Adelaide’s incumbent Lord Mayor is running again for the top job in the upcoming Adelaide City Council general elections, pushing a progressive re-election policy advocating for environmentalism, arts and culture.
Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor has unfinished business
Over the weekend, Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor announced her candidacy to once again throw her hat in the ring for the top job in the November Adelaide City Council general elections.
“Running for Lord Mayor is not my plan B,” Sandy says.
“I’ve dedicated my life – my working life – to the city in many forms.”
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Sandy is challenging former senator Rex Patrick and Dancing with the Stars personality Steven Kelly for the position. At trendy café Part-Time Lover, out the back of Adelaide Town Hall, she sits with CityMag to explain her policy platform.
She will advocate for a $1 million cultural infrastructure fund ($500,000 of which will go towards “contributing” to the build of a 150-seat theatre) and promises to plant a minimum of one tree for every day she’s in office.
Sandy has promised an arts venue before. Prior to securing the Lord Mayoralship in 2018, she unveiled her vision for the formerly vacant Le Cornu site to host a concert hall.
In 2020, the Adelaide City Council announced the 33-year-dormant site would instead become a $250 million three-tower residential and retail complex, known as Eighty Eight O’Connell.
Asked whether she would deliver on this new arts venue, Sandy says the former pitch would have cost between $60 million and $100 million, and “would have needed a buy-in by a developer, like the government and federal government”.
“We went through an expression of interest process on Eighty Eight O’Connell, which all members were part of, and when we decided that we would work with a developer, Commercial & General,” she says.
“Now, the [150-seat theatre] I have just released is well within our remit, we can deliver this on our own without anyone else.”
Her pitch to plant a tree for every day in office – 1500 trees total – would come from the Adelaide City Council budget, she says. The cost would depend on tree species and the planting location.
But laying roots in the city is currently on shaky footing, as the postcode 5000 is a mix of Adelaide Park Lands and urban side and residential streets. Sandy has a solution for this, though.
“If we can’t put the tree in the ground, we’re putting them in the box,” she says.
“The northwest and southwest city really needs an increase in tree canopy, and there’s a couple of ways to go about it.
“Sometimes it might be in somebody’s front yard. We’ll still supply the tree.”
Sandy’s weekend announcement came with a press release in which she’s quoted saying she had worked “tirelessly” to bolster cultural and economic development and had demonstrated “real leadership” in climate change and homelessness.
In June, the council administration revealed Adelaide City Council spent between $125,000—$180,000 on carbon credits to offset its emissions.
“Those last bits to offset are very hard to… get rid of,” Sandy says, but she hopes for the organisation to achieve net-zero by 2030.
According to the Adelaide Zero Project Dashboard, there were 283 people experiencing homelessness in Adelaide’s inner-city this July.
In May, the Adelaide City Council released its Homelessness, Social Housing & Housing Affordability 2022-2025 Policy, in which it stated the council would henceforth facilitate and “advocate” rather than provide services.
“The CoA does not have a role in the provision (direct delivery) of homelessness services, crisis accommodation, social housing and affordable housing,” the document says.
The policy was confirmed months after the Adelaide City Council revealed it would sell 20 Whitmore Square affordable housing apartments to claw back debt.
Asked whether the current term of council demonstrated leadership in addressing homelessness, Sandy says “we have in previous years done some social housing, but… it is a role of the state government and through the federal government”.
“It’s really understanding where you can step in, and where you actually have to make sure that you provide resources or support services,” she says of the council’s responsibility on the issue.
“We were a foundation partner of the Adelaide Zero Project. That has been absolutely integral to the work that they are now doing.
“We’ve also supported Puti on Kaurna Yerta. We supported Transition to Country.”
Puti on Kaurna Yerta was a pilot camp spearheaded by the South Australian Department for Human Services to help Aboriginal rough sleepers in the Adelaide Park Lands access services and government support.
The City of Adelaide is one of 16 service Adelaide Zero Project service partners.
“We do [take] leadership in that role,” Sandy says.
The last four years at Adelaide Town Hall have been described as “dysfunctional” and “toxic” by the elected members working within it.
Sandy says she is “very, very proud” of the achievements of the council but “very, very disappointed” in some councillor’s behaviour.
“I’ve been very disappointed with the treatment of administration,” she says.
“It’s not an us and them. It’s never supposed to be like that”.
A new term is an opportunity to reset, she says, adding she is optimistic about the new Behavioural Standards panel and framework which all elected members are expected to at least partially abide by.
“We have a Code of Conduct and have all signed up to that, and that is to be respectful and to not misrepresent the truth,” she says. “[But] not everybody abides by that code.”
Sandy did not give a yes or no answer as to whether she is part of majority voting bloc Team Adelaide, instead saying she is an “independent” and has never belonged to a political party.
When pressed again for a yes or no, she asks, “What is Team Adelaide?”
“Team Adelaide is whoever doesn’t vote with certain councillors, so it can be anything from eight to two, five to six,” she says.
“It’s a very hard question to answer, because on a daily basis, it changes who’s the membership.”
Adelaide City Council nominations opened on 23 August and close 6 September.
The scrutiny and count is slated for 12 November.