Friday 1 May 2009

Operation Red Hot Poker

You know some thing is wrong when you get a note like this. It shows that the cover-up goes right to the top.
This poorly-written covering note by Cairns Regional Council's secretary to the CEO, says that key information was to be kept secret, about the Code of Conduct investigation into Councillor Diane Forsyth. The CEO commissioned two reports, however the second one, turned out to simply be a review of the first, contry to what was promised.
As this may seem a complex tale, I'll make it very simple, mainly so senior Council officers and some Councillors, can understand something is horribly putrid about the administration. This is another example, in a long list amassing against the unprofessional and possible corrupt management of our Council.
We have seen more examples of incompetence surrounded the current fiasco of a secret deal done with 4CA to pay for our elected representatives to speak on radio.
These are not isolated cases. There is a trail of abuse of power, self-appointed investigations, and ruling by staff who are not the policy makers.
I know many of my more skeptical readers will not believe this, however will concur that our local government appears to be run by a bunch of clowns, and I'm not just talking about the clowns that were elected in March last year.
In what probably saddens most, our Council is now widely perceived as dysfunctional, incompetent, internally fractured, and totally off the rails. Perception breeds reality, unfortunately.
At the top of the Council leadership tree is CEO Noel Briggs, a former Mareeba Shire Council employee and accountant. Briggs was appointed as former Mayor Kevin Byrne's foot soldier, a relationship that was both comfortable and highly compatible.
The new State Labor Minister for Local Government, and local MP for Cairns, Desley Boyle, has been asked to formally review the Forsyth conduct case, as it was clearly improperly dealt with. The Minister's intervention could trigger a wider probe into the CEO's management and accused interference in Councillor's democratic duties.
Today I can reveal that the second report, tabled at Cairns Regional Council 3pm, 14th April, from 'Far North Investigations' , set out to indict Division 7 Councillor Di Forsyth, against her civil disobedience action climbing the historic Cairns Yacht Club on 13 September 2008, and her resulting alleged breach of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct.
The report was secretly titled "Operation Red Hot Poker." However this version never made it to Council. This title was removed on advice from some Council staff, in the hours before the 14th April Council meeting, as the demand heightened for Councillors to be provided a copy, including the person at the center of the report, Diane Forsyth.

