Mayor calls in minister as council dispute escalates

DETAILS of a fractured relationship between key figures at the Central Highlands Council emerged during yesterday’s (Tuesday) monthly meeting at Bothwell. After being repeatedly named during the discussion, general manager Kim Hossack said it was unfair that only one side of the debate had been heard in public.

By a vote of 7-2, the meeting called on mayor Loueen Triffitt to withdraw and apologise for allegations of “corruption and collusion” made at a special meeting on April 5. Cr Triffitt did not apologise yesterday, instead doubling down on her complaint and saying she had called on the minister for local government to investigate the matter.

Mayor Loueen Triffitt.

“For your information, I wrote to the minister requesting that he use his legislative powers to conduct an independent review, and this will be covering every discussion, every email, everything related to the performance review of the general manager,” Cr Triffitt said. She said every meeting was an ambush and she was being bullied.

Ms Hossack was visibly distressed during the mayor’s speech, stating “This is unfair. This is so unfair.”

The special meeting on April 5 had been called at the request of eight councillors to address issues left unresolved following the last monthly meeting on March 19, dealing with the process of reviewing the general manager’s performance after her first year in the role. When opening the April 5 meeting, Cr Triffitt described the session as a waste of time and money and made accusations of “corruption and collusion” against the councillors present, the general manager, and local government facilitator Lynn Mason.

During a 10-minute address from the chair at yesterday’s meeting, Cr Triffitt said she had not specifically accused anyone of collusion and corruption. “I said that I felt – I perceived, were my words – that this was a possibility because of all the secrecy.”

Deputy mayor Jim Allwright.

This did not sit well with deputy mayor Jim Allwright, who had put forward the motion calling for the mayor’s apology. “I refer the mayor to the audio, which specifically mentioned me and Cr Cassidy as corrupt and colluded. That is not fair,” Cr Allwright said, before being cut off by the mayor when she called on Cr Cassidy to speak.

“You have dragged all of us, all of our good names through the mud, publicly and in the papers, and I think it’s unfair to do that,” Cr Cassidy said to the mayor. “I have always felt and believed that I’m an honourable man. I stand by my integrity. You all know me. I was an army officer and a 747 captain, and you don’t get to be that being corrupt, making poor decisions, colluding. I’ve never, ever, in my nearly 70 years ever been called corrupt or in collusion with anybody.”

Cr Cassidy said he had called the local government office and association immediately after the March meeting had ended “in total disarray and disfunction” that left the general manager wanting to resign. “She would not return to her seat beside you … but sat beside the door. As you left the council chambers you made some untoward remark toward the general manager,” Cr Cassidy said to the mayor.

Cr David Meacheam said the calling of the April 5 meeting was not collusion and corruption. He was interrupted by the mayor, who said: “Don’t forget the words I used, ‘perceived and possible’, ‘perceived and possible’, keep that in mind,” Cr Triffitt said. Cr Allwright disagreed: “Not on the audio you didn’t,” he said. Continuing, Cr Meacheam said councillors had acted in a constructive way to try to establish a “proper, productive, respectful working relationship with the general manager” and to “create a clear path ahead for the general manager to stay with us.”

Cr Meacheam said even if Cr Triffitt was to retract her remarks, the reputational damage had been done. “If you retract today, all of us around this table and our legal counsel David Morris, Ms Lynn Mason and the GM, all of us will carry the stain for years to come of collusion and corruption. It won’t be enough.” Cr Meacheam said the public perception of the current situation was that Cr Triffitt as mayor had “stood up to a poorly functioning GM and an inept bunch of councillors and that is not the case.” He said a good public record and public correction was essential.

Cr Yvonne Miller.

Cr Yvonne Miller was next to speak. “When you walked out that door at that last meeting, you actually said to the GM: ‘you are the problem,’ and I remember that. I feel disappointed and feel that you have accused me of being corrupted and colluding and as you know I emailed you and asked for a public apology because I am neither corrupt nor colluding,” she said to the mayor.

Cr Miller said the special meeting had needed to be held. “To me, it wasn’t about the GM’s review, it was about the way that you treated us that day and the way you treated the GM.” Cr Miller said she feared that the council would be sacked if the matter was not resolved. “This cannot be a good thing for our ratepayers, it would cost them thousands, or hundreds of thousands, all because we as a council just asked for one simple thing, which is a public apology because we all took it as you calling us corrupt and colluding.”

Cr Triffitt interjected to remind Cr Miller of the words ‘possible and perceived.’ “Don’t forget the words, ‘possible and perceived’,” she said. Cr Miller said she had listened to the recording of the special meeting several times and those words had not been used, and Cr Allwright agreed. “It’s on the record now,” Cr Triffitt said. “That’s now, it’s too late,” Cr Allwright replied.

Cr Miller said the mayor had supported her as a new councillor and she had great respect for that. “But it does not give you the right to call me corrupt or colluding. All I’m asking is a public apology today, for all of us, and then the matter can be resolved.

Cr Triffitt then put Cr Allwright’s motion to the vote, seconded by Cr Cassidy. It stated: “That the mayor formally retracts her allegations of collusion and corruption by all councillors, the general manager and Ms Lynn Mason; and a personal or emotional attachment by some councillors, which was made at the special meeting of council held on Friday, 5th April 2024 [and] that at her own expense and forthwith, the mayor has published in the Highland Digest and New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News a notice of her retraction in relation to the same matters.”

Separately, Cr Meacheam moved and Cr Miller seconded an additional motion requiring the mayor to also publish her retraction on the front page of The Mercury newspaper because her allegations had been published on the front page of that paper on Monday this week. It also appeared on the Mercury’s website and Facebook page.

The two motions were carried by a vote of 7-2, with councillors Allwright, Miller, Archer, Meacheam, Cassidy, Bailey and Hall in favour of the measures. Cr Julie Honner abstained from voting. Cr Triffitt noted: “Obviously I’d be against, wouldn’t I?”

With the matter put to the vote and no apology or retraction forthcoming, general manager Kim Hossack asked to speak. “For the public record and for our public people here in the gallery … unfortunately you were only privy to the items and discussions that happened in open forum. You are not privileged to [hear] what occurred in the closed session of the council meeting [which] is kept confidential.

“It has now been put into the public area by the mayor but the public has not been privy to all the background information. You are only hearing the one-side opinion. Councillors, myself and my staff are keeping professional as per our local government regulations and we have not commented,” Ms Hossack said.

“Who put it in The Mercury?” Cr Triffitt said. “I don’t know, mayor,” Ms Hossack said. “Hmm, that’s going through at the moment, actually. The Mercury has obviously been [contacted] by the staff, councillors, somebody,” Cr Triffitt said. “Mayor, no,” Ms Hossack replied, along with a chorus of voices saying “It’s on the public record.”

Ms Hossack left the room at the conclusion of this item and took no further part in the meeting. Deputy general manager Adam Wilson stood in.

New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News presents this report of the open section of yesterday’s meeting, having been the only media organisation present. In factually reporting the discussions that took place we act without prejudice and do not infer any “corruption and/or collusion” as stated.

See more Derwent Valley and Central Highlands news online and read our print edition every second Friday.

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