Bendigo council divided

RIGHT OF REPLY: Peter Cox pens his view on story

UPDATE 3PM: Councillor Elise Chapman says the operation of the City of Greater Bendigo should be investigated by the Local Government Inspectorate. 

Cr Chapman was one of three councillors to walk out of the ordinary meeting last night following emotional debate over the Budget, car parking at Rosalind Park and the clean up of the White Hills tip site. 

"It was clear to me that councillors did not have an open mind, refused to listen to facts and evidence and did not have Bendigo's best interest in mind," she said. 

Cr Chapman also expressed disgust over the conduct of some councillors and city officials during Cr Peter Cox's speech. 

UPDATE 1.30PM: Mayor Barry Lyons said it was "bloody childish" and highly disappointing to see three councillors walk out of the City of Greater Bendigo meeting last night. 

He confirmed the council would not take any punitive action over the matter but urged councillors to "act like adults" from now on. 

"There's been so many times when I have been hammered for my point of view but it's no way to carry on like that and walk out just because you don't get your own way," he said. 

"It was also disappointing to see them walk out together because we want people to be voting independently, not working with alliances."

Cr Lyons said no mediation would take place, but said council would work towards unity in the future. 

"We are looking after a major city and we need to look like we're capable of doing that, not acting like spoilt children," he said. 

The last time a councillor walked out of a meeting was in 2011, when councillors were debating plans to build a multi-storey car park. 

"We were generally taken back when the (three councillors) walked out last night but I've seen it happen before," Cr Lyons said. 

"One councillor packed up his gear and left when we were voting on the multi-storey car park so we weren't able to vote.

"It's definitely not a good look for council."

UPDATE 11.30AM: Cr Peter Cox has defended his decision to leave the City of Greater Bendigo meeting early last night, saying he wasn't making a statement - he had just "had enough". 

Cr Cox, along with Crs Elise Chapman and Helen Leach, walked out during councillor reports following much heated debate throughout the meeting. 

He said the council agenda had been debated and he decided that he had enough when it was time to do council reports. 

"Council has always been divided, not only on the budget but on waste management and many issues," he said. 

"It's great to have this diversity of viewpoints and it's an important aspect of democracy. 

"But it wasn't a planned walk out last night - I just decided to leave early as I was tired after such a long meeting.

"I have said in the past that council reports are boring and don't have any substance."

Cr Cox maintained his anger at being "gagged" by fellow councillors, after he was refused a forth time extension during his Budget speech.

He said he wasn't attacking staff - but rather inefficient processes throughout the council. 

He said another democratic process had been denied last night, with councillors agreeing to go ahead with car park works at Bendigo Theatre, despite it being in direct conflict with the Rosalind Park Masterplan. 

His fellow Bendigo councillors have been contacted for comment. 

UPDATE 10.30AM: Cr Mark Weragoda says the council is divided beyond repair and fears some councillors will never learn to work together. 

Cr Weragoda has labelled the three councillors who walked out of the meeting last night as unprofessional and childish. 

The tension came to a head when Cr Peter Cox walked out of the meeting during councillor reports; Crs Elise Chapman and Helen Leach followed. 

The three councillors opposed the 2014-15 budget earlier in the night and had moved two motions to halt car park works at Rosalind Park and take immediate action at the Hopley Demolition tip site. 

Both motions were lost.

"Cr Cox just got up and said he wasn't going to bother reading out his report," Cr Weragoda said. 

"It was after two of his motions were lost and it seems like a case of sour grapes to me."

Cr Weragoda said the tension begun when Cr Cox was refused a time extension when he was talking about the budget motion. 

"I personally wasn't going to let him criticise and ridicule staff and the CEO and I think that's why people stopped him from talking," Cr Weragoda said. 

He said the council division had been a pattern for some time. He doesn't have faith that councillors will learn to work together. 

"I would love to say that we will try and negotiate in the future and argue our points of view without this occurring," he said. 

"Of course some things you want don't get up but being a councillor is about fighting and keep trying and accepting when your motion is lost. 

"But it has to be a two-way street and I don't know how you mediate when it's so divided."

EARLIER: Three City of Greater Bendigo councillors walked out of the council meeting last night following emotional debate. 

Councillor Elise Chapman was calling on all required testing for the former White Hills landfill site to be completed before March 1. 

Hopley Demolition has been asked to vacate the site, which council believes is toxic. 

During the heated discussion, councillors Chapman, Peter Cox, and Helen Leach - who all supported the motion - walked out.

The three councillors opposed the 2014-15 budget earlier in the night. 

Cr Cox claimed he was gagged and denied his democratic right after fellow councillors refused to grant an extension for him to continue speaking. 

At the time, Cr Cox was outlining efficiencies which he believed could help reduce the rate rise. 

"I have spoken for nine minutes over a mulit-million dollar budget and am only asking for three more minutes," he said. 

"I have spent months pouring over the Budget and hours putting together this speech - and now I am not allowed to finish it."

Crs Rod Fyffe, Rod Campbell, Mark Weragoda and Lisa Ruffell all voted against a time extension. They were in support of the budget. 

Full council report here

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