DETAILS about the proposed lease of Coffs Harbour Airport will remain unavailable to the public, despite the continued efforts of Cr Paul Amos to inform the community about the proposed lease length and lease contract.
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Cr Amos moved a notice of motion at Council’s meeting on 12 November that Council interrupt negotiations with any potential lessee until approval is given by the entity to allow Coffs Harbour City Council to provide to the Coffs Harbour community some meaningful information as to the length of the lease and the lease option being proposed.
Cr Amos previously moved a notice of motion about the matter at a Council meeting on 8 October.
At that meeting, Council resolved to write to the potential lessee of the airport asking for permission to release the length of the lease and option of the airport, to provide transparency and confidence to the community.
The potential lessee replied by stating that it did not consider it was appropriate to publicly disclose aspects of the potential transaction at this time.
The lessee stated that it ‘fully supports transparency and community engagement (including disclosure of the length of the lease and option of the airport) once negotiations have been finalised and a transaction is signed”.
“We are hopeful that this point is only several weeks away,” the potential lessee stated.
“We look forward to successfully concluding our negotiations shortly, and working together with Council to operate and grow the airport into the future.”
Cr Amos said the proposed Airport lease length should be made available to the public, and disclosure of the lease details to the public will have no impact on lease negotiations.
“The circumstances surrounding the Airport Lease negotiations have now reached a point where the length of lease proposed should no longer be classified as commercial in confidence,” Cr Amos said.
Cr Amos questioned whether Council should be dealing with a potential lessee that was refusing a request to supply the community with information about the lease.
“I’m really astounded that something so benign here has been looked at by our potential lessee and they have refused,” Cr Amos said.
“I’m asking myself, are they the sort of people we’re needing to do business with?
“What’s the catch, why can’t they come out and tell us?”
Cr John Arkan agreed and said, “We owe it to the people that elected us to be transparent in all the things that we do.
“We are the elected body, there are people that ask us daily ‘hey, what’s going on with that, this is an asset that makes money, what are you going to do with that, can we know more about that?’
“That’s what councillors do, we do transparency.”
Cr George Cecato said once lease negotiations were concluded all the information would be made available to the public, and he stated that releasing the lease information now would be detrimental to Council’s reputation.
“For many years the many councillors before us did the right thing,” Cr Cecato said.
“We’ve got a good name, we are a good Council to deal with, just imagine if this was to get out what it would do for our reputation.”
Cr Cecato said the councillors knew from the beginning that the lease contract would require confidentiality.
“You were fully aware of that,” Cr Cecato said.
“Please councillors, do not sacrifice our good name, do not sacrifice our good will.”
Cr Tegan Swan supported making the lease information public, but disagreed with Council interrupting lease contract negotiations to do this.
“I do support the intent of what you are trying to do; the part that I disagree with is interrupting negotiations,” Cr Swan said.
“We need to see whether this is an agreeable outcome in the first place before we then see if we go further, I don’t think that we need to interrupt negotiations, I think that can continue so that we can get to the end of that process.”
Council’s General Manager Steve McGrath advised councillors to take on board the advice from Council advisors and Council directors and “stay the course”.
“It’s not a long course to go, and I think councillors know that,” Mr McGrath said.
Cr Amos’ motion was lost six votes to two with Cr Paul Amos and Cr John Arkan voting for details of the proposed airport lease contract to be made public, and Cr Sally Townley, Cr George Cecato, Cr Denise Knight, Cr Tegan Swan, Cr Keith Rhoades and Cr Michael Adendorff voting against the motion.
Council staff stated in a Council report that “if the airport lease process moves through negotiation to execution, it is intended to implement a communications plan together with the Airport Lessee to provide the community with information and details around the lease”.
By Emma DARBIN