Heated debate on Bay Trail leads to investigation

Under fire: Cr Geoff Gledhill narrowly avoided an investigation into an alleged conflict of interest. Pic: Gary Sissons

A FIERY debate over the Bay Trail has led to Kingston councillors voting to refer the decision to proceed with works to Victoria’s peak anti-corruption authority for investigation.

Cr Geoff Gledhill successfully moved at the 29 January council meeting that “council refer the [Bay Trail] matter to the Independent Broad Based Anti Corruption Commission and ask them to undertake an investigation into whether any improper or illegal actions by any participants may have influenced the outcome in this matter.”

Before the vote, Cr Steve Staikos moved an amendment asking for an IBAC investigation into an alleged conflict of interest held by Cr Gledhill, and alleged improper conduct during his state election campaign. That amendment was voted down by Crs Gledhill, George Hua, Tamsin Bearsley, and Ron Brownlees.

The mayor Cr Georgina Oxley was critical of the debate that had occurred “without one bit of evidence”.

“I’m not afraid of an investigation because at no point in the democratic decision making that has occurred on this issue do I believe that people have acted illegally. If there is not a problem with an investigation, then the amendments that were put up by Cr Staikos would have been supported,” Cr Oxley said.

“I do believe some councillors do have a problem with that because they’re afraid of what will be found out.”

Cr Gledhill said he moved the motion for an IBAC investigation because Bay Trail plans “hadn’t been discussed, had not been discussed by the previous council and hadn’t been discussed with the community. What has ensured over the following couple of years is that the community isn’t happy with them.”

“Having said that, council has made a decision that is technically correct, but I argue morally it may not have been. The community feel disenfranchised and neglected.”

He said that “90 per cent of the community do not want” the Bay Trail and that “questions have also been raised in relation to the apparent lack of transparency on the part of the decision makers and the processes they have adopted.”

Cr Staikos said he did not think that 90 percent of residents disagreed with the Bay Trail, and said the allegation of a lack of transparency did not hold up because the decisions had taken place in “open council”. He said “the allegation that council had acted illegally” was “ridiculous”.

Cr Brownlees said the original motion for an investigation “includes all parties involved in the [Bay Trail] decision over the period of time, and that’s the key to it.”

“There’s lots of good, honest, and I think innocent people in this council who have their professional integrity and professional ideals questioned by people outside this council. They have the right to do that but that’s not fair. Let’s bring the thing into a forum that can investigate them.”

Councillors fiercely debated the issue for close to an hour at the meeting, with Cr Staikos heavily criticising Crs Gledhill and Brownlees prior to moving his amended motion.

“We have received no advice to substantiate any of these allegations or any of these assertions. I feel as though this is just another opportunity for Cr Brownlees and Cr Gledhill to try to re-prosecute this case, a position they have tried to take to this council for the past two years when it was very clear that council wanted to shift its views and position on how the Bay Trail would be delivered.”        

Cr Staikos moved to amend the motion to state “that this matter be referred to the Ombudsman and Local Government Inspectorate, seeking an investigation into whether the conflict of interest City of Kingston provisions have been followed,” because “concerns have been raised with Council from members of the community about Councillor Gledhill’s residential proximity to the Bay Trail project and whether a conflict of interest exists, and given that Cr Gledhill lives on Beach Road and would likely directly benefit from, or be affected by the proposal to complete the final section of the bay trail and tree plantings on Beach Road.”

The amended motion moved by Cr Staikos also asked that the Ombudsman and Local Government Inspectorate investigate whether Cr Gledhill had breached local government law “given that concerns have been raised with Council from members of the community about a potential misuse of position from Cr Gledhill as a candidate for the recent State Election – with regard to the use of information gained as a Councillor for political benefit as a State Candidate.”

Cr Gledhill was the unsuccessful Liberal candidate for Mordialloc in 2018.

Cr Gledhill said “I don’t think I could have predicted the response from the councillors that have moved and seconded this [Crs Staikos and Rosemary West] any more accurately, because the entire response is an attempt to smear me.”

“The entire screen is filled with vitriol and spite directed at me,” he said.

“As I said time and time again, it was about what the community were asking me. I will not stop doing what the community has told me to do.”

Cr Oxley said of the amendment that “all this motion is seeking to do is raise the same concerns that Cr Gledhill has purported to have received from the community, that I myself have received from the community about Cr Gledhill. It is unfortunate it had to get to this point, very unfortunate. But I have received the same concerns from members of our community.”

“If we are putting up motions that councillors have acted illegally or improperly, which I think is absolutely ridiculous, then maybe these concerns from the community need to be addressed too.”

Cr Gledhill had the support of Crs Brownlees, Hua and Bearsley during the voting. Crs Staikos, West, and Oxley voted in favour of the amendment, but it was lost. Crs Tamara Barth and David Eden were absent.

Cr Staikos then moved another amendment that “the request to IBAC should be made upon Cr Gledhill providing prima facie evidence of the alleged breaches to the CEO” rather than within the next 30 days. That amendment was also lost.

The original motion to refer the Bay Trail matter to IBAC was then voted on and passed, with Crs Gledhill, Brownlees, Bearsley, and Hua voting in favour.

Cr Oxley said “I’m concerned. I’m concerned we have a problem in this chamber of facts and evidence, because not once has in this debate have I heard one skerrick of evidence, not one. I’ve heard attacks and accusations from members of the community that have at times become very personal on myself, members of this council, and members of my family. At any point if anyone in the council chamber thinks that’s okay because we somehow signed up for it as councillors, then I think we are sorely mistaken.”

Councillors voted in 2017 to narrow a section of Beach Road to build the Mordialloc to Mentone section of the trail.

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 6 February 2019

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