Thursday 28 May 2009

The separation of power

There's a fundamental tenet in politics, that perception breeds reality.

Today, five weeks after Cairns Regional Councillor Sno Bonneau, asked an ominous question before a full Council meeting, about a financial arrangement with a local radio station, a report, estimated to have cost several thousand dollars, will be delivered to Councillors. It will hopefully be the full story, and not a white wash.

The report investigated the undisclosed Council / Radio 4CA commercial arrangement. Councillors Pyne and Cooper have called for its full public release, as an act of transparency.

Sno Bonneau's actions indicated he was most probably fully aware of the goings on behind the scenes. He himself, has had many questions hanging over about unethical and inappropriate disclosure to developers in advance of Council hearings. Just two weeks ago, he was caught colluding with developers about an Application for Cable Ski park, Smithfield.

A long-serving former Cairns [Mulgrave] Councillor Ross Parisi, says that the separation of power between staff and Councillors is vital for the integrity and respect of local democracy. It is on this basis that I share this story today.

A week ago I wrote about two degrees of separation, in response to Councillor Alan Blake's legal threat to this Blog, an attempt to censor the investigation into his, and other Councillor's involvement in the Cash for Comments scandal. This whole episode has seriously damaged the entire Council's reputation in the community, and for what? Some ego-driven objective to debase a faction of the elected Councillors.

For more than a month now, I've been writing about those behind what has been exposed as a deliberate plot to embarrass the Mayor. This was all about the financial arrangement that Cairns Regional Council negotiated with radio 4CA 846am.

It was sparked two weeks ago, following a question by Cr Sno Bonneau at a full Council meeting on Wednesday 22nd April. It wasn't simply a throw away question, but part of an orchestrated campaign, involving one of our most senior Councillors, Cr Alan Blake.
Whilst there were at least three primary ring leaders in this drama, CEO Noel Briggs doesn't go unnoticed. The primary reason why Mayor Val Schier insisted on an external investigation, as there was many questions about what involvement and knowledge the CEO had about the deal done between Council and Radio 4CA.

I can now reveal, that during and prior to the 'Cash for Comments' saga was unveiled and an inquiry called, one of our most senior and long-serving Councillors, Alan Blake, had been secretly meeting with Council's Media and Corporate Communications Manager, Kerie Hull.

This is important because Ms Hull was the primary negotiator for deal to get Mayor Val Schier on radio talkback with John Mackenzie. Hull was aware exactly what was agreed and also what she informed the Mayor, prior to going on air.

Councillor Alan Blake had advance knowledge of this information, as indicated by the information he deliberately leaked to members within the LNP, attached with a specific request to inform CairnsBlog the following day. The fact was, the Mayor was not informed of the specifics of the radio deal. Blake first talked about the arrangement with a former LNP member on April 2nd, and a week later on April 9th, he talked to a current LNP member about leaking it to CairnsBlog.
At the time, Alan Blake had been meeting secretly with Ms Hull for the weeks prior to the story going public. What the content of those private meetings were, we will not know, but we can assume that as Ms Hull was a central figure in the arrangement, and Blake actively participated in leaking the information, it doesn't require a rocket scientist to work it all out.

What Blake disclosed to the formal inquiry, may well contradict his relationship and interaction with Kerie Hull. However, many meetings were held, most away from the prying eyes of Council offices to avoid gossip and innuendo from staff and other colleagues.

Since I contacted Alan Blake after my telephone call on the evening of Thursday 23rd April, he engaged Council's lawyer to send me a threatening letter, saying that I may have breached his confidentiality by transcribing his telephone call.

He accused me that I may have breached the Privacy Act by "recording his telephone call without permission." Well, I did record his telephone call, after all I rang Blake to ask questions about the event of the day, with the view to write it up and publish. Alan knows the game I'm in and he knows all about CairnsBlog. After all, he gave me numerous bits of information about Kevin Byrne prior to the 2008 Council election. He therefore willingly took part in the telephone call, and answered my questions.

To suggest that our conversation was private and confidential, is ridiculous. He's a regional Councillor. I'm a journalist, seeking his contribution to the events of the day. It was why we connected that evening.

I recorded the call with good old fashioned short-hand and notes. I also had a witness in my office when I called Alan Blake that evening. None other than Richie Bates, who also took extensive notes, as it was on speaker phone. Immediately following the call, I typed the call up, and checked it against our two sets of notes.

I have rebutted with a number of corrections to Alan Blake's legal threat, and exposed the flaws in his accusations. I also showed that he deliberately got a number of things wrong in his four-page letter. I also challenged Blake's suggestion that the use of the word "incriminating" in a txt message I sent him, was done in a threatening way. In fact, I have offered on no less than three occasions to meet with Blake, discuss this matter and provide the information and photos I referred to. He never responded.

