The promise of s-xual favours, bribery, extortion, fraud — it all went down outside Wollongong’s North Beach Kebab cafe.

And while the sacked Wollongong council might’ve had a fancy name for their meeting place, the hallowed discussions that took place around The Table of Knowledge are not exclusive to this shady council.

After all, Wollongong is now the eighth NSW council to be sacked in five years. Bega Valley, Liverpool, Maitland, Rylstone, Walgett, Warringah and Windouran have all been dismissed. There have been 19 corruption inquiries into NSW councils since the Independent Commission Against Corruption recommended prosecution of 14 developers and public officials in an investigation into land rezoning and development in Tweed Shire in 1990. 

And findings of bribery and corruption against councillors, council officers, developers and contractors have been made in that time in cases involving Rockdale, Strathfield and 12 other councils. 

But council corruption and/or incompetence isn’t exclusive to NSW. Similar conversations amongst esteemed council members have been conducted while reclining in the plastic moulded chairs of crappy cafes around the country.

Crikey has compiled a list of the dodgiest and most incompetent councils around the nation. Read below for a heady mix of corruption and sheer stupidity involving brothels, bribes, shakedowns, s-xual favours, and — the horror — exorbitant phone bills:

NSW:

Wollongong council: Sacked yesterday on the recommendation of Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) because of systemic corruption. An ICAC investigation into planning process at the council included allegations of sexual relations between several developers and one blonde planner, and bribes solicited for approving a development. The plot thickened when two ex-crims posing as ICAC investigators solicited money from developers with a promise that their investigations would be dropped. According to The Australian, “Mr Carroll and convicted conman Ray Younan are accused of posing as ICAC investigators and soliciting as much as $500,000 from developer Frank Vellar and others, who are among 14 people under investigation.”

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council: Sacked last week after the state government branded the council as “incompetent” for continuing with a project that almost bankrupted it when costs blew out to seven times the original estimate. Public Inquiry Commissioner Frank Willan found that “the council constantly misled the community about the Port Macquarie Cultural and Entertainment Centre, or Glasshouse,” reports The SMH. “The original estimate of the project was $6 to $7 million, the cost has now risen to $41.7 million, it’s blown out by some six to seven times,” said NSW Minister for Local Government Paul Lynch.

Parramatta council: Last August ICAC found that former Parramatta City Council Compliance Services Team Leader, Wade Fryar, engaged in corrupt conduct by taking s-xual favours and up to $40,000 in cash payments from a number of s-x workers and brothel operators in the area, in return for taking no action to curtail their unauthorised use of premises for prostitution. The ICAC also made corruption findings against Min Lu, Janaporn Srijan, Somsri Innes, Jin Xia Kuang, “Tina” (name suppressed from publication by order of the Commissioner), Youxia Carle, Li Ping Song, Qing Qiu Shan and Cui Mian Xu, the s-x workers and brothel operators who provided benefits to Mr Fryar. The ICAC report notes that from around 2003 to February 2007, when Council terminated his employment as a result of the ICAC investigation, Mr Fryar received free s-xual services from at least five prostitutes and up to $40,000 in corrupt payments from brothel operators – and even gave some of them prior warning when a Council inspection was planned.

Broken Hill council: Suspended for three years in January last year for alleged misconduct.

Maitland City Council: Allegations of s-xual and physical harassment dogged the Maitland City Council in 1997. One female councillor was called by her male colleagues a “a real little b-tch” and “a silly little girl”, and was told to “go play with her dolls.” Councillors attempted to fire General Manager Rhonda Bignell three times, according to The SMH, and she was told by male councillors that she was “she was putting a good man out of a job”. Then NSW Local Government Minister Ernie Page considered the council’s conduct ‘disgraceful’ and sacked the council as he believed that it could no longer do its job.

Tweed Shire Council: Dismissed in mid 2005 after a parliamentary report revealed the councillors were “puppets” for a major development group. An inquiry revealed a slush fund of up to $633,000 that funded the election campaigns of a group of pro-development council candidates. The inquiry found a severe conflict of interest, and that candidates had also mislead the electorate by repeatedly proclaiming their independence. The council is now being run by three administrators.

Liverpool council: Sacked in 2004 for poor handling of a controversial $800 million development.

Walgett council: Sacked in 2004 after a public inquiry found several examples of poor performance.

Rylstone council: Became the third council dismissed in 2004 after a public inquiry found it had failed to be “prudent financial managers”.

