AFTER two years of accusations against Warrnambool City Council for alleged impropriety over the failed Allansford industrial land project, mayor Jacinta Ermacora has hit back with a ‘‘put up or shut up’’ defence.
In a hard-hitting statement to
Two councillors, Peter Hulin and Jennifer Lowe, were involved in taping a 2010 closed council meeting about selling the land and then disclosing details of what they alleged were major irregularities in process.
Cr Hulin appeared before VCAT last week on a charge of serious misconduct, having breached council confidentiality also on another occasion.
He was ordered to take two months’ leave of absence from council duties as part of a negotiated settlement.
Yesterday he claimed the council had wasted ratepayers’ money in pursuing the case only to agree at the last minute to a settlement which avoided having details of the land sale divulged in an open VCAT hearing.
However, Cr Ermacora stridently defended her council’s handling of the issue.“Three independent reviews have proven that nothing untoward has occurred in relation to the Allansford land,” she said.
“The only details of the Allansford discussions that have not been disclosed relate to third-party information which would be kept confidential in any land sale process.
“I call on Cr Hulin and any other persons to provide evidence or stop making false accusations on this issue.”
Cr Ermacora disputed Cr Hulin’s claim that the two-month penalty was an easy way out.
“Council received an offer from Cr Hulin’s solicitors which we responded to before the hearing,” she said.
“VCAT ruled it was serious misconduct.
“This case formed a precedent for all other Victorian councils as it was the first time the confidentiality issue had been taken to VCAT.
“Councils can now safely conduct discussions with businesses knowing that the law will protect that sensitive information from being leaked.”
Cr Hulin yesterday said he was puzzled why the other five councillors would approve money and time for pursuing the case and then settle for a “non-punishment”.
“It’s more like a holiday than a penalty because I’m still getting paid,” he said.
Cr Ermacora said independent reviews by accounting firm WHK, the local government inspectorate and the Ombudsman’s office all found city council handling of the land sale process was appropriate.
“The appointment of a probity officer was not as a result of any impropriety as claimed by councillors Hulin and Lowe,” she said.
“It was suggested by Local Government Victoria executive director John Watson as a way to resolve differences between Moyne and Warrnambool on the sale process.
“Council has always been open and willing to be reviewed on any of its processes.”