With his coveted position in jeopardy, flamboyant Auburn deputy mayor Salim Mehajer has welcomed a public inquiry into his council affairs.
The NSW government has given the western Sydney council two weeks to prove it should not be suspended.
“I have serious concerns about Auburn City Council’s perceived decision making in relation to planning and development matters and the appearance that those decisions may have delivered an inappropriate benefit to some councillors,” Local Government Minister Paul Toole said.
Mr Mehajer, who is also a property developer, said that councillors guilty of wrongdoing should be sacked.
“The council and greater community should not suffer due to a consequence (sic) of other members’ poorly guided actions,” he said.
An administrator will be appointed if the council is suspended while the public inquiry investigates allegations development decisions have been skewed to benefit councillors and their relatives.
“There are ongoing concerns around some councillors’ potential conflicts of interests,” Mr Toole said.
Opposition leader Luke Foley, who is also the member for Auburn, said the inquiry was overdue.
“Mr Mehajer and his colleagues, a number of them, have made Auburn a national laughing stock,” he told reporters outside NSW parliament.
Mr Foley said the local councils needed to be reformed to block developers from taking elected council positions.
Auburn councillor Irene Simms said she’s disappointed at being tarred with the same brush as other councillors despite her calls for the inquiry.
“Those of us who have not been involved, we also get targeted. It’s a price I’m prepared to pay if it will get community faith restored,” she told AAP.
North Sydney Council will also face a public inquiry following allegations of conflict and dysfunction.
Mr Toole said North Sydney councillors have repeatedly failed to address the poor relationship between them leading to poor performance issues.
The dysfunction has cost ratepayers almost $250,000 over the past two years, he said.
Richard Beasley SC has been appointed as commissioner to conduct the public inquiry into Auburn council, while Thomas Howard SC will head the North Sydney council inquiry.
Auburn City councillors held an informal emergency meeting on Thursday evening to discuss the inquiry.
“Mr Mehajer was coming but decided not to because he didn’t want to join the unwelcome media attention to the council,” Councillor Simms told AAP.
She said the seven councillors unanimously agreed the council should remain in place while the investigation is conducted.
“Everyone seemed concerned… we didn’t even know this inquiry was coming, we had no warning,” she said.
“But hopefully it’s a good investigation and we get some results and a definitive answer.”