Read all about the York/Fitz Gerald Report.

Mike Fitz Gerald PRINCIPAL 22 July 2014

Presentation by Heather Saint                   Ordinary Council Meeting 17 November 2014                   

In the spirit of transparency, in the public interest and in order to satisfy Community concerns, I present a public update using the democratic process,  hopefully unsuppressed.                                                                  

To summarise:
        In April 2014 six Councillors committed $20,000 of ratepayers funds to commission a report into the Conduct of the past CEO - Mr Ray Hooper.
        In July 2014 the Report was completed and published ready for community viewing and that same day the report was suppressed by 3 of those Councillors.
        The infamous 'Fitzgerald Report' has since been reviewed and suppressed by: The Department of Local Governments, Minister, Tony Simpson, then handballed back to the Shire of York and is now  in the hands of Local Government Insurance Services and a lawyer for the Shire, Feinauer Commercial (who's advice bill incidentally stands at approximately $45,000 to date).
        It was the opinion of the original 'suppressors' that allegations within the report were unfounded and that the processes of natural justice and procedural fairness had not be extended to the named parties - ironically that did not extend to the named community members but, merely the CEO and Councillors named therein.
        **Macri Partner Auditors were commissioned at a cost of $12-15,000 to prepare an audit of the CEO's credit cards and report back to the newly formed Finance, Risk & Audit Committee (FRAC) on behalf of the community.
        At the OCM on 15 September it was apparent that the intention of some was to have the Credit Card investigation 'swept under the carpet'. I questioned the content of the Macri report and asked for access to further documents to compare with my own records, the CEO publicly agreed to provide those documents and the agenda item was deferred, however, no documents were forthcoming.
        On 2 October I had an appointment at the Shire Office whereupon I  requested copies of the audit information from the administration. I also provided a list of other invoices of interest. I was told that there were no staff available to assist, I said that I was happy to wait, which I did, for 3 and half hours. During that time I mentioned that there must be copies of the Macri audit material on site, if not only for record keeping purposes in accordance the State Records Act. I was told that they were probably in Tyhscha's office but she was off and the door was locked!  Near close of business Mrs Maziuk offered me seven items and a hand written sticky note. The note reads.....
"Heather - Only have from July 2012 on site. All earlier are archived and will need to be retrieved... Monday 6/10/14 is earliest".
I was perplexed...firstly; why had taken 3 1/2 hours for so little and secondly; all seven of the items provided to me pre-dated July 2012 so, unless I am mistaken, must have been on site. Two of the items were not even tax invoices but copies of Credit Card transaction receipts.
        By the date of the next FRAC meeting of 13 October, I had been given nothing further so I was unable to present findings to the Committee. It was apparent to me that the report that was being presented to the audit committee was incomplete and that they could not possibly be expected to make an informed decision based on what had been provided. Again I asked a question about missing documentation.... Fortunately, the response to me printed in those Minutes confirms that there were further documents and they would be presented to Council at the Council meeting of 20 October. The documents were not presented at that Council Meeting.
        So, on 24 October I had to write to the CEO to chase the information requested. I did receive some documentation on 28 October, the rest still remains outstanding and, unfortunately, I may need to apply for access under Freedom of Information.
        At the FRAC meeting on Monday last, 10 November 2014, the full Macri Partners Audit Report was finally presented to Council - Confidentially.
The Shire President (Matthew Reid) pressed to have the agenda item 'Confidential Report regarding an employee' discussed in the public arena on the basis that the Council should be open and accountable to the Community it serves. Unfortunately, he was outvoted and the matter went behind closed doors (in camera).         
** Returning to the costs associated with the Audit Report - $12,000 plus.....
It is my personal opinion that for the money it has cost, the report is basic, unprofessional and has no depth. Not worth the paper it is written on.
It is a simple spreadsheet with data entry copied from the credit card statements. Invoices have then been matched to each  entry and basically ticked off as acceptable. Those without an invoices were highlighted in yellow and presented to the audit committee. If the purpose of the spending was unknown it appears that the auditor simply contacted the Shire administration for a description, took their word for it and made the entry on the spreadsheet under the heading 'Comments by Officer'.

To my knowledge there was and has been no internal audit of any of the questionable entries in the document. The auditors wrote two letters to the (FRAC) Audit Committee, addressed to the Chair Person, the first letter in July and the second dated 3 September suggesting that the Committee investigate the report and satisfy community concerns. There was no follow up to this process.

I now understand that the correspondence may not have been forwarded to its addressee, the Chairperson of the Audit Committee (being Matthew Reid, also Shire President). Instead it was and has been opened and dealt with independently by the Shire administration. 

