Gympie Regional Councillor Graham Engeman.
Gympie Regional Councillor Graham Engeman.

Engeman given written reprimand

DECLINING to respond to allegations of breaching the Gympie Regional Council councillor code of conduct during yesterday’s general meeting, Cr Graham Engeman left the Town Hall meeting chambers saying the next agenda item was a possible “conflict of interest”.

But the allegations he referred to could ultimately have some serious repercussions for council as the complainant has threatened to refer them on to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

The complainant is saying council failed to give their planning application due consideration and the Planning and Development Committee wasn’t maintaining proper standards of transparency and probity in its dealings.

They allege that during a conversation on March 3, Cr Graham Engeman stated his intention to have the Planning and Development Committee refuse their application.

And Cr Engeman allegedly indicated a new planning scheme would make the complainant’s proposed development allowable and council would then approve the application.

Mayor Ron Dyne said he saw five options for councillors to discuss in relation to Cr Engeman’s involvement – doing nothing, issuing a verbal warning, a written warning, an 18 month suspension or a combination of actions.

Councillors discussed the allegations before coming to the conclusion Cr Engeman had committed a minor breach of the GRC code of conduct for councillors and should be given a written reprimand.

Council’s complaints officer Scott Mead reviewed the complaint and found Cr Engeman did hold a conversation with the complainant prior to the March 3 Planning and Development Committee.

Mr Mead also found that during the conversation Cr Engeman indicated to the applicant his intention to reject their development application to build eight units on a block of land at Cooloola Cove, which was before the planning committee that day.

“The nature of the conversation between the complainant and Cr Engeman created a genuine perception by the complainant that the application was not given due consideration by the planning and development committee and was not considered on its merits,” Mr Mead’s report said.

“In making the comments in the conversation with the complainant, Councillor Engeman has acted contrary to the requirement in the Code of Conduct for Councillors – Councillors should use due care and diligence...”

Mr Mead’s report also indicated a higher standard of behaviour was expected of councillors. Worried the outcome would gag councillors from speaking to ratepayers, Cr Donna Nielson said she was torn between saying what she thought and saying nothing.

“This came as a bit of a surprise, I don’t feel the matter was rushed...I spoke passionately in favour of the item...I don’t see there’s been any major breach,” she said.

Cr Jan Watt said council did give all applications due consideration and was concerned council was perceived as not being transparent.

During the March 3 Planning meeting the development application in question was ultimately refused by council, but later withdrawn by the applicant. Mayor Dyne will now ensure all councillors are aware of their obligations under the GRC code of conduct and that they seek to act in accordance with its obligations and in the spirit of the code.

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