The troubled waters at the City of Ballarat show little sign of settling with more questions being asked of a senior council officer.
Neville Ivey, who was installed in the role of acting chief executive officer last Thursday after Justine Linley went on leave, has confirmed he will not be seeking the interim CEO position.
The Courier has queried an article published online by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), linking Mr Ivey to a price-fixing operation among car hire outlets in Alice Springs in the mid 1990s.
On Wednesday, he confirmed that he was the branch manager of Avis Northern Territory, one of the companies involved. He said that he had always been "open and transparent" about the matter.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the City of Ballarat said the information had been in the public domain for more than 20 years and the council was satisfied "appropriate due diligence" had taken place when Mr Ivey was first employed and for his appointment as acting CEO.
ACCC documents state that another individual was "the prime mover and instigator" of the price-fixing.
However, the documents say Mr Ivey and three other people working at car hire companies in the region were also "knowingly concerned in the price fix".
Four separate companies were implicated with the ACCC alleging they agreed to stop offering a rental discount in the off season to hike up prices.
"This resulted in some consumers paying many hundreds of dollars more for their rental", the commission found. Compensation was paid to customers affected.
The ACCC article states that Avis was fined $200,000 and Mr Ivey was personally fined $50,000. Fines of $150,000, $80,000 and $35,000 were issued to three other individuals. Another man who provided information was spared a fine, in a case that was settled out of court in 1997.
I have always been completely open and transparent with regards to this ACCC matter from some 25 years agoNeville Ivey, City of Ballarat acting CEO
The Courier understands the matter was widely known about at the City of Ballarat [see clarification below]. The ACCC article is publicly accessible and one of the most prominent links listed in an internet search of Mr Ivey's name.
Addressing queries over whether Mr Ivey was appropriately installed in the acting CEO position, a spokesperson said:
"The City of Ballarat is satisfied that it has undertaken the appropriate due diligence and reference checks in relation to the original employment and appointment of the acting CEO, and is satisfied that this matter from more than 25 years ago has been appropriately disclosed and dealt with through the relevant authorities."
Mr Ivey stated: "I have always been completely open and transparent with regards to this ACCC matter from some 25 years ago.
"Since that time, I have held a number of senior positions including state and national roles in the public and private sector, including in my current role as acting CEO for the City of Ballarat."
Until last Thursday, Mr Ivey was the director of community development before stepping into the role as acting CEO. He had also been leading the response to the pandemic, which had been widely praised both in the Ballarat community and further afield.
Ms Linley went on leave last week on the day the Victorian Ombudsman published a highly critical report on recruitment and procurement processes at the City of Ballarat.
It alleged possible improper conduct on the part of both Ms Linley and Terry Demeo, the council's former director of infrastructure and environment who resigned on Monday.
Ms Linley's contract was terminated the same day following a special council meeting where a majority of councillors voted for her immediate dismissal.
There was no corruption or self-gain alleged in the Ombudsman's report. However, it was the second major report in a year to highlight concerns about council processes.
An IBAC report published last September raised questions about the City of Ballarat's procurement oversight following the jailing of a sports and recreation manager for fraud in 2018.
The City of Ballarat is due to respond with recommendations for improvement within 12 months of the report's release.
Following the departure of Ms Linley, councillors have started the search for an interim CEO.
This article was amended on 22/05/2020 to say the matter was widely known at the City of Ballarat. The Courier understands not all councillors knew about Mr Ivey and the ACCC, with Cr Jim Rinaldi wishing to clarify that he did not know until Wednesday May 20, 2020.
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