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Australia New Gold Coast Council CEO David Edwards found to have committed misconduct in his former role

21:40  04 march  2021
21:40  04 march  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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The man selected as the Gold Coast council's new chief executive on a salary package worth more than $600,000 a year was recently found to have committed three counts of misconduct by a state government department, ABC Investigations can reveal.

A senior bureaucrat in the Queensland Government, David Edwards, was last month chosen from a field of 80 candidates to be Gold Coast City Council chief executive.

But ABC Investigations can reveal he had already been the subject of an internal departmental investigation which found, late last year, that Mr Edwards had used government resources for personal purposes and had not declared conflicts of interest.

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In a statement, Mr Edwards has described the misconduct findings made against him as baseless, saying he was never afforded natural justice during the investigation process.

"I totally reject the allegations and the conduct of the investigation," he said.

"It concerns me greatly that processes designed to protect whistleblowers and guard against misconduct and corruption, are increasingly being weaponised for personal vendettas."

At the time the investigation was launched, Mr Edwards was the powerful Projects Chief Executive at the Queensland Department of Innovation and Tourism, Industry Development.

Before that he was the Projects Chief Executive and Director-General of the Department of State Development.

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Mr Edwards also held senior positions in the bureaucracy during the LNP Government of Campbell Newman.

ABC Investigations understands the misconduct findings relate to a period between 2015 and 2020.

One substantiated allegation was that Mr Edwards failed to disclose or manage an actual or possible conflict of interest arising from his role as Project Chief and financial delegate for a stadium upgrade and his personal relationship with two Price Waterhouse Coopers executives.

The accounting firm was appointed as consultants to the project.

He was also found to have engaged in misconduct by failing to declare a conflict of interest regarding his role on a panel which recruited a woman he was friends with.

The woman was brought into the department as a senior executive and it was found Mr Edwards later approved a $30,000 payment for her to participate in an executive fellowship program.

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Mr Edwards was also found to have used staff to undertake errands and manage his personal affairs and that he used departmental premises and facilities for personal purposes.

The ABC understands his employment contract with the department had ended before the investigation was finalised, so no disciplinary action was taken.

The investigation concluded that if Mr Edwards was still in his department role he would have faced termination.

In his statement to the ABC, Mr Edwards said the investigation provided him with no natural justice.

"I did not even know what the allegations were. The formal allegations were not made known to me until several weeks after my contract had concluded. They were baseless and I chose to strongly respond to, and reject, these allegations," he said.

"I was not interviewed during these processes but public service colleagues, at great personal risk, advised me however that the way the investigations were being conducted concerned them greatly, as there seemed to be a predetermined outcome and an effort to target me."

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Mr Edwards was selected by the Gold Coast City Council out of a field of 80 candidates, which was later whittled down to half-a-dozen.

One of the contenders was the incumbent CEO Dale Dickson.

The decision to appoint Mr Edwards was confirmed by a 14-1 vote by Gold Coast councillors.

Mayor Tom Tate described Mr Edwards as "the best choice for the city".

ABC Investigations asked the Gold Coast City Council if the Mayor was aware of the misconduct findings against Mr Edwards when he voted for his appointment.

Councillor Tate declined to comment.

Mr Edwards said after being successful in the selection process for the CEO, he "fully disclosed the matter to Mayor Tom Tate".

"After due consideration and advice, the Mayor determined that the findings would in no way prevent me from undertaking the role. It was only after complete disclosure that he executed my contract," Mr Edwards said.

Only councillor Peter Young voted against Mr Edwards' appointment, telling The Gold Coast Bulletin that the incumbent Mr Dickson was an exceptional administrator with "very strong ethics".

The CEO is the top administrative position in council and councillors must notify the CEO in writing of any declarable conflicts of interest they may have.

CEOs also have the power to do preliminary assessments of misconduct and corrupt conduct complaints against councillors and local government employees.

On the Gold Coast, the CEO's salary package is worth between $600,000-700,000 a year.

The Gold Coast City Council has a budget of $1.7 billion, making it the second largest local government in the country.

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