SOME interviewees spoken to as part of an independent review into Kingston Council’s processes made allegations in relation to corruption and misconduct at council.
A summary of a probity review ordered by Kingston Council last year has been released. The review was conducted in response to the corruption allegations aired during IBAC’s Operation Sandon hearings which toppled Casey Council.
Holding Redlich was tasked with the investigation, going on to interview both current and former Kingston councillors and officers. The legal firm says it focused on potential connections with individuals named in Operation Sandon, such as John Woodman, Megan Schutz, former Liberal MP Lorraine Wreford, and Labor lobbyist Phil Staindl.
Holding Redlich’s released summary read “whilst some council interviewees have had dealings with the Operation Sandon identified persons, and despite some interviewees making allegations in relation to corruption and misconduct by certain councillors or officers, Holding Redlich did not find conclusive evidence of wide scale improper conduct, corrupt conduct, or misconduct. All interviewees denied ever having received financial incentives or undisclosed political donations.”
“Based upon the interviews and the review of the available documentation, Holding Redlich concluded that the conduct reportedly occurring at the City of Casey does not appear to have occurred, nor is occurring, at the City of Kingston,” the summary read.
Other issues raised in the probity review summary included the presence of voting blocs on issues like the Green Wedge, a lack of process and governance surrounding meetings between councillors, officers and developers, and a breakdown of trust between some councillors and officers.
Kingston mayor Steve Staikos said “I’m pleased to report that the review found no evidence of improper conduct. We take these issues very seriously and wanted to ensure our community had full confidence in local planning processes.”
“The lawyers’ review also provided 13 recommendations on how to further strengthen planning processes to provide additional protection, these are now being implemented,” Cr Staikos said.
Holding Redlich recommended that council keep a register of councillor meetings with lobbyists, document how it will manage any perceived conflicts of interest about future engagements with lobbyists, and review its policy regarding political donations.
The council review cost $245,000 to ratepayers. It was presented to Kingston Council in February (“Suggestions to prevent council corruption”, The News, 24/2/21). A copy of the full report has been handed by council to IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman’s Office.
Councillors agreed to release a summary of the report at a meeting this month. Council says that the full report is “confidential subject to legal privilege”.
The summary can be read at kingston.vic.gov.au/About-Us/Media.