Other paragraphs were removed or altered, including the updating of a different Code of Conduct reference, which was central to the legality of any breach.
All this was done by Council staff, even though the report was produced by Tony Walsh, an external so-called independent investigator. His letterhead details, including name, logo and contacts were also removed, and it was not signed by the author, unlike the original. This all indicated that most of the original document was totally re-typed - in a level 3 Council office - before being presented to Councillors, at a meeting to make a decision if Forsyth had breached the Councillors' Code of Conduct. It was a shabby, unprofessional mess at best, misrepresentation and possibly fraud at worst.
Some background how all this came about, is required.
Councillors were preparing to meet as the Finance and Administration Committee on 15 April at 10am – just 17 hours after seeing the report for the very first time. Anthony (Tony) Walsh of Far North Investigations wrote the report.
The Committee of 15 April was being asked to decide whether or not Councillor Di Forsyth had committed a minor breach of the Code of Conduct, however advice CairnsBlog has received suggests that only a full ordinary meeting of the Council could make a decision of this nature.
Councillors were indeed lucky to see the report at all. Originally they’d been shown only a précis of the report, as deciphered by Council CEO Noel Briggs, who commissioned the report.
The report's author, Anthony Walsh, requested that it remain secret because the earlier Colin McDowall's report had been subjected to “scrutiny and ridicule” by “certain individuals”. In fact the first report was a disgrace. It was a disgrace to Colin McDowall who wrote it, and the CEO who commissioned his old mate to do a job on it. I've previously made this document publicly available, to shame all those behind it.
It was defamatory, with “facts” fabricated out of thin air, opinion masquerading as evidence, and with no effective investigation whatsoever of what happened. Soon after it was selectively released earlier this year, the CEO assured it will be discarded and a new report undertaken.
After CEO Noel Briggs screwed up the first report, he sought out a second investigator who set up a process that didn’t collect any evidence; assumes that the Cairns' public agree with the investigator’s and CEO’s opinions; finds Councillor Diane Forsyth guilty of a minor breach without examination and/or justification.
But it’s OK, this time we’ll keep the report secret. Let's call it the Noel and Tony secret boys’ club.
The second report, circulated on 14 April 2009, was simply a review of the first flawed concoction, and was no better. Walsh and Briggs called it “Operation Red Hot Poker.” Do you think they had a predetermined outcome in mind?
Many who campaigned strongly for the Cairns Yacht Club, and the right to hold protests, have had grave concerns that Noel Briggs and Tony Walsh have pre-judged this issue.
"They failed to conduct the fair and impartial enquiry that they are required to by the Local Government Act," Bryan Law says. "It was a gross failure of their duties."
When Councillors were eventually shown a copy of Tony Walsh’s report on 14 April, at least one Councillor, Division 10 representative Julia Leu, noticed that Tony Walsh had been referring throughout his report to a Code of Conduct which was superseded, and was no longer in force.
It’s hard to see how a report based on the wrong regulations could be a proper guide to decision-making. But it was. Committee Chairman Alan Blake allowed it and the CEO announced that it made no difference to the outcome.
Councillor Leu made this point quite forcefully at the beginning of debate. Procedural fairness required the matter to be adjourned, subject to clarification and the formulation of an effective and accurate report. Natural justice did not prevail and the Chair hurriedly rush to vote a breach against Councillor Forsyth.
Noel Briggs explained to the Committee that he had consulted Tony Walsh about the wrong Code of Conduct that was used as a basis and was told not to worry about it. "He would have convicted Diane under the right Code if only he’d known about it," was the response. So we can all move on. So Council moved on.
As pointed out earlier, the report had been altered in the hours leading up top the meeting, to reflect the new reality, and the embarrassing 'Operation Red Hot Poker' title was removed. So in the public Agenda papers on 15 April 2009, on which Councillors were to vote, was an unsigned, manipulated version of 'Far North Investigations' report, which Councillors had been given immediately prior the meeting.
Many mitigating points are exposed where the author says that the absence of any response from the Cairns Port Authority, should not hold up his report to Council, and therefore left it out.
On this basis the Finance and Administration Committee of the Cairns Regional Council convicted Di Forsyth of a minor breach of the Councillors Code of Conduct. Councillor Forsyth requested her right to make a submission in relation to the penalty and before any vote was taken on her alleged Breach, but this was not afforded to her. Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane interjected and moved to vote on a breach, over-riding Forsyth's right to present her submission first. The meeting pressed ahead to impose a penalty immediately. This was Council decision-making going mad, and with a chair who simply didn't know what to do.
The meeting was a disgrace to every principle of good government.
Noel Briggs has failed to act professionally in this matter. He has failed to properly discharge his duties as CEO of Cairns Regional Council. He has provided Cairns Regional Council with a fatally flawed administrative process which has led in turn to a miscarriage of justice against Diane Forsyth – a miscarriage of justice which cannot be allowed to stand.
Noel Briggs has become personally involved in this matter and lost his objectivity. He has repeatedly attacked Councillor Forsyth politically through the media, and he has initiated use of the Code of Conduct to punish Councillor Forsyth further than the criminal justice system did.
In conducting two flawed investigations, CEO Noel Briggs has taken charge over an unfair and unbalanced process. The first and second reports are riddled with prejudice and fabrication. At the same time Briggs has failed to take into account relevant material, such as actual public expressions of support for Forsyth’s actions.
CEO Briggs has breached the principles of natural justice. Diane Forsyth has had no opportunity to respond to the allegations against her in the report. She, like other Councillors, was shown the report against her only minutes before the hearing at which she was convicted – a hearing she was not allowed to attend.
These actions by Cairns Regional Council are neither lawful or reasonable. It is not within the power of Council to conduct a trial by ambush.
Bryan Law who spear-headed protest action at the site of the Yacht Club building last September, says that Forsyth as a citizen of conscience. "She was one of six Cairns citizens who undertook civil disobedience actions and were arrested during the Yacht Club protests," Law says. "She was one of two that sat on the roof."
"I feel very strongly that any citizen who undertakes civil disobedience is entitled to the scrupulous application of the law, and ought pay precisely and fairly for the consequences of their actions," Bryan Law says. "At the heart of civil disobedience is an act of conscience by an individual acting as citizen. It is not hostile to the rule of law. It is a vital component of democracy."
No citizen carrying out an act of civil disobedience ought face the kind of kangaroo Court produced by Noel Briggs against Diane Forsyth.
The decision of the Cairns Regional Council's Finance and Administration Committee should be set aside. This Council, and it's most senior officers, needs a directive about the principles and processes of a fair and impartial enquiry as part of any investigation carried out in relation to the Councillors Code of Conduct, as mandated by Government.
The Mayor needs no more compelling evidence to start the process and call for a vote of no confidence in the CEO. Val Schier should immediately call in the Minister and ask for all the actions over the last 12 months, be fully investigated, with a view to recommending Council terminate his contract.