Warringah council: Sacked in 2003 because of “vicious and uncompromising infighting amongst councillors”, according to The Oz.  , which followed a groundswell of community dissatisfaction with the council following elections in 1999. The entire elected council has been dismissed on three occasions, in 1967, 1985 and most recently in 2003. The 1967 sacking was triggered by the jailing of two councillors for bribery. The 1985 sacking followed continuing dissatisfaction with the handling of DAs and “discrepancies in council planning decisions” but nvestigations into bribery allegations against councillors by the NSW Fraud Squad and the Ombudsman did not result in any charges being laid.

Rockdale city council: An ICAC inquiry documented revelations of soliciting, receiving and offering bribes in return for the votes of some Councillors. According to PM, “mobile and fixed line telephone intercepts, and retrieved mobile phone text messages were played to an often packed Corruption Commission, as the evidence mounted of corrupt deals and the offer of cash or kind in return for votes.” The Inquiry recommended criminal charges be laid against two councillors, two intermediaries and two developers.
The Deputy Mayor, Adam McCormick handed in his resignation from Rockdale Council but protested his innocence throughout the inquiry. Colleague and Liberal Councillor, Andrew Smyrnis, resigned during the inquiry after initially denying the allegations and “then rolling over and confessing to soliciting and receiving bribes.” According to The SMH, ICAC “urged changes in the law to require developers to disclose all political donations they have made when they lodge a development approval.”

Strathfield Municipal Council: Findings of corrupt conduct were made against Alfred Tsang, the Mayor of Strathfield Municipal Council and Melhem (Michael) Saklaoui, a developer, in relation to the agreement that Mr Saklaoui would pay $200,000 to Mr Tsang in connection with the proposed development of a car park site and adjacent properties in 2004 and John Abi-Saab, according to the ICAC report.  Charges were also laid against a Strathfield Municipal Councillor and Melhem (Michael) Saklaoui in relation to the attempted removal of Mr Tsang from office (ie: blackmail) as well as Scott Allman, a serving NSW Police officer after he accepted a bribe in exchange for failing to report a criminal offence.

Randwick City Council: In 1995 ICAC investigated a number of development control decisions taken by the Randwick City Council which resulted in findings of corrupt conduct against a number of people, including a former officer of Randwick Council. ICAC found that the councillor was engaged in conflict of interest, corrupt conduct, code of conduct and bribes.

Fairfield City Council: ICAC conducted an investigation into the conduct of Guiseppe Morizzi, a former Alderman of Fairfield City Council from January 1988 to September 199. ICAC explored allegations that Guiseppe Morizzi corruptly solicited $50,000 from the Neeta Group of companies in relation to the development of the Neeta City Shopping Centre at Fairfield. In 1990-91 while he was chairman of the council’s Building and Development Committee, Councillor Morizzi received $32,000, laundered through a local real estate agent, from Neeta Constructions in return for supporting council approvals for Neeta City Shopping Centre in Fairfield’s central business district. Allegations also included that Guiseppe Morizzi corruptly received sums of money in relation to the construction and continued operation of Wanless Scrap Metal.

South Sydney Council: ICAC launched an investigation into the conduct of Nicholas Horiatopoulos, an officer of the Planning and Building Department Council of the City of South Sydney, in relation to the development and building applications referrals to architects from 1 January 1989 to 1991. The investigation concentrated on the relationship between Nicholas Horiatopoulos and his brother’s architectural firm, Architecton Group. Horiatopoulos was found to have engaged in corrupt conduct.

QUEENSLAND:

Johnstone Shire Council (Innisfail, far North Queensland): The first Queensland Local Government sacking in 19 years went down in February last year the Johnstone Shire Council was sacked by Queensland’s Local Government Minister, Andrew Fraser for its “culture of bullying and petty argument at the cost of its constituents” and financial problems. Two councillors attempted to challenge the sacking, but their case was quashed by the Supreme Court.

Douglas Shire Council (Far North Queensland): In the same week as the Johnstone council’s sacking, the Douglas Shire Council was put on notice and requested to ‘show cause’ as to why they should not be sacked following a report that found a climate of severe hostility in the Council and a culture of bullying and infighting after Cyclone Larry. But according to nine msn, councillors pulled together and presented Fraser with a 22 point plan that managed to save their bacon.

