Thursday, 21 May 2009

Two degrees of separation

Over the last four weeks, I've been exposing those behind the so-called 'Cash for Comments' debacle.

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 was up to his neck in it.

The question sparked a series of events that has had a most negative effect on our year-old Council. Those behind this Machiavellian plot (*see explanation below), wanted to debase, upset, and embarrass the Mayor of Cairns, and those Councillors that support her.

  • * Mach⋅i⋅a⋅vel⋅li⋅an  /ˌmækiəˈvɛliən/ [mak-ee-uh-vel-ee-uhn] –adjective
  1. of, like, or befitting Machiavelli.

  2. being or acting in accordance with the principles of government analyzed in Machiavelli's The Prince, in which political expediency is placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit to maintain the authority and carry out the policies of a ruler is described.

  3. characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty: He resorted to Machiavellian tactics in order to get ahead.
After the revelation, the Mayor instructed the CEO to undertake an internal investigation, and then requested an independent inquiry, after many realised that Noel Briggs was probably too close to the drama. This has all cost the ratepayers of Cairns thousands of dollars.

Cash for Comments been an evolving tale, much of it played out behind closed doors since last September, soon after the appointment of the new communications and media manager. It was a plot, that those behind it thought would be their master stroke, to undermine the Mayor and pull her down.
The dirty under-hand tactics that these Councillors have been involved in, will be exposed for all to see, instead of running the city, like we pay them to.

Yesterday afternoon, Cr Alan Blake, engaged Williams Graham Carman, who are also Council's solicitors.

Councillor Robert Pyne has asked the CEO if Council are paying for this legal advice, expected to cost up to $2,000. "I would be outraged if the ratepayer paid for this advice," Robert Pyne said this morning. Here's the letter, (Here's the PDF)...

Now, there's a lot in that letter, and I'll Blog separately about it. In summary though, it was a vain attempt to stifle and silence me.

His beef with me is all about The violinist on the Titanic, I wrote a week ago. Seems like Blake didn't like his conversation being made public, yet he initiated a telephone call with myself on the evening of Thursday 23rd April, the day the story of 'Cash for Comment' broke on the front cover of the Cairns Post.

It may have been a little too cryptic for the good Councillor, but the violinist on the Titanic referred to himself, as he carried on as if nothing was happening around him. The phone call was not a private conversation, as he believes. The only 'relationship' I have with Alan Blake is in his capacity as a Councillor with Cairns Regional Council. The only 'relationship' he has with me is as a public commentator, and Alan knows full-well that I write a very public Blog.

It was on that basis that we talked, and was in reaction to the events of the day on April 23rd. I didn't return his telephone call to talk about the weather, nor swap a scone recipe. I wanted to know what his reaction was to the 4CA Council deal going public.

I'd already named Blake the original email a month earlier. He was a central figure in the inquiry.

Over a year ago, Blake threatened to take me to the cleaners, unless some things on CairnsBlog were removed. The night before April 3rd's Council swearing in ceremony last year, I received a telephone call, around 10pm at night. It was Councillor Blake, and he was enraged, angry and explosive...

  • "...Michael, it's Alan here. I've just read stuff on the Blog about me and saying I'm with some younger woman, and I will take legal action. Believe me mate, I'm cashed up, and I won't hesitate. I'm heading to Sydney later this week and will start proceedings if you don't remove those comments..."
Wonder who was threatening who back then?

Just last week, Blake told his last remaining mates in the Liberal National Party that he was looking at taking legal action against me. Of course, even they don't hold him in the highest esteem, and I was quickly informed. I challenged Blake. After he didn't answer his phone, I sent a text message:

  • "Instead of talking to others and say you're going to threaten me with legal action, don't you think you should communicate with me like you used to?
Blake was enraged. He could hardly confide in anyone. Anyway, true to his word, yesterday afternoon, he fired off his legal threat.

Blake is understandably nervous about talk and information that is doing the rounds. You only have to talk with anyone in the local media, and they know about the rumours. Blake is employing the very same tactics that his former political rival, Kevin Byrne was infamous for: trying to scare people with the threat of legal action.

So what 'information' do I have that Blake is so worried about that he's engaged lawyers in an attempt to silence me?

I accuse Councillor Alan Blake of holding secret meetings with Council's Corporate Communications Manager, Kerie Hull.