Following my first story on this long drawn-out affair, some anonymous emails arrived from Northern Beach residents who have been reading CairnsBlog. They were independent of each other and the three of them wanted to share their 'Alan Blake' story. Two of these folk said that they'd seen the Councillor's red Mazda MX5 driving around the beaches during weekends in early April.

"He was up here this afternoon, and one afternoon I saw some children with him," said Joan X of Trinity Park. "I knew it was him as it had a personalised registration plate of 'ATB 51', I've seen him in the newspaper before."

Another emailer, who refused to give me any name, reported that Blake was a regular visitor to his neighbourhood.

"My wife and I have seen him around our streets for a while now, on at least three occasions we can recall," XX said. "We were walking our dogs and he drove in and a large wooden gate was closed very quickly behind him. We thought this was unusual and Mr Blake looked like he didn't want to be seen."

There was very good reason why the Councillor didn't want to be seen, as he was holding secret meetings with Council's Corporate Communications Manager, Kerie Hull. During this time, Hull had been implicated and questioned about her involvement in the Cash for Comment row that has been the subject of a four-week investigation by a Cairns QC.

Alan Blake was also involved and had deliberately set the leak in motion the first week in April. There was now a definite connection between these two high-profile Council identities.

Councillor Alan Blake should have realised back then, that his involvement was very precarious, and as Chairman of the Finance and Administration Committee, his actions were most probably a serious cause for concern.

After being suspicious that local residents had noticed him visiting Hull's private Trinity Park residence on a number of occasions, he swapped with another vehicle, a 1994 BMW. However, this time he didn't park the car in Hull's driveway.

"We saw him, he arrived on Saturday afternoon, around 5pm I think," Barry of Trinity Park said. "We live around the corner, and he parked outside our place and walked around to this woman's place. We noticed this because we don't have any cars like that in our street, so it was unusual. You notice these things."

Another resident in the neighbourhood even reported they had seen the Councillor cycling to Ms Hull's residence, after "leaving his vehicle three or four streets away."

The residents contacted me because they felt these were serious breaches of trust, given the current investigation before Council. They felt that a Councillor should not be in a situation where suggestion could be derived about collusion and private meetings. I have to agree. In discussing the severity of this matter with five different Councillors and a number of senior business professionals in Cairns, there was a similar pattern of concern.

Two members of the public recorded vehicle movements, to verify their statements.

In Alan Blake's telephone conversation with me about Council governance in his now infamous call a month ago, he said: "We just have to get it back on an even keel, and get on with good governance. All I want to do is straight policy. We're essentially board members," Blake told me.

It's perhaps timely to look at the nature of the organisation, known as the Cairns Regional Council. Including the Executive and the Councillors, they have a responsibility for annual expenditure of just under $330 million dollars. By Council’s own estimate, there are over $2.4 billion worth of assets that are managed, a not insignificant amount.

To oversee an organisation of this size, we would expect to see competencies and professionalism of a very high calibre. That is why I believe that we should look closely at the conduct of Councillors. There is undoubtedly serious room for improvement. After all, Councillor Blake is meant to be our 'Treasurer' as the chair of the Finance Committee, an irony not lost on a number of company directors I've talked to in the last month about our Council's poor corporate performance.

Perhaps a more business-like approach is needed. This month’s Company Director magazine highlights the duties and responsibilities of company directors. Excerpts from their Code of Conduct, seem very apt for our elected Councillors:
  • The member should act honestly, in good faith and in the best interests of the company as a whole.

  • The member should have a duty to use care and diligence in fulfilling the functions of office and exercising the powers attached to that office.

  • The member should use the powers of office for a proper purpose, in the best interests of the company as a whole.

  • The member should recognise that the primary responsibility is to the company as a whole but may, where appropriate, have regard for the interest of all stakeholders of the company.

  • The member should not make improper use of information acquired as a director.

  • The member should not take improper advantage of the position of director.

  • The member should properly manage any conflict with the interests of the company.

  • The member should not engage in conduct likely to bring discredit upon the company.

  • The member has an obligation, at all times, to comply with the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law and with the principles of this Code.
Cairns Regional Council clearly discusses perceived conflicts in the Staff Interaction Policy, updated and adopted in February 2009 - No. 2:02:01:
    Employees of Cairns Regional Council shall avoid conflict of interests, whether actual or apparent.

    Being honest and trustworthy by ensuring all of your actions are open and transparent.

