ICAC raid on Mudgee council

ICAC raid: The property in Short Street, Mudgee.Anne Davies

Officers from the corruption watchdog have raided a Mudgee councillor’s home and the Mid-Western Regional Council chambers in the town amid allegations of conflict of interest involving land subdivisions owned by a councillor and the mayor.

The general manager of Mid-Western Council, Warwick Bennett, confirmed  four or five officers from the Independent Commission Against Corruption arrived at the council chambers at 8.30am on Wednesday and spent several hours sifting through documents, before leaving with several boxes.

‘‘They  sought a number of documents, things like codes of conduct, emails and the like,’’ Mr Bennett said.

‘‘We are fully co-operating; we have nothing to hide.’’

Mr Bennett said that staff were not told what the investigation was about.

ICAC is also understood to have taken away computers belonging to the general manager,  Mr Bennett, and several councillors wanted him to stand down.

In Short Street, Mudgee, a similar raid was conducted at the house of Councillor Max Walker, who is also a property developer. People wearing dark suits were seen emerging from the house and loading documents into cars.

Cr Walker is the owner of a lot adjacent to his house which is known as 4-8 Perry Street.

In April, the council approved a 26-lot subdivision of the land for residential development. Cr Walker declared a pecuniary interest and did not vote. The council was split 4-4 but the development application was approved on the mayor’s casting vote.

When contacted by Fairfax Media, Cr Walker said: ‘‘I can’t comment on anything, you know that.’’

The mayor, Des Kennedy, is also involved in development.

He is the part-owner of a company that has gained approval to have a former winery, Bombira Estate, on the northern side of the town near the airport, rezoned for a large-lot subdivision.

In November the council voted to allow the block size to be halved to 2000 square metres, dramatically increasing the subdivision’s value.

This was contrary to the council’s own strategic land use plan, approved by the Planning Department in 2011, which allowed only 4000 sq m lot subdivisions.

Again the council was split, and it was only approved on the casting vote of the deputy mayor, the mayor having absented himself from the vote due to his interest.

As reported by Fairfax Media, Cr Kennedy has also been in the firing line over asbestos found on a block of land he owned which he sold to a community housing charity.

When the asbestos was found, and the charity faced the cost of remediation, the council waived more than $100,000 in tip fees to allow the site to be cleaned up.

But at least one councillor was of the view the former owner, the mayor, should have paid the costs of remediation.  Cr Kennedy is overseas and could not be contacted. Previously, he had declined to comment on the asbestos find.

A spokeswoman for ICAC said: ‘‘I can’t confirm or deny if we are undertaking investigations or making inquiries.’’

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