Friday 23 September 2011

Cr Bonneau missing in action | found holidaying in France


Sno Bonneau tells why he could not cast his vote on the Cairns Entertainment Precinct

Daniel Strudwick
Friday, September 23, 2011
© The Cairns Post

Sno Bonneau, the councillor who missed Wednesday's crucial vote on the Cairns Entertainment Precinct because he was on an overseas holiday, insists he thought the vote wasn't happening until later this year.

Without Cr Bonneau there, the precinct vote was tied at five all, and the decision to pledge $57.3 million to the project only got through on the Mayor’s casting vote.

Speaking to The Cairns Post from France yesterday, Cr Bonneau said he only found out the vote would occur this week when agenda items were posted on the council’s website last Friday.

"And we couldn’t make arrangements to get back to Cairns in time," Cr Bonneau said.
He thought councillors would be casting their votes later in the year, only after seeing a full business plan, due for completion next month.

"I would have hoped that they would defer a decision like this so that all councillors could vote on it,’’ he said. "And there was an awareness that I was away, there’s no question about that." But Mayor Val Schier said she and the council CEO, Lyn Russell, only became aware of Cr Bonneau’s absence when the Mayor received a text message just after midnight on the morning of the vote.

Cr Schier pointed out that the onus is on councillors to make sure they attend important votes, and that she doesn’t control when a particular agenda item appears before the council.
"Councillors make their own decisions about when they go on holidays," she said. "We really can’t hold up the business of council because of the choices people make about holidays."

Cr Bonneau stopped short of saying which way he would have voted, but said he shared the concerns of the five councillors who voted against committing any money before a business plan was finished. Had he been present to vote against the plan, the precinct would have been scrapped at Wednesday’s meeting.

Public opinion over the landmark vote has been as divided as those in the council chamber on Wednesday. Cairns Chamber of Commerce president Anthony Mirotsos said he appreciated the concerns of the councillors who rejected the plans, but he had no doubt of the project’s economic benefits.

"All of those guys who voted against it know it’s a good project and they want to see it happen," Mr Mirotsos said. He noted that councillors were reassured by reputable consultancy firm, Savills, that the precinct’s finances had stacked up during a preliminary evaluation.

"We’re very confident that council has ticked all the boxes. "Let’s get the bloody show on the road." Cairns Brass was among the local arts groups celebrating the decision  yesterday – they’ll be able to play their annual Brass, Sweat and Tears concert at the completed precinct.

"We’d like to see work on the new one start straight away," president Gary Sugden said.
But others insist the plans are being rushed, put under pressure by the expiration date attached to $40 million of Commonwealth funding.

Jack Wilkie-Jans, a council candidate in Sno Bonneau’s division, said he would have voted in favour of the entertainment precinct but would want safeguards on the council’s money. And Steve Brain, who will contest division 1 at the next council election, said those who voted against the funding commitment were "on the money".

"They seemed, to me, to support the concept, however wanted a more thorough analysis of the financial side of things," he said. "We should grasp the project with both hands, but it’s such a large sum of money that it needs to be spent wisely.
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There seems to be missing parts to the jigsaw here.

Generally Councillors, when they are absent from council duties, obtain Council approved leave of absence. It is not obligatory though for a Councillor to obtain leave of absence while away from his Council jurisdiction.

However, in this instance it does seem strange that  Councillor Sno Bonneau, away on holidays in France, did not seek approved leave of  absence. I underdstand he has been away a while and has missed several meetings.

Cr Val Schier maintains that the first she knew about it was when she received a mobile text message just after midnight on the morning of the vote. It seems strange that a Mayor does not know the whereabouts of  her Councillors.

I do think that the citizens of the Cairns Regional Council particularly those living in Division 9 deserve a proper explanation sans spin.

Ross Parisi

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