    This means all decisions are based on merit, not favouritism and that your employment is not used to gain a personal advantage.

    Where a Conflict of interest may be perceived, such an interest must be disclosed and discussed. If appropriate, such interest will be recorded as to protect both the reputation of the employee as well as the Council.

There are other references where concerns are raised about these meetings between Ms Hull and Councillor Blake:

  • (c) If an attempt is made by a Councillor to direct staff, this must be reported to the CEO directly or through the employee's General Manager so that the matter can be addressed with the Councillor concerned. Generally speaking, requests should be made utilising the email system and Councillor's computers.
The only exception to this Councillor / Staff interaction Protocol is:
  • (b) These controls for help and advice do not apply to the Mayor who may seek information from any employee.
The Local Government Act also highlights areas of concern when such a conflict can be perceived, or not declared:
  • Councillors' roles:
    If a conflict arises between a public interest and the private interest of a Councillor or another person, - [a local Government Councillor] must give preference to the public interest.

    A Councillor cannot direct, and must not attempt to direct, an employee of the local government about the way in which the employee's duties are to be performed.

There is of course a serious case for a formal Councillor Code of Conduct breach, however many in the community have little faith in this process been carried out, in light of the recent debacle of the Kangaroo Court with Councillor Diane Forsyth.

What is of greatest concern, is all this activity and secret meetings has been played out in the midst of a serious investigation about Council corruption and collusion, about inappropriate interaction that occurred between certain staff and elected Councillors.

Without transparency and the true separation of power, we can hold little trust in those we elect to serve us.

The irony is deafening.


Syd Walker said...

Is this circumstantial evidence of 12 hour meetings?

Perhaps the participants read "Pete the Sheep" stories together to stay awake during the long hours of darkness?

Tony Bridgewater, Kewarra Beach said...

Your blog this morning brings to the front another point that I discussed with an MP a few weeks ago.

Separation of responsibility. There is, at every public service, such as hospital, council, etc there is a well paid CEO or director. These are mostly not appointed by the pollie of the day and are inherited.

Yet whenever a scandal spending shortfall etc the media and public hold the responsible (or sometimes not so responsible) politician to the torch.

These highly paid directors/CEO carry executive titles so I expect would behave as such. Why do we not trot the CEO of the Cairns Hospital in front of the camera to discuss issues and so on. It seems mostly these highly paid individuals are immune to what their private sector brethren face on a daily basis.

Maybe if we start doing this we will start to see real efficiencies in government and a better performing executive branch. Well I can dream.... I told the pollie that nothing says I am serious about my job more than “that department is on notice” and then “that CEO wasn’t performing so I fired him/her...”

nocturnal congress said...

The whole truth of this sorry saga HAS to come out. If it is whitewashed and the perpetrators get a minor slap on the wrist, then the stage will be set for more covert and underhand behaviours. Moreover, it will give future candidates for Council, especially criminal types, a mandate on which to campaign, viz: "We won't have any investigations...... ."
We are approaching a pivotal moment in the history of the CRC.

CBD Warrior said...

Reposted from Northern Truth BlogCairnsBlog has gone postal on Alan Blake today. I don't know Alan, so can't comment.

However I can categorically confirm that the "evidence" posted is fraudulent - and when attempting to comment with this question to Michael Moore, he very conveniently has "turned on" comment moderation today for the first time, blocking the question from even appearing!

Say Mike,
Maybe you can explain why the focal length of the mobile phone camera changes from shot to shot?

It takes a lot of work to produce fraudulent evidence, Mike. You need to put in the hard yards.

The Headless Horseman said...

The Cash for Comment scandal is getting murkier and sleazier with every revelation. It now appears that there is something of a conspiracy going on behind the scenes. Good detective work, Mike.
Alan Blake must now publicly come clean about his role in this wrong-headed scheme to apparently discredit the Mayor. He must explain his close relationship with Kerie Hull and what have they discussed at their secret meetings? Hard to believe they were only having tea and bikkies and not discuss Cash for Comment
He must also explain why?
Is Blake's hatred for the Mayor so all-consuming?
I'm still shaking my head over Kerie Hull's involvement. She is the council's public relations guru for goodness sake. She has done nothing to support the Mayor and has done much to discredit herself and the council.
Like others on this blog, I wonder how involved Sno Bonneau is in this whole affair. Was he an unwitting dupe (as someone previously suggested) or is he part of the conspiracy. Was Sno's car seen at Kerie Hull's place too? Or Noel Briggs's for that matter?

Lillian at Yorkeys said...

