Montefiore: Plaques, Parks and Town Hall’s Discouraging Fees

The quiet emergence of a small Town Hall fee ought to earn its discoverer a city plaque in recognition of his endeavour’s “significance to the city, culturally and economically”.

Sir Monty occasionally promenades North Terrace (when the luncheon period ends and the Club bar is briefly closed). It allows him to examine the many plaques honouring famous Adelaide persons.

It is to his sorrow that only the Adelaide dead appear to deserve them, because there are many alive who already deserve them, not after their wills are read and the family forever splinters over small matters. But small matters often take on greater significance later.

Sir Monty is already a Knight of the Realm for his services to Old Adelaide Money (OAM) and, given that his solo accomplishments for eastern suburbs widows are unique in this town, many of his peers at the Club agree that his name should have long ago graced a plaque at some prominent Adelaide spot.

It turns out that Town Hall has a detailed policy and procedure for plaque approvals. Sir Monty naturally fulfils the criteria (“significance to the state or city culturally, economically, socially, etc,”). But he now knows that if a plaque is approved to be fixed to an existing street bench he has to pay the plaque cost plus a fee of $599, or if fixed to a new ‘Green Willow Branch Bench’ a fee of $2900, or if to an ‘Adelaide Suite bench’, a fee of $4000. There’s another choice — a tree, with or without a plaque — but Sir Monty’s vision of what a wandering pooch might do to corrode the Scuttlebutt reputation turns him off that option. Moreover, he would have to buy the sapling (a risky investment given Adelaide summers) and pay Town Hall a $729 fee.

The matter of the need for, and sums of, some Town Hall fees remains an irritant among many city and North Adelaide residents, who occasionally spot the emergence of new, odd items, like fresh fly spots on a newly hung Town Hall budget wallpaper.

One critter crawled very quietly onto the fees list several years ago. Titled a ‘Parking Charge – Application Fee’, this $30 Town Hall blowfly apparently buzzes anyone wishing to enquire into, and perhaps pursue, a ‘parking control alteration’. There’s lucrative revenue-raising potential in decisions affecting parking controls, but inquiry can be tedious, so this new fee has been struck. Given the small sum (since July 1 risen to $32), the only obvious
purpose is to discourage inquiry.

Sir Monty takes no credit for the fee discovery. It belongs to North Adelaide ratepayer, Alex Sims, whom Sir Monty has never met. Mr Sims, with forensic ability, outed the administrators in one of many public responses to Town Hall’s 2017–18 draft business plan.

“In order for council to introduce such a fee it must serve a purpose for the community, not merely exist as a means of discouraging enquiry,” he wrote. He had checked Town Hall’s website about it and concluded: “I [find] that I must read the operating guidelines and ‘pay a nonrefundable fee, regardless of the outcome’ … “There is no exemption given for [those] who might wish to improve safety through altering parking controls [or] improve community benefit through altering controls to better utilise scarce kerbside space.”

Here he perhaps unwittingly jabbed a very touchy Town Hall nerve, given the vast and unmet demand for more and better-managed parking spaces across the city, a subject of festering back-room councillor frustration over ways to address the aggression of city drivers recently expiated.

Mr Sims also threw detailed light on the sneaky way this fee had emerged in 2015–16 without council discussion and without an easy paper trail through which to scrutinise its evolution.

In the opinion of Sir Monty’s Club bar colleagues (and Sir Monty himself), the likes of the Mr Sims of this world ought to be accorded plaques for speaking up, and forensically pursuing administrator humbug about a tiny matter with big public administration potential — responding to ideas without resistance.

As Mr Sims wrote: “This [fee] represents the thin end of the wedge. Are we to anticipate the customer service number moving to a [cost-to-caller] 1900 number?” But Sir Monty concludes with a caution. Plaque policy insists that Town Hall reserves the right to “relocate a bench [with a plaque] or move a plaque from one bench to another.”

This might see Mr Sims’ plaque moved in the same quiet way as this fee, not in but out, perhaps to some lonely back street or empty pocket park. There’s probably a reason why one tends to be deceased before a plaque is pursued. Administrators always did prefer the last word.

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