Casey Crs muse on return

The 2017 opening of Bunjil Place with former Casey CEO Mike Tyler (from left) , and ex-councillors Rex Flannery, Amanda Stapledon, Timothy Jackson, Milla Gilic, Susan Serey, Sam Aziz, Jason Wood MP, and ex-councillors Wayne Smith, Geoff Ablett and Damien Rosario. 174129_01

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Casey’s sacked ex-councillors are weighing up comebacks ahead of council elections in October.

Eight months ahead of the poll, ex-deputy mayor Rex Flannery has declared he’d run, with several others reportedly undecided.

In 2020, Casey councillors were sacked by then-Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek during the early stages of IBAC’s corruption inquiry Operation Sandon.

The inquiry report last year found former Casey mayors Sam Aziz and Geoff Ablett accepted more than $1.15 million in payments and in-kind support from developer John Woodman.

They were found to promote Woodman’s interests in several key planning decisions at Casey without declaring their conflict of interest.

It’s yet to be seen whether any of the ex-councillors will face criminal charges.

Unless convicted, they would be free to stand for re-election.

Aziz, Ablett and Woodman have denied wrong-doing.

Ex-deputy mayor Rex Flannery, who was not named in IBAC’s report and has a “clear conscience”, was “definitely” going to run for re-election.

But he may re-consider if some of his ex-colleagues also stand.

“I don’t want to work with them again. It’s not right – my conscience would tell me to withdraw from council.”

Any Operation Sandon-related prosecutions needed to be finalised before the October election.

“Otherwise we’ll all have a cloud hanging over our heads.”

A “bloc” of his ex-colleagues – who were allied to Aziz – should not be running in the elections, Mr Flannery said. “They’ve got a cheek or an audacity to do it.”

Liberal ex-councillor Gary Rowe – who said he hadn’t been considering running for re-election – said he wouldn’t want to be “part of a circus” if Aziz and Ablett stood.

ALP former mayor Wayne Smith – the longest-serving Casey councillor – told Star News that he was undecided.

“I’ve not said yes or no.”

Asked what would motivate him to stand for re-election, Mr Smith said:

“I was cut off in my prime. I had a lot more to do.

“It’s about trying to regain the city. The administrators have not done a good job – the people don’t feel comfortable.

“Driving around and looking at the city, it looks shocking … the unmowed grass, the rubbish around the place. Someone needs to make sure they’re on top of it.”

He called on the next council to get “back to basics – rates, roads, rubbish and infrastructure that have been neglected by an absent group of administrators.”

When asked if ex-councillors would carry “baggage” from the IBAC inquiry, Mr Smith said there were “misconceptions” about what happened at Casey.

“There were things said and not said that weren’t as they were reported.”

In August, he opposed IBAC’s adverse findings that he’d not declared conflict-of-interests in planning decisions involving developer John Woodman.

He declared the process “unfair” and that his responses supplying the “full context” didn’t appear in the final report.

Former Liberal-member mayor Susan Serey reportedly texted a comment to The Age, that referenced the death of former Liberal mayor Amanda Stapledon during Operation Sandon.

“I hope that if any of the former councillors are alive and haven’t committed suicide, that all of them run and reclaim the city back to [sic] the people.”

Smith said the text was “a bit strong-worded” but agreed with the sentiment. “I see where she’s coming from.”

He says he’s not kept in contact with former Casey councillors, except for Liberal member Damien Rosario – who was not the subject of any adverse findings in IBAC’s report.

“No doubt he is running. All of sudden he’s got more prominent,” Mr Smith said, adding that he himself had continued to be active in the community over the past four years.

Rosario told Star News that he was “undecided” on whether to stand.

According to The Age, Serey was also undecided while Rise Up Australia member Rosalie Crestani was reportedly “not ruling (it) out”.

Former councillor Steve Beardon, who resigned in 2017, called for voters not to “return to the past”.

“Are these former Cr’s even aware of the stink from tips, disgraceful public transport, cost of living pressure?

“Casey needs a fresh start…not a return to the past.

“I doubt they have a chance if they declare they are mostly membered to political parties. The community expect local councillors to be independent.”