The deputy mayor of Auburn who drew nationwide media attention last month for his extravagant nuptial ceremonies is refusing to accede to calls from his fellow councillors for him to resign due to potential abuse of his position.
Four councillors from the western Sydney suburb of Auburn allege that Salim Mehajer is subject to a conflict of interest as deputy mayor, due to his role as a real estate developer who owns properties that falls within the remit of local government policy.
According to the councillors Mehajer could abuse his position as council member to vote on amendments to development applications pertaining to his own properties – actions that were permitted by legal changes introduced by the NSW state government in 2012.
“Under those 2012 changes, a councillor was able to vote on a Local Environment Plan (LEP) even when they had a pecuniary interest,” said Irene Simms, one of the councillors calling for Mehajer’s withdrawal alongside George Campbell, Semra Batik-Dundar and Tony Oldfield.
Simm points out that this change permits an individual in Mehajer’s position to exercise considerable sway over development decisions within the council’s jurisdiction.
“The LEP is what determines how high a building can be – so say a councillor was a developer who proposed a three-storey unit block, they could vote to make that ten storeys.
“They couldn’t vote on the actual development applications when they came before council, but they’ve been able to manoeuvre changes that are certainly favourable for them in the future.”
While the state council recently repealed the 2012 laws to ensure that council members are no longer allowed to vote on issues involving their own economic interests, he four Auburn councillors who oppose Mehajer are still demanding his resignation on the grounds of “continuing public outrage.”
The popular press recently turned its spotlight on Mehajer due to the extravagance and ostentation of his wedding ceremony – a million dollar event that saw parts of Auburn shut down.
The intense media attention uncovered allegations of unsavoury business practices on the part of Mehajer, including efforts to squeeze $45 million in extra profits from an apartment development via alterations to floor designs after off-the-plan purchasers had already made down payments.
Mehajer is intent defying the calls for his resignation, referring to them as nothing more than “one of…many vile tactics” adopted by his detractors to usurp his position.
“I will not be resigning and I will not allow anyone into forcing me to resign unjustly,” Mehajer said. “It is evident that my performance is not in question. The call appears to be a hidden agenda to acquire my position.”