RELATED COVERAGE: Wagga council boss claims he didn't know about son's property deal; Embattled Wagga council general manager Alan Eldridge steps down; Paper trail supports council general manager conflict claims; Investigators unearth more alleged conflicts of interest; Wagga council silent on council boss’ pay while suspended.
Suspended Wagga council boss Alan Eldridge has been referred to the NSW corruption watchdog.
The Daily Advertiser has seen a document from a senior official within the Office of Local Government who on Tuesday referred Mr Eldridge to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Both agencies are intensely secretive and declined to confirm or deny the revelation, even to the mayor.
Mayor Greg Conkey has sought to assure the community council will continue to function under Mr Eldridge’s temporary replacement.
“I am confident the day-to-day operations have not been and will not be affected,” Cr Conkey said.
“We are cooperating fully with the Office of Local Government.”
No one knows how long Mr Eldridge will be suspended for and as councillor Paul Funnell said “it could be six weeks or six months”.
“I am not concerned the organisation is rudderless, (acting GM) Robert Knight is doing an excellent job and I have absolute confidence in him,” Cr Funnell said.
“The problem is there had been a flurry of new hires within the council before Alan Eldridge was suspended and councillors weren’t consulted about what those roles entailed.
“But I’m not concerned any major infrastructure projects will be disrupted.”
Councillor Vanessa Keenan said now was “not the time for running commentary” but echoed confidence in Mr Knight, adding he was “doing a fantastic job” and “the community can have full confidence council is getting on with the job”.
The referral to ICAC relates specifically to Mr Eldridge’s failure to disclose his son’s financial stake in a proposed development seeking approval to rezone 228 hectares of farmland at Gumly Gumly to residential land.
The matter was debated in council chambers three times between February and May 2016, while Mr Eldridge was effectively running the planning department.
The embattled bureaucrat admitted there was a reasonable likelihood his son stood to make a financial gain or loss from any council decision, but was adamant he did not know his son was involved when the application was being debated.
However, official council records show Mr Eldridge signed off on every planning and development matter that went before councillors at monthly strategy meeting between February and April – except the one his son was involved in.
A subsequent independent investigation “found there could be a failure by the general manager to disclose other pecuniary interests”.
Wagga Ratepayers’ Community founder Wes Fang said allegations of impropriety had “only just scratched the surface” and encouraged ICAC to investigate.
“An ICAC investigation would be another step toward making sure council is above reproach,” Mr Fang said.
“ICAC has wide-ranging investigative powers to determine whether outside influences have had any bearing on council decisions.”
Wagga council refused to comment and won’t reveal whether Mr Eldridge – who earns close to $400,000 a year – is on full pay while suspended.