CEO statement in response to Sun Herald article of 5 November 2023

Council Meeting

On 5 November 2023, the Sun Herald published a story regarding a letter I have written to the NSW Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, outlining concerns about the previous City of Ryde (CoR) Management’s alleged misuse and mismanagement of ‘restricted funds’, particularly in relation to the Ryde Central project.

It would be inappropriate for me to make specific comments about the contents of the Letter, which has also been forwarded to the Minister for Local Government, the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, and the Deputy-Secretary of the Department of Planning. However, I believe it is crucial that all Councillors and the community are kept informed about the matter and what actions continue to be taken to rectify matters associated with the alleged unlawful breaches.

By way of background, I commenced in the CEO role in August, 2022. At that time Council’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) brought to my attention instances of alleged financial mismanagement of Council funding by previous administrations that occurred for the Ryde Central Project and other alleged inappropriate allocation and use of ‘restricted reserves’.

Internal investigations were commenced and, with the assistance of external legal and forensic auditors, it was discovered that $35.5 million in funds from Council’s restricted reserves had been inappropriately allocated for this Project.

Further, Council self-reported the matter to the Office of Local Government (OLG), the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), and also to the Audit Office (AO). OLG have indicated that investigations also take place “to identify the Council officials who caused or were otherwise responsible for the matters and circumstances”. As these inquiries are ongoing in nature, it would be inappropriate to comment further on their work.

The OLG has also described the actions that were reported to them by Council, through written correspondence, as the “illegal use of restricted funds”, and that ‘there may have been, or may be potential for, significant waste of public money’.

As outlined previously through my public statements, Council’s new Executive Team has developed an Action Plan to implement corrective measures and improvements to CoR’s practices and systems, with the oversight of these respective bodies.

To date, all the funds have been returned to their correct accounts and for their intended purpose; we have implemented a new Cash Reserves Policy for the future utilisation of Council’s restricted reserves funds and we have completed an external Review of our Voluntary Planning Agreements (VPA) and the financial implications and liabilities arising to CoR.

Unfortunately, what is now apparent is that the previous alleged mismanagement of funds has placed Council in a precarious financial situation, with numerous important community works, for example the Eastwood Central project, all at risk of not being delivered as a result of our current financial position. I am also concerned about the significant potential adverse impacts on CoR’s finances due to substantial financial liabilities pertaining to VPA’s entered into by previous CoR management.

Council staff are preparing a report for consideration by Councillors at the ordinary Council meeting on 28 November 2023 regarding the future of the Ryde Central Project and the other major financial commitments that this Council have directed staff to continue to explore. A number of options will be outlined in the report, and it is now critical that we move forward to secure the ongoing viability of our services and programs and our future financial sustainability in the best interests of the community.

I will continue to keep Councillors and the community updated on investigations by the OLG, the ICAC and the AO, with the aim of implementing new systems and structures across our financial and operational practices in a timely manner to help us achieve greater governance, accountability and transparency across Council.

Council thanks the community for their continued patience and understanding.

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