Gold Coast City Council: The Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission found that the 2004 council elections were, erm, questionable. The Commission found the 2004 Gold Coast local government elections were compromised by undisclosed donations by property developers. The report stated, ‘it must be seriously questioned whether the integrity of any electoral process could withstand the barrage of secrecy, deceit and misinformation that this inquiry has found occurred during the Gold Coast City Council election of 2004.’ It was found that candidates masquerading as ‘independents’ had been funded by parties with development interests in the area and the commission found that ‘considerable efforts were put into hiding these circumstances from the public’ and that it ‘must have adversely affected the integrity of the electoral process’. Despite these findings and the parallels between the Tweed Shire case, the Gold Coast City Council wasn’t sacked.

VICTORIA:

In just over a year, the Kennett government sacked 1600 elected councillors and replaced them with handpicked commissioners. Most had Liberal or National Party allegiances. His government rearranged the boundaries and 210 municipalities became 78 (later to be 79 when the shires of Benalla and Mansfield split). Kennett insisted on an across-the-board rate cut of 20 per cent and capped rate rises, irrespective of the financial predicament of individual councils, and ordered that at least 50 per cent of council services go out to tender.

Melbourne City council: The Melbourne City Council was sacked by the Hamer government in the 1970s, reinstated by the Cain government in the 1980s (although their major planning powers were removed), was sacked again by the Kennett Government in the 1990s and then again by the Bracks Government in 2000. Fondly called ‘Clown Hall’ by observers (The Melbourne City Council meets at the Melbourne Town Hall), the body’s most recent sacking followed Government concerns of infighting and high expense spending. The infighting reportedly got so bad that some council members came to blows. As a result, a new law was made which would enable councillors to be fined for refusing to leave a meeting after being asked, refuse to withdraw defamatory, rude or abusive comments or act in a disorderly or objectionable manner. Fines are between $450 and $500, but can reach $2000 if the issue is heard by a court.

Glen Eira council: Sacked last year amid allegations of incompetency and unwillingness to fix mistakes.
An audit into the phone useage of Glen Eira councillors found that not only had former-Major Peter Goudge made more than 20,000 phone calls in 30 months, his phone bill doubled in size during the 2002 state election when he was standing a candidate, reported The Age. Aside from the phone bills, Victoria’s Inspector of Municipal Administration, Merv Whelan also found that the Council’s “conduct [was] characterised by hostile, acrimonious behaviour, denigration of colleagues and a lack of mutual respect and goodwill — behaviour which seriously inhibits their decision-making capacity.”

Geelong City Council: Political donations caused grief for a group Geelong City Councillors in 2006 when it was revealed that they had accepted thousands of dollars in donations to their election campaigns that hadn’t been disclosed. Local Government Law requires all donations of about $500 to be declared.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA:

Two hundred and fifty elected council members were sacked after failing to read the fine print when the Local Government Act was changed, requiring them to produce new information about their personal assets, according to The World Today. Amendments to South Australia’s Local Government Act were passed earlier that year, with the new fine print requiring councilors to fill in two forms declaring their assets, rather than the one form that was previously required. A class action was launched and some councilors were re-instated in a separate appeal.

Port Adelaide Enfield: According to Today Tonight this week, it’s alleged that the Port Adelaide Enfield Mayor has sent a series of inflammatory emails in which she mocked fellow councillors and rate payers. Mayor Fiona Barr says the issue has been exaggerated. Two hundred and fifty emails have been sent from Barr’s desk at a Westpac call centre to a friend who works at the Council, many loaded with racist barbs. Barr is now running for re-election in the community where people of a variety of ethnicities reside. Germans in particular were targeted when the HMAS Melbourne commanded by Vern Dutschke docked in Port Adelaide, and Barr has suggested some council workers should attend Glenside. Port Adelaide Enfield CEO Harry Wierda is suing Barr for defamation. Grant describes the emails as ‘highly offensive’.  

WESTERN AUSTRALIA:

Joondalup Council: Joondalup councillors were sacked in 2003 following findings in a 625 page report of bad governance, and irrational and unethical decision making. The council was first dragged into disrepute in late 2003 when it was discovered that Chief Executive, Denis Smith had fabricated a Business degree from the University of Technology Sydney on his resume. Smith, who had previously headed the controversial Warringah, Campbelltown and Coffs Harbour councils, refused to resign, reported ABC Online, dividing the council and leading to two years of bitter infighting before the WA Government sacked them.

Know of dodgy dealings at your local council? Or want to compliment your local representative on the bang up job they’re doing in local government? Write in to Crikey Council Watch at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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