Saturday, 18 September 2010

Saturday SoapBlog: Ross Parisi - Community radio president out of his depth

Cairns Community Radio 4CCR - 89.1 FM held their AGM this week, after nine Federal ACMA investigations and a year of mis-management and distrust with the community it is meant to serve.

The Association's annual accounts, that the president refused to make public, showed a train wreak of secret expenditure. A line item was hidden as 'Other Activities' of $110,000, could not be explained to Monday's meeting.

Ross Parisi from Friends of 4CCR says what the community of Cairns witnessed last Monday night was the rants of a delusional President who appeared out of his depth.

The President of Cairns Community Radio, Mr Rodney Coutts camouflaged his incompetence with a good measure of arrogance and hubris.

There he was standing like a human shield at the door to the venue under the guise of welcoming members whereas what he was really doing was rejecting members of the Friends and the general public. In total he turned away at least 12 people including the following;
  • Councillor Diane Forsyth, an elected Cairns Regional Council representative.
  • Michael Hymas, who had a letter from Centrelink saying that he was the carer of his partner, Lisa.
  • Ross Parisi, chair of Friends, holding a proxy from radio member and Cairns Regional Councillor Linda Cooper.
  • Cairns media, including Kristy O’Brien and her cameraman from 7 News,
  • Michael Moore from CairnsBlog and his cameraman Shayne Thompson.
  • Several other members of the Friends and supporters of the radio station.
It was interesting to observe the demeanour of the three security guards who were carrying out their duties under duress. Privately, they could not believe what was happening.

“We are in Cairns, not in some distant illiberal democracy the likes of Russia or Iraq,” they were overheard muttering.

Inside the venue approximately 40 people were in attendance. 25 were considered rusted-on supporters of Mr Coutts’ cabal. 15 or so were joint members/supporters of the Friends and Cairns Community Broadcasters Incorporated.

The atmosphere was not cordial or inclusive at all, as it should have been. After all, it supposedly was an Annual General Meeting of a publicly-funded community radio station. The report I have, is that Mr Coutts was visibly insecure and rattled. He did not know what to expect, notwithstanding his vetting of those wanting to attend. The reality is that, his once solid support base is beginning to erode and splinter and he is not sure who to trust any longer.

Mr Coutts opened the AGM and;
  • Ruled that the Financial Statement of Accounts would not be tabled and discussed and that no questions would be allowed,
  • Removed from the AGM’s agenda discussion on the ill drafted discriminatory Constitution,
  • Ruled that there would be no AGM general business from the floor,
  • Intimidated and had shouted down members including Mrs L Hymas who had the temerity to question the actions of the Management Committee,
  • Did not mention that ACMA had just launched four new investigations, 3 days before the AGM,
  • Made no reference to or justification of the terminations of membership that has occurred since the AGM of last year,
  • Made no mention of the rejected membership including those of Ross Parisi, Cr Diane Forsyth, Dennis Walls, Tony Hillier, Michael Hymas, Shane Wilson, Donn Corcoran, Judi Corcoran, Bryan Law, Judi Corcoran, Michael Moore, Jasse Walton, Dave Slayter, Richie Bates, and Gerry Pyne.
  • Made no mention in the President’s report of ACMA’s previous adverse determinations,
  • Gave no progress report on the current state of implementation of the ACMA’s ‘Agreed Measures’,
  • Did not allow discussion on the deteriorating state of the infrastructure on Mount Yarrabah and the unresolved tenure of the site,
  • Tabled no business plan on the future direction of the radio station,
  • Tabled no financial plan on how the deteriorating financial position would be rectified.
  • Failed to explain the $110,000 "other activities"
As well as any observer would expect from such secrecy and stone-walling, proceedings did not go quite to plan as members became irate and demanded that the financial statements be tabled, circulated and discussed.

According to Mr Coutts, the accounts book, with details of many unexplained expenditures, were left back at the radio station’s office. Was it so that, no meaningful discussion could take place on the various items that make up the annual statement of accounts? Readers can draw their own conclusions.

Apart from Mr Coutts’ directives, the rest of the meeting was rudderless. He had previously stated that his position, and that of his paid volunteer, treasurer Mimille Alvero, were not up for election. At this point the meeting went into free-fall.

Mr Coutts was advised by the attending solicitor, that both positions should go up for re-election together with the rest of the committee. Coutts had to accept his advice and reluctantly declared both positions vacant.

The following were re-elected to the committee: President, Rodney Coutts; Vice President, John Fielder; Treasurer Mimille Alvero; Committee: Garry Montagner, Diane Jensen, Pieter Blaauw, and Peter Ricketts, Julian Serong, and Jack the Dog.

Julian Serong declined nomination for secretary, that remains unfilled, so it will be interesting to see whether Mr Coutts fills that role as well. I wonder if he realises that to appoint a secretary Mr Coutts will have to have another general meeting. Now that will be fun, not to mention the after meeting drinks.

Another disturbing fact is the position of Mr Ricketts on the committee. One of the tenets of a transparent administration is the separation of power between the executive, in this case the management committee and its servants.

Mr Ricketts, who is part of the committee, is also the contracted paid technician. This puts him in a delicate position of professional conflict. Mr Ricketts has only one choice if he does not want to run the risk of adverse accusations. He should resign as the radio station’s technician if he wants to remain on the committee. Because of the lucrative position that he holds, it would be easier for him to step down. As it now stands the situation is untenable and Mr Coutts is called upon to fix it via a general meeting.

In conclusion, Mr Coutts fails to realise that the ACMA is nearing the ends of its tether and may well suspend or cancel the licence of 4CCR, if once again the ACMA finds in favour of the latest four complaints.

Mr Coutts would be skating on thin ice if he refuses any new membership applications. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Friends submit new membership applications as a result of their forthcoming membership drive.

