whistle

There is big news right at the start of Marrickville Council Meetings for the New Year, which commences next Tuesday.  I suspect it will be ongoing news for some time.

In late 2012 building corporation Meriton made an offer of $5 million to Marrickville Council to be allowed to add a further 10-storeys to one of the towers of controversial Lewisham Towers development.  This would have taken the tower from 10-storeys to 20 storeys.

Greens Councillor Max Phillips informed the community, with the Sydney Morning Herald publishing an article about Meriton’s offer on 11th December 2012.  Clr Phillips has always maintained that he was not aware that the oral briefing from staff to Councillors was confidential.

 

A code of conduct complaint against Cr Phillips was pursued on a split vote of council with then mayor Victor Macri using his casting vote.”

 

The matter was referred to the Division of Local Government who suspended Clr Phillips for a period of two months starting on 17th February 2014 because he refused to apologise for this actions.

Essentially, Clr Phillips was not punished for informing the community of the $5 million dollar offer by Meriton to Marrickville Council.  He was punished for refusing to apologise for doing so.  Clr Phillips is appealing the suspension.

On 28th January 2013 Clr Phillips posted the following on Facebook –

I’ve been informed that the Division of Local Government has ordered my suspension as a Marrickville councillor for 2 months starting 17 Feb. The suspension is because I refuse to apologise for letting the community know about a developer proposal on the Lewisham Towers in late 2012.

I am refusing to apologise because I am not sorry and believe I acted ethically in informing the community.  I could offer an insincere apology, but that would be dishonest and I refuse to lie. 

I will appeal the decision as I believe it is wrong for council and the Division of Local Government to put pressure on a councillor to offer an insincere apology under threat of a sanction.”

Not surprisingly, there was lots of discussion on Facebook.  I have cherry-picked to give an idea of the community response –

“I want more housing in the Inner West but he should not have been fined and the public should have been told about the $5 million.”

“….. council effectively took an alleged bribe, did not correctly disclose info to the citizens, and unjustifiably punished the one who cared about what is right.”

“We will see more and more developers entering into voluntary planning agreements in a bid to overturn local environment plans. There needs to be a high level of transparency in these agreements as they essentially overturn plans that have had extensive community consultation.  In station street a developer is trying to build a sixteen story tower where only 8 storeys is approved. They are promising the council all kinds if things; none of which benefit the community.  I get frustrated as it feels like we never know what really goes on.  The certainty of living in an area, and knowing and accepting a planned level of development is turned on its head. You think you have a fair idea of the level of development that will happen around you, then a developer can come in and swing a bag of cash at council, and then it gets doubled. This has nothing to do with nimbyism or having a sustainable level of development in an area, it’s about a council that could be deemed as untrustworthy (or corrupt!).”

“Are you serious? It’s a pretty basic requirement that 1) councils do not sell questionable approvals to developers 2) any plans to change to the published development restrictions are made public, and made open to public discussion. Procedural fairness? FFS”


“….. Councillor Phillips has been suspended because he refused to apologise as ordered by council resolution. It’s Kafkaesque in it’s absurdity. I’d rather have the matter of the five million investigated rather than a stupid suspension because he refuses to apologise for what was essentially an act of good conscious.  The suspension isn’t even because he revealed the information, it’s because he’s not repentant enough. Absurd – stupidly absurd.”

“This is stupid and petty and akin to punishing a whistleblower. We deserve a Council that’s better than that.”

Any money offers from developers to obtain extra storeys above the planning instrument levels should be made known to the community.  The community should have a right to make submissions to the decision-makers (our Councillors) as to whether it thinks any offer is acceptable & a good bargain for the obvious loss it suffers from over development.  Many in our community are appalled & feel very unsafe that the Local Environment Plan can be overturned because of a Voluntary Planning Agreement, which is essentially money changing hands for a developer being able to go beyond the restrictions of the Local Environment Plan.

With a significant section of the community in support of their right to know what sorts of deals may be on offer to secure favourable decisions for development over and above the standards in our planning instruments, it will be interesting to see how the appeal goes.  In such climate the meetings of the new year may also make interesting viewing.

Marrickville Greens has a post on Clr Phillips’s suspension – http://bit.ly/1fiICMC  & here is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald – http://bit.ly/1iNtY5E & the Daily Telegraph –  http://bit.ly/1nxwkG4

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