At the last Finance, Risk & Audit Committee meeting I asked yet again for a copy of the invoice relating to spending of $2715.26 dated 20 May 2012 from Flight Centre Midland and allocated as 'Emergency Management'. Conversation ensued amongst the Committee could not have been a Local Government course because the dates are wrong, it was probably Justin, yeh, yeh , must be emergency training blah blah blah.....
After several minutes of 'faffing about' and, as expected, the invoice could not be found. It was suggested that the administration contact Flight Centre to obtain a copy of the record. The recording of my questions at that meeting as minuted are total gobbledygook and make no sense whatsoever.

I re-iterate and leave you to ponder...   the invoice could not be found,
No purchase order, No invoice, No description... 'Someone' has ticked 'Council Business related', the Comment by Officer box has been completed 'Governance/Council Business'  ??  How, why, when and by whom?
I am yet to hear the outcome and what the $2715.26 missing invoice was for.

So, as it stands....
There has been no internal audit, documentation has been withheld, the FRAC Committee have not looked for or identified a problem, the matter has gone behind closed doors and as of 10 November, we now have a sub Committee of the FRAC committee to report back to the FRAC committee who will then report back to the Council who will report back to the Community  but, only after they have made a decision behind closed doors which will more than likely be to 'sweep it all under the carpet'.

Matthew, (Mr President), I am, (as are many), aware of  your intention to seek the truth and move this Community forward. It is also very evident that you are in a very vulnerable position and that because of your ethical standards, honest beliefs and desire to embrace your Community, you have effectively been silenced.

It would appear that some Councillors would rather be at War with you and the Community than resolve issues and move forward.      

I have almost completed a report into my findings and confirm that there are many anomalies and serious matters of concern. However, I cannot  present this information to the FRAC Committee as I feel it will simply disappear behind closed doors never to be seen or heard of again by this Community.

It is now for me to decide how to deal with the information I have and where it will be best received.
Your Ref:  YORK LOCAL COUNCIL FIASCOCONFIDENTIALWITHOUT PREJUDICEI politely request that you make one of two necessary executive decisions. Dismiss the entire Shire of York Council or dismiss Councillors Pat Hooper and Tony Boyle who are effectively holding the town to ransom with their intractable, recalcitrant and vengeful behaviour in chambers, and in the street.
The future of Western Australia's oldest inland town, steeped in history back to the time of the Swan River colony, is in your hands.  As a former Victorian bear in mind that York was settled three-years prior to the first permanent settlement in Victoria and four-years before Melbourne. It deserves to be nurtured as a historic icon, not to become a victim of the Department of Local Government and Communities inexplicable, indefensible inaction on behalf of the York community.
If you continue to fail to act you will be forever remembered as the politician, whose lack of appropriate intervention, helped severely damage another irreplaceable part of Australia's rich and diverse history. A criminal investigation does not dignify an excuse to let a whole town suffer!
Since April 15, 2014, when the then Chief-Executive- Officer,  Ray Hooper, resigned amid allegationsof misuse of a corporate credit card, his replacement  has effectively been dismissed, the DeputyPresident of the Shire has resigned and six senior staff members  have either resigned of their own volition or been forced to leave.
Five months later you finally authorized a probity enquiry, and on November 5, 2014, the community and ratepayers are at last advised that an employee of the Shire is facing a criminal investigation
Your claim is that your primary interest is to ensure the Shire is able to perform the functions required and expected by the York community.  Very glib, but how do you and your department expect the Shire of York to function given the circumstances listed above?  This is not a rhetorical question.
It is alleged that the employment of Michael Keeble as Chief-Executive-Officer was facilitated byMichael Fitz Gerald, the author of the damning report on the Shire of York administration. This in itself raises the question of why a personal friend of the author of this highly sensitive report wasemployed to assist in dealing with its outcome. It should be noted here that Michael Keeble applied for a position with the Shire of Denmark. He was not even granted an interview
Last month- as a deeply concerned ratepayer, I made a request for a private meeting with Michael Keeble. It took place at the Dome Coffee Shop, Midland on Wednesday October 29, 2014 at around 2.30pm.
Mr Keeble was fully aware that the main topic for discussion was to be the possible removal of Councillor Pat Hooper and Councillor Anthony Boyle from the Shire of York Council using his knowledge of any actions taken by them which could be used as just cause for their removal.
I advised Mr. Keeble, in writing, prior to this meeting that he was under no obligation to accede to my request.
However his Personal Assistant contacted me to arrange the meeting, anywhere in Perth, on the understanding that the performance of Boyle and Hooper would be discussed. He more than likely drove his designated Shire of York vehicle, to-and- from the meeting, a distance of 190 Kilometres.
Mr Keeble made the following assertions, statements, and claims to me regarding Mr Boyle, you, as the Minister for Local Government and Communities, Ms. Tyhscha Cochrane, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer, and Mr Hooper.
I am more than willing to provide a Statutory Declaration attesting to the veracity of the following conversations: - Mr. Keeble alleged that in his position as a Shire of York Councillor, Anthony Boyle, acted improperly by unilaterally waiving rates owed by the York Race Club to the Shire. This was a large sum ($160,000) and as Mr. Boyle is-or was a member and past president of the club there could be a clear Conflict-of-Interest. Given this, if the allegation is correct, there would appear to be just cause for you to dismiss Tony Boyle or ask him to step aside while the matter is investigated.
Mr. Keeble stated that the Minister for Local Government and Communities, Mr. Tony Simpson hasthe power to sack individual Local Government Councillors such as Boyle and Hooper but was bothtoo weak to do so- and had too many unresolved issues with the amalgamation of Local Government Councils in the metropolitan area to care- or have the ability to handle simultaneously.A rather unflattering assessment you would think.
Mr. Keeble stated that the Deputy Chief-Executive-Officer of the Shire of York is not good at her job. Over a number of years (since January 2011), she has not made any reasonable attempt to improve her knowledge of a senior position in local government by seeking to gain appropriate tertiary qualifications and that the Shire's official correspondence library, of which she is in charge, is antiquated, inefficient and poorly structured.
Mr Keeble went on to say that he was attempting to "move Ms. Cochrane sideways".It should be duly noted that Ms. Cochrane will be the Acting Chief-Executive-Officer until asuitable successor is found.

