DEBATE on Warrnambool’s controversial Wilma-gate affair was allowed in the city council chambers last night — without the man caught in the middle.
City chief executive Bruce Anson left the council chamber while councillors aired their opinions on an issue that has raged since October when his son, Jacob, was revealed as the author of a letter to The Standard under the pseudonym of Wilma Wright.
The letter made disparaging comments on three council election candidates, two of whom were later elected.
Last night Cr Brian Kelson broke the impasse with a notice of motion for the Local Government Inspectorate to be asked if its investigating officers sought statutory declarations from the Ansons.
His move followed a furore over the January 21 council meeting when the inspectorate’s report clearing Mr Anson, senior, was tabled and received without debate after mayor Michael Neoh effectively gagged comment.
Cr Kelson said last night there had been “enormous” public discontent over the January gagging.
“Hopefully councillors will be given the right to express their view and maintain their democratic right and have respect in the eyes of ratepayers,” he said.
Cr Peter Hulin said residents had a right to know what went on in this matter and precisely what investigation took place.
“I have a problem when the son of the chief executive calls a man an intellectual lightweight,” he said.
Cr Hulin wanted to know if computers from the council offices and those of Mr Anson and his son were confiscated by the inspectorate.
Cr Peter Sycopoulis, who had also been targeted in the letter, said it seemed the investigation comprised only three phone calls — to The Standard’s editor Steve Kelly, to Mr Anson senior and Mr Anson junior.
“This is not about apportioning blame, this is about a government department seemingly not fully investigating a serious issue as I would expect them to,” he said.
Cr Sycopoulis revealed he sent a letter to the inspectorate in November saying a preliminary investigation identified that an email sent from a computer located within a three-kilometre radius of Warrnambool was received at Jacob Anson’s workplace, where it was modified before being sent to The Standard.
He said he had asked the inspectorate if it had independently identified the email thread and the IP addresses or required Mr Anson to make a statutory declaration. However, their comments failed to sway their four colleagues who voted against Cr Kelson’s motion. Mayor Cr Michael Neoh, Cr Kylie Gaston and Cr Jacinta Ermacora said they wanted to concentrate on council business and not be distracted by a side issue.
Cr Rob Askew made no comment.
“Council doesn’t need to inspect the inspectorate,” Cr Gaston said.
Cr Ermacora described the motion as “a witch-hunt against an individual”.
Cr Neoh said individual councillors were entitled to refer issues to authorities, but the council as a body was told the Wilma Wright complaint had no merit.
In closing the debate Cr Kelson said there would be no need for councillors if reports were merely going to be accepted without debate. The new state independent anti-corruption commission has been asked by councillors Hulin and Sycopoulis to investigate.