InDaily’s story last month reported that developer Con Makris would be paid about $35 million for the old Le Cornu site – several million dollars above the highest independent valuation of the property, $28 million – and that taxpayers would be made to cover most of the difference.
After the story was published, Haese confirmed a $34 million price tag and that the highest independent valuation received by his council for the Le Cornu site was $28 million.
Last night the council unanimously voted to have its CEO, Mark Goldstone, launch an investigation to try to identify InDaily’s sources for the story and to determine whether the leaks breached a legally binding confidentiality order.
“Without that veil of confidence, this chamber is enormously compromised,” South Ward councillor Alex Antic, who proposed the motion, told the meeting.
“Somehow, that information has come to light and has been handed through to the press.
“It really doesn’t need to be spoken of, why that is so serious.”
Reading the story “immediately rang alarm bells,” said Antic.
“It was followed up with an article the following day where, Lord Mayor (Martin Haese), I think you had to- you had to do a bit of fancy footwork, I think, at the time, which of course was yet another impost upon your time and indeed the council’s reputation.
“So, I take it very seriously; It think it’s a serious matter.”
Haese told reporters the day after the story broke that the above-value sale was “a very good deal” for the public, including taxpayers, and that “various property pundits” had suggested the site could be worth up to $40 million.
InDaily editor David Washington said the original story clearly served the public interest.
“Without our reporting, the public would have been unlikely to discover the discrepancy between the valuation received by the council and the amount the public paid for the land,” he said.
“Instead of launching a witch hunt into a media organisation doing its job, the council should instead investigate ways it can increase its transparency and accountability.
“If the council is going to spend millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money on a deal, it should be completely open about it.”
Under the Local Government Act, any member of the council or its staff who breaches a confidentiality order can be fined up to $10,000 – or even imprisoned, for up to two years.
Antic told last night’s meeting Local Government Act was “not there so that we can just sort of abide by (it) when we feel like it, and not when we (don’t)”.
Asked during the meeting whether InDaily’s story put the transaction in any jeopardy, Goldstone declined to comment, other than to say that the sale was settled after our story was published.
North Ward councillor Phil Martin told the chamber: “We need to find that individual who not only jeopardised the sale for this council but incurred possibly large costs for the organisation in getting so far into the deal with the possibility of it falling over.”
“It is a serious matter, and I think the people of North Adelaide would like to know who it was that was prepared to jeopardise this deal that is the key to the success of the suburb in the future.”
However, he said he had no confidence in the effectiveness of internal investigations into the council.
Central ward councillor Houssam Abiad said Martin should quit if he has no confidence in council staff.
“I can’t believe that a councillor would point at our administration and say that he does not have confidence in our staff,” said Abiad.
“He might as well quit and leave this council.
“I have every faith in our administration; the team does an incredible job. I thank you on behalf of my constituents for the hard work you do – it’s a shame that you’re not recognised for that. I’m sorry you had to put up with that tonight.”
But Martin clarified that he only had no confidence in internal investigations because area councillor Anne Moran had suggested, he claimed, that councillors should boycott another internal investigation – the ongoing inquiry into the failed parklands helipad proposal.
Moran, who seconded Antic’s motion, did not comment in detail but objected to Martin’s characterisation.
Haese did not make any comment about the motion during the debate.
The vote was unanimous among those in attendance at the meeting but south ward councillor Pricilla Corbell-Moore was an apology.
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