Mr. Keeble then said that, to the best of his knowledge, only two employees of the Shire of York have any tertiary qualifications, intimating that this was a reason for some failings of the Shire of York to adequately provide proper administrative services to the community.It is a distinct possible that both employees with tertiary qualifications are no longer employed by the Shire of York.
 Mr. Keeble suggested that the salary package of $240,000 for the Chief-Executive-Officer of the Shireof York is excessive and is no guarantee of the quality of any future applicant, He also suggested that based on his own experience and the general perception of the quality of the Shire of York Council by others working in the local government sector, York's chances of attracting a suitable applicant are slim.
He went on to describe York as a "s…house".Finally Mr. Keeble stated that he felt that the President of the Shire of York, Matthew Reid, is an asset to Council but he cannot make any necessary changes because of the negative attitude of Councillors Hooper and Boyle. I am led to believe that, allegedly, your Department of Local Government and Communities is deliberately harassing Mr. Reid for no good reason.
I now draw your attention to the suitability of Pat Hooper to remain a councillor.
Mr. Hooper has allegedly aggressively pursued certain ratepayers by making potentially slanderousand abusive comments behind their back. This has occurred on a number of occasions in a public place with the general public present.

If this type of behaviour does not bring the supposedly highly regarded position of Local Government Shire Councillor into disrepute- I do not know what does. It is absolutely an abuse of power and position that should not be tolerated by you or your department.
During his tenure as President of the Shire of York, Councillor Hooper effectively allowed a known criminal, Katrina Nicole Watts, to steal from the shire- funded York Tourist Bureau Inc. Unrecovered funds were in the vicinity of $116,000 including monies owed to the Australian Tax Office.
As the Senior Shire Representative on this board it was Mr. Hooper's responsibility to protect the Shire of York's investment of municipal funds. Mr Hooper allegedly abrogated his duty-of-care and fiduciary responsibility when he knew, or reasonable should have known that Ms. Watts had already been jailed for two years for the same offence- stealing as a servant.
Ms. Watts' criminal record is alleged to include at least 200 charges over a period of ten years, for which she spent two-years and ten months in jail, and a presiding judge has summated that placing her in front of money is like putting a box of matches in front of an arsonist.
Despite this she was hired as the bookkeeper for the York Tourist Bureau Inc. of which her father, Michael Watts, was president and Pat Hooper the senior shire representative. I suggest to you that there is no reasoned, viable, acceptable explanation for her employment to oversee theuse of municipal funds given the obvious risk involved.
In an official Shire of York letter to the presiding judge requesting clemency for Ms, Watts, its Chief-Executive-Officer, Ray Hooper, claimed Ms, Watts was the victim, not the real perpetrator because she may have been enticed to take funds by others. Why he did this is the moot point.
There is no other interpretation than that Mr. Hooper considered the board and management of the York Tourist Bureau Inc. to be so near criminally incompetent as to have caused the theft.This infers that Mr. Hooper considered Shire President, Pat Hooper, incompetent by assisting in enticing Ms. Watts to taking funds.
It is my opinion that Councillor Pat Hooper's past and current actions should see him dismissed from office.
There is another issue here. I know Ms. Watts personally and she claimed to be a strong supporter and have a close affiliation with the WA Liberal Party. At the time she was stealing from the York Tourist Bureau Inc. it is alleged that Ms. Watts held a Liberal Party Fund Raising event at the premises where she was employed without the permission of her manager.
At around this time, despite the fact that Ms. Watts had already spent two years in jail, she was photographed standing with Premier Colin Barnett and Mr. Jim Chown, MLC, Member for the Agricultural Region at a Liberal Party gathering, probably at the York Town Hall. The photograph was taken by Mr. Mark Lloyd, Editor of the York Community Matters newspaper.