I'm with Syd on this one - bloody long 'meeting' between Kerrie & ATB - perhaps we was just consoling her in her hour of need? And I'm also with Nocturnal too - it really IS a pivotal moment in the CRC's history in terms of the amount of collusion between Hull & Councillors Blake, Bonneau & Cochrane. [Not that I'm suggesting a 'menage a quatre' - that doesn't even bear thinking about. Yeucchhh].
I admire Councillors Pyne & Cooper for yesterday demanding the report on the 4CA cash for comment saga to be made public. For a long time Blake, Bonneau & Cochrane have been subverting the proper functioning of Council, and it would seem that Hull has been a willing partner in this mess.
The major element in this collusion is that these Councillors & Council officers are wasting OUR TIME and MONEY - they are paid to administer the proper functioning of the Regional Council, NOT to engage in childish but Machiavellian plots - to what end would be interesting to know.
However, why Hull was even allowed back in the CRC building until the investigation was completed is beyond me. And this is where Mayor Val is too soft. Why would you allow your major PR person (in this case, Hull) back until the outcome is known? As Hull has obviously been antagonistic towards the Mayor during her term as Head PR Honcho,& very possibly deeply implicated in the 4CA skullduggery, what exactly is Hull doing at CRC at present? Sending out press releases about the beauty of stinger nets in the early dawn light, or similar?
Additionally, if Val was beyond suspending Hull, then why hasn't CEO Briggs done so? Or perhaps he's in on the collusion as well. The man is totally inept anyway & should be replaced.
And CBD Warrior, I know Mike is sometimes guilty of the odd slip-up & typo, but I hardly think that he would go public with these images if they are fraudulent. I would suggest that the different focal lengths would come from the fact that they were taken several hours apart. Simple as that.

I Am The Stig said...

To the CBD Warrior before you accuse and make assumptions you need to be aware of your technology. The photos are clearly taken with a dedicated Camera and not a Mobile Phone which would take into account the focal length as you so expertly observe. The adjustment would be necessary to allow for the diminishing light and possible change in position of the photographer.

nocturnal congress said...

When someone says "categorically..." I get suspicious. It's a bit like the word "fine"...when people use it to end an argument.....

Alison Alloway said...

I won't hide behind a nick. This appalling issue has to be resolved and if Councillors and staff are found to have behaved in an unethical and unprincipled manner, then they should be removed.
It is a pivotal period in the Cairns Regional Council and not the time for game playing.
There are serious issues of development versus environment; global warming and weather changes; problems with amalgamation and the future of the tourist industry. Council's role today is very complex and requires cohesive and principled teamwork. One urgent issue which must be properly discussed and investigated fully, is the proposal to bring Guam's US marines to Cairns for R & R. We citizens of Cairns NEED to know our safety won't be jeopardised and that the city won't be locked into some military agreement with the US excluding marines from Australian law, for example.

Dutchie said...

In this day and age of digital technology 'evidence' is often tampered with (think Pauline Hanson recently). I don't necessarily believe the times and dates printed on the photos, that is easily done later.

However, I think that we can all agree that the photos are real and that Blake was at Hull's house. For whatever that is worth.

I don't care. All it proves to me is that they are possibly friends or more. And in the circumstances, you would have thought they'd be a bit more discreet.

It is all speculation and circumstantial evidence. Let's hope the report will give us absolute proof of what happened and who did what.

Thornton On Spence said...

In many Corporations there is an unwritten rule that Executives should avoid at all costs potential conflicts of interest when it comes to other Members of Staff. It is usually Policed by the appropriate Manager and a gentle reminder given that there is a conflict of interest. If Cr Blake is innocent then you would expect to see a response from him either through his Lawyers or directly to the Cairns Blog. Let's hope he takes the time to clear his name and reputation although the word reputation can be interpretted another way.

nocturnal congress said...

Ross Parisi in yesterdays comments said the interviews for the QC's Inquiry were not conducted under I'm wondering just how many times "categorically deny" will come up in the Report??? Just curious......

brad m said...

The dates/times(and many other interesting bits of information) of the images can usually be easily verified by looking at the properties of the image files downloaded from the camera storage media.

(Assuming the date and time in the camera were current when the image was captured)

H. Jorgensen said...

In response to the Stig,

I'm someone who is well aware of technology and the ease in manipulating digital images.

the 1;30am and 5:45 am images are manufactured.

- the typeface differs from the top2 images
- the type size is also different

in fact both these images are created from a single image, just cropped differently.

I challenge you to post this comment Michael.

your distortion of facts for the sake of a good story is starting to bother more than one of your readers.

Johnny, Areoglen said...

whoopi you nuts.. fact is (as it certainly appears) Blakie and Hull have been colluding. Full stop.

