City of Stirling rejects cap on legal fees

Stock image.
Stock image.

A RATEPAYER’S call to require council approval for City of Stirling spending on legal fees above $10,000 has been quashed.

Dianella resident Jack Garber moved a motion, supported by fellow ratepayers, at last year’s electors’ general meeting that Stirling chief executive Stuart Jardine be “restrained from engaging any law firms where the fee estimate exceeds $10,000 without first obtaining full council approval”.

Councillor Elizabeth Re sought to endorse Mr Garber’s original motion at last week’s meeting but the council instead adopted the City’s recommendation not to support it because it did “not accord with the City’s current approach to ensuring appropriate engagement of legal services”.

Cr Re believed council should follow ratepayers’ wishes because it was “not our money” but several councillors said the $10,000 figure was too low, with Cr Joe Ferrante saying that amount would be spent “in a couple of hours”.

Cr Adam Spagnolo said Mr Jardine was “sensible enough” to make the right decision.

“It’s his call,” he said.

“I would’ve thought our CEO would be diligent enough to approach council if it’s going to reach a significant figure,” he said.

The City spent $1.64 million on legal fees last financial year, up $600,000 from $1.03 million in 2016-17 and $1.12 million in 2015-16.

The biggest costs were associated with the infrastructure department at $606,437, nearly four times the spending in 2016-17.

Costs relating to community development also nearly tripled from $115,440 to $315,913.

Corporate services director Ingrid Hawkins said generally about 47 per cent of the City’s legal expenses were associated with advice on planning and development matters, which was $482,297 last financial year.

“Other areas of expenditure include safety related matters, staffing matters and procurement,” she said.

“Expenditure in 2017-18 included elements of one-off expenditure, such as the City’s review of the club leases.”

Ms Hawkins said the City spent about $105,000 on costs related to the State Administrative Tribunal between January 2016 and December 2018.

Legal advice regarding a Worksafe notice issued in 2017 cost $35,000.

The City of Joondalup spent $507,842 on legal costs in 2017-18, up from $374,742 the previous year and the City of Wanneroo’s legal expenditure was $1.5 million in 2017-18 and $1.2 million in 2016-17.