Syd Walker said...

At least we now have a partial answer to the question how many consultants, bureaucrats and other miscellaneous paid timewasters does it take to discuss one woman sitting on a roof for a few minutes.

More than the number of angels on a pinhead, I think.

If this was just a hobby it would be relatively harmless, but I suspect the extreme silliness is undertaken during working hours, billed to ratepayers.

Then folk wonder why they don't have decent public transport, a sophisticated emergency evacuation plan, a real plan to diversify the local economy etc etc etc.

Incidentally, when I read a sentence like "at this time the name of the complaints cannot be release" I wonder how long before the CEO outsources his PA's memo production?

'Far North Invesigations' should look into it. Pass the chequebook...

CBD Warrior said...


You were the one that "foisted" Val Schier on us. You continually attacked suggestions that she and her team were inexperienced and incompetent.

You've got this on YOUR HEAD, pal.

The numbers game said...

Cleary, CBD stands for Can't Bother with Detail.

3 of the 11 councilors are Cairns First, 4 are incumbents (and you'd think they know better) and the remaining 4 are first time independents.

Here is a tip for Mr. Warrior - if you want credibility don't dump all the blame on the smallest group.

He said...

That's what cops are about.

Bryan Law said...

Did anyone notice that Cairns Ports Limited was "formally" asked for a copy of its report into Di's civil disobedience on 10 March 2009, and that "further delay" had become intolerable by 30 March 2009 (the date of Tony's report to Noel).

Twenty days.

Hands up anyone here who's received useful cooperation from Cairns Ports Limited (or any of its previous incarnations) about anything at all in as little as 20 days?

I mean this is the body in charge of redeveloping the domestic airport and rendering the whole place unusable for 18 months. 20 days is the blink of an eye.

Same thing goes for Cairns Regional Council for that matter. Hands up anyone who's got satisfaction from CRC within 20 days.

I can just picture Noel Briggs after the Magistrate's Court convicted Di Forsyth. All impatient and eager to have his turn with the hockey stick. "It's my turn! Bah! 20 days. What's the delay?"

Sack him.

David Anthony said...

Di Forsyth is my hero. She embodies the great Labor spirit of built heritage conservation. The Whitlam Govt and the Builders Labourers Federation (with Malanda-born Jack Mundey at the helm) pulled out all stops to preserve our built heritage around the country.
Not only did Di stand up to save an important building close to many hearts in Cairns, she was protesting the horrible way the CBD has been developed during the dark day days of Kevin Byrne. Harbour Lights and Trilogy are a blight on the townscape and give our CBD a slummy appearance.
Well, you win some and you lose some, but good on you Di for doing the right thing and giving us hope.
I'm proud of you.

Alan Blake for Mayor said...

CBD Warrier is Alan Blake. Have the guts to admit it mate.

Joe,Gordonvale said...

This is an opportunity for Val to stand up and be counted.Call Briggs
in cancel his contract,his main error being misleading the council.
Briggs has caused as much trouble as the snakes in the grass,Blake,
Bonneau,Cochrane and Gregory.Now is the time for Boyle to step in
and read the riot to these four

Blogster said...

If CBD Warrior is Alan Blake I wouldn't have the guts to admit it if I was him!

Alexander Gordon said...

And where is Val Schiers leadership in all this mess? I voted for Val to be a leader and yet it seems Noel Briggs runs council and Val seems to be all quiet. Stand up Val, be a leader, Sack Noel and a heap of bad staff and lets get Cairns moving in the sensible directioin, not run by reactionists. Lead Val, Lead.

Sally said...

BLAKEY - The CBD Warrior!!!!! LOL
Sounds like a gay musical

Syd Walker said...

Well said Alexander!

I did not vote for Val, as I live up the hill and voted for myself instead. But I do believe, as a distant observer, that what's needed here is what Maggie Thatcher called the 'Smack of Firm Government'.

A public flogging is appropriate for the worst culprits. Moreover, The Mayor should disinvite the Cairns Post from the scourging, as a sign of her displeasure.

This type of event, held on a regular basis, would not just clean up local government. It would become an important tourist attraction for the region. Repeat offenders, of course, must be fed to the crocodiles.

Over time, this would also improve the average quality of comments in CairnsBlog, revealing the identity of most obnoxious trolls as they disappear, one by one.

nocturnal congress said...

Instead of hiring two suspected "yes" men to do the investigation and "review", why didn't Briggs simply send the matter to an independent lawyer somewhere?