Council planning audit complete

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AN internal audit ordered by Frankston Council into their planning processes and any potential risk for corruption has been completed.

Earlier this year, all councillors at the City of Casey were sacked by the state government after explosive allegations of corruption were made at a series of IBAC hearings. It was alleged that some Casey councillors had financial ties to developer John Woodman.

In response to the scandal engulfing the City of Casey, Frankston Council ordered an audit into their own planning processes. 

Auditors reviewed applications dating back to January 2013. They searched for applications made by parties named in the IBAC hearings, including John Woodman, Lorraine Wreford, Megan Schutz, and Wolfdene.

Information made public in council’s most recent meeting agenda read that one planning application involving parties mentioned at the IBAC hearings had been referred to councillors for approval in October 2018. The Times understands that a proposal to use a property at Sandpiper Place, Frankston for student accommodation was the matter which was considered by councillors.

The full report prepared by auditors HLB Mann Judd was not made publicly available. The mayor Sandra Mayer said “we have sought advice from our auditors and they confirmed that this report is also to be treated as confidential, however given the public interest in this matter council has committed to providing a version of the report highlighting the key outcomes and recommendations, which will be made available on our website in the near future.”

“Audit reports are prepared as internal documents and aim to help council improve its performance. They are never designed for public consumption,” she said.

The full report found that 44 applications or requests had been lodged by parties named in the IBAC investigation, but that only one had been reported to councillors for a decision, The Times understands. It is understood that 40 of those were made by Watsons Pty Ltd, the Mornington-based company of developer John Woodman.

The report read that two “high risk” findings were made by auditors. They were the “inadequate conflict of interest declaration embedded in planning procedures/templates” and that there were “no record of meetings conducted by planning officers with the applicants”.

The Times understands that the internal review uncovered one application made to council which had falsely suggested that no meetings had been conducted between council officers and an applicant. 

It is understood that in that matter, a council planning officer had conducted an onsite meeting with a Watsons employee, but that no minutes were recorded. It is understood that auditors found no documented record of the meeting, and discovered it through email communications. The Times is not suggesting wrongdoing by any council staff.

In assessing the Sandpiper Place matter which came before council, the report found that no councillors had declared that a conflict of interest in the matter. The report read that “based on the councillor and staff survey conducted as part of the review, no councillor has any affiliations with the respective entities/individuals.”

Recommendations made by auditors include ensuring all meetings are documented with minutes, making sure planning officers declare conflicts of interest, and finalising the conflict of interest policy as soon as possible.

At council’s 29 June meeting, CEO Phil Cantillon said that the report was “comprehensive”. 

“The scope of it was measured against other councils to make sure we had the depth and breadth we needed,” he said.

“We have got a good array of actions identified, some are low level but some are important we get in place. A lot of that is making sure we have recorded discussions with developers going forward,” he said.

First published in the Frankston Times – 6 July 2020

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