VICTORIA’S local government watchdog is investigating a shire councillor over alleged conflict of interest.
The Local Government Inspectorate has interviewed Cr Graham Pittock after an anonymous complaint from within the shire council about him voting on the Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre (SPA).
Cr Pittock owns squash courts and a gymnasium in the Dromana industrial estate, and the complaint is he should not be voting on SPA matters since a gymnasium was added to the aquatic centre project on 12 June. This was when SPA was enlarged from 4800 to 6800 square metres.
But a council insider, who would not be named, says the complaint against Cr Pittock is revenge for the SPA public meeting he and Cr Tim Rodgers organised in May at Rosebud.
The News understands a senior shire officer warned Cr Pittock he may have a conflict of interest over SPA as early as February, before the gym was added.
On 22 June, mayor Cr Frank Martin wrote to Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell complaining about a council vote on SPA on 18 June when he was away (see ‘We wuz robbed: mayor complaint to minister’ on Page 9).
This was the meeting missed by Cr Martin and Cr Antonella Celi, who were at a conference in Canberra, and Cr Bill Goodrem, who was on leave.
The six councillors who have consistently voted for SPA to be built on the Rosebud foreshore were in a minority and were outvoted by the five anti-foreshore site councillors who pushed through a motion calling for the minister to investigate the SPA approval process. It also called for a geotechnical investigation into the SPA site (see Page 2).
In his 22 June letter to the minister, Cr Martin stated Cr Pittock was “currently under investigation by the Local Government Inspectorate regarding a direct conflict of interest directly related to SPA”.
This was a week before Cr Pittock was called before the inspectorate.
On Tuesday, Cr Pittock would not answer questions from The News about the investigation, but said: “In my judgement, I have no case to answer.”
Investigations into alleged conflict of interest of councillors are known to take up to a year.
They begin with a gruelling interview by a panel of lawyers whose findings then go to barristers. A decision is then made about whether to prosecute.
Cr Pittock opened his Tonic squash and gym centre in Collins St, Dromana, earlier this year. It has eight courts, gym equipment and a cafe.
Cr Pittock operated squash courts and a gym in Dromana 1980-85, but closed it when the popularity of squash declined. Planning of Tonic started several years ago. Oddly, the anonymous complaint did not include allegation of conflict over Cr Pittock’s cafe. SPA also will have a cafe.
There are about 20 gyms and fitness centres between Dromana and Rye in the SPA “catchment” area.
A spokesperson for the inspectorate said public comments are not made about ongoing investigations.