Power, passion in city hall feud

FACE OFF: Tim Crakanthorp, left, wants an inquiry into dealings between the council’s general manager and Jeff McCloy, right.FORMER lord mayor and corruption watchdog target Jeff McCloy has rubbished claims that he and Newcastle City Council’s general manager improperly influenced the council’s views or processes on matters including the art gallery redevelopment.

But the city’s state MP and councillor Tim Crakanthorp said an investigation by the Office of Local Government should be conducted into general manager Ken Gouldthorp’s interactions with Mr McCloy while he was in office.

As the year draws to a close, relations between Mr Gouldthorp and some councillors appear at rock bottom, after both Labor and Greens representatives accused him in separate submissions and evidence to a parliamentary inquiry of riding roughshod over the elected council in doing the bidding of the then lord mayor.

Cr Crakanthorp told the inquiry that the ‘‘unprecedented behaviour’’ of Mr Gouldthorp ‘‘in concert with the lord mayor has been very destructive for council morale’’, citing as an example the ‘‘hysteria’’ whipped up over the council’s troubled financial position before an $8 million accounting error was found.

He called on the inquiry to support an investigation of Mr McCloy and Mr Gouldthorp in relation to matters including the ‘‘attempt by the current general manager and ex-lord mayor to improperly remove a councillor from the board of the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation for the purpose of appointing another councillor to the position who was more closely aligned to the lord mayor’’.

Greens councillor Therese Doyle told the inquiry she thought ‘‘there is reason to believe council staff have been directed not to provide advice to the elected councillors’’ in relation to changes to the city’s planning controls.

Mr McCloy hit back in a second right of reply lodged with the inquiry, which is looking into city planning decisions.

He said Cr Crakanthorp should have raised previously within council or with the state government the problems he had with council processes, instead of now ‘‘merely trying to create political mileage at my expense’’.

Mr McCloy said the majority of the council had voted to support the government’s urban renewal strategy while he was in City Hall.

‘‘I watch with interest as Cr Doyle and Cr Crakanthorp ask for further investigation into the process without anything but their opinion that it wasn’t right,’’ he wrote. ‘‘Both had a minority view on the council of the day and failed to accept a view that was different to their own.’’

Cr Crakanthorp has said an Office of Local Government investigation is needed once the Independent Commission Against Corruption delivers its findings from investigations into Mr McCloy and others.

He said the failure of staff to brief councillors on the advice of the council’s own advisory panel of architects about the government’s city planning control changes was a ‘‘prime example’’ of the problems.

Mr Gouldthorp told the inquiry that Cr Doyle’s evidence that the council failed to do its duty in relation to the city planning changes was ‘‘categorically incorrect’’, and ‘‘grossly misleading’’ in parts.