IBAC finds nothing to answer on wedge

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INVESTIGATIONS by state watchdogs into alleged code of conduct breaches have found a Kingston councillor has no case to answer over the way he voted on Green Wedge planning matters during the previous four-year council term.

Cr Ron Brownlees — a five times mayor — last week welcomed the outcome of probes by the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC), the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate and an independent arbiter hired by Kingston Council. 

Cr Rosemary West complained late last year to authorities about thwarted proposals to “carve up” the Green Wedge for “inappropriate residential development”.

“I’m happy that this long outstanding issue has been resolved as the result of what I thought was probably a spurious complaint,” Cr Brownlees said at February’s public council meeting.

“The fact that IBAC, the Local Government Inspectorate and the independent arbiter have all agreed on the fact there was no case to answer I believe is a good decision.”

Cr West said she is troubled that councillors “may not act in the best interests of the community” because “there’s no teeth” in the councillor code of conduct to specify councillors must heed community feedback.

“We have to accept the arbiters’ findings – that’s what the rules say,” she said.

“But I do have concerns about the process. This process began in December with a supposedly preliminary hearing shortly before Christmas and after that there was no formal hearing despite a request.”

Cr Brownlees said about $11,500 of ratepayers’ money had been spent on council hiring an independent arbiter to consider the complaint against the way he voted on Green Wedge related planning matters.

“It’s [been] purely based on a disagreement on my view point and how I vote on some issues.”

Councillors unanimously voted to accept the investigation outcomes and keep the arbiter’s report confidential from ratepayers who effectively paid for the investigation.

A section of the report included in the 27 February council agenda stated:

“In summary, the arbiter does not recommend that the revised application proceed to arbitration. The revised application does not contain the requisite evidence to support a complaint under this process. Accordingly, the arbiter makes no adverse findings against Mr Brownlees with respect to any of the substantive issues raised in Cr West’s revised application.

“The arbiter recommends that a mediator be engaged by council to address the interpersonal dispute between Cr West and Cr Brownlees that is referred to in Cr West’s revised application.”

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 8 March 2017

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