The Council’s membership of the Camden Chamber had been an ongoing question for five months until just before Christmas (notably shortly after the Council Reporter asked questions about it). By contrast the Council appeared to have promptly renewed its membership of Narellan Chamber of Commerce.
We still don't know why the Council decided to withhold $8000 of $10,000 grant for Light Up Camden. At the time of writing, it doesn’t appear that this funding has been released, leaving the Chamber and some local businesses still out of pocket months later.
For the most part, these ructions have remained out of public view. So, let’s go through what we know.
For quite a while this year it seemed like the Council would not renew its membership of the Chamber. It appeared we may have a rerun of September 23, 2014, when Camden Council officially withdrew from the Chamber of Commerce after a very public battle over the developments proposed for Camden township (pdf).
The Council returned to the fold in 2015.
However in 2016 it completely missed the renewal period, which extended out to the end of September, 2016, suggesting that once again the Council would cease to be a part of the Chamber.
The Council Reporter sent questions in on November 29 and again on December 8 asking whether the Council would renew its membership.
We had still received no reply when on December 13, payment for membership renewal was sent to the Chamber. The Reporter was notified that the Council would continue as a member on December 15.
A side effect of that five-month delay since the original renewal invoice was sent to the Council on July 12, is that the Council’s membership will now have to be assessed officially as if it was a new member, not a renewing membership. For this reason it will have to be approved by the executive.
By contrast, the Council had already renewed its membership with Narellan Chamber of Commerce, as that Chamber confirmed to me on November 29.
Funding withheld for Light Up Camden
There is a bit of a backstory to this.
The Council has been quite aggressive towards the Camden Chamber of Commerce over the past year. In the Council meeting of June 28, following a Mayoral Minute, a motion moved by the mayor was passed asking the Chamber for its financial records for the financial year starting July 1, 2015, to be produced and made available for inspection.
The motion also called for Council funding to be used by the Chamber for the purpose for which it was contributed and to provide an explanation for the recent resignations of some members of the executive.
At the next meeting, July 12 (ORD04) the Council agreed to hold $10,000 in funds for Light Up Camden until the Chamber’s financial reports had been independently audited.
The Chamber of Commerce representatives met with the Council around the provision of financial records on July 11, August 12 and November 7. As far as the Chamber is aware, its financial reports have now been independently audited and passed, to quote one member, “with flying colours”. This was also confirmed in the annual report by the president of the Chamber.
On this basis, the $10,000 should have been paid to the Chamber so it could pay outstanding invoices to community groups and local businesses involved in Light Up Camden.
Fireworks damage Onslow Park cricket pitch
The transfer of funds to the Chamber is usually straight forward but with the Council's calls for an audit and an incident during Light Up Camden, that saw the firework display damage the synthetic cricket pitch at Onslow Park, it all went a bit pear-shaped.
Under normal circumstances, the cost for repairs of the pitch would have been dealt with through the insurance companies of the pyrotechnics firm and the Council. As far as we understand, these negotiations were proceeding as expected.
For this reason it was reasonable to expect the $10,000 funding promised to the Chamber for Light Up Camden would have had no role in this negotiation and should have been released. But the money for Light Up Camden continued to be held by the Council and a phone call between a senior council officer and the Chamber revealed that instructions had been made to withhold the payment until the matter of the firework damage had been determined.
No indication was given as to who delivered this instruction.
I sent five questions to the council around the withholding of funds on December 8 and never received a reply.
On December 15, the Chamber again requested payment of the community grant.
To date, it has not been forthcoming and some businesses and community organisations involved in Light Up Camden have still not been paid.
It may very well be that this is just an administrative issue gone wrong before Christmas, but the delay in membership renewal, demands for audits of the Chamber's books and now the instruction to withhold money that should have been paid to local businesses and charities seems to be a remarkable run of misfortune over a short period.
Hopefully, we will see some movement on this in the new year and the relations between the Council and the Chamber restored.