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Third Kiama Councillor may face ICAC investigation

The Bugle App

Malcolm King

03 July 2024, 2:00 AM

Third Kiama Councillor may face ICAC investigationKiama Greens, Council elections 2021

A third Kiama Councillor, Karen Renkema-Lang, has been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for allegedly failing to refer a donation, as Green Party Councillors Kathy Rice and Jodi Keast deny any conflict of interest.

A referral does not imply any guilt or innocence or that a decision will be made by ICAC.

Back in 2013 when Kiama Council received a Development Authority (DA) for the building of a small abattoir on a Rose Valley Road, for a property owned by Gerhard and Maria Baden of Schottlanders Wagyu, the Baden’s neighbours, Ken and Debra Sandy complained.

“If this planning proposal is allowed,” Mrs Sandy said at the time, “we are alarmed this would set a serious and dangerous legal precedent that could allow more abattoirs or any other totally unsuitable development …”

Nine years later an environmental impact assessment was conducted and the Baden DA was refused on environmental grounds.

On 20 September 2022, the council voted on whether the DA should proceed or not.

Councillor Rice and councillor Keast declared a “less than significant non-pecuniary interest in this item.”

At the start of the meeting, both councillors declared they knew Mr Sandy, and "communicate regularly” but had a “less than significant non-pecuniary interest” in the matter.

They voted with the other seven councillors to reject the DA.

It is believed councillor Karen Renkema-Lang failed to declare a donation from Mr Sandy at the same meeting, which triggered the ICAC referral.

During a recent Land and Environment Court hearing Kiama Council lawyers received a document that included an email Ken Sandy sent to his legal representative in 2021, outlining tactics to "impede" the abattoir DA until after the council elections of that year.

In an email, Mr Sandy stated he was working with the Kiama Greens "to ensure we have a progressive council that are more likely to reject an abattoir DA, while the current council as you know will support it. We need to delay for two more council meetings - September and October."

His plan was to ask for information from the Health Department, Environment Protection Authority and other government bodies, "with a view to the applicant blowing a gasket."

In a media statement on Wednesday, 3 July, councillors Keast and Rice said, “This matter is a distraction from the significant governance issues at Kiama Council. We will be asking the Office of Local Government to investigate those issues so we can get our council back to serving the people of Kiama with integrity and stability.”

Councillor Keast said she had always, “declared potential, perceived and actual conflicts of interest and managed these appropriately, including this particular instance in 2022. Those who know me know that I make decisions thoughtfully and always act with integrity. I welcome any oversight by the ICAC that is deemed necessary.”

Councillor Rice said she rejected any suggestion that, “I have acted inappropriately and welcome any oversight to confirm that I maintain my commitment to improving governance and transparency in decision making on Kiama Council.”

Councillor Rice previously told the media she wasn't intimately involved in the DA process Mr Sandy was contesting.

She said she had no idea of Mr Sandy's plans and ‘it wasn't something they would have talked about as candidates.’

"The reason he was on the ticket was because he was a member of the Greens," she said. "But beyond that we weren't close friends."

"Not everything gets shared between everybody just because you're in the same political party," she told the Illawarra Mercury.