No conflict of interest
DEPUTY Mayor Peter Blundell has played down suggestions he faces regular conflicts of interest during council debates due to his live-in relationship with a senior council officer.
Cr Blundell and Sarah Reeves – who is employed by the Community Services department of the Southern Downs Regional Council – have been in a relationship for what is understood to be about 12 months and are believed to have recently purchased a property in the Stanthorpe area.
The deputy mayor, who is divorced from his former wife Julie, had previously lived in Warwick for a time.
The Daily News can reveal that Cr Blundell has not formally disclosed to his councillor colleagues his relationship with Ms Reeves, who reports on a monthly basis to the council on often sensitive matters relating to her work activities.
He has also remained present for a number of such debates during the course of this year, despite the Councillors’ Code of Conduct requiring him to ensure there is no conflict between his private interests and his role of serving the public interest.
In a further twist, Ms Reeves is employed as an economic development officer (EDO) with the council and is the Stanthorpe equivalent of Warwick EDO John Randall.
Mr Randall quit earlier this week as Warwick Chamber of Commerce president, ironically due to concerns from within council about his own potential for conflicts of interest due to his twin roles.
Cr Blundell, who spoke to the Daily News on Wednesday about suggestions of a councillor-led push to have Mr Randall quit as chamber president, said at that time councillors had conflict of interest awareness “drummed into them”.
He also said all serving councillors and council staff had to be “exceptionally aware” of the potential for conflicts of interest to arise during the course of their duties and to deal with them appropriately.
The deputy mayor yesterday sought to downplay the significance of his relationship with Ms Reeves, saying he been advised by the Local Government Association of Queensland he would only need to declare a conflict during council discussions about Ms Reeves’ remuneration.
“I have been very conscious that, should a relationship begin, there would be the potential for a conflict of interest to occur,” Cr Blundell said.
“With that in mind, I sought advice from the chief executive officer of the Local Government Association of Queensland (Greg Hallam) on how to appropriately deal with any conflict, or perceived conflict, that may arise.
“The advice was that a material personal interest would only occur if Ms Reeves’ remuneration were to be discussed at council level.”
Cr Blundell went on to say that such a scenario would be “most unlikely to happen”, as any decisions or discussions regarding such a matter would be “operational” and would take place between Ms Reeves’ superior – Community Services director Tony Minuti – and council CEO Rod Ferguson.
“In relation to conflict of interest, the advice was that I would need to deal with that appropriately, should it arise,” Cr Blundell said.
“Following this conversation with Mr Hallam, I advised the council CEO that I had discussed the matter with Greg, and I also informed him of the content of those discussions.
“I believe that I have appropriately dealt with any perceived conflict that has arisen.”
Mayor Ron Bellingham said personal relationships may exist within any work environment, but that council “values and relies upon the professionalism and integrity of its staff and councillors in such cases”.
“I am sure that Cr Blundell would handle any conflict or perceived conflict of interest appropriately,” the mayor said.