The degree of separation between this most senior Councillor, head of the Finance Committee, and a very prominent staff member, has been covert and not declared to the CEO, a requirement under Council's Staff Interaction Guidelines policy.

This is especially inappropriate while the Cash for Comment investigation is being carried out.

There are clear rules and guidelines about such meetings councillors and staff crossing the line. The staff Code of Conduct No. 2:02:01, endorsed on 16th February this year, states what is appropriate for standards of 'work behaviour, integrity and ethical conduct expected'.

This policy contains the Councillor / Staff Interaction Protocol:

  • A Councillor cannot direct, and must not attempt to direct any employee about the way in which the employee's duties are to be performed.

    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.
It goes on to state...

  • 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 for personal advantage.
Even if Blake and Hull argue they have done nothing wrong, the problem is that there are now serious questions about how this 4CA relationship scandal was hatched. Were these two key players holding private meetings?

Maybe they forget that in politics that when you play these little games they can get into big trouble, and things will unravel and be exposed.

There's now sufficient information to raise not only raise a Code of Conduct complaint, but a Crime and Misconduct investigation about the actions of this Councillor.

With that in mind, I ask a few questions...

  • What have Blake and Hull been discussing at their meetings while the Cash for Comments investigation has been in progress?
  • Did they hold meetings prior to this and discuss under-mining the Mayor?
  • Was the Mackenzie 4CA deal their idea in the first place?
  • When did they start discussing it?
  • Was CEO Noel Briggs involved?
  • Did the CEO know about Councillor Blake meeting with Kerie Hull?
  • Where did these meetings take place?
  • Was it after hours?
  • Was it at Council offices?
  • Was Mackenzie involved?
I ask the last question, because there is a revealing comment from Blake in the original email that was leaked to me where there's a reference to Mackenzie giving up his "precious time" to talk to Val. This indicated that Alan Blake knew that Mackenzie had been refusing to have Mayor Val Schier on his radio show, instead of the big lie Mackenzie spun that Val refused to go on the show.

Alan Blake has made no secret of his dislike for Val Schier election win last year. In late March last year, he said "It's true that my phone has been running hot since the election," he said in reaction to Byrne being displaced, along with his entire Unity Team. Linda Cooper also ran under the Unity banner, but soon after, denounced any future connection.

"There won't be a lot of change. The city is strong," Blake said at the time. "We have a strong growth rate. We have five councillors that have eight or more years experience," he told John McKenzie."If we have a mayor who is anti-development, the mayor chairs the planning committee. However we have a full council that votes on this," he says.

I attempted to talk with Alan over the last two weeks, in an attempt to ask him the questions above, and in light of information that he and Kerie Hull were communicating in what could be perceived as inappropriate, as they were both involved in the Cash for Comment saga. But he never returned my calls or replied to emails or txt messages

I sent a final one last evening, after receiving the legal threat:

  • Alan, thanks for your letter from John Hayward. It's always nice to hear from him! Stay tuned to CairnsBlog - the medium you've chosen for us to communicate via. Have a fun night.
In October 2007, then Mayor and famous bully boy, Kevin Byrne, took the first of two legal defamation actions against me. The lovely John Hayward, Councillor's lawyers, wrote to me then as well. He gets good business out of Council.

Alan's legal threat simply draws attention to his phone call with me. I don't think he wanted that. This is all rather reminiscent of the day Kerie Hull got in a pickle over my request to receive media releases. She interpreted my question as a threat. "Are you threatening me?" she asked.

Just days before being sworn in as Cairns' first female Mayor, Val Schier said that the biggest challenge initially is to get Council to work, to create good relationships.

"Make sure that we're all heading in the same direction which is that we want the Cairns region to be looked after really, really well and guided in the way the majority of people want," Val Schier said.

Well, sadly, all her best efforts in this dream, have failed, largely due to the undermining of her position by Councillor Alan Blake, and others, and the uncomfortably close connection with the Communications Manager, Kerie Hull and that of the CEO, Noel Briggs.

When the Cash for Comments report is completed in the next few days, it will say a lot more about disruptive Councillors and their abuse of power, than any deal done with a radio station.

There are many more stories to tell about this scandal. This has been one of them.


CBD Warrior said...


That's all ya got?


The Headless Horseman said...

