CONTROVERSIAL Warrnambool City councillor Peter Hulin has been cleared by an independent panel convened to investigate an alleged breach of code of conduct rules.
A summary of a decision tabled at last week’s city council meeting shows the panel sat in Warrnambool on September 12 in a closed hearing to consider an application lodged by the council, which was represented by mayor Michael Neoh.
It relates to comments made by Cr Hulin against another councillor at the April 15 meeting during a conversation about a CBD footpath.
It is understood several councillors took exception to the remarks and resolved in a closed meeting on May 27 to apply to have a special panel hearing convened and for authorisation to go to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Panel members Jo-Anne Mazzeo and Judith Voce ruled “the actions of Cr Peter Hulin do not constitute misconduct within the meaning of the Local Government Act”.
“The decision of the panel is that the actions of Cr Peter Hulin do not constitute a breach of his obligations in the Local Government Act or the Warrnambool City Council code of conduct.
“The panel has denied the applicant’s request to authorise a VCAT application pursuant to the Local Government Act as the panel considers there are not reasonable grounds on which VCAT may make a finding of serious misconduct against Cr Hulin.”
Cr Neoh was tight-lipped yesterday on the issue because of legal confidentiality, but did explain that reasons put forward in the application for a panel hearing had been assessed by the Local Government Department.
“They decided there was merit for a panel to sit,” he said. “If it’s a trivial issue it doesn’t get to that stage — it’s not as if you can call a panel on trivial issues.
“Council accepted the panel’s decisions and is moving on.”
Yesterday, Cr Hulin in a prepared statement said it was “deeply disturbing” Cr Neoh had accused him of inappropriate behaviour and along with three other councillors had lodged a code of conduct charge against him for asking a “legitimate question” put to him by multiple ratepayers.
He revealed that six people in the public gallery on the night of the incident had come to his defence with statutory declarations.
“I am not surprised this code of conduct was brought against me as I am not part of mayor Neoh’s ‘coalition of the willing’,” Cr Hulin said.
His full statement has been submitted as a letter to the editor for Saturday’s Standard.