Former Exmouth shire officers face court accused of falsifying records in $1m aquarium purchase





Posted

August 14, 2019 10:49:48

The former CEO of a West Australian shire told a staffer he had signed a contract to build a million-dollar aquarium without gaining council’s approval or putting it to tender, a court has heard.

Key points:

  • The former CEO of Exmouth Shire and a shire-appointed building superintendent are in court accused of falsifying records
  • It is alleged the former CEO approved a million-dollar aquarium contract without putting it out to tender
  • Counsel for the CEO says her client was not required to tender for the project as the company contracted was a “unique provider”

The trial of former Shire of Exmouth CEO Arthur William ‘Bill’ Price and the shire-appointed Ningaloo Centre building superintendent Andrew Jeffrey Forte, has begun in the District Court in Carnarvon.

Mr Price and Mr Forte have both pleaded not guilty to falsifying a July 2016 council agenda item that proposed the council enter into a contract with building company Ocean Reef Productions (ORP) to construct a $1 million aquarium as part of its $30 million Ningaloo Centre project.

Former shire executive manager of corporate services Suzanne O’Toole told the court that Mr Price informed her on May 30, 2016 that he had already signed the contract.

“Bill came into my office and sat down and said that he thought twice about telling me something,” she said.

“Then he told me that he had already signed a contract for the acrylic panels for the aquarium.”

‘Unique provider’ description disputed

Ms O’Toole said she was shocked that Mr Price had deemed ORP was a “unique provider”, a determination that would allow the council to sign a contract without putting it to open tender.

“I asked whether I could talk to some CEOs that I’d worked with or speak to the Local Government Department,” she said.

“He said I was not to contact them. He said he’s already taken chances with an audit.”

During cross-examination with Mr Price’s defence counsel, Linda Black, Ms O’Toole acknowledged that Mr Price had the authority to deem the company a unique provider and consulting outside parties was not in her role.

In opening statements, state prosecutor Nick Cogan alleged both men knowingly wrote a council agenda item proposing the council enter into the contract, despite already having signed the contract the month prior.

Mr Cogan said the pair drafted the agenda item to avoid damage to their reputations for acting without council authorisation.

He said both men ignored aquarium costings from building company AAT and concerns about ORP to avoid putting the project to tender.

Mr Forte’s defence counsel Mara Barone SC said the state’s case misconstrued subcontracting negotiations for concerns about ORP’s finances and that AAT was not placed to carry out the contract.

Ms Black said Mr Price received no benefit from the council motion and that he was authorised to deem ORP a unique provider.

The trial is expected to continue until the end of next week.

Topics:

courts-and-trials,

local-government,

carnarvon-6701,

exmouth-6707,

wa



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