Mayor decries highland council ‘collusion and corruption’

MAYOR Loueen Triffitt took no prisoners during a speech at the start of yesterday’s special closed meeting of the Central Highlands Council at Bothwell, claiming “corruption and collusion” between councillors, the general manager and a guest at the meeting.

The meeting had been called at the request of the other eight councillors on the nine-member council, with agenda items dealing with the role and function of the mayor, deputy mayor and councillors, and the process of reviewing the general manager’s performance.

Speaking at the start of the meeting before it was closed to the public, Cr Triffitt gave a number of reasons why the meeting was unlawful in her opinion. She also said three of the four motions on the agenda were unlawful and would not be discussed. However, the council’s lawyer did not agree and took issue with the mayor’s remarks. “The statements that you have made are completely contrary to the legal advice that you sought from me and I provided advice to you,” lawyer David Morris said from the sidelines.

Cr Triffitt said the special meeting was a waste of ratepayers’ money as it was primarily to deal with a matter that could be addressed in an ordinary council meeting – the review of the general manager’s performance. She also questioned the presence of local government specialist Lynn Mason, who is a former mayor of Flinders Island, past president of the Local Government Association of Tasmania and a member of the Local Government Board.

Cr Triffitt said she had seen several councillors behave in a manner that suggested a “personal or emotional attachment to the general manager” and said she had no faith in their ability to participate on a professional level regarding an independent review of general manager. “Instead, the secret meetings and discussions between most, perhaps all councillors and the general manager, reeks of collusion and possible corruption of a legislative process. I will not stand for this and I will say this for the record,” she said.

“A further concern of improper use ratepayer money is the cost of a facilitator and we need to know what is Ms Mason here for and whether she has signed a contract or not. I have requested that information from our GM and I have also asked whether Ms Mason has been paid to come from Flinders Island, whether she has travel, incidentals, and what we’re paying. Are we paying for facilitation fees? I am asking this as the mayor of the Central Highlands and formally note that the GM has deliberately refused to provide me with answers. I believe she did send me something this morning. I also remain deliberately excluded from the approach, involvement, cause and cost of the use of a facilitator.

“This is a special meeting which the mayor is legislated to chair. This is not a council workshop requiring a facilitator, and I note my perceived collusion of councillors, the GM and Ms Mason. I will not cede the chair at this meeting. I am still unsure of the role of the facilitator legally and morally at this special meeting, thus my concern of collusion and corruption.”

Ms Mason, who is also a Member of the Order of Australia, said she had been invited by the council and was there to advise the meeting, not chair it. “I strongly object to being accused of collusion and corruption by you without any foundation whatsoever and I would like that recorded in the minutes as well please,” Ms Mason said. Several councillors offered to second Ms Mason’s request.

Ms Mason said she had acted as a facilitator many times. “It simply means I’m here to provide advice, to move the debate forward, to introduce points that may not have been considered by other people around the table. That’s the role of facilitator. That’s the role as I saw it. Not as usurping you from the chair. I fully understand the regulations and know perfectly well that the mayor will be the chair of the meeting,” she said.

Cr Triffitt also questioned each councillor about their signing of the document that called on her to convene the meeting, wanting to know whether they had seen the proposed agenda at the time of signing. Several answered “yes” or “no,” while others declined to answer. Deputy mayor Jim Allwright said the line of questioning was out of order. Council lawyer David Morris said he had already advised Cr Triffitt that the meeting had been lawfully convened. “The very fact that an agenda and the motions were not provided to the mayor at the time … was not necessary in order to complete the special meeting. I have advised the mayor, once I saw the motions … that in my view all of the motions before this meeting are appropriate, are lawful and in my view I think would be no basis to reject any of those motions as being unlawful. And so, with great respect mayor, I didn’t want there to be any concern that what’s been said is on the basis of any advice I have provided.”

Before the meeting went into its closed session, Cr Robert Cassidy attempted to state for the record what had happened at the March 19 meeting. “We discussed the general manager’s performance review at great depth I feel, and it ended up in complete disarray and dysfunction and the general manager … was about to resign, I begged her not to resign,” he said. Cr Cassidy said he had placed calls to the director of local government’s office and the Local Government Association on the matter. At that point he was stopped by Cr Triffitt who said it was improper to publicly discuss a council employee.

There followed a two-hour closed meeting. It briefly reopened to the public to formally close without any disclosure of the outcomes of the meeting. Listen to the meeting recording here.

New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News presents this report of the open section of the meeting based on the council’s audio recording. In factually reporting the discussions that took place we 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.

One Comment

  1. The mayor should have listened to the advice of the council’s lawyer. She has with her accusations of collusion and possible corruption left herself in a very vulnerable position.

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