Monday night saw high drama at Town Hall as Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s group stonewalled the four opposition councillors and a public gallery packed with angry residents, whose presence Ms Moore described as “intimidating”.
The residents wore white sweatbands on their heads and waved placards along the lines of “We want Rory”.
Rory Miles has run the Rushcutters Bay Tennis Centre for 26 years and coached there for ten before that. He wants to keep doing it and, it seems, a large and diverse section of the community agree, for among the fit, tanned tennis players were The Man with the Golden Voice, John Laws and singer Jeff Duff.
But Council staff have decided that Rory must go after designing a complex tender process more appropriate for, say, developing Barangaroo or an airport than running some tennis courts.
It’s a perfect example of how big councils lose touch with their constituency.
At stake was the management of all Council’s tennis courts including those in Rushcutters Bay, Prince Alfred Park in Surry Hills and a slew of smaller facilities with two courts each in Glebe, Alexandria, Beaconsfield and Rosebery.
The smaller sites were inherited by the City after the forced amalgamation with South Sydney and parts of Leichhardt Councils in 2003. They seem ever since to have been a thorn in the side of the corporatised, slick, outsourcing bureaucracy created by former Lord Mayor Frank Sartor just before the amalgamation and his rise to an instant ministry in the Labor Government.
The smaller sites are not commercially viable, says Rory Miles, for the same reason Council doesn’t like running them. When Council drove intending tenderers around to view the sites, he was puzzled by pairs of locked, unmanned courts with no nets.
“How do people get access?” he asked. It seems people ring and book, a council officer comes out, unlocks the gate and erects the nets, then hangs around until the people are finished. Not slick at all. Another pair of courts has a computer-operated gate. People book and are given a pin number which opens the gate at the appointed time.
Total annual revenue for one of these sites was $6,500. For that, the tenderer is expected to somehow keep the courts accessible, plus maintain them, including daily cleaning of the toilets and change rooms which are also used by football teams using a nearby oval. Running them as a commercial operation, said Mr Miles, would mean charging very high fees or subsidising them from the larger, commercially viable operations at Rushcutters and Prince Alfred Park which include cafés. The five-year lease being offered was too short to pay back the capital expenditure required for such a widespread operation.
Tenderers were given the choice of bidding for one tennis site or all of them, and there lies the problem. Clearly, Council staff want to offload the smaller sites, so a tender for all of them was always likely to win. Mr Miles put in a conforming tender for his current operation at Rushcutters, and a separate tender for all the sites that asked for a ten-year lease, in a professionally produced document many hundreds of pages thick.
We don’t know the details of the competing tenders because of confidentiality rules, so we just have to take Council’s word that Mr Miles’ tender was inferior to another bid for all the sites which was recommended. Cr McInerney (Clover Moore team) described this as “a transparent process”.
On Monday night at Town Hall, Ms Moore’s team lost Marcelle Hoff who left the room after a largely inaudible reference to emails she had received from one of the tenderers, underlining recent rumours of a Hoff/Moore split. That still left five Clover councillors with a majority, and they launched a defence of the tender process, explaining how it produced “the best service to the community”.
This angered the community members in the gallery who didn’t feel the removal of Rory Miles served them at all.
Cr Harris (Greens) moved that normal procedure be suspended so three members of the public could address Council but the Moore team voted it down, citing the “probity of the tender process”. Cr Harris also moved that Mr Miles be awarded the tender for Rushcutters Bay and the recommended tenderer be given the remaining courts. This amendment was disallowed.
One heckler got so vocal that Ms Moore threatened to have him thrown out. Motions and amendments flew around the table with Ms Moore frequently asking staff for procedural advice and remarking that “tenders will not be granted on the basis of popularity.”
At no stage did Councillors debate the structure of the tender which clearly favoured a single operator for all the tennis courts from Rosebery to Glebe. After a tumultuous start to the night’s meeting, Clover Moore proposed the matter be deferred, and it was so.
The stoush comes during a major Council upgrade of Rushcutters Bay Park which involves the demolition of the current tennis café, to be replaced with a new cleanline structure, and removal of the adjoining cottage where Rory Miles has lived for many years. Council’s plans for the courts have been hotly contested by local residents and Mr Miles.
by Michael Gormly