THREE Warrnambool City Council election candidates have called for an urgent top-level investigation into what they claim is a dirty tricks campaign against them.
The call by Peter Sycopoulis, Jennifer Lowe and Peter Hulin embroils the adult son of chief executive Bruce Anson in a damaging controversy in the closing days of the election.
Jacob Anson has admitted that he is the author of comments dating back years and posted on The Standard’s website under the pseudonym “Wilma Wright”.
Many of the posts portrayed Cr Hulin and Cr Lowe in a negative light.
He is also the author of a letter to the editor about the three candidates published in The Standard last Saturday, purporting to be from Wilma Wright, of Hopkins Point Road, Warrnambool.
The candidates claim the letter was an 11th-hour bid to sway voters against them in the election and was the tip of the iceberg in a vindictive smear campaign.
Bruce Anson categorically denies any involvement.
Mr Sycopoulis, Cr Lowe and Cr Hulin questioned the identity of the letter’s author, saying their suspicions were raised because it contained facts that only someone inside council or connected to council could have known.
Subsequent investigations by The Standard established that Jacob Anson was “Wilma Wright”.
Council boss Bruce Anson said his son was behind the online postings and the letter and he had advised him to admit it.
However, the three candidates have demanded an immediate impartial investigation by the Victorian Electoral Commission, the Local Government Inspectorate, the proposed new Anti-Corruption Commission and Victoria Police.
‘‘It is possible that a criminal offence against the Local Government Act may have been committed because of the circumstances associated with the letter,’’ they said in a signed statement.
The statement goes on to say: ‘‘From the contents of this letter, it is quite obvious that the person or persons who were responsible for the preparation and forwarding of this letter had access to important inside information relative to Warrnambool City Council affairs.’’
The three candidates say it may be necessary for Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell and the Victorian Electoral Commissioner to become involved ‘‘urgently’’ because it will be impossible for any investigation to be completed before the city council poll closes tomorrow.
They also believe that after any investigations, the minister may need to look at the council election results.
A furious Cr Hulin told The Standard yesterday that for the past four years he and Cr Lowe had been trying to promote good governance and transparency and had been “persecuted’’ for it.
Mr Sycopoulis said that for the past eight years he had run on a platform of honesty, transparency, process and good governance ‘‘for good reason’’.
Cr Lowe said that good governance, transparency and integrity were absolute measures expected of a council. Jacob Anson yesterday submitted a lengthy statement to The Standard in which he stated:
‘‘I take great interest in the Warrnambool’s public life and read The Standard often to keep informed of civic news.
“Using the pen name Wilma Wright, I have written perhaps a dozen letters for publication by The Standard over the past four years.’’
Mr Anson, who works for the AFL in Queensland, said he chose to adopt a pen name to ‘‘clearly differentiate my personal views from those of my family members and friends, a number of whom live locally and are likely to not share my opinions’’.
Warrnambool’s mayor Jacinta Ermacora, also a candidate in the elections, said she was surprised when she read the letter from “Wilma Wright” on Saturday because of the detailed knowledge the author appeared to have of council business.
‘‘I must say I was interested to know who Wilma Wright was,’’ Cr Ermacora said yesterday.
‘‘She seemed like a very informed citizen.’’
Jacob Anson completed an internship at the Warrnambool City Council in 2002 before attending Melbourne University where he edited Farrago, the student magazine.
He then worked in London and Canada for a time before taking up his present role as infrastructure planning manager with the AFL in Queensland.
Mr Anson’s Facebook page states that he is politically aligned to the Greens.