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Statement by the Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian – (Former) Cassowary Coast mayor decision

The former Cassowary Coast Regional Council (CCRC) mayor John Kremastos has been found to have engaged in misconduct while in office after failing to declare a conflict of interest at a meeting he was chairing.

The Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) determined the then mayor should have declared a personal interest when voting to allow the CCRC to cover costs associated with a defamation case launched by the council chief executive officer (CEO), James Gott, against a local couple.

The decision followed an investigation by the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) which found a highly litigious relationship existed between the couple and the council, resulting in the defamation case, criminal proceedings and a matter before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).

The defamation action related to alleged comments made by the couple.

The proceedings by Mr Gott began in July 2017 and the couple filed a counter claim in September which included Cr Kremastos as one of the defendants.

At a council meeting about three months later, Cr Kremastos voted to indemnify Mr Gott in relation to the defamation case, and to extend council’s brief to its lawyers to appear on behalf of the CEO, council officers and councillors, as determined by the CEO, at the criminal trial.

In a written submission to the OIA, Cr Kremastos acknowledged he did not declare an interest in the matters, saying he did not believe he had anything to declare

But the CCT found a perceived conflict of interest existed between Cr Kremastos’ “personal involvement in the legal proceedings and his duty to make decisions in the public interest without bias”.

It found he was “intricately involved” in proceedings involving the local couple as he was material witness in the criminal and QCAT matters and a party to the defamation action having been joined by a counterclaim.

The CCT also noted the “adverse nature, high cost (both in money and reputation), duration and intensity” of the relationship between the couple and Cr Kremastos generated a reasonable perception that the then mayor might not bring an impartial view to the decisions being made.

In handing down its finding of misconduct the CCT stated Cr Kremastos did not deal with the conflict of interest in a transparent and accountable way, thereby breaching the trust placed in him as a councillor.

The CCT warned that such breaches can undermine public confidence in the governance of councils.

The CCT decision can be found here.

ENDS

Media contact: 0477 385 727 or OIAmedia@oia.qld.gov.au.

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Last updated: Monday, Jan 4, 2021