BY IRINA DUNN
Former City of Sydney Councillor and barrister Dixie Coulton is among many people appalled by the behaviour of some Woollahra councillors towards constituents opposing the proposed skatepark on the eastern side of Rushcutters Bay Park.
The proposed skatepark is larger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool at 1,225 square metres.
Coulton is a member of Friends of Rushcutters Bay Park, a large group of individuals united by an interest in preserving the natural heritage and values of the park.
Woollahra Mayor Peter Cavanagh’s response to one constituent on 2 February was:
“Thank you for all the emails clearly you have nothing else in your life but to waste it on emails that were considered before the vote. All you have done is strengthen councillors resolve to continue So well done [sic].”\
“Inaccurate hysterical nonsense”
And Councillor Anthony Marano wrote to his constituents in the following terms using his official email:
“To try to use heritage as a weapon against children to stop this facility going ahead is a very low act and you should all take a long hard look at yourselves [sic].” (11 February)
“You mention ” rights for some ‘, well that is exactly how you are treating Rushcutters Bay Park, like it is your own private back yard and nobody else is allowed to use it [sic].” (11 February)
“I am afraid you … are delusional, as you just don’t wish to acknowledge the facts and you continue to push your inaccurate hysterical nonsense to the same small group of people that are in the minority [sic].” (14 February)
Coulton and many others believe that Cavanagh and Marano have breached the code of conduct in writing to their constituents in such a manner.
“How can elected [councillors] talk to people like that?” she said. “Not only that, but the Mayor gets a large amount of money for being elected to the position. You cannot occupy a public office and talk to people like that.”
“They should be sacked for this conduct,” she added. “How can you be running a major council and talk to your constituents like that. When someone writes to you like that it just confirms your opinion that he’s an ignoramus.”
It is notable that the previous council voted overwhelmingly against the skateboard facility. However, when the vote was taken after the election of the subsequent council, the park came under threat when the finance committee, comprising only six (or less than half) of the 15 councillors, led by Councillor Marano in the Chair, voted for the skatepark [on 15 October].
Marano wrote on 2 February, “It is quite extraordinary that a small group of people… just cannot except the fact that they have lost this fight, as their views are in the minority”.
However, the finance committee vote of six is clearly “in the minority,” a fact that escaped Marano’s attention when it suited him.
Marano then wrote on 11 February, “Just for your information, you may have had 2,000 signatures on your petition opposing the facility, but we had another petition with over 2,500 signatures from local families who want us to build it in that exact spot of the park”.
For Marano to uphold the 55% of the combined respondents in these two polls and to dismiss the views of 2,000 people (ie 45% of the combined constituents) in such a childish manner suggests that he simply does not care about the latter group and just wants to have the vote go his way. Why? Perhaps he hates Greenies?
“Under the cover of a finance committee,” Coulton says, “they approved it without proper public consultation, without a development application, and without a heritage report.”
Push to list park on Heritage Register
A member of the Friends of Rushcutters Bay Park applied to the Heritage Council of NSW and was granted an interim heritage order over the land in contention.
This means that the Council “cannot destroy any tree or vegetation unless approval is granted by the Heritage Council, which will assess the significance of the park and may list it on the State heritage register,” Coulton said. The Heritage Council has one year to make a determination.
She added that the group would push for the park to be put on the register because of the “very rich history” of the park.
Even though the interim heritage order will only temporarily prevent construction of the skatepark, Coulton stresses that people should still keep up the pressure on the Council which will do its best to go ahead with the skatepark after the 12 months is up.
People who oppose the skatepark should email email@example.com, and their email will be forwarded along with hundreds of others to the Mayor and other Councillors.
Alternatively, tweet #noskatepark.