MRC mayor slapped with code of conduct over port precinct meetings

By Charmayne Allison

MURRAY River Council Mayor Chris Bilkey has been slapped with a code of conduct after admitting he attended meetings for the newly-formed Port Precinct Working Group just two months after council voted against any involvement.

Council once again failed to make inroads on deciding its participation in resurrecting the embattled Echuca port precinct after the mayor’s alleged breach of the code of conduct came to light on Tuesday night.

The group, which currently includes delegates from Campaspe Shire and Echuca Moama Alliance, aims to address concerns over Campaspe’s management of the tourism precinct.

But at the September meeting, council voted against endorsing MRC representatives for the group and refused to make a $5000 contribution towards the group’s terms of reference, with councillors stating they wanted nothing to do with the “Titanic” of the port precinct.

The mayor was absent from the room when council voted on the item due to a conflict of interest.

He apologised for his “negligence” in attending the port precinct meetings, claiming he hadn’t read the September minutes properly.

“I put my hand up, I was attending those meetings which ran counter to the resolution of council at the time,” he said.

“So that amounted to two or maybe three attendances at that group in the period between the council resolution and now.

“This was not willful or intended on my part. It was through negligence on my part in not reading the resolution of council properly.

“I'd assumed that the resolution of council was simply not to fund the work that was being undertaken by the port precinct group at the time in relation to the terms of reference for that stage of the project.”

Cr Gen Campbell made the code of conduct complaint to the Office of Local Government after an article was published in the Riverine Herald on November 6 listing Cr Bilkey and MRC general manager Des Bilske as members of the group.

She then expressed her concerns to deputy mayor Alan Mathers, who passed them on via a letter to Cr Bilkey and Mr Bilske.

Council was about to discuss a new motion to contribute $5833 towards a future management model of the port precinct and endorse the mayor and general manager as council representatives on the working group when the mayor made the apology on Tuesday night.

After apologising, he suggested council still proceed with the motion.

But Cr Campbell quickly shut him down.

“I would suggest this is held over until … Tim Hurst or the Office of Local Government, if they exist, come back to this council with what the recommendations are,” she said.

But while Cr Bilkey was happy to strike out the second recommendation to delegate council representatives for the group, he urged council to address the first recommendation to make the $5833 contribution.

“(I’m) happy to hold over the issue of my representation or anybody else's representation on that committee,” he said.

“But I don't believe the issue of whether or not we support the development of the business model is relevant to any previous decision of council.”

However Cr Tom Weyrich echoed Cr Campbell’s concerns.

“Cr Campbell has indicated that OLG has been contacted and to what extent I have no idea,” he said.

“I would have thought that given they have been contacted, all bets are off and the whole thing should just be put aside until OLG takes a look at it.

“Because we're going into places where the ramifications could be very swift and very severe.”

Cr Bilkey replied by claiming he didn’t know the nature of the complaint that had been made.

“It may have nothing to do with this recommendation in relation to this amount of money,” he said.

But Cr Campbell shot back, claiming he had been informed of the complaint in a letter from Cr Mathers.

Wading into dangerous waters, council moved to defer the motion until a later date.

The Riv contacted Cr Bilkey about the code of conduct complaint following the meeting but he declined to comment.

However he said he would have preferred the motion regarding MRC’s financial support of the port precinct business models to be decided there and then.

“Particularly since the basis on which it was deferred is until the code of conduct is resolved and that may take many, many months,” he said.

“It may affect capacity to further engage with the port precinct group.

“Council signed a memorandum of understanding with Campaspe Shire back in September … and at the first opportunity to exhibit that spirit of co-operation, we didn't take it. I think that's a pity.”