know that such a determination was to occur as it was not on the agenda, or had occurred as was the case in the minutes that followed.

- that the General Manager ignored Council’s own rules in regards to Order of Matters, as clearly stated by Council’s own Code of Meeting Practice, and that it neither advised the gallery or live-streaming viewers that there was a second Mayoral Report (following delivery of the first Mayoral Report MR16/002) that was going to be dealt with in Confidential contrary to Council’s own Code of Meeting Practice that Mayoral reports MUST take precedence over all other agenda items.

- that the General Manager, knowing full well that a “Mayoral Report” was going to be determined during the Confidential session failed to advise the gallery prior to going into the Confidential session, as required by the Local Government Act, so that a member of the public might speak to the confidentiality and object and to it being dealt with in Confidential as is required by the LG Act.

- that the General Manager and Mayor sought to introduce a document as a Mayoral Report (without using the MR prefix), thereby enabling a non-agenda item to be introduced to a Confidential session. Note that the item is referred to as CON16/009 and does not have a MR prefix as required for Mayoral Reports. As such it could be argued that it was not a FORMAL Mayoral report (preceded with the prefix MR to denote it as a Formal Mayoral Report) but a non-agenda confidential item.

Then following the Confidential session….

- that the General Manager failed to advise, on return to the chamber following the Confidential session, members of the gallery or those live streaming that a second matter had been dealt with in Confidential.

- that the General Manager perpetuated the secrecy of the matter by failing to advise in the minutes a description of the item referred to as CON16/009 (as required and as done so with previous item CON16/008) which is also contrary to the Local Government Act. The code of Conduct Complaint came about following a presentation to Councillors during Public Access on February 13th, 2018 by Lei Parker who requested an explanation from Council and Councillors of a very concerning anomaly that has been discovered in the Council meeting agenda and minutes of April 26th, 2016. Councillors were provided a copy of the presentation to ensure they saw exact extracts of the minutes and agenda as supporting evidence. It was described that the meeting of April 26th 2018 listed a confidential Property Matter CON16/008.

The description of CON16/008, in the agenda prepared by the General Manager, Catherine Dale, did not however “sufficiently identify the item in order to inform the public that that item will be dealt with at the meeting” (as per the OLG’s letter below)

As evidenced by the agenda of the day and by the Live Streaming archive the item CON16/008 was the last item on the agenda, where Council moved into Confidential to return soon after, announcing their determination and also revealing that it was a Property Matter relating to an easement on George Bass Drive. Being the last item on the agenda the live streaming archive, not surprisingly records the Council meeting was then closed. It was discovered however, that while the published minutes recorded CON16/008 another Confidential matter was dealt with during confidentials. The minutes record CON16/009. Also of concern was that CON16/008, as recorded in the minutes, was a property matter in regards to George Bass Drive. There was NO detail provided for CON16/009 in the minutes other than it was a Property Matter with a file number of E12.6442 as a reference.