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Ombudsman to investigate Civic Centre’s use

Wednesday, 14th June, 2017

GM James Roncon GM James Roncon

By Daniel Stringer

Another chapter in the Civic Centre saga has been written, as City Council reveals it is being investigated by the NSW Ombudsman. 

Council’s General Manager, James Roncon, said he decided to proceed with two events at the newly-refurbished Civic Centre - the Civic Ball and the Nationals Annual Conference - despite being informed of safety risks.

Eight days ago council was notified that the Ombudsman would investigate the situation.

In a statement issued yesterday, Mr Roncon said council had fully expected to receive the proper authorisation to go ahead with the events but only moments before the Civic Ball it was told its application for an occupancy certificate had been denied. 

“We’d had the certifiers in earlier that week, and from conversations with the project manager and amongst senior staff, confidence was very high that we’d be successful,” said Mr Roncon.

“As we understood it, the only hurdles were around the lodging of paperwork and some minor issues with the stairs, and we accordingly prepared for our events as originally scheduled.

“Unfortunately we received official notification from our project managers at 5.30pm on the night of the ball that we hadn’t been successful in gaining occupation of the full building.”

Despite being told certain parts of the building did not have clearance for occupancy, Mr Roncon said he made the decision to proceed as planned.

He said the safety risks were minor and given the time and effort spent by many people, it was decided not to cancel the events. 

“Our advice was that the safety risk was extremely minor as both events primarily utilised the auditorium area, and given the community had already invested so much in the ball, I made the decision to go ahead.

“Twelve kids and their families had put in months of preparation for the ball, staff had spent days setting up, and we had just 30 minutes until the event kicked off.

“The Civic Ball and the Nationals Conference had immense value to Broken Hill, both for the fabric of the community and for national exposure and boosting the local economy.

“It was a very difficult situation and I recognise not everyone will agree with the path I chose, but I believe I put the needs of the community first. If I was faced with the same set of circumstances again, I’d like to think I’d make the same decision.

Mr Roncon says ultimately the decision was his and he accepted full responsibility.

“I can’t change the past. All I can do is take responsibility for the decisions that have occurred during my tenure and the recent use of the Civic Centre is one such decision.

“It was ultimately my call. I knew I’d be held personally responsible, and I was comfortable with that risk.”

A full investigation of the project management will be completed in the coming weeks by an independent body.

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