Two Sydney councillors accused of blackmailing a local government official were nicknamed “Starsky and Hutch” by a property developer, the NSW corruption watchdog has been told.
Former Canterbury City councillors Michael Hawatt and Pierre Azzi are accused of pressuring the council’s general manager into employing an unqualified planner in a high-ranking development assessment position so they could influence him.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Monday was told the pair blackmailed general manager Jim Montague into employing Spiro Stavis in early 2015.
Counsel assisting the commission, David Buchanan SC, said the council’s interview process was flawed with Mr Stavis being provided with a copy of the interview questions and then chosen for the job despite better candidates being identified.
The commission has received a written statement from former NSW premier Morris Iemma who knew both councillors and the general manager.
Mr Iemma described Mr Montague as “efficient” and “well respected” adding it was uncharacteristic for him to make a rash decision.
An independent recruitment specialist warned Mr Montague that employing Mr Stavis – who lacked management experience – would be surprising and “fly in the face of merit selection process”.
Mr Buchanan said it was recommended that Mr Stavis not even be shortlisted but he made it through to the interview stage after lobbying by Mr Hawatt and Mr Azzi.
The two councillors were “rude and aggressive” to other candidates during that interview process, it’s alleged.
While councillors were not usually involved in the hiring process, Mr Montague included the pair on the panel, telling the recruitment specialist: “I thought I would try something different this time.”
Mr Stavis texted Mr Hawatt in December 2014 saying: “I know yr on my side but pls I need this job”.
Mr Montague’s job was threatened by the councillors, ICAC heard, with the pair warning the general manager “fix this or you can go”.
ICAC is also investigating a series of development application approvals by Mr Stavis after his questionable employment and what role the two councillors played in his decision making.
Mr Buchanan said it was expected Mr Stavis would give evidence alleging the two councillors “had the power to make life for him very unpleasant”.
The senior planner was instructed by Mr Montague that if an application was 50-50 he should “move towards the positive”.
The commission is examining a number of potentially corrupt development approvals.
Mr Azzi and Mr Hawatt allegedly didn’t disclose a relationship with one developer who successfully applied to extend upwards a 50-dwelling unit block in Campsie despite it exceeding height limits.
The pair met with the developer who referred to them as “Starsky and Hutch” in messages, the commission was told. The councillors, in turn, called the developer “Kojak”.
The inquiry continues.