While the Friends would prefer a smooth transition to a new management team and the continuation of the radio licence, Friends are ready to meet any challenge that may flow from the mismanagement and the intransigence of Mr Coutts’ committee.

In the interim, Friends are prepared to work with Mr Coutts to sort out the shambolic mess that he has put the radio station in. The Memorandum of Understanding prepared earlier this year, was rejected out of hand by Mr Coutts, and should be revisited. It is a document that provides for goodwill on the part of the Friends and CCBI.

I hope that it can be sorted out before more damage is inflicted.


Ross Parisi said...

The above are the machination of a once proud community radio station now in financial and procedural turmoil.

As an adendum to my report I wish to add the following.

What must be remembered is that the radio station is not a private radio club but an organisation which the Australian Government publicly funds to the tune of $100,000 annually and has been for many years.

CCBI members are concerned at the lack of adequate explanation given by Mr Coutts when challenged to explain where all the money has gone.

Mr Coutts has been President for just 1 year and in that time there has been a turn around of $160,209 with no adequate public explanation. Last year 4ccr returned a profit of $64,804 whereas during 2009-2010 a loss of $95,405 has been incurred.

What we now do know is that Mr Coutts previously drove around in a broken down scooter but know drive around in a 4CCR purchased car.

As I understand, Mr Coutts is a volunteer President of CCBI not a paid Manager. If he is indeed a Manager then he should not be President of CCBI. There has to be a separation of power.

Nepotism appears to be in order with his girlfriend treasurer M’s Alvero now a paid committee member. How much she is being paid Mr Coutts would not explain.

Mr Ricketts, a 4CCR paid contracted Technician is now an elected member of the Management Committee that appointed him. Would that be a conflict of interest?

It appears Mr Coutts runs an oligarchy of sorts that needs to be investigated not only by ACMA and the Queensland Office of Fair Trading but by Australian Government Audit Office as a matter of urgency.

I call on the following local representatives;

Mr Warren Entsch Member for Leichhardt,
Ms Desley Boyle Member for Cairns and a Queensland Government Cabinet Minister,
M’s Val Schier Mayor of Cairns.
to intervene in the operations of Cairns Community Broadcasters Incorporated and to ensure that a comprehensive Government Audit be conducted forthwith.

While this process is underway and until the results are known Mr Coutts and his Management Committee should be asked to stand aside in the interest of transparency and decency.

LG said...

Ross, thank you for this thorough report. The work of Friends is invaluable. Surely it is now just a matter of time before these usurpers are driven from office.

:Kevin-John: Morgan. said...

Mr Coutts, we don't care what your excuses are for remaining in your position, but we're giving you 10 days to stand down, or we will bring Fraud charges against you, and believe us, they will stick!
Who the hell does this Mr Coutts think he is? Hitler?
If an organisation which deems itself to be a community project, run by volunteers, and delivering community news and views, holds an AGM, I'm sorry to have to inform you Mr Coutts that you CANNOT exclude the community from the meeting!
The community demands answers, and dammit, the community WILL get answers, even if we have to drag you into a Federal Court.

Stop the rot said...

Well said Ross!

It is no wonder Coutts resists new membership and proper scrutiny.
It is time that the local politicans stop procrastinating and order an complete investigation.

Any inference of possible missuse of public funds needs to be throughly investigated. This can't be allowed to fester!

Future Member said...

Coutts cannot add up and parisi cannot spell the station is doomed.

Gavin Bland said...

I've never heard a spelling mistake on radio.

a blake said...

Just watch parisi use this to run for council he is building a profile .

Fratier said...

So what's your problem a blake? He couldn't do any worse than your namesake.

Ross Parisi said...

a blake, your comment is welcomed though your perception is off the mark and a little mischievous.

With due respect and at the risk of sounding ripe with hubris, in my case building a profile is not a prerequisite of running for an elected position.

A profile is necessary if your selling tarnished goods, hawking a spurious message or if you have just arrived in town.

I do not regret for one moment my 34 years in the public spotlight as I have enjoyed every waking moment.

Unlike some elected contemporary representatives that are there for the wrong reason. I found my job devoid of stress.

If you follow the public's wishes and do not go against common sense, public office is the one of the easier jobs available.

Conversely, if one is deceptive, has a hidden agenda, is there for the wrong reason, has an ulterior motive then it is the hardest job offering.

Michael Hyams said...

As you would expect, with my Wife, inside the tent, and me outside, we have been talking daily since the event about the Annual General Cock-up last Monday. One thing that Lisa has constantly found appaling is that a man, in the front row, tall, balding, scruffy, and obviously supporting the incumbent regime, would constantly turn round shake his fists (would you believe, and mouth obscenities at the four Ladies seated together behind him, including Lisa, two Philipinas, and Mrs.Praetorius, all of whom si9mply wanted reasonabkle answers to reasonable questions. I do not know who he was, but if anyone does, and can identifyhim I would be grateful, as would, I imagine, all members of "The Friends"

Ross Parisi, Friends of 4CCR said...

Michael, his name is David Collier and he is the operator/owner of Orchard Valley Nursery, Little Mulgrave Valley, Gordonvale.
I have known him for 30 years, he used to manage one of our investments.

When I was having a after meeting drink with Di, and Shane was holding Billy Lee Long to account, he came over to greet me and suggested that Coutts join us. I did not object so he proceeded to ask Coutts to join us but he turned him down saying he would not be able to make any sense as he was too upset and had to many stiff scotches....I wondered at the time!!

If anyone would like to come along to our next Friends of 4CCR meeting, this Wednesday, we wont block anyone at the door.

Just call me on 0419 645 818 or 4038 1005 or email

It's on this Wednesday evening in town, at 6.45 for 7pm.