Inquiry fallout: Busy times ahead

“POORLY led, badly governed, dysfunctional”; inquirer Tony Power says the City of Perth deserved to be dismissed and there are dozens of potential crimes to be investigated by other authorities.

Presenting his closing address on June 30, Mr Power said “the inquiry has referred over 135 matters, many concerning suspected criminal behaviour, in respect of 23 individuals and one organisation, including council members and senior members of the administration, to 17 different Commonwealth and state authorities”. 

Mr Power was originally supposed to make a recommendation on whether the local government minister should dismiss the council, but there are no councillors left – during suspension the majority had their term expire, and the rest were removed as they no longer had the numbers to hold a quorum.

Mr Power said “had it been necessary, the recommendation would have been that the entire council be dismissed”. 

He slammed the council’s fo r mer senior management as “dysfunctional and inefficient”.

He said since the WA government appointed commissioners to replace councillors, “a number of positive steps have been taken to address many of the failings identified in this inquiry’s report”.

None of the senior executives which ran the administration during the period investigated by the inquiry remain.

“Overall, the city was poorly led, badly governed, dysfunctional and as a result failing in its most important duty of all, namely, to properly serve the needs and interests of its community.”

Mr Power said he makes no apology for the length of the inquiry, which was extended because of the depth of the problems and to give the 39 people initially facing “adverse findings” in December 2019 time to respond. 

The report’s 250 findings and 300 recommendations are now with local government minister David Templeman, who says he intends on releasing the report but first wants to read it and take legal advice.

Mr Templeman said Tuesday: “I will need to take appropriate time to consider the report and its findings… there are some issues that raise some deep concerns”. He’d prefer to table it at parliament’s next sitting on August 11. 

Cankerous

INQUIRER Tony Power gave a preview of the problems that have been uncovered in his report:

• Council candidates “interfered with election processes and corrupted the democratic process”.

• Councillors made decisionsto advance their own “personal interests”;

• Councillors interfered withadmin’s day-to-day operations;

• “Cankerous” relationshipsbetween councillors affecting their working relationship. Mr Power said “the lord mayor, Ms Lisa Scaffidi, occupied an important role and had a statutory obligation to provide leadership and guidance to the whole of council. Instead, she too often encouraged division and factionalism”;

• “Misuse by some councilmembers of entitlements”;

• “Council membersreceiving gifts, including tickets to events,” and then sponsoring the gifting organisation;

• A “peculiar partnership”between the City of Perth and a not-for-profit organisation, which didn’t comply with council policies and “involved significant funding”;

• Poor decisions byadministration, including not reporting misconduct, poor project management, poor financial management;

• Problems with procuringgoods and services, with issues including “unauthorised expenditure and undeclared conflicts of interest, to manipulation of tender documents and a failure to properly deal with allegations of serious misconduct by employees”. Last year the inquiry heard across two days the case of council employees manipulating tenders so the company they favoured would get a lucrative contract. A weak internal investigation found no wrongdoing.

• “The termination of anapparently competent CEO and his replacement by one more favoured by the then-majority of council,” referring to the council ousting Gary Stevenson shortly after he advised them he had a duty to report misconduct. 

Mr Power said many of the problems “exist in some form or another in many local governments in this state”. 

Harley urges quick release

FORMER Perth councillor Reece Harley, who’s yet to decide whether he’ll run in October’s local government elections, has written an open letter to local government minister David Templeman imploring him to release the City of Perth inquiry report “as soon as possible” in the interests of transparency.

“There are hundreds of hard-working and dedicated professional staff at the city who do not deserve to have their reputations tarnished with a cloud of suspicion hanging over them.

“Once the report is released residents, ratepayers, business owners and stakeholders of the city will be able to read it for themselves and make up their own minds about what transpired over those years.”

By DAVID BELL

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