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Under-fire council CEO to pay back golf club fees

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Onkaparinga Council CEO Mark Dowd has defended himself against "unjustified media attention" and "half truths", but will repay a contentious $6800 payment given to him by the council to cover his membership of the prestigious Kooyonga Golf Club.

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In his first statement since the controversy erupted in The Advertiser two weeks ago, Dowd told InDaily this morning he would would repay the golf fees and, instead, establish a foreign investment grant fund for businesses in the council region.

Dowd has come under intense scrutiny after the Ombudsman found the council should have disclosed the payment of the golf fees.

Ombudsman Wayne Lines found that “by approving the reimbursement of the golf club membership for the CEO the council did not commit an act of maladministration… [but] acted in a manner that was wrong for the purposes of section 25(1)(g) of the Ombudsman Act”.

In a series of reports, The Advertiser also found the council had spent more than $20,000 in legal costs during the Ombudsman’s inquiry into the payment.

In a statement provided to InDaily, Dowd was unapologetic about the golf club membership, but said he did not want negative media coverage to reflect badly on the council’s work.

He said that since the Ombudsman handed down his report, he had received “unprecedented and unjustified media attention questioning my professional and personal integrity”.

“The media has continued to run extensive half-truth press about the council’s almost unanimous decision to contribute towards a single once-off payment towards my Kooyonga membership,” Dowd said.

“Local Government as a sector operates efficiently and within strict and defined boundaries. The offices of ICAC and OPI have been put in place to ensure that there is no misconduct, maladministration or corruption.

“The Ombudsman investigation, report and subsequent council resolution regarding my once-off payment confirm no wrongdoing or error of judgement on my behalf. This is now on the public record.”

He said he had chosen to remain silent on the matter until the council was able to fully consider the Ombudsman’s findings, which it did on Tuesday.

He had now decided to repay the golf club fees “in support of the good work that council and its administration does”.

“I am going return this once of payment and establish a Foreign Investment Grant of $6800 for businesses within the City of Onkaparinga who are trying to expand their markets internationally,” he said.

“The intent behind the once off payment was to use Kooyonga to attract investors, locally and internationally to do business to our city. I will establish this grant to be used to achieve the same result.

“Whilst Kooyonga is not in the City of Onkaparinga it is located directly adjacent to the airport and within minutes from the city, which unfortunately is where the majority of business is done in Adelaide.”

By contrast, the Ombudsman found that: “I do not agree that the gold club membership is ‘reasonably consistent’ with the CEO’s duties, or that it is necessary for the CEO to be a member of the golf club in order to fulfill his official duties.

“I do not consider that playing golf is ‘reasonably consistent’ with the official functions or duties of a council chief executive officer.

“Further, I do not consider that a reasonable person would consider that playing golf was reasonably consistent with the official functions of a South Australian council CEO.

“I do not accept that there was a ‘substantial benefit’ to the council in reimbursing the CEO’s joining fee.”

Dowd, who has come under fire from golfers who use courses in the Onkaparinga area, also sought to present his local credentials, saying he had been a long-time member of the Blackwood Golf Club, which also gave him access to the Vines and Flagstaff Hill clubs.

“With tremendous assistance from Peter Bickley the professional at Willunga Golf Club I have on numerous occasions hosted international delegates to the Willunga golf course with the intent of promoting our region and looking for further investment into the course.

Onkaparinga CEO Mark Dowd. Supplied image

– Onkaparinga CEO Mark Dowd. Supplied image

“I continue to work with Golf SA, Peter and the Willunga Golf Club to re-establish the course as one of South Australia’s hidden gems.”

He thanked Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg and elected members who, he said, on Tuesday night continued to support him.

“I also want to acknowledge the enormous support from the staff at the City of Onkaparinga, the Adelaide business community and those people around me who know what I truly stand for.

“I do not want the recent media coverage to reflect poorly on all the great work council does and the solid decisions council makes.”

The Ombudsman’s report contains many redacted sections, but those parts made public deal with the decisions of the council, rather than the CEO himself.

The report does say, however, that: “I am satisfied that the CEO sought a reimbursement for the purposes of Schedule 4 of his contract of employment and that the council considered and decided his request on that basis.”

– additional reporting by Bension Siebert

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