The Blue Mountains City Council has seven days to clarify why it should not be suspended over alleged “conflicts of interest” during an investigation into serious asbestos safety breaches.
NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton today issued a notice of intention to suspend the council for three months and appoint an interim administrator.
It comes after an identical notice was issued in December, but later withdrawn in place of a performance improvement order.
Ms Upton said she had issued a new notice this morning, because a “serious conflict of interest” had emerged in the investigation.
She said an independent investigator engaged by the council appeared to have links with one of the council’s senior staff members, who was a subject of the investigation.
“This independent investigation is critical to addressing the serious issues facing this council,” she said in a statement.
“But, it seems that the relationship between the independent investigator and the senior staff member was not just professional, they were friends.”
The minister is required to provide the council with the opportunity to make any submissions before making a final choice.
The council now has seven days to respond.
Council rejects minister’s claim
The ABC understands the Council’s solicitor was tasked with engaging the independent investigators.
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill released a statement rejecting allegations of a conflict of interest.
“I am at a loss to know how it is that the actions of an independent solicitor, not engaged directly by the council, can lead to the suspension of democracy in the Blue Mountains,” he said.
“There has been an ongoing campaign against Blue Mountains City Council.
“The Council has complied with everything questioned of it by SafeWork NSW.
“I don’t believe this is justified.
“We are reviewing our position.”
Concern over Council’s governance
Ms Upton said the relationship between the investigator and the council staff member was a “serious conflict of interest” and “brings into question the Council’s governance and due diligence”.
The council has finished its contract with the staff member.
SafeWork NSW said its investigation into asbestos management practices at Blue Mountains City Council was ongoing.
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