Dunno about you, CBD Warrior, but I am watching this space. I am deeply suspicious of any person in public office who is quick to respond litigiously.
We have seen trivial complaints lodged regarding the Mayor and the fabulous Di Forsyth who tried to save the Yacht Club and protect the CBD from further inappropriate development.
It seems to me the only councillors getting on with job of serving Cairns are the Mayor and her supporters. The rest seem to enjoy playing these immature Machiavellian games and serve only themselves.

nocturnal congress said...

Well said, Headless. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Council watcher said...

Absolutely agree with Headless Horseman. Will this council just get on with serving the people of Cairns. We are not paying rates for councillors to finance litigation relating to their own underhanded dealings.
Let our Mayor alone to get on with the job. If she is to fail she will do it on her own without the help of anyone else.
Trying to blow out someone elses candle to make your own shine brighter only highlighs the worst in anyone.
Good on you Mike for some honest reporting. Keep it coming and lets get to the bottom of this.

Kevin Syron, Sydney said...

Sonner we rid ourselves of local Councils the better! Rotten to the core in NSW!

Nicky J said...

Wow this is a huge post Mike! Obviously there's a lot of history here. Are you going to post those "incriminating photos"?

I think the lawyers might have taken the word incriminating a bit too literally, as even the dictionary admits there's a non-crime related definition:

to charge with responsibility for all or part of an undesirable situation, harmful effect, etc.: to incriminate cigarettes as a cause of lung cancer.

The Headless Horseman said...

Yes, Council Watcher, like you I should have commended Michael on his investigative reporting on this issue. It has exposed some interesting information on what is happening behind the scenes at Spence Street.
What must emerge from this debacle is that we ratepayers need to demand a better performance from those councillors involved.
Good on you, Michael, for some fearless reporting to bring us the news behind the news.
PS: Has Sno Bonneau revealed how he found out about the scandal before the Mayor? Sno shouldn't be asking questions, he should be answering them.

nocturnal congress said...

Good point, Headless. How the hell did Bonneau know? Hope he explains himself.

Col from hell said...

I attended the "bannana rally" and it was being hijacked by lnp supporters in their logo t shirts, I was asking not to politely but without profanities to one of them to stop using a good cause for political gain,when a small weedy little man ,stormed between us and said "do you know who I am?"

I said, yes! you are that "liberal loving wanker from the council"

I did not use a recording device to recall that incident ,just my photograpic memory that mike also shares,

Keep up the good work mike

Al said...

Actually, it would be interesting if Blake took this to court. He won't of course, it's just a bluff from a desperate little man who has been exposed as the nasty piece of work he is. Bringing this to a court would just focus even more on what - and who - he has been involved in - the last thing Blake wants.
Well done Mike, keep up the good work.

hieronymus bosch said...

"do you know who I am?"


I said, yes! you are that "liberal loving wanker from the council"

absolute champagne comedy!

have you read his council page blurb? apparently the streets are his office, hahaha...

tom asquith said...

Blake - Hoisted on his own petard!

Syd Walker said...

All very upsetting. How horrid to watch sweaty swamp-dwellers bickering - even if its via the relative security of my computer screen up here in the hills.

Why of why isn't there more love in Cairns?

We need a nice, win-win romance story to cheer us all up.

Terry Geeves said...

Just read your unfolding news Mike.

Keep it up.. I love a good drama!

Talia Slade said...

Hey, Syd, don't know about a win-win romance! How about a couple of lose-lose romances instead?

Tony Hillier said...

Onya Mike — stand firm! As Barfly editor, way back in the mists of time, I received several threats of litigation from Mayor 'Third Degree' Byrne, who seemed to resent the (comparatively mild) surveillance exerted by our humble rag, in particular the Council Watch column. Incidentally, Cr Bonneau was one of our earliest 'snouts', regularly spilling the beans on Byrne and his cronies. Now we know that Sno leopards can change their spots!

Thornton's Peak said...

When oh when is this senseless Blakebashing going to stop. Alan spent years inside the Fat Cat suit bringing laughter and joy to the children of Australia and this is how you repay him! Have you any idea how hot and uncomfortable it can be encased in synthetic fur under the studio lights?

The Headless Horseman said...

Thank you, Thornton's Peak, for that inside information about the Fat Cat suit. It certainly opens my eyes. As Alan is "cashed up", I wonder if he is still wearing the suit.

