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Council has power to release report

Saturday, 18th January, 2020

Clr Bob Algate Clr Bob Algate

By Callum Marshall

The NSW Ombudsman’s office says a final report about an investigation into the Civic Centre could be released publicly by City Council.

This refutes claims made by City Council chiefs earlier this week that it was up to the Ombudsman to decide when to release it.

In an email seen by the BDT, an Ombudsman’s office staffer confirmed to Councillor Bob Algate that they had “no objections” to their report being made public, and that it was a matter for council to decide.

The email also discussed that legislation did not allow the office to publicly release the report themselves, but that the Ombudsman did have the power to table a special report in parliament, which could be made public. 

The Ombudsman’s report looked at how, in 2017, City Council’s General Manager James Roncon allowed two functions to take place at the Civic Centre when it didn’t have a full occupational certificate.

It also investigated Council’s switching Audio Visual suppliers during the construction of the centre without a proper tender process.

The email, sent to Clr Algate on Wednesday, followed an extraordinary meeting of Council on Monday night in which the Ombudsman’s report was discussed as a confidential matter.

Speaking after the meeting, Council’s Chief Financial Officer Jay Nankivell said that while an initial Ombudsman recommendation suggested that the report be made public, a final recommendation advised that it was at the Ombudsman’s discretion as to when to make it public.

Mayor Darriea Turley also spoke after the meeting and said council always knew that the report would be made public, reiterating that it was up to the Ombudsman to make that decision.

“The Ombudsman told me very clearly that only the Ombudsman will make it clear where it gets released and when,” she said.

Yesterday, Clr Algate said he was concerned that council was hiding things from the community.

“Eventually, the community will know what has transpired because, as the Ombudsman has said, that matter will be tabled in parliament eventually sometime during the first sitting of parliament,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, the important thing is that the rate-paying community of Broken Hill have a right to know just exactly what is happening at the council.

“I don’t really agree with this business of hiding important issues; issues that have a serious effect on the council.

“There is a significant cost factor involved in some of these issues which, seeing that the ratepayers are the people who actually fund a lot of these actual things, I believe they have a right to know.

“The local government department and the Minister (for Local Government, Shelley Hancock) often talk about the need for transparency and openness and accountability within local government.  

“What the council is doing, we’re doing the opposite to that, and it just doesn’t sit comfortably with me.”

Clr Algate - who said he couldn’t discuss too much given the confidential nature of the matter at the council meeting - said the Mayoral Minute discussing the matter was “laughable” when compared to the Ombudsman’s report. 

“When one reads the Mayoral Minute and compares that with the evidence that’s provided and the issues that are commented on in the Ombudsman’s report, the Mayoral Minute really is laughable,” he said.

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