HEAD HELD HIGH

Cor­rup­tion watch­dog clears our mayor

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE -

JEN­NIFER Whit­ney has al­ways claimed her con­duct was “be­yond re­proach” re­gard­ing the sale of Whit­sun­day Re­gional Coun­cil land at 45–71 Water­son Way.

She was none­the­less re­ferred to the Crime and Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion in late 2015, by Air­lie Beach ratepayer Dr Roger Down, who raised con­cerns over the pro­posed Chi­na­town site.

Last week the CCC, who duly as­sessed the com­plaint, an­nounced no fur­ther ac­tion was re­quired.

IT WAS late Oc­to­ber when Dr Down wrote to not only the CCC but Deputy Premier and Min­is­ter for Lo­cal Govern­ment Jackie Trad, re­quest­ing an in­quiry into coun­cil’s han­dling of the land sale.

Dr Down ques­tioned why Cr Whit­ney had re­peat­edly ex­cused her­self from dis­cus­sions in the board­room re­lat­ing to the pro­posed deal, yet con­tin­ued to meet with the de­vel­oper and pro­mote the pro­ject.

He also ques­tioned the na­ture of her “per­ceived” con­flict of in­ter­est, quot­ing min­utes from a coun­cil meet­ing later deemed to be in­cor­rect.

Cr Whit­ney al­ways main­tained her only con­flict sur­rounded per­cep­tion over travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion costs paid for dur­ing a trip to China.

She said she was erring on the side of cau­tion and, at the time the com­plaint was raised, her re­sponse was to “bring it on to the CCC be­cause at least then I will have a re­sult to show th­ese peo­ple I’ve gone above and be­yond my duty”.

Last week she got that re­sponse, in the form of a let­ter from the CCC, de­liv­ered through the coun­cil CEO, Barry Omund­son.

“He in­formed me the CCC’s fi­nalised its as­sess­ment of all of th­ese mat­ters and they’ve de­ter­mined to take no fur­ther ac­tion,” she said.

“They’ve noted the rea­sons for my con­flicts and that some of them were recorded in­cor­rectly in our min­utes.”

As for al­le­ga­tions she had im­prop­erly used her po­si­tion to favour de­vel­op­ers or ben­e­fit her­self, “The CCC do not con­sider it rea­son­ably raises a sus­pi­cion,” Cr Whit­ney said, adding she had been un­fairly re­ported “left, right and cen­tre about any­thing and ev­ery­thing”.

Cr Whit­ney says she’s been an in­no­va­tive and pro­gres­sive mayor and it’s this that’s seen her sub­ject to con­stant at­tacks. “If you throw enough mud some of it does stick,” she said.

“I was doomed whether I stayed in or out but I’ve dealt with this with pro­fes­sional- ism and in­tegrity and that’s the way I do busi­ness.”

Dr Down mean­while said he was dis­ap­pointed with this out­come, blam­ing it on a leg­isla­tive tech­ni­cal­ity. “The prob­lem with the CCC is it’s changed from the for­mer Crime and Mis­con­duct Com­mis­sion to the Crime and Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion,” he said.

“It doesn’t come un­der their ju­ris­dic­tion any more.”

While Dr Down main­tains Cr Whit­ney should have taken a back seat out­side the coun­cil board­room just as she did in it, Cr Whit­ney says part of her role is to en­cour­age in­vest­ment in the re­gion.

“I’m charged with speak­ing to and en­gag­ing with all in­vestors (and) no-one gets any pref­er­ence,” she said.

But while Cr Whit­ney may have won the bat­tle, Dr Down has in some way won the war.

“I’m up­lifted that when we started this protest with the Fight for Air­lie group, we had two aims – that coun­cil ei­ther lis­ten to peo­ple and stick to the 2009 town plan, or let the sta­tus quo be main­tained un­til the elec­tion,” he said.

“I’m de­lighted we suc­ceeded in main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo... and I know who I’m vot­ing for.”

Cr Whit­ney said this was very sad in terms of progress and eco­nomic growth.

“Our towns are dy­ing and des­per­ately look­ing for job and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. And the town plan hasn’t been stalled to deal with the is­sues, it’s been hi-jacked for all the wrong rea­sons,” she said.

Unashamedly frus­trated by this and the re­cent ter­mi­na­tion of the Chi­na­town con­tract, Cr Whit­ney has been crit­i­cised by those who felt, with only a per­ceived con­flict of in­ter­est, she should have stayed in the room and used her vote to keep the de­vel­op­ment alive.

“Even­tu­ally I did seek le­gal ad­vice about whether there was a true con­flict and whether I could re­main in the room,” she ex­plained. “How­ever this was over­shad­owed by con­tin­ual CCC claims, so my think­ing was I stayed out from the start and I should re­main out un­til I had clar­i­fi­ca­tion and clear­ance.”

IN THE CLEAR: Whit­sun­day mayor Jen­nifer Whit­ney stand­ing on the land at Water­son Way, around which claims were made to the CCC.

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