NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton has moved to suspend Blue Mountains City Council, after doubts have being raised about the independence of its investigation into asbestos management.
Ms Upton has issued a Notice of Intention to Suspend the council for three months and appoint an administrator.
It has issued a previous Notice in December, which at the time the council responded to by saying that it did not relate directly to its elected members.
The decision to issue a new Notice to Suspend comes after questions over a serious conflict of interest in the council’s supposedly independent investigation. A separate investigation has been launched by Safework NSW.
“In November last year the council commissioned independent investigations into asbestos management and staff recruitment practices after serious allegations were made against it,” Ms Upton said.
“It has now emerged that an independent investigator engaged to oversee the investigation into asbestos management appears to have had links to one of the council’s senior staff members subject to investigation.
“This independent investigation is critical to addressing the serious issues facing this council. However, it seems that the relationship between the independent investigator and the senior staff member was not just professional, they were friends.
“This relationship would be a serious conflict of interest and brings into question the council’s governance and due diligence practices. I have also been informed that the council has now ended its contract with the senior staff member.
“The council’s poor record on asbestos management, failure to protect its community and the serious questions on the broader operation of the council are deeply concerning.”
The ‘senior staff member’ referred to is former acting General Manager Stuart Liddell, who stood down in November over the issue. The asbestos management drama has also been the subject of attention by radio shock jock Ray Hadley, who drew attention to Mt Lidell’s activities.
The asbestos issue has been a festering sore for Blue Mountains City Council. It surfaced in late 2016, when asbestos was found in the Mechanics Institute carpark in the Blue Mountains town of Lawson and transferred to to the Lawson Council Depot, where it was illegally used by the Council for training purposes.
Then a year later a confidential council document was leaked to the local Blue Mountains Gazette newspaper. The May 2017 document said there were asbestos issues in 19 council-owned buildings. Also in November 2017, council workers briefly black banned 33 council vehicles that they said were suspected of being contaminated by asbestos.
The incidents led to the council investigation that has now itself become the subject of controversy for not being impartial.
Under the NSW Local Government Act the Minister is required to provide the council with the opportunity to make any submissions before making a final decision. The council has seven days to respond to the notice – the deadline is Thursday 22 February.
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