A councillor and former mayor has been suspended in the latest corruption scandal to hit the New South Wales property and construction industry.

In a statement released on Monday, New South Wales Minister for Local Government Paul Toole said he had suspended Ryde City Councillor and former Mayor Ivan Petch effective immediately.

The suspension followed an earlier announcement from the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that it had found that Petch engaged in corrupt conduct with regard to a range of matters, a number of which involved a proposal to redevelop the civic centre of the north-eastern Sydney suburb of Ryde.

In its statement, ICAC said it had found that Petch:

  • Purposefully released confidential advice from the Department of Planning and Infrastructure to his publicist Anthony Stavrinos and an email from the Council’s group manager of environment and planning to businessman Norman Cerreto.
  • Arranged via local property developer John Goubran to convey threats to Council general manager John Neish that has position would be in doubt following elections in September 2012 if he did not set up a community consultative committee to consider the precinct redevelopment – a move ICAC claims would have delayed a decision about the redevelopment until after the election to the benefit of Goubran
  • In an attempt to undermine Neish’s credibility and reputation, released confidential information concerning adult material found on Neish’s computer
  • Purposefully released confidential information about the development to lawyer John Mahony and about a Council waste collection and disposal contract to businessman Norman Cerreto
  • Made implied threats to acting Council general manager Danielle Dickson that her application to be appointed general manager would not be supported if she did not resolve in favour of six defendant councillors including himself with regard to an ongoing costs dispute relating to Supreme Court of New South Wales proceedings
  • Purposefully failed to disclose pecuniary interest or conflict of interest arising from financial dealings with the owner and managing editor of The Weekly Times and with the newspaper itself.

ICAC also found that Goubran himself engaged in corrupt conduct, a contractor performing work for The Weekly Times, who allegedly told Councillor Bill Pickering he would receive favourable publicity if he withdrew his opposition to a development application lodged in relation to the property on which the newspaper’s office was location.

The Commission recommended the Director of Public Prosecutions consider prosecuting Petch, Goubran and Henricus as well as two others for various offences as well as several councillors and former councillor Victor Tagg for breaches of electoral funding laws.

The Commission also recommended disciplinary action against Petch, including possibly dismissal.

Toole says the findings are serious and Petch would be given 28 days to respond to the suspension and demonstrate that he should not be fired.

“I expect councillors to adhere to the highest of standards, standards that the community would expect of their elected officials,” Toole said.

Conceived several years’ earlier, consideration regarding the redevelopment of the Ryde civic precinct began in late 2011 when the council called for Expressions of Interest to redevelopment the precinct.

According to the Council’s web site, these plans included the replacement of the former aging Civic Centre building with a modern precinct involving a 400 seat performance venue new multi-function rooms, and new open air public space, car parking spaces and administration offices as well as easier street access.

But the proposal was shelved after an Extraordinary General Meeting in September 2012 declared the Council would not proceed with the development.