The Headless Horseman said...

I reckon one way to clear up the credibility of the photos once and for all is for Alan Blake and Kerie Hull to come clean and say if it is his car at her home...or not. I await to hear their response to the photos. Of course, if Mike gets another threatening legal letter that will be tantamount to a confession. Yes, tantamount is what I call it.

nocturnal congress said...

Good point Headless. Whether he stayed the night or not is irrelevant and who gives a stuff anyway, what is relevant is the two had a close association with plenty of opportunities to collude.

Thornton On Blake said...

Aside from all the Photography experts out there it still comes down to Cr Blake refuting the evidence and as it takes Two Too Tango perhaps Kerrie Hull could also provide her side of the story. After all she should be able to recognise the driveway and parking of her own home?

I Am The Stig said...

Obviously ATB, the self declared "successful businessman", is a lover of older models when it comes to cars. The Mazda MX5 in the picture is seriously getting on.

Jim Malone @ Trinity said...

Hey Stig,

I agree with those who note the "funny business" with these photos. You need to learn what the phrase "focal length" means, it DOESN'T mean where people are standing. Sheesh.

If you're going to take on the king, you can't afford missteps. Michael has missed the mark with this smear. Better luck next time

Unknown said...

A nice bit of cropping on the bottom 2 photos. Went a little heavy of adjusting the brightness as well.

There is no way to tell the actual dates of these photos (while they are in there current form)

I challenge Mike, and the person(s) who took the photos to make them available in there original form so that the dates can be verified.

However, regardless of the dates of the photos, i find it concerning that they were taken at all.

Megan Fox said...

I did'nt vote for Noel Briggs or Alan Blake or Sno Bonehead..........Kerie Hull ect.

I voted for Val Shier and I voted for representation from a leader who is able to take control and bring some order to our local government.

This investigation needs to be open and transperent like you promised.

Val you where elected because everyone was sick and tired of the old council.

We need a new cooperative team to move Cairns forward and be the best city it can be in the Far north.

Please Val lead from the front and sort out this mess.

Use the tools available to you.
Stop letting the executive lead us up the garden path.

Leadership is difficult but people will not respect you unless the lead is taken and the executive needs to be shown where the power of office comes from. You have the mandate so lead, Make the decisions and tell them what to do.

Use it or loose it.

Sort the house out or get out and open an art space somewhere with a fashionable coffee shop.

Brigg's self imposed god like control over all things operational is total BS.

The pictures of Alan Blake's car at Kerie Hull's place is proof enough of some sort of colusion. What do we need? A silver bullet fired by a knight in shinning armour?

I'd like to know if this website didn't exist who would ask the questions and expose the sordid details?

There is an absolute vacuum in our local media only filled by spin and nonsence with few exceptions this Blog is but one.

Politics is all about self-interest. There are no friends in politics only interested parties.


Thornton on Spence said...

Very well said Megan. Aside from the photography experts who can debate the legitimacy of the photos, you have summed up in a few words what this is all about. It is the manipulation and power plays of a limited few who are holding the City of Cairns back. It is the restrictions deliberately being placed on Val Schier to not allow her to deliver what many of us voted her in for. It is also, importantly, why this Cairns Blog is such a vital alternative view to the biased jounalism that exists in Cairns today.
I for one hope that if Alan Blake fails to come forward with an explanation and defense of the accusations that the Mayor and local Government Minister take action themselves. Thanks Megan and the Cairns Blog.

St. Lil said...

Yes, well said Megan - I completely concur in your comments on Val - something which I have said to her myself. She is somewhat constrained by the Local Government Act, eg. Council General Managers are managed by the CEO, not the Mayor, which is a worry, but I guess in another structure, where the Mayor is dominating the Council, the balancing role of the CEO is important. However, our current CEO is neither balanced, or up to the job, either. And Val seems to be dominated by the CEO, which is strange.
Mayor Val still needs to kick arse around the ole' Council building.
And Thornton - I concur too, re the importance of open information such as provided by the Blog - none of this would have come out via the ComPost.

Thornton on Spence said...

On this site is a link to the individual Councillors and some blurb on their ambitions and skills followed by a little expose on gifts over $500 as well as memberships of various organisations. I took a look at all of them to discover that Cr Alan Blake was the only person with a declaration of gifts over $500 and this was in the form of a Cheque from an R. Payne/M. Huelin for $2,000.00 and coincidentally people with idetical names appear on the Williams Graham Carman website as Partners! I also note with much interest that Cr. Blake is Director Red Shield Appeal for the Salvation Army which made me smile, vaguely remembering the Bible and something about another man's wife!!!!!