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March 9, 2022

‘You have to accept democracy’: Independents enjoy rare control of Adelaide City Council

With Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor sick with COVID-19 and leader of the majority voting bloc Team Adelaide, Alexander Hyde, campaigning in the state election, the so-called Independents ruled the Adelaide City Council for one night only. Here’s what happened.

  • Words: Angela Skujins

CityMag received a text message from an elected member before the Adelaide City Council meeting last night highlighting a prescient power shift between the two rival voting groups.

“Lord Mayor is unwell. Cannot attend meeting. With Cr Hyde absent that changes the numbers for the first time,” the text said of the impending vibe shift.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor was absent from Tuesday night’s decision-making meeting due to contracting COVID-19.

South Ward councillor Alexander Hyde –  leader of majority voting bloc Team Adelaide – has not been present at meetings since 15 February 2022 due to formally commencing his state election campaign for the seat of Waite.

The two absences meant the Independents – usually the minority voting group, composed of councillors Greg Mackie, Anne Moran and Keiran Snape, and steered by Lord Mayoral contender Phil Martin – controlled the chamber.


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Verschoor had been previously identified by InDaily to have attended at least one Team Adelaide meeting. She uses her casting vote when there is a tie in votes between members.

Last night, the Independents used their majority to crush the normally dominant Team Adelaide – at this meeting composed of councillors Franz Knoll, Mary Couros, Simon Hou and Jessy Khera – by carrying a range of their members’ motions.

This included a footpath condition index, incentivised child care facilities and painted speed signs on roads.

But the Independents’ gains were contingent on the support of South Ward councillor and swing-voter Helen Donovan and the rulings of Team Adelaide affiliate Deputy Lord Mayor Arman Abrahimzadeh who procedurally managed the chamber in Verschoor’s absence.

North Ward councillor Martin exerted his power at the beginning of the meeting by suggesting the 16 motions on-notice, located at the bottom of the agenda, be dealt with first.

Councillor Phil Martin. This picture: Tony Lewis


An agenda shake-up had been raised previously by Martin at council meetings but had never received majority support.

“We want to do the right thing by our stakeholders and allow them to see these proceedings,” Martin said, referring to the motions as having “broad community interest”.

“I would ask members to simply endorse this change. It doesn’t make any great difference to what we discuss – simply the order of which we discuss things.”

Central Ward councillor Khera warned his colleagues against taking part in an activity “designed to take advantage of the fluctuating nature of the number of members present at the meeting.”

“I would caution councillors that to take advantage of that, or to do that or encourage that, is just going to encourage more of that stuff down the track,” he said.

The rearranged agenda was carried by support from the Independents and Donovan, but was immediately followed by a bout of bickering between councillors Mackie and Couros who sit beside one another.

Although the beginning of the exchange was muffled, CityMag heard Mackie repeatedly say to Couros: “You have to accept democracy.”

I am asking we dissent from the ruling of the chair.
—Councillor Martin

Couros’ reply was inaudible, but councillor Khera could be heard saying to Mackie over Couros’ shoulder: “people leave meetings prematurely” – referring to elected members, such as veteran councillor Moran, storming out from the chamber during heated debate.

Tuesday night’s factional tension reached boiling point when members discussed councillor Moran’s pitch for the City of Adelaide to investigate policy changes with the government for the top two floors of new office buildings be allocated to childcare facilities.

Khera started the debate by saying he was against the motion, describing it as “quite foolishly over-prescriptive.”

Councillor Jessy Khera (photographed in 2018). This picture: Tony Lewis


After 20 minutes of back and forth discussion between most elected members, Khera stood up again to offer a “point of clarification.”

Councillor Martin objected to Khera saying there had been a “breach” in local government legislation by the Deputy Lord Mayor allowing Khera to speak again.

“I’m asking you Deputy Lord Mayor to suggest to the member that he (Khera) is in breach of section 29 of Standing Orders,” Martin said.

“I’m asking for you to rule that was improper,” Martin said.

Abrahimzadeh said Khera’s point of clarification was a “valid interruption”.

Martin then clapped back: “I am asking we dissent from the ruling of the chair.”

The chamber then voted as to whether they would squash the Deputy Lord Mayor’s ruling in defence of Khera with the dissent motion carried by majority Independent support, and Donovan.

At 9:30pm the meeting wound up in the same way it began – with Martin suggesting members reconvene the following week to discuss the remaining agenda’s items due to “health and safety” issues surrounding working late into the night.

The call was carried with the support of the Independents and Donovan.

For more Adelaide City Council news, click here

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