Cr Les Larke has been exonerated in a Local Government Inspectorate inquiry but has the result come too late to save his campaign?

AN investigation by the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate has given Cr Les Larke the all clear.

The decision, apparently taken on Friday, October 9, under the signature of Investigations Manager Ross Millard, was only released on Tuesday evening, October 13.

Why the delay?

With voting going on in the Bass Coast Shire Council elections right now, after the delivery of ballot papers, many of them in the rain last week, time was of the essence.

By his own admission, the decision that the inspectorate will “take no further action”, may have come a little too late for Cr Larke to be re-elected in Bunurong Ward but he’s happy with the announcement today nonetheless.

“I’ve just received the advice and they’ve said I didn’t misuse my position at all. I’ve been completely exonerated,” said Cr Larke.

“My two main concerns now are how to get the information out to the community and the fact that some people have been posting a photocopy of the article in the Age into people’s letterboxes in an effort to smear my name.

“I know quite a lot of people in Inverloch and in Wonthaggi who have received the printout in their letterbox in a campaign designed to hurt me.

“Whether it’s been a conspiracy or not, I don’t know but that’s been the intent of all of this.”

Cr Larke has, however, received plenty of support from the community, not believing that Cr Larke had done anything wrong.

“I got a call from one of a Wonthaggi community member I met as part of the cemetery trust a few years ago, Renee Loeckenhoff, and she was disgusted to have received one of the flyers in her mailbox,” said Cr Larke

“I think it’s disgusting,” Mrs Loeckenhoff said when she received the pamphlet today.

“As I said on the phone to Les, I was really shocked when I read this. Disgusting propaganda. I hope they find out who printed it and they are removed if they get into Council.”

Cr Larke said he had received contact from a number of people who got the printout of the Age article in their letterbox, including fellow councillor Julian Brown.

Cr Larke again dismissed any suggestion he ever offered either his own money or saved money from council efficiencies to projects in other councillors’ wards in exchange for their votes.

At the very worst, it was a sarcastic joke that went wrong.

“The crux of what I said was a joke that was misinterpreted as something else, a form of sarcasm that others who have an issue with me turned into something else.

“They took it to Paul Buckley at the time and I don’t know if they wanted to get some sort of record of what they were saying or not, but there were some emails sent that have subsequently been released.”

Cr Larke said that having been cleared of any wrongdoing himself, he would be surprised if the Inspectorate went on and investigated the release of confidential information.

“There’s clearly been a breakdown in the governance and integrity of the council which has impacted this election. In the first instance I would expect the CEO Ali Wastie to carry out an investigation into what has taken place and it may very well be followed up by the VEC, the Local Government Inspectorate and the authority which administers the act relating to confidential information.

“But the reality is, it’s going to be very hard for me to turn it around now, especially with the letterbox campaign that has been going on in the past few days, but I’ll give it a try.”

Cr Larke is very much of the opinion that his character and chances in the election have been damaged by what he says is clearly an orchestrated campaign and he reserves all rights to take whatever action is appropriate in the future.

He did not rule out taking legal action.

What the Local Government Inspectorate said

Bass Coast Shire – Investigation Outcome.

I am writing to inform you of the outcome of a complaint made to the Local Government Inspectorate (‘LGI’).

The allegations:

  1. Cr Les Larke (‘the Accused’) attempted to bribe fellow councillors in order to secure nomination as Mayor for Bass Coast Shire Council in breach of section 76D of the Local Government Act 1989 (Act).
  2. This occurred at the councillor only meeting held on 31 October 2018 (‘the Meeting’).
  3. The complaint alleges that the Accused offered each ward $5million dollars in exchange for the vote as Mayor.

Conclusion

“From the evidence provided, it is considered that the Inspectorate would be unable to prove to the standard of the Civil or Criminal Court that the Accused misused his position by gaining or attempting to gain, directly or indirectly, an advantage for themselves or for any other person.

“The Accused has not misused his position in accordance with any other provision in s 76D(2), and, accordingly, the elements of s 76D are not made out.

“The Inspectorate will take no further action in this matter.”

Signed Ross Millard, Investigations Manager.

There have been five nominations received for the three positions in the Bunurong Ward of the Bass Coast Shire Council; Michael Nugent, Brett Tessari, Les Larke, Leticia Laing and Julian Brown.

And while voting can continue until 6pm on Friday, October 23, the reality is that many people in the ward have already voted in the knowledge of the allegations, sensationally raised against Cr Larke, just a week before the voting packs were due to arrive.

Many people will already have cast their votes and  returned them, so unless Cr Larke is re-elected, there could yet be re-run of the election in the Bunurong Ward. Only time will tell.

The letter from the Local Government Inspectorate but why did it take four days to be made public when time was of the essence ahead of the Bass Coast election.