As further confirmation of her allegedly strong connection to the WA Liberal Party, both the current Minister for Education and Electoral Affairs, Peter Collier MLC, and Mr. Chown heaped high praise on Ms. Watts for her efforts in campaigning for their election to parliament. This affirmation is on public record in Hansard.
It is impossible to believe that the WA Liberal Party was not aware of Ms. Watts' extremely serious criminal record- bordering on Kleptomania. It is therefore impossible to understand why it would have allowed Ms. Watts to raise funds for the party- or accept these funds.
Based on this it begs the question why high ranking Liberal politicians accepted the support and assistance of Ms. Watts in their election campaigns and in the case of Mr.Chown, organizing a visit to part of his electorate. A particular visit was mentioned by Mr. Chown in his constituent newsletter where he praised the supportive efforts of both Ms. Watts and her father. It is highly likely at the time of this visit, Ms. Watts, had been formally charged with stealing from the York Tourist Bureau Inc. and had already appeared in court.
The period that should be of most concern to the Liberal Party regarding Ms. Watts' undertakings on behalf of the party is prior to the State Election of 2005, when Mr. Collier was elected. At that time it is alleged Ms. Watts had already served a jail sentence of two-years.
Next is the period prior to the State Election of 2008, when Mr. Chown was elected. It is alleged at this time, Ms. Watts, was already stealing from the York Tourist Bureau Inc.
Finally, there is the period between 2008 and 2013 when Ms. Watts received a very light jail sentence of ten-months. This was the period Ms. Watts was praised in Mr. Chown's newsletterfor organizing a visit to his electorate.
The reason to raise the Kate Watts issue is with regard to the Liberal Party's own probity compliance, or lack of it. This includes how your department appears to fail to seek compliance from Local Government Councils on even the basic issues such as ensuring fiduciary duty-of-care with regard to municipal funds, whether used by them or invested by them in local community organizations. Ergo this- that all Local Government Council's ensure that any person employed to control municipal funds, including Local Government Grants, have a police clearance.
As you will be aware I have forwarded this correspondence to Mr. Brad Jolly, Executive Director ofGovernance and Legislation and Deputy Chairman of the WA Local Government Grants Commission.
A copy will be forwarded to Mr. Norman Moore, President of the WA Liberal Party and to the Premier, the Hon. Colin Barnett.
Yours sincerely
York Ratepayer.
Saturday, 15 November 2014
From a concerned member of the Shire of York administration staff who wishes to remain anonymous:
On Tuesday 4 November, Councillor Reid  attended a meeting at the Shire administration office with Councillor Duperouzel and the CEO, Michael Keeble. Unbeknown to Councillor Reid, Councillors Boyle and Hooper were also in attendance.
When all were present, the CEO, Michael Keeble launched into a tirade of verbal abuse directed at Councillor Reid. This abuse was not the normal everyday spit the dummy abuse, this was off the scale, Michael Keeble shouted loud enough that he was heard to say. "sit down you fucking c*^t", not language you would expect to come from the Chief Executive Officer of Local Government. Michael Keeble was also heard to say "it's fucking you or me". The 'f' word was used on many occasions during the outburst. According to the source, at no time did Councilors Hooper, Boyle and Duperouzel attempt to diffuse the situation. The walls in administration office are apparently very thin and sound travels freely especially when voices are raised.
Councillors Duperouzel, Hooper and Boyle then called a special Council meeting to be held the following day. The official reason for the meeting was a vote of confidence in the CEO and unofficially a vote of no confidence in the Shire President, Councillor Duperouzel resigned after the meeting.A separation package for the CEO was to be discussed.