Reuben Aitchison, London said...

So that's what you do for fun in Cairns, eh? grin....

Brad Martin said...

when's the cmc report out?

hieronymus bosch said...

yes, the incriminating photos involve a fat cat suit (no wonder i hated that show), macca's rug, and a celery stick!

Marion Filsell said...

Never a dull moment for you Mike!

Brad M said...

I wonder how many of our councillors are "there" because of a genuine desire to be caretakers of our region and make decisions on the running of the region based on the wishes of the people who entrusted them to this task?

Then I wonder how many councillors we have who
are only "there" to improve their public image, enhance their percieved importance in the community, better their businesses or scoot around looking terribly important while sipping lattes in power business clothing all the while ignoring the desires of the people who elected them.

I believe we have both types...

Brian, Kewarra said...

ABout time some of these nasty Councillors get their comeuppance.... Blake is foolish if he thinks that taking such legal action will stop members of the public questioning be actions.

He not only should be scrutinised, and I praise blogs like this for doing that, unlike the cairns post, but also him having to face the music for being a really bad performing Councillor.

Megan Fox said...

The real issue here is the we the rate payers are supporting these people in our council with their disregard for the process of our local government.

I don't care what people do behind closed doors but I do care when my rates are being used to support self interest and an attitude of "I'm the boss you'll do as I say".

The code of conduct needs to be respected by all and enforced to stop a repeat of this ridiculous state of affairs.

If a slap on the wrist is all that comes from this "Investigation", Justice has not been served.

colin riddell said...

I attended the "bannana rally" and it was being hijacked by lnp supporters in their logo t shirts, I was asking not to politely but without profanities to one of them to stop using a good cause for political gain,when a small weedy little man ,stormed between us and said "do you know who I am?"

I said, yes! you are that "liberal loving wanker from the council" He took off like a startled liberal at a labor party confrence !

I did not use a recording device to recall that incident ,just my photographic memory that mike also shares,

Keep up the good work mike

Jono @ Freshy said...

Blakie is the best thing slice slice bread

NotTheChaser said...

Isn't it lucky we have the Qld Minister for Local Government as our local member.

If this isn't a case that shouldn't be high on her radar I don't know what is.

Would the Member care to comment?

John, Kuranda said...

Cairns Regional Council (despite appearances) is NOT a tin pot little organisation. With expenses of around $300 Million, it's also NOT a small business. Ratepayers expect professionalism and competence from their civic leaders.

Politics seems to be the only job where you get to manage large amounts of money without having to have any formal qualifications in the area. In the real world, men and women with supposed failed business ventures would not get a look in - but they get elected.

I hear that there are moves afoot in Brisbane to tighten up the code of conduct - why stop there? We are supposedly the smart state so why not have a two year civic governance diploma as a prerequisite to being elected to local government office?

Andrew Begg, New York (UN Population Fund) said...

Mike, do you remember watching Rats in the Ranks around 1996 - when we all worked in Parliament in Wellington?
You, Belinda, Chris and I snuck out of the election campaign one afternoon to see it during the Wellington Film Festival.
Reading your blog, I'm getting flashbacks!

Julie Vold, Cairns said...

The letter from WGC- interesting choice of action.

It's been years since I did media law - but back then I thought it was actually only recording something off actual landlines that were illegal... interesting... I may procastinate this weekend by looking at the Privacy Act :D

CBD Womaniser said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
CBD Woman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
CBD Womaniser said...

You will find me in front of that tantalising piece of avant garde Australiana sculpture - "BBQ Galoria" Oh, How I burn for you, sweet macca lady....

CBD Woman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carol of Brisnmead said...

Oh poor old Blakey; in a most foolish and misguided effort to gag Mike Moore and CairnsBlog, he has unleashed a wave of derision which has only served to highlight him as the fool he most certainly is. Blakey, who imagines himself as the Cairns City's chief mover and shaker; the LNP's municipal Messiah ... but he's just a naughty boy.

Noj Nedlaw said...


I doubt very, very strongly that the LNP considers Councillor Blake as its "municipal Messiah".

Inside sources would suggest that he is regarded, at the very best, as the "municipal millstone" and the "municipal miserata".

nocturnal congress said...

Geez, it's good to see people get a bit of come uppance. There is a God after all.