Exclusive – Code breach probe – Councillor under investigation

THE Director of Local Government has undertaken an investigation into Derwent Valley councillor Paul Belcher and has prepared a draft Performance Improvement Direction.

Under the Local Government Act, the Minister has the power to issue a Performance Improvement Direction, if recommended by the Director of Local Government.

A Performance Improvement Direction can be issued if a council or councillor has allegedly failed to comply with a statutory requirement.

Local Government Minister Roger Jaensch told the Derwent Valley Gazette the Director of Local Government had recently undertaken an investigation relating to Mr Belcher.

“I am advised that the investigation is yet to be finalised and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to make further comment at this stage,’’ Mr Jaensch said.

At last month’s council meeting, councillors met in a closed door meeting to discuss the issue.

A report from the mayor was noted and ratified.

On Monday Mr Belcher said: “I think you will find it’s a confidential matter and I’m working with my barrister.’’

In September last year, an independent panel found Mr Belcher had breached council’s Code of Conduct.

The panel found Mr Belcher had brought the council into disrepute. Mr Belcher, owner of Pauly’s Pizza in New Norfolk, was given an infringement notice for opening his Burnett Street business before completing the necessary health and environmental requirements.

The complaint, brought against Mr Belcher by a former council environmental officer, David Bradford, was in two parts, the first that he had brought the council into disrepute and the second that in his personal dealings with council he sought preferential treatment.

The second part of the complaint was dismissed by the Code of Conduct Panel.

At the time, Mr Belcher said he accepted the result, but added he felt he had no choice but to open his business without all the permits in place because of the overly bureaucratic process.

He said responsibility for planning and permits needed to be taken out of the hands of council and given to an independent state government body.

Earlier this year the Gazette asked Mr Belcher if he had paid the infringement and addressed the disputed health and environmental requirements.

He responded that “everything was sorted out before I fronted the code panel. Have great Easter. Regards, Dvc most popular councillor, PB.”

Three Performance Improvement Directions have been issued in Tasmania since November 2017, when they were first introduced.

During last year’s panel hearing Mr Bradford claimed that in the period leading up to the opening of the pizza business, Mr Belcher’s actions prevented him and other staff members from “doing their job’’.

Mr Bradford told the hearing that he was only trying to assist Mr Belcher and prevent him from being sued as he had not complied with health and environmental requirements.

The panel said that with seven years experience as a councillor, it did not accept that Mr Belcher’s ignorance was a defence for non-compliance. Mr Belcher admitted at the hearing that he had “broken the law,’’ the report said.

Last month, a separate Code of Conduct breach was dismissed by a Local Government panel.

The complaint alleged that Mr Belcher exhibited “clear bias” against the New Norfolk Distillery. Business owner Tarrant Derksen made the complaint after he applied for a grant from the Local Small Business Recovery Grants 2021.

The complaint alleged that the bias against the distillery caused Mr Belcher to vote against approving the grant application. The Code of Conduct Panel investigated the complaint and dismissed it.