Lismore Chamber of Commerce has pulled out of a Lismore City Council panel in protest at how the panel spends a special business rate levy to promote the town.
Councillors appeared shocked when the chamber head used public access time to hand in the resignation from the Lismore Business Promotional Panel (LBPP) at last week’s council meeting.
Mayor Jenny Dowell said she was disappointed with the manner in which the chamber chose to deliver its resignation.
Chairman of the Lismore Chamber of Commerce, David Martin, told council during public access that on behalf of the chamber, its members and the wider business community, they can no longer support the current and proposed structure of the LBPP.
Mr Martin said, ‘We need to look at where this all came from.
‘Originally the Special Business Rate Variation Levy (SBRVL) came into effect in 1998. Back then it was a levy that was managed by what became Lismore Unlimited which was the peak business body of the Lismore business community,’ he said.
Mr Martin said that back then, ‘it was a match dollar for dollar with council money. Nowadays that dollar for dollar money has disappeared.
‘The management has moved considerably away from being managed by the business community to being heavily managed by council.’
Democracy is another area that Mr Martin believes is missing from the current and proposed LBPP structure.
‘I respect the reasons for the resignation of the Lismore Shopping Square from the LBPP, but as with the chamber of commerce, we both believe in the greater benefit for the entire Lismore community’, he said.
Thinking prior to the decision was ‘long and hard’, according to Mr Martin, who said that serious issues had been raised about the governance over a length of time which had not been addressed.
‘It disappoints us that we see no other way forward but for the chamber of commerce to resign its seat forthwith on the LBPP,’ he said.
Mr Martin said, ‘We do this with the greater belief that the money should benefit the wider Lismore business community who are the payers of this levy’.
Mr Martin handed each councillor a copy of the resignation letter and will forward that letter with further explanation regarding governance and management to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) and the minister for local government.
Cr Isaac Smith asked council staff to verify if ‘council matched dollar for dollar funding’ was one of the original conditions of the levy, but staff stated that matched funding was not a condition.
Cr Clough asked Mr Martin what he considered would be the ‘way forward’.
‘We have had many discussions over a great length of time and feel that we have been completely ignored so we are not in a position to suggest’, said Mr Martin.
Cr Dowell was open about her disappointment.
‘I have to say I am stunned, it is not the usual way. To resign in this way, with this letter coming in like this to a public forum, I am disappointed’, she said.
‘I would have hoped we could have had some discussion about this. I have had discussions with the general manager about your meeting and in no way did the general manager indicate you were resigning, so I am absolutely stunned and very disappointed with the way this has been done.’
Mr Martin responded, ‘I accept your point. It has been over a great number of times that we have tried to reconcile this within the framework for a considerable number of years and feel that with the proposed new structure it is untenable.’
Mr Martin accepted it wasn’t the normal way to resign but, ‘we do have the right to do this and I do it with great disappointment and feel there was no other option left.’
Later in the meeting, council considered issues with the LBPP.
Cr Smith put up an amended motion to appoint Cr Clough as a second councillor on the Lismore Business Panel Selection Committee and reallocate the Lismore Shopping Square position to an ordinary member position.
‘The LBPP is a partnership between council and business and there should be a position there for the chamber of commerce, the peak body for our city, we have loved having a representative there for four years now, effectively and cooperatively, so to hear that the current chairman thinks the panel has been totally dysfunctional belies the fact that the chamber has voted on 99 per cent of the motions that have come to the panel’, Cr Smith said.
‘The chamber has an annual general meeting coming up so they may change their mind and see fit to put a member back up’, he said.
‘At no point has any rep for the chamber said they felt it was dysfunctional, they have never said they thought the process was lacking.’
Cr Greg Bennett said that, ‘What I see in front of me is a totally unworkable situation. We do not have the Lismore Square or the chamber of commerce. They are our two premiere business organisations and they are no longer part of this.’
Cr Neil Marks removed himself from the Lismore Business Promotion selection committee as he believed the matter should be deferred to the next council meeting, considering the surprise resignation of the chamber.
A foreshadowed motion for a deferral was rejected (Crs Clough, Dowell, Ekins, Houston, Ritchie and Smith against).
Councillors voted that Cr Clough be appointed to the LBP selection committee (Crs Bennett, Schiebl, Marks and Meineke against).
Cr Gianpiero Battista removed himself from the voting declaring a non-pecuniary interest saying his wife was part of a business group that has a seat on the LBPP.
Cr Clough told Echonetdaily that, ‘it is obvious that the chamber has an important role in the panel, but it is not the only voice.
‘I think the chamber wants to control the spending of the money, which has happened in the past, where it was very, very limited; where the promotion of Lismore has come down to car raffles and lacking any strategies’, said Cr Clough.
‘We have long term strategies which came out very strongly in the Imagine Lismore community consultation’, he said.
Cr Clough said that another source of friction coming from the chamber is related to a controversial allocation of a panel seat to a women’s network.
‘I don’t think that the gender of this group should have anything to do with it’, Cr Clough said.
‘This group has energy, innovation and creativity which are what we need. If it was the Sapphire Group that happened to be men, I wouldn’t care about the gender.’