ICAC to examine Ryde mayor

Allegations of conflicts of interest: Ivan Petch. Photo: Anthony JohnsonControversial Ryde mayor Ivan Petch will be the subject of a public inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The public hearing will investigate allegations Councillor Petch, a former Liberal turned independent, failed to disclose financial relationships and potential conflicts of interest while serving on the City of Ryde Council.

Also under investigation are claims Cr Petch and others released confidential council information in an attempt to undermine employees, including former general manager John Neish.

Cr Petch allegedly told Mr Neish his job would be safe ”if he could delay consideration of the proposed redevelopment of the Ryde Civic Precinct”.

Mr Neish refused.

While Mr Neish was on leave last July, the council voted to ”terminate” his services. Mr Neish, who had reported allegations of corruption to ICAC, left in March.

According to ICAC’s press release, ”a further attempt by Cr Petch to influence a decision required to be made by the acting general manager of the council is also being investigated”.

Fairfax Media understands it will be alleged Cr Petch tried to influence acting general manager Danielle Dickson into authorising the payment of legal fees he and other councillors incurred in their attempts to remove Mr Neish. In exchange, Cr Petch told Ms Dickson they would support her application to take on the job permanently.

It will also be alleged the mayor sought to remove senior staff who he believed were delaying his associates’ development applications.

The actions of the local newspaper, The Weekly Times, will also be scrutinised. ICAC will examine a claim by Liberal councillor Bill Pickering that a Weekly Times employee had made a ”corrupt offer” in return for supporting a development application.

It will be alleged Cr Pickering was told the paper would apologise for its campaigns against him and cover him favourably if he supported an application by its editor, John Booth, to redevelop 826 Victoria Road – the site of its offices.

He and the paper featured on ABC’s Media Watch after last year’s council poll. ”Mr Booth cheerfully acknowledges the one-sided nature of the TWT’s election coverage,” it reported. ”Of the six out-of-favour councillors, he told us: ‘There was very little if any of a ”positive” nature to report … whereas the ”good guys” [who include Cr Petch] acted in the best interests of the residents and ratepayers of the City of Ryde in our opinion’.”

Fairfax Media has previously revealed The Weekly Times in 2011 ran a full-page advertisement featuring Cr Petch decked out in the mayoral robes although he was not mayor at the time. In it, Cr Petch praised The Weekly Times for its ”fairness, accuracy and [reportage] without fear or favour”.

Councillors George Simon and Jerome Laxale called on Cr Petch to stand aside as mayor until ICAC concluded its inquiry.

The public inquiry will begin on July 15 and is expected to run for up to 10 days.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.