By Andrew Cantwell
CEO Mike Tyler’s surprise departure last year from the City of Casey became the subject of a series of questions to property develop John Woodman at Thursday’s IBAC hearings in Melbourne.
The only public statement on Mr Tyler’s departure when he left in February 2018 was that he and the council had “mutually agreed” to part ways, after 23 years in the job.
He had been Casey City’s only CEO, and had served Casey and the former Berwick City for 36 years.
The circumstances of his departure had, until Thursday, remained a mystery to the general public.
At the 21 November hearing, Counsel assisting Michael Tovey QC dropped a bombshell question on Mr Woodman, just after a flurry of questions on the actual amount of Cr Sam Aziz’s $600,000 cash-in-a-suitcase loan, and how the Cranbourne West Residents Action Group had funded a barrister at a VCAT hearing.
Mr Tovey asked what Mr Woodman knew of the involvement of then mayor Geoff Ablett – a person of interest to the inquiry – in Mr Tyler’s departure.
“In February of 2018 were you party to any attempt by councillor Ablett to get rid of the CEO of Casey, Mr Tyler?”
“No, sir,” Mr Woodman said.
“Were you aware of any attempt by Mr Ablett to achieve that aim?” the QC asked.
“Yes, sir,” Mr Woodman replied.
Mr Woodman explained Mr Ablett had expressed some frustration at councillors being given only restricted access at the new Bunjil Place civic centre.
The exchange went on.
“You later, I’d suggest to you, congratulated Mr Ablett on his success in getting rid of Mr Tyler?”
“I’m not familiar with that discussion, sir, but that very well could have been happened, yes, sir.”
IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich QC then asked Mr Woodman if he’d personally been glad to see Mr Tyler go.
“Yes, sir,” Mr Woodman said.
Mr Tovey then asked if that was because Mr Tyler had not given Mr Woodman’s interests “a fair run”.
“That was the case, was it not, and you discussed it with Mr Ablett?”
“I felt that, yes, sir,” Mr Woodman answered.
Commissioner Redlich told the witness that Mr Tyler had been a town planner “in a previous life”.
“Although he had been the CEO at Casey for a long time, he had considerable planning experience, did he not?” Commissioner Redlich asked Mr Woodman.
“Yes, sir,” Mr Woodman said.
“And on occasions did you view him as an obstacle to getting through planning issues that you wanted to see implemented?” the commissioner asked.
“Yes, sir, but only confined to that one that I can recall, sir,” Mr Woodman replied.
“Which was that?” the commissioner asked.
“That was C219,” Mr Woodman said.
The hearings have heard that the C219 planning amendment proposed to the Casey planning scheme would have allowed planned industrial land in the Cranbourne West Precinct Structure Plan to be rezoned as residential land.
Some days earlier, on the first day of hearings, under questioning, Mr Woodman outlined the colossal profits that could be made by such a rezoning.
He said that, in the case of Brompton Lodge, rural land which had been bought for $5000 an acre would be valued at $300,000 after getting planning approval for residential subdivision. And that value would double to $600,000 an acre when the lots were readied for sale.
Thursday’s hearing heard that Mr Woodman’s companies stood to earn $2 million if the Cranbourne West rezoning went through.
The hearings continue Monday 25 November, with Mr Woodman back in the witness chair, and are expected to go two more weeks.