'All hell is breaking loose': ICAC probes blackmail, dodgy developments at ex-Sydney council
A corruption inquiry has heard a council general manager was blackmailed into hiring a staffer who approved dodgy developments at Canterbury in Sydney’s south-west.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is holding a public inquiry into planning and development applications linked to the recruitment of Spiro Stavis, the director of city planning at the former Canterbury council.
The council amalgamated with Bankstown council in 2016.
The counsel assisting, David Buchanan SC, said the public inquiry would examine allegations that between 2014 and 2016, Jim Montague — the former Canterbury council general manager — “exercised his official functions dishonestly” by appointing Mr Stavis.
Mr Buchanan said Mr Montague was threatened with the sack by two councillors who wanted Mr Stavis in the job and insisted they sit on his interview panel.
The inquiry heard the councillors were Michael Hawatt — a Liberal councillor — and Labor councillor Pierre Azzi.
Mr Buchanan said Mr Stavis was employed to replace a predecessor who resigned in 2014 because the two councillors were pushy and sometimes aggressive.
He said having the councillors on the interview panel was highly unusual.
“The panel did not include a member with planning qualifications,” he said.
The Mr Buchanan said “investigations have revealed photographs on Mr Stavis’ mobile phone of the sheet of questions for candidates”.
“To have supplied copies of the questions in advance to one candidate would of course have been to subvert the interview panel process,” he said.
‘All hell is breaking loose’
The inquiry heard independent recruiter Judith Carpenter, who observed the interview, advised Mr Montague that Mr Stavis was not the best candidate and to hire him would “fly in the face of a merit selection process”.
Mr Buchanan said Mr Montague at first resisted hiring Mr Stavis then caved in when his job was on the line.
The inquiry heard that on Christmas Eve in 2014 the councillors went to the mayor’s home demanding Mr Montague be sacked and requesting an extraordinary general meeting.
On December 17 one of them allegedly said to Mr Montague “fix this up, appoint Mr Stavis or you can go”.
At 1:30am on Christmas Day 2014 Mr Montague texted the independent recruitment consultant and said “all hell is breaking loose”.
The inquiry heard after Mr Stavis was appointed, Mr Montague told the consultant “I’ve been able to resolve the situation by giving the councillors what they wanted”.
He said to staff at another meeting: “Whatever these guys want you give them.”
Mr Buchanan said it was expected Mr Stavis would give evidence that the two councillors had the power to make life for him very unpleasant.
The inquiry heard allegations would be raised in evidence about major development decisions connected to Mr Stavis, including adding floors to buildings and possible breaches of council planning policy.
The former general manager and the two former councillors are expected to deny the allegations.
The hearing continues.
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