Palmerston pauses for probe
The Northern Territory Government has suspended the entire Palmerston Council.
The council is now under administration, with investigator brought in to look at serious concerns about the council's governance, financial status and councillors' conduct.
“Suspending the City of Palmerston council is a last resort and a tough decision, but it is necessary to conduct a full and proper investigation,” Minister for Housing and Community Development Gerry McCarthy said.
The investigation will focus on a $13.5 million deal Palmerston Council entered into to develop a multi-storey carpark without protections or the financial capacity to do so.
But suspended Mayor Ian Abbott denied the council was in financial debt, and said the development would be funded by parking meters installed in June.
“The council put marking meters in to pay for the loan, and this is a pre-emptive and premature decision by the Gunner Government and by Mr McCarthy,” he said.
“The council has no debt, it has reserves ... it has some $350 million in assets [and] banks are falling over themselves to do business with the City of Palmerston.”
The Mayor said others were conspiring against him.
“There has been a group of people who have agitated for exactly this outcome, they've managed to convince the minister [or the] department ... to suspend council, and they've done it successfully,” Mr Abbott said.
Temporary manager Mark Blackburn - the sole member of the administrative council - held a meeting this week, the first since all elected members were suspended.
One Palmerston resident, Donald Young, said he agreed with the decision to suspend the council.
“I think it was a good time for them to be suspended,” Mr Young said.
“I think there were a lot of questions the public had about the goings on and the decisions that council [made].
“Like closing down the recreational centre and not continuing the relationship with the YMCA, the paid parking that's been introduced in June... and also the signing of the contract to build a multi-story carpark without approval to borrow money for that project.
“I was really worried that, given we were heading towards an election, that the current council were making decisions that were locking the city in long-term when they might not be the council moving forward.”
Investigations into the inner workings of the council are expected to take up to six months, and local government slated for August 2017 will be postponed until it is complete.