Corruption watchdog investigates major council
CORRUPTION investigators have set up camp at the Cairns Regional Council chambers and launched an interrogation into claims of favours to developers and mishandled conflicts of interest dating back several years.
All nine councillors and Mayor Bob Manning have been questioned - some on two separate occasions - with the new CEO and some general managers also probed.
The Cairns Post understands the Crime and Corruption Commission sent two investigators to the Far Northern local government offices to carry out interviews over the past week.
The CCC has confirmed the investigation is under way.
"The CCC can confirm it is making inquiries into allegations of corrupt conduct related to Cairns Regional Council," a CCC spokesman said.
"It is important to note these inquiries relate to allegations, and all allegations should be treated as unsubstantiated until a final outcome is reached.
"While the CCC's inquiries remain ongoing, it is not appropriate to comment further."
An investigation has been running for as long as five and a half months but has recently ramped up significantly, and a CCC officer was present in the public gallery at the ordinary council meeting on Wednesday last week.
The corruption watchdog did not respond to questions about the investigation but multiple council insiders confirmed the line of questioning focused on donations to the Unity Team, private loans to Cr Manning when he was facing bankruptcy in 2016 and decisions on some of the city's biggest developments.
The Cairns Post understands opponents to the Paradise Palms redevelopment had lodged complaints with the CCC over the council's approval but the overall investigation was spread much wider than a single project.
There was no indication that any councillor, the mayor, CEO, council employees or developers had been engaged in corrupt or dishonest dealings and the CCC has not laid charges or
published any findings.
Pressure has been mounting on the council in recent months after a string of shock resignations and reports of an increasingly difficult relationship between the mayor and other councillors, including members of his Unity Team.
The top-end departures began with the resignation of former CEO John Andrejic and planning and environment general manager Kelly Reaston in October.
The pair left under a cloud of bad blood that has boiled over to the council's planning department and beyond.
Much of that friction can be traced back to Cr Manning's unexplained decision not to sign off on Mr Andrejic's contract extension for months on end, despite the council voting unanimously in June to keep him on the job until March 2025.
Strategic planning and approvals manager Peter Boyd was forced out in March after working for the council for 18 years, longstanding community sport and culture general manager Linda Kirchner has resigned and development services co-ordinator Paul Cohen quit in January.
New CEO Mica Martin started the job in March and last month denied a "toxic culture" existed within the local government.
She was in just her fifth week on the job when the Crime and Corruption Commission sent its investigators to probe the organisation.
It is understood the Office of the Independent Assessor has also been investigating how declarations of conflicts of interest have been handled within the council.
The council declined to comment on the matters.
"It would be inappropriate for council to make any comment on matters relating to the actions of the Crime and Corruption Commission or the Office of the Independent Assessor," a spokesman said.
Originally published as Corruption watchdog investigates Cairns Regional Council