Apologies trickle in

Casey councillors Tim Jackson, Geoff Ablett, Wayne Smith, Rex Flannery, Susan Serey, Gary Rowe, Amanda Stapledon, Damien Rosario and Rosalie Crestani, minus Sam Aziz and Milla Gilic, after the mayoral election in late 2019.

By Brendan Rees

Apologies have begun trickling in on social media from former councillors after the scandal-plagued Casey Council was sacked by the State Government.

It comes after councillors fronted a packed public gallery where they wept and delivered their farewell speeches, speaking of favoured moments and achievements – but no mention of an apology or sign of remorse at their last council meeting on Tuesday 18 February.

Councillors had remained defiant following the release of an explosive report by an independent monitor which examined governance at the council, finding widespread “governance failures,” conflicts of issues, and a bullying culture – which ultimately recommended dismissing the council and appointing administrators until 2024.

The independent monitor’s report followed an Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption (IBAC) into alleged corrupt behaviour.

After the Tuesday night meeting, ex-councillor Rosalie Crestani, who read from the Bible at the meeting, posted on her Facebook page: “I am sorry Casey has to witness all of this and is now left without locally elected representation for close to 5 years”.

When she spoke to Star News, she explained she wasn’t admitting wrongdoing but “commiserating with the community who have witnessed this regardless of where the blame comes from”.

“It hasn’t been nice for the community to witness and so I am acknowledging that it must hurtful for them,” she said.

Ms Crestani said she hoped the decision of their dismissal could be overturned “because I still think this is injustice that has occurred”.

In another Facebook post, Mr Rosario, reflected on his seven years as councillor, stating: “I offer you all something I truly mean and hope that you take in good faith, and that is my heartfelt apology that this situation is happening to our great city and for my part in not seeing it sooner”.

Mr Rosario explained to Star News he wasn’t “so much apologising” that council “did anything wrong” but as a “leader I acknowledge that I wish I knew that things were happening”.

“I didn’t see it coming – that’s not a reason or excuse but as a leader. It sometimes doesn’t matter if it’s you or not – the buck stops with us,” he said.

“I take responsibility and I accept that. I do mean it that I am sorry to our residents that this situation has happened but there’s a process that still needs to run its course and we should wait for it to conclude,” Mr Rosario said.

Another former councillor, Rex Flannery, who resigned just days prior to the council being sacked, also apologised to residents.

“Regardless whether we resigned or we got sacked we should all take responsibility. And I’ve got no problems with that,” Mr Flannery told Star News.

“My personal opinion is that I need to apologise because I think the whole thing is there were things going on in council that I’m not proud about”.

Mr Flannery said the speeches delivered by councillors at their final meeting “may come out as they are only self-indulgent” but believed “regardless of what people think it was heartfelt”.

Meanwhile, Berwick resident Margaret Edwards – who joined others the day after council’s dismissal in holding a sign outside Bunjil Place which read: “To a new future at Casey Council: Integrity, honesty, accountability, respectful behaviour” – said she was surprised there was a group of people cheering the councillors at the Tuesday night meeting.

“I can’t believe they (councillors) would be so wrapped up in their importance they weren’t aware of the damage that they had done and how inappropriate their behaviour was,” she said.

Ms Edwards added ex-mayor Susan Serey had a “responsibility to front up to the public and she didn’t do it”.

Other residents believe the State Government must fast track elections of a new council by the end of 2020 and have started a change.org petition which has garnered more than 160 signatures.

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