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Council Cleared

The Examiner
By JOELEY PETTIT

9 May 2002


FORMER councillor Tom Askew's allegations against the City of Gosnells were dismissed this week, and labelled "baseless" by the State Government.

Local Government Minister Tom Stephens cleared the city of any wrongdoing, ending a four- month and $65,000 campaign by the city to disprove the allegations.

Earlier this year Mr Askew went to Minister Stephens' office with a number of official complaints into the administration of the city. But Mr Askew chose not to reveal his concerns to the public, and refused to return calls made by the Examiner to determine the nature of his complaints. Gosnells chief executive Stuart Jardine welcomed Minister Stephens' announcement, saying he hoped the allegations had not damaged the city's" international reputation. He said the city's 387-pageresponse to Mr Askew's allegations had cost about $65 ,000 in time and resources, as well as a further $40 ,000 to fund an extraordinary election to replace the former councillor.

"The (full) cost, not just the financial but also social and psychological, will never be fully known," Mr Jardine told the Examiner.

The city originally received a "sanitised" version of the 28 allegations made by Mr Askew after the Crown Solicitor said the original wording may have defamed certain executive staff members.

Despite being exonerated by the Government, Mr Jardine said retribution was not currently on the cards.

"I don't believe the community would have anything to gain at the present time by pursuing this issue against Mr Askew," he said.

"While the investigation found Mr Askew was wrong in his judgement and wrong to have progressed his un- founded allegations so vigorously ...I believe it's time to put this issue behind us and get on with the real business of running the City of Gosnells."

But councillor Rod Croft told the Examiner he would look into possible ways of recouping council's losses. He said he will put forward a motion with notice at a council meeting later this month to begin action to "recoup this money from the individual who made the allegations".

Gosnells Mayor Pat Morris said the process of disproving the allegations had been distressing, but she applauded the Minister's announcement.

Mayor Morris said the vindication had come at a great cost to council and she has called for reform within the system.

"This issue has had to be addressed at a significant cost to the ratepayers of this city, which could have been better spent in our community," she said. "Changes must be made to the local government system, so people making complaints will have to substantiate their allegations."

The call was supported by W ALGA president Ian Mickel, who vowed to work with Mr Stephens' office to establish an independent tribunal to investigate issues of misconduct.

He said the financial loss suffered by the City of Gosnells had made the need for a tribunal obvious. "This is a massive waste of ratepayer funds, and while the Department and the Minister were fo11owing legislative requirements, there is obviously the need to develop a better system for all parties," he said.

"An independent tribunal would provide a faster, more cost efficient process to investigate any allegations made against council." Mr Askew announced his early resignation from council in March but failed to reveal the reasons for his withdrawal -an extraordinary election will be held on July 3 to fill the vacant Bickley Ward position.

The Examiner was once again unable to contact the former councillor to discuss the matter.

Do you think Mr Askew should contribute to the cost~ incurred by the city as a result of his allegations and premature resignation? Send your thoughts to: The Editor, PO Box 637, Armadale, W A, 6992.

 

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