Hurstville Council has reinstated its General Manager, Victor Lampe, after suspending him almost a year ago in a closed council meeting last night (Wednesday).
Mr Lampe was suspended at a heated meeting in May last year, hours before he was due to comment on a staff report which recommended taking “possible enforcement action” against former Hurstville Mayor Con Hindi – who is still a councillor – for allegedly not remediating asbestos on a site he owned in Crump St, Mortdale.
Shortly before Mr Lampe was due to give evidence, Labor Councillor Vince Badalati introduced a shock motion to suspend Mr Lampe. The vote was tied but Mr Hindi used his casting vote as mayor to push the suspension through.
The Office of Local Government (OLG) carried out an investigation into the suspension and its timing and released a report on February 18 which concluded that the council had acted inappropriately when it suspended Mr Lampe on full pay in May 2015 and ordered that he be immediately reinstated.
Despite Mr Lampe’s reinstatement yesterday, some Hurstville councillors argue that it is just a front and the General Manager will be bullied into resigning.
Labor Councillor Brent Thomas said: “Con Hindi and his cabal have made it clear they won’t work with Mr Lampe going forward.
“They continue to threaten and intimidate Mr Lampe through their public comments alone, saying the environment would be “toxic” and talking about terminating his employment if he were to come back. This bullying behaviour seems designed to intimidate the General Manager into resigning.”
He called on NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole, who threatened to suspend the council last year, to address what he called the pro-developer “Hindi cabal.”
“Our community has had a gutful,” Mr Thomas said. “What will it take for Minister Toole to stop making hairy chested comments and actually start acting?”
Over the last five years, Hurstville councillors have given the Kardashians a run for their money in the dysfunctional family stakes.
There have been allegations and counter allegations of sexual harassment, volleys of poison pen letters, illegally taped conversations, heavily redacted reports and media leaks. The OLG report said there had been a “serious breakdown and deterioration in the working relationship between councillors.’’
There are two voting blocs in the council but unusually, they do not vote along party lines. One bloc, “the seven”, is made up of three Labor councillors, three Liberals and one from Unity party. The other block, “the five” is equally mixed, with two ALP members, two Independents and a Liberal.
The bitter in-fighting which has pitted councillors against one another seems to be rooted in old grudges, broken alliances, jealousy and power-grabbing. Fights over the mayoralty and party pre-selection have played a major party in the split.
The OLG report said: These voting blocs had obviously not formed along party lines, but appear to have been based on opportunism and personalities” and noted this risked “oligarchic control”, where one councillor could wield a great deal of power by controlling the dominant bloc.
The OLG investigation also found that:
- The council did not have proper procedures in place to deal with the fact that Mr Hindi was wearing “two hats”, as a property developer and a councillor, which gave the impression that he had preferential access to senior staff
- Mr Hindi gave councillors a last minute report at the meeting, too late for them to make an informed decision and contravening normal procedure followed by a property developer
- Complaints about Mr Lampe were not handled properly and breached the local government code of conduct
The report recommended that the council immediately reinstate Mr Lampe and that councillors had formal training in their responsibilities and codes governing meetings, procedures and conduct. It also said that Hurstville Council should review its financial delegations and the amount it spends on legal advice.
A spokesperson for Mr Toole said that Hurstville City Council had until March 16 to report to the Minister on its implementation of the report’s recommendations.
“Under the Local Government Act, the Minister has the power to order the implementation of the recommendations. Should the council fail to comply, the Minister has a number of options available to him under the Act to address any non-compliance.
“While the report into the council has been tabled, that report suggested that Councillor Hindi’s conduct be subject to further scrutiny by the Office of Local Government.
“Given that is now occurring, and given the impending report from the council on its implementation of the report’s recommendations, it would be inappropriate for the Minister to engage in speculation concerning the council.”
NSW government has proposed a merger between Hurstville and Kogarah Councils but an alternative St George Council has been proposed involving Rockdale, Kogarah and Hurstville Councils.