HEAD HELD HIGH
Corruption watchdog clears our mayor
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.