By Natalee Kerr
A councillor has won her fight for a “secret” planning document after Surf Coast Shire refused to release it for 10 months.
The shire “conceded its argument” last week at the state’s planning tribunal, Cr Heather Wellington said yesterday.
The shire spent “massive amounts of ratepayers’ money on lawyers” during the “long and sorry saga” as Cr Wellington paid her own legal fees, she said.
“The shire’s imposition of that cost on ratepayers and the broader community is unconscionable,” she said.
The council previously reported Cr Wellington to the Local Government Inspectorate, alleging her request for two documents was a misuse of her position as a councillor. The inspectorate later cleared her of wrongdoing for seeking the documents through Freedom of Information (FoI).
The Victorian Information Commissioner ruled she could have one of the documents but the shire refused to release it, prompting Cr Wellington to take the matter to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The shire tried to have the matter dismissed before withdrawing its claim at the “last minute”, Cr Wellington said.
She declined to reveal the planning issues associated with the documents but demanded that the shire “immediately” release the second document for the benefit of residents.
“Those people have never had access to the information they need to understand a planning matter and decide how to manage their own position. I think that is outrageous.”
Cr Wellington said she was suspicious of why the shire’s motivation for fighting her initial FoI application.
“I endured a very unpleasant investigation and interview under caution before I was cleared.
“I acted entirely in the public interest. I simply sought to understand why the shire had not released documents to residents that, in my view, should have been released.”
VCAT is set to determine Cr Wellington’s application for the second document in September.
Surf Coast Shire chief executive officer Keith Ballie declined to comment because the matter referred “to statutory and legal proceedings occurring between council and a private individual”.