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Commission finds no evidence
of improper property dealing

by Cameron Outridge

Caloundra City Council has been advised by the Crime and Misconduct Commission that in absence of any evidence of misconduct in relation to Council's property dealings as referred to the CMC last year, the Commission will not be taking any further action. Caloundra Chief Executive Officer Garry Storch, said the commission's independent inquiry had not found any evidence of official misconduct and that references to "new information" raised by Div 2 Councillor Anna Grosskruetz at the General Meeting of Council recently were not in relation to this issue. "The new information provided by the Councillor yesterday, is not to do with any misconduct in relation to our property dealings but identifies a possible breach of confidentiality," Mr Storch said. "This matter will be referred to the CMC.

"At yesterday's meeting, Council adopted a recommendation to receive and note the CMC's decision in relation to the Council's property dealings. The decision was made after the Commission considered the issue and focused on two areas of concern - the Council's proposed residential/golf course development at Maleny and the resumption of land at Golden Beach. "The CMC investigation involved interviewing a member of Council and in the absence of evidence of any official misconduct determined not to interview any other person in relation to the matter.

"It also considered internal reports, various correspondence and numerous media reports. "This decision is great news for Council and will hopefully put an end to negative innuendo about Council's property dealings."

An extract from the report from the CMC back to Council is printed here.

Council's proposed residential golf course development at Maleny You provided the CMC with numerous media reports and various correspondence between the Council and the Ratepayers Association which was relevant to the Council's conditional contract to purchase land owned by Mr Porter for the purpose of a golf course and residential development at Maleny.

The CMC considered copies of internal Council reports from its Property manager or Manager Corporate Real Estate dated February 6, March 14, July 8, September 17, October 9 and December 2, 2003. In brief summary the above reports indicated the Council resolved to purchase Mr Porter's land and that significant investment into community consultation and the preparation of a detailed Master Plan and Development Application were required for the development.

The CMC further considered parts of Ernst and Young Real Estate Advisory Service's final report to the Council reviewing the financial feasibility of a proposed golf course and residential development at Maleny and a commercial in confidence letter from Ernst and Young to the Council's Manager, Corporate Real Estate dated November 26, 2003. Further the CMC considered valuations of Mr Porter's land prepared for the Council by AF Carrick and Associates.

Those documented valuations were supported by sales data which indicated that the value of Mr Porter's land for rural dairy purposes was $950,000 on November 17, 2001 and $1,600,000 on July 30, 2003 and for the purpose of a golf course residential precinct $2,720,000 on July 30, 2003.

The CMC has considered the terms of two conditional contracts to purchase Mr Porter's farm land at Maleny which were made in the name of the Council bearing the Council's seal and were dated November 28, 2002 and May 26, 2003 respectively. It is evident that the contract of November 2002 did not proceed. The contract executed in May 2003 provided for the Council's purchase of a dairy farm presently owned by Mr Porter subject to the Council's satisfaction with a Maleny community consultation process and the Council securing development approval and a material change of use of the relevant land for a proposed golf course and residential precinct by June 30, 2004.

Pursuant to section 25 of the Local Government Act 1993 (The LGA) "each local government has jurisdiction to make local laws for and otherwise ensure the good rule and government of, its territorial unit". Further section 36 of the LGA provides that "a local government has, in the exercise of its jurisdiction, all the powers of an individual and may enter into contracts and acquire, hold, deal with and dispose of property".

Accordingly it is apparent the Council had lawful authority to resolve to purchase Mr Porter's land and the relevant and appropriate delegated authority to execute contracts for the Council under seal or otherwise are matters for the Council. In any event I note that the CMC has not been provided with any Council documentation indicating contracts were executed on behalf of the Council by officers not authorised to do so.

In the light of the above considerations the CMC has not identified any evidence that raises a reasonable suspicion that an individual councillor, or a member of Council staff, may have had a material personal interest in the Council's resolution to acquire the relevant land, or any Council tender for goods and services associated with the proposed golf course and residential precinct.

Notably the CMC has not been provided with any Council documentation detailing a basis upon which a councillor or member of Council staff might have had, or might in future have, such an interest. However that is not to say that such an interest might not have existed or might not arise in future. Rather, the CMC has not been provided with evidence of any such interest.

Having regard to the information provided the CMC no specific allegation of official misconduct has been made against any person and no evidence of official misconduct is apparent in relation to the Council's proposed course and residential development at Maleny.

However, notwithstanding that determination, the CMC considers an issue of procedural fairness is evident regarding the Council's associated role of relevant assessment manager and decision maker under the Integrated Planning Act 1997. That is considered to matter for the Council to seek its own independent legal advice.

Our thanks once again to Cameron & Tanya Outridge
of the Range News Newspaper for this story.