VIZ ‘conduct resulting from impropriety, incompetence, or negligence

Wayne Lines, and Tim Jackson at Coober Pedy in July 2019

Mr Tim Jackson, Administrator
District Council of Coober Pedy
By email:

Dear Mr Jackson

Your report about your own conduct
I refer to your report to the Office for Public Integrity (OPI) regarding allegations made by the Coober Pedy Regional Times that in 2019, you directed the Acting CEO of the District Council of Coober Pedy (the council), Mr Colin Pitman, not to notify suspended councillors of their obligations to submit ordinary returns, leading to the councillors automatically vacating their seats pursuant to section 54(1)(g) of the Local Government Act 1999.

This matter was referred to my Office by OPI on 4 March 2022.

Whenever my Office receives a complaint, the matter is assessed as to whether the complaint comes within my jurisdiction and, if so, whether I should exercise my discretion to commence an investigation. I have assessed your report and, although it is within the jurisdiction, I have determined, in my discretion, that it is not in the public interest to take further action in relation to the matter.

I explain how I arrived at this decision below.
My assessment of your complaint

I understand the Coober Pedy Regional Times has alleged that you gave an ‘ad-hoc directive’ to Mr Pitman in 2019 not to notify suspended councillors of their obligations to submit ordinary returns, despite section 68(2) of the Local Government Act requiring that he do so.

EDITOR’S NOTES: Another question not asked of the ‘self-reporting’ administrator. “Why has Jackson failed to submit the SACAT application after it was tabled a number of times in council?”

In addition, isn’t Jackson vicariously liable for Pitman’s actions? Jackson unilaterally endorsed confidence in Colin Pitman’ as a Statutory Officer, increasing his pay by an extra $50K PA. [Wasn’t it Jackson’s job to plug the holes in the internal controls and negotiate salary reductions rather than increase the borrowings?]

I understand that on 25 November 2019, you received legal advice from Norman Waterhouse Lawyers stating that the suspended members were still subject to the Local Government Act’s requirements regarding the annual submission of ordinary returns

On 23 January 2020, you wrote a letter to all suspended members advising that:
• their offices had been rendered vacant due to a failure to lodge an ordinary return by the required date
Section 12H(1)(c) of the Ombudsman Act 1972.
• although the Local Government Act requires the CEO of a council to provide reminders to councillors to submit an ordinary return, ‘this was not considered necessary as the Councillors had been suspended’
• the legal position regarding the need for suspended councillors to submit members’ interest returns while suspended was ‘unclear’ and could only be determined by a court
• it was your opinion that the council should apply to SACAT seeking the reinstatement of councillors, to get clarity on the obligations which apply.

I understand that the former Minister Stephan Knoll MP also wrote to you at the time advising that neither he nor the Governor had the legal authority to reinstate the suspended members.

It is my understanding that the council did apply to SACAT for restoration of the councillors to office, and the minutes of the 13 October 2020 council meeting state that ‘In order to avoid incurring unnecessary expenditure, the tribunal has agreed to an urgent hearing in the future in the event that the Minister reinstates the Councillors earlier than November 2022’.

You have stated in your report to OPI that the allegations if proved, ‘would at the very least be maladministration if not corruption’. When asked by OPI whether you had any further information you could provide to assist with the assessment of your report, I understand you advised that you did not.

The allegations you have reported are concerning to me. It appears that, at the very least, there has likely been a lack of due diligence within the council in relation to its obligations with regard to managing the lodgement of ordinary returns by councillors.

It is possible that this conduct may amount to maladministration, being ‘substantial mismanagement in or in relation to the performance of official functions, noting that maladministration can include ‘conduct resulting from impropriety, incompetence or negligence.

However, I am mindful that:
• you have self-reported the allegations, indicating an awareness on your part of their potential seriousness
• the allegations raised are very old
• the allegations have arisen out of a local newspaper article that has not provided any evidence to support the allegation that you issued a direction to Mr Pitman
• it would be difficult for me to make enquiries with Mr Pitman about a potential direction by you given that he has now left the council
• an investigation by my Office would be unlikely to result in a more meaningful outcome than that which has already been achieved, as the councillors can only be reinstated through an application to SACAT.

In light of the above, I do not consider that it is in the public interest for my Office to undertake an investigation of your report. I do, however, consider that it is appropriate to bring this matter to the Minister’s attention, and I have sent him and the Office of Local Government a copy of this letter.
I will now close my file.

Please note that the Ombudsman Act imposes certain obligations on my Office and others, including complainants, officers and members of a council, to keep information about my assessments confidential.

While section 29A of the Ombudsman Act restricts disclosure of information connected to a matter dealt with under the Act, I am able to authorise disclosure. Generally, I consider there is a public interest in the disclosure of my decisions. Therefore, I authorise the disclosure of this letter by you as you see fit.

Yours sincerely, Wayne Lines – SA OMBUDSMAN 14 June 2022

Cc The Hon Geoff Brock, Minister for Local Government, and Ms Alex Hart, Director, Office of Local Government.

EDITOR’S NOTES: Tim Jackson has since issued a further defamation threat against the Editor of the Coober Pedy Regional Times, noting here that the Ombudsman did not contact the Editor of the CPRT or anybody else to enquire about potential evidence in their possession.

The Ombudsman stated that it would be difficult for him to make enquiries of Colin Pitman, who had left the council. Oddly enough in a recognised/ordinary legal setting, it would not be difficult to make those enquiries of Colin Pitman or anyone else.

Given the Ombudsman’s potentially damming report not to mention other actions currently in motion, and those past, one has to ask, is Jackson’s overall behaviour negligent and fraught with risks to the community?

That a responsible appointment was given to a mediocre, (former) public servant, with no genuine oversight evident to the community, begs yet another query……

Are we on a Bureaucratic Merri-go-round?
The Ombudsman’s ability to exercise certain discretions makes it difficult to reign in badly behaved or poorly performing public servants. The Ombudsman has published his assessment but handballed it to the community to solve; rather than refer it to the ICAC .

Ratepayers generate the revenue that pays public servants to provide them with ethical services…. The residents of Coober Pedy believe they have been short-changed.

Categories: GENERAL News

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