R2408 per month for Knysna Heads Property
It seems that the controversy worm has dug its way deep into the woodwork of Knysna Municipality – the latest upheaval being the Council’s decision to refurbish a municipal-owned flat on the Knysna Heads and rent it out to the current Acting Municipal Manager at what many are saying is a substantially reduced rate .
It was resolved during a Council meeting held online on 6 August, that the Municipality would perform cosmetic upgrades to its apartment at Senza Restaurant, at The Heads, and that the unfurnished apartment would be leased to Acting Municipal Manager Dr Scheepers at a market related rental amount. Dr Scheepers three month contract is set to expire on 12 September, though there is a chance that it may be extended for a further three months.
At the Council meeting, the DA councillors opposed the idea, with Michelle Wasserman citing that the rental is certainly not market-related and that spending R50 000 on refurbishment costs when the Municipality is already cash-strapped didn’t make any sense.
But although the DA spoke and indeed voted against it, the ANC, COPE and KUC coalition had the numbers, and the resolution was passed.
In a press statement issued later, Executive Mayor Ricky van Aswegen described the idea as a win-win situation.
“Aside from rendering the apartment habitable and capable of generating an income, it is important to maintain Council property,” he said, “The flat at Senza was one of two properties under discussion, and proved to be the least expensive option to spruce up right now.”
The statement explained that Dr Scheepers currently rents a flat in a block where three other residents have been tested positive for Covid-19. This has meant that Dr Scheepers has already had to self-isolate for a total of four weeks.
“While Dr Scheepers did work remotely during these periods of quarantine, it is important to have the head of the administration at the office,” the statement quotes van Aswegen as saying, “Renting an apartment separate from other people greatly reduces the risk of exposure to infected persons and the related potential need for self-isolation.”
“Council has a responsibility to maintain its properties and having someone living on-site will add an element of security to an otherwise deserted site,” it concluded.
But it seems others are certainly not seeing the situation as ‘win-win’. Indeed, when the statement hit social media via the Knysna Municipality’s Facebook Page, there was quite an outcry, with no less than 181 comments, mostly negative, made by residents of Greater Knysna.
Knysna Ratepayers Association made no bones about their views on the subject, publishing a post entitled THUMBS DOWN TO HEADS LEASE FOR KNYSNA’S HEAD HONCHO. On the same post, they shared a lengthy statement in Afrikaans which they attributed to Mayor van Aswegen. The statement suggests that the complaints against the leasing of the property were all racially motivated, and symbolised an arrogant and selfish attitude.
Incensed by the whole matter, Councillor Wasserman issued a statement about the matter, clearly challenging the integrity of the resolution and indeed the Mayor.
Here follows an edited version:-
On 6 August 2020 the Acting Municipal Manager, Dr Scheepers, requested that Council consider leasing to him the 86m2 flat on top of the old Senza restaurant at the Knysna Heads, for the duration of his employment with Knysna Municipality.
The motivations for the lease (to the Acting Municipal Manager) presented in the item to Council were that:
1. Leasing the property on a short-term basis would yield rental income for the Municipality; and
2. Having the property standing vacant exposed it to further vandalism and theft.
Despite the fact that the market-related rental given by DDP Valuers in February 2020 for the property in its present state was between R5500 and R6850 per month, Dr Scheepers felt that a suitable rental for the property (taking into account what two other Directors are paying to rent Municipal properties) would be R28 per square metre i.e. a rental amount of R2408.00 per month.
Another request made by Dr Scheepers was that the flat should be renovated.
The Democratic Alliance voted against approving the requested lease.
Our position was that:
1. Knysna Municipality cannot afford to spend this kind of money (R50,000.00 estimated, but probably more) on the renovation of this apartment for a Municipal employee.
2. A market-related rental should be paid for any municipal property. Our view was that R2408.00 per month is not a market-related rental and that an investigation needs to be done into the rental amounts being paid for other municipal properties by members of staff (R4650.00 cannot possibly, for example, be considered a market-related rental for a two-bedroom seafront property in Buffalo Bay).
3. Furniture should not be provided at the Municipality’s cost.
Although the COPE Mayor and the ANC and KUC councillors agreed with the DA that a market-related rental should be paid and that the apartment should not be furnished by the Municipality, they felt that it would be acceptable to spend R50,000 (or more) on renovations and they voted in favour of a lease to the Acting Municipal Manager on those terms.
Imagine my surprise today when I saw the Municipality’s Facebook post that gave an entirely new reason for the lease (The Acting Municipal Manager having to self-quarantine due to other residents in his block of flats testing positive for COVID -19)
Astonishing that this “reason” is given, despite the fact that it didn’t appear in the item to Council, nor in the Council debate on the matter.
Even more astonishing is that it completely contradicts an earlier Municipal Facebook press release (dated 13 July 2020) that said that the reason Dr Scheepers had to self-isolate for four weeks was that “a member of staff with whom they had close contact with on Friday developed symptoms”.
So, which was it, Mayor van Aswegen? The fact that three residents in Dr Scheepers’ block of flats had tested positive for Covid-19? Or because a member of staff with whom he had close contact developed symptoms? It can’t be both.
And then, just when I thought things couldn’t get more bizarre when a resident commented on the Municipality’s Facebook post objecting to the rental, Mayor van Aswegen responded with the following:
“I could nor remember that you vote for me. So why should I take your comment seriously.”
Please take note, Cllr van Aswegen, that when you accepted the nomination and were voted in as the Executive Mayor of Knysna, you became the mayor of everyone, not just for those in Ward 6 that voted for you.”