Horsham mayor Pam Clarke refutes conflict, bias claims in bypass saga
By Sarah Scully
A Horsham Rural City councillor has called on mayor Pam Clarke to ‘do the right thing for the community’ after levelling accusations of conflict of interest and bias at a public meeting on Monday night.
Cr John Robinson alleged Cr Clarke showed apprehended bias, actual bias and conflict of interest in relation to a potential Western Highway bypass of Horsham.
Cr Robinson said Cr Clarke’s involvement in family business Horsham Jayco, in Stawell Road, left her compromised. The business is on VicRoads’ potential bypass route 5A.
“You have a direct, or appear to have a direct, conflict of interest under the Local Government Act and our own councillor code of conduct,” Cr Robinson said. “It also appears to me that you have failed to declare this conflict of interest.”
Cr Robinson said he believed Cr Clarke acted in a ‘hostile and unreasonable manner’ whenever there had been a move to ‘imperil the selection of option D, an alignment which has no impact on your property’.
“You have acted with such partisanship and hostility to show your mind is made up and you’re not capable of being persuaded on another alignment,” he said.
“This is to the point where you’ve rejected or suppressed any contrary activities and have attacked any action or person including myself, who’s moved to bring other options to bear for community consideration.”
Cr Robinson said Cr Clarke had attempted to deny councillors being presented with significant material relevant to Horsham aerodrome and accused her of presenting her personal view, rather than the view of the council, to Roads Minister Luke Donnellan at a meeting in February.
“You took it upon yourself to tell the minister that most or the majority of people in Horsham would be happy with option D,” he said. “This is contrary to council’s official position, by motion passed that we did not support option D.”
Cr Robinson said Cr Clarke had not declared her association with Horsham Jayco at any bypass meeting he had attended.
“Madam Mayor I put it to you that you are not in a position to impartially adjudicate on this issue,” he said.
“I call on you to do the right thing for this community. This is a forever decision.
“If we make the wrong decision and don’t follow the administrative guidelines provided by the High Court and statutes then this council is exposed to litigation and other actions, which could drag on for years.”
Chief executive Peter Brown told Cr Robinson he was putting the council in a very difficult position.
He said he had sought extensive legal opinion following a query by Cr David Grimble relating to a potential conflict of interest by the mayor.
“That opinion is very clear that the mayor does not – does not – have a conflict of interest,” he said
He said individual councillors were responsible for seeking advice about potential conflicts of interest.
“If there is a belief there is a conflict of interest and the council hasn’t declared it, then it’s an issue for Local Government Victoria,” he said.
“I would suggest that’s where you take this matter – given the opportunity prior to this meeting I would have given you that advice.”
Cr Clarke said she did not take Cr Robinson’s allegations lightly.
“Cr Robinson, you made a threat in front of other councillors a few months ago that there would either be you or me sitting at the table at the end of this,” she said.
“I was waiting for this attack on my person for quite a while and it has come.”
Cr Clarke said she sought advice about potential conflict of interest relating to the bypass in 2012.
“The information I got and the advice I got was that I did not – that it was an ‘interest in common’,” she said.
“Anyone in Stawell Road – anyone in Horsham who has a business – is going to be impacted if the option goes to option D. I had that advice very early on, so I stuck with it.”
Cr Clarke said she sought advice again following Cr Grimble’s inquiry.
“It’s my credibility at stake here. It’s a very serious issue for me. Now I have legal advice to say I have acted appropriately throughout this,” she said.
“A lot of the issues you discussed were not my decision, Cr Robinson. They were discussed with the executive and were issues we dealt with as a group. This is definitely a personal attack and I take offence at it.”
• The council’s formal position is it will support a Western Highway bypass of Horsham, but will not